Why Isn't Longevity Science the World's Greatest Concern?

Without the biotechnologies of human rejuvenation that could be created over the next twenty years given a fully funded crash program of development, we and our immediate descendants will all die due to the effects of aging, exactly as did our ancestors. Aging to death has never been a choice - but now it is, and every needless day of delay comes at a cost of 100,000 lives. Everyone presently alive will suffer greatly due to aging and age-related conditions unless new medical technologies of the sort envisaged by the SENS Research Foundation are developed to repair and reverse the low-level biological damage that causes of aging. So why isn't this front and center on everyone's list of concerns? Why does longevity science and the elimination of age-related suffering barely even register in the public eye?

Here is a talk on this subject given at the Stanford Advancing Humanity Symposium last month by Maria Konovalenko of the Russian Science For Life Extension Foundation, an advocacy initiative:

In this talk I am sharing our wonder about why haven't the ideas of life extension won. It is not clear why isn't every person on Earth concerned with their longevity. There are several serious reasons that I mention in my presentation, but even all of them combined don't give the answer to this question. I am also looking at different possible scenarios of how the extending longevity ideas could rise to power.

I don't have the answer either. However, I do think that bioengineering immortality is going to have to be done privately. We cannot expect governments or other public entities to finance or develop it. The past 30 years has convinced me that we cannot count on the larger society to finance or do the R&D for us. This we have to do within our own milieu.

The good news is that the instrumentation and capabilities in biotech seem to be developing at a rate faster than the famed Moore's Law of semiconductors. This suggests that research costing millions of dollars today should be doable for 10 times or even a 100 times less money 10 years from now. This suggests that the private approach is doable and will likely be done in the next 2-3 decades.

The other reason why I believe only a private approach is doable is because much of government funded R&D is wasteful and seldom produced anything of value. Most medical research falls in this category, as does the tokamak and laser fusion programs and anything to do with NASA. The reason is academics and bureaucracy. Both of these foster a "group-thing" that leads to rejection of anything that does not fit within the bureaucratic consensus. Additionally, many academics are actively hostile towards doing research intended for any real-world applications. Most government funded R&D appears to be nothing more than public works programs for PhD's.

NASA has done nothing to develop low-cost space transportation, let alone any of the other technologies necessary to realize large scale space settlement. Both the Tokamak and NIF programs have no chance of realizing commercial fusion power. I can go on and on. I have friends who used to work in the government funded R&D milieu. They tell me it is a complete waste.

The reality is that any "game-changing" technology will have to be developed by private entities outside the established milieus for such research. Fusion power is being worked on by private organizations such as Tri-Alpha, Focus Fusion, and EMC2. Lots of people are working on LENR (the "cold fusion" thing) which appears to be a real phenomenon. SpaceX and other start-ups are finanally breaking through the cost barrier for space transportation. These organizations are effective because they are private, financed by people who expect results, and subject to the harsh winds of competition.

Likewise, it can only be the same for immortality. Especially since it is considered more controversial than the other game-changing technologies I have mentioned.

Where Maria's political activism would be very useful is in creating laws that favor the dissemination of anti-aging medicine once it is developed and in eliminating harmful regulation such as that imposed by the FDA and similar agencies in other countries.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at April 4th, 2013 8:36 PM

Its because a defining symptom of modernity is "coming to grips" with dying. People tend to mock immortality research as akin to the quest for the Fountain of Youth, which appears, to our eyes, a sign of the superstitious and unscientific nature of previous ages. Its an irony that now that we finally have the science to make a serious attempt at radical life extension, its our societal sense that questing for such things is somehow anti-scientific that is holding us back and, most importantly, keeping our leading billionaires from making the necessary investments.

Posted by: Me Too Sola at April 5th, 2013 3:50 PM

The lead-in above is "Without the biotechnologies of human rejuvenation that could be created over the next twenty years given a fully funded crash program of development, we and our descendants will all die due to the effects of aging, exactly as did our ancestors."

This is plain nonsense, a logically mal-constructed bit of whiffle. Without a crash program it is very highly that **we**, the current generations, will die. This does not for a second mean that later research won't repeal death for our descendants, through such biotechnologies or by other means -- and it is silly nonsense to pretend that it does.

Particularly when one is writing in a field that has a speculative air about it, I think it is necessary to avoid the hysterical, the exaggerated, the bombastic, and the plain illogical. This piece of language fails that test.


Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones at April 7th, 2013 8:13 PM

@David Lloyd-Jones: amended to "immediate descendants," which was probably what I intended to write.

Posted by: Reason at April 7th, 2013 9:11 PM

Why some billionaire is not funding longevity research is question I can not answer. (maybe some are anon.) Why governments are not funding it is obvious to me. Because longevity research will disproportionately benefit the rich, the top 1%. Refusal of governments to fund longevity research is a form of class warfare. The bottom 90% don't care much that they will obtain some benefit from longevity research, they care a lot that the rich will benefit from the research disproportionately. Death is the great equalizer for the poor, they are not going to allow a government program that takes that away.

Posted by: JohnD at April 7th, 2013 9:13 PM

I think a problem is that the fable "The Fox and the Grapes" difficult to believe in anything that threatens to get out of hands.
To overcome this drawback should be available the suspension terminal near death, very best of cryonics and currently prosecuted. This frees the psychological mental block.
Totally agree with Abelard about the technologies and LENR, I personally had contact with Rossi and the discoverer Piantelli and I agree fully on doubts about the official investigation.

Posted by: Alberto Arbuschi at April 8th, 2013 5:24 AM

I must take issue with Abelard Lindsey's blanket assertion that private funded research is the only way forward. A mix of funding seems to me to be sensible as a complementary strategy. Blue sky research is essential in order to make breakthroughs in understanding but, of course, most of it leads nowhere - that is the nature of the beast - and that is why it has to be publicly funded!

Posted by: Richard Wilson at April 23rd, 2013 4:23 AM

the working class will benefit the most from bio/nano longevity.. healthcare issues will vanish, since most are age related. thinking of the future in centuries is akin to my million dollar immortality at 100 buck a month?!! less than my car... someone will fund it, it is good business.

Posted by: jevon peck at September 14th, 2013 11:44 PM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.