AMA with Aubrey de Grey at /r/Futurology

The AMA, Ask Me Anything, events at Reddit have evolved over a few years into a sort of semi-formalized crowdsourced interview via bulletin board. Their success somewhat parallels the rise of crowdfunding projects and the steady demise of personal expectations of privacy, and I don't think that this is a coincidence in either case: it all factors in to the motivations, economic and otherwise, that encourage people to engage with an audience in this way. It is interesting to note that the online bulletin board as used in practice is only a little younger than the internet, four decades old or so now, and new yet new modes of use and cultural establishments built atop it still come and go with regularity.

The r/Futureology community at Reddit is an open forum for following and discussing technological advances relevant to the modern futurist viewpoint - which is essentially the transhumanist viewpoint, as the transhuman visions for technological development outlined in 1980s zines and the online forums of the 1990s are now either presently already in their infancy, or are otherwise quite widely accepted as being sensible mainstream ideas. Molecular nanotechnology, strong AI, and - most importantly - work on radical life extension and working rejuvenation therapies: these were all too recently derided and yet are now taken as common sense futurism. It is hopefully a short step from there to more people deciding to donate to speed up rejuvenation research rather than just waiting and hoping on the sidelines.

The moderators at /r/Futureology today hosted an AMA with Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation, a prominent figure in the longevity science community who should need no introductions to the audience here. It is very pleasing to see de Grey in front of an appreciative, intelligent online audience who have some knowledge of the work of the Foundation and its great importance to our lives. I'll cut right to the most interesting point, but you should certainly scan the whole thing, as there are some other tidbits in there:

Aubrey de Grey AMA

Q: Mr. De Grey, has Google tried to hire you? Being a leader in your field of investigation I thought they'd bend over backwards to have you on board for Calico.

A: We're talking to them, but it's still very preliminary - they are taking their time to decide their direction.

The SENS Research Foundation's lab is of course just down the road from Google's HQ, and there probably half a hundred people in that town who are on first name terms with all three of de Grey, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page. Noteworthy support for the SENS vision of repair-based approaches to reverse age-related damage and disease has existed in the Bay Area technology and venture community for years, especially in those circles associated with Clarion Capital.

My prediction for the median expected outcome of the next few years of Google's California Life Company (Calico) initiative is that they will focus on what is currently mainstream, which is to say the genetics of longevity and efforts to slow aging via metabolic alteration. They will throw tens of millions of dollars at this, spawn several businesses, produce an enormous volume of new information, and fail to produce any way to meaningfully extend human life.

The hires made so far and most of the discussion to date has supported this view; I think that the network of SENS researchers and supporters, despite being very close at hand both in the network of relationships and physically, will have to grow larger yet before it can acquire large patron organizations such as Calico. I hope to be proven wrong and pleasantly surprised, but I expect to see the few entities in the sphere of aging research with a lot of funding and the will to use it to both try and fail with every path other than SENS before finally coming around to focus on rejuvenation biotechnologies based on repair of the known forms of damage that cause aging.

But who knows? The future is what we make of it. The SENS Research Foundation are not the only group putting forward largely repair based approaches to treating aging. There is a proposal from Spanish aging researchers put forth a year ago that differs in the details from SENS, but is otherwise very similar in intent, to pick one example. It is possible that the next wave of interest in treating aging and funding prospective therapies, once people have got the fixation on development and use of genetic technologies out of their system, will see varied groups arguing over what to repair and how. That would be a large step up from the present situation, in which the only research plans likely to produce functional treatments that reverse the harms of aging in the old are still on the margins of the scientific community, moving along slowly with little funding.

The most important thing to take away from this? The following, I think:

Q: Dr. De Grey, No questions, I just wanted to thank you for your passion and dedication to such an important cause.

A: Thanks back! So, what are you doing to help?


I'm very glad to see that Aubrey's AMA got such a great reception, over a thousand upvotes and it's currently on the front page of Reddit where millions of readers can see it.

Posted by: Mike at June 17th, 2014 11:42 PM

I get sick of people bemoaning that billionaires won't donate. I'm glad to see that some of the people responding say they do, donating is well worth it.

Posted by: Michael at June 18th, 2014 12:33 AM

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