Recent and Ongoing Longevity Advocacy Initiatives

There's a lot more going on out there these days in terms of advocacy for longevity science. People are finding it easier to raise funds from the broader community for acts of pure persuasion, which I think is a good sign on the whole. It is one metric by which we can measure support for the cause. Here I'll point out a couple of recent and ongoing projects, the Longevity Cookbook by Maria Konovalenko and allies, and Zoltan Istvan's use of the US presidential election as a platform for raising awareness of long-standing futurist and transhumanist goals such as the defeat of aging.

While you're looking through the materials below, here is something to consider: is it better to fund research or is it better to fund publicity? I suspect that both are needed, striking some sort of balance between (a) science that is within striking distance but effectively invisible to the world and large funding sources, which has been the state for SENS rejuvenation research for quite some time, and (b) advocacy that is so far ahead of technological plausibility that the snake-oil salesmen sneak in and corrupt an entire generation with their nonsense, which is the story of the last quarter of the last century. An argument for the "fund research" side is that meaningful progress in medical science tends to generate its own news. An argument for the "more publicity efforts" side is that there are plenty of historical examples of important scientific progress languishing at the verge of completion for a lifetime or longer. Personally, I'm in favor of funding the research at this time, and one of my main reasons for that is that early stage research has become very cheap over the course of the modern biotechnology revolution, while publicity remains stubbornly expensive. Yes, it is far easier to send your message out into the world, but there is now such a sea of content that making yourself heard is harder than ever.

The Longevity Cookbook managed to raise more than $50,000 via crowdfunding last month, and congratulations to those involved: that certainly surprised me given how much of a challenge it is to pull in that much money for research over at this end of the pool. So far as I can see this will produce a book analogous to Kurzweil and Grossman's Fantastic Voyage from a decade ago: a mix of old school thoughts on diet and health, which will have very little to no determination on the future of your health and longevity, but which are ever popular with the public, merging into discussions of the latest life science research that may lead to therapies to treat aging as a medical condition. I wasn't all that happy with the way in which Fantastic Voyage dwelled upon diet and supplements, things that won't matter in the slightest in comparison to the consequences of success or failure in building SENS rejuvenation therapies or something very similar, and I expect I'll have similar complaints about the Longevity Cookbook. But then I'm not the audience, and there is always an argument for steering people into the topic of a cure for aging softly and by degrees.

Longevity Cookbook

Aging steals away your most valuable resource: time. The Longevity Cookbook is a strategy guide to help you get more time to experience the joy from everything that you like in life. Take yourself on a journey starting with nutrients and exercise regimes that goes on to explore the usage of genetically modified symbiotic organisms and using gene therapy to boost your own longevity.

Most importantly, we want to draw attention to an overlooked problem whose time has come: aging. In recent decades, we have begun to understand how to use changes in nutrition and lifestyle to extend the healthiest years of life. At the same time, findings in the lab have shown that it may someday be possible to greatly extend our maximum lifespan, and our quality of life as we age. This could happen sooner than you might think!

Any ambition to live longer than the historical human maximum lifespan of ~120 years will require a complex approach, that is not yet fully understood. It's possible that by modestly improving our health, and rolling back the clock using improvements to nutrition and lifestyle, such as those to be outlined in the Longevity Cookbook, we may live long enough to reap the benefits of revolutionary interventions that are currently still in the lab. With this thinking in mind, in the book we'll outline some of the most promising experiments that are currently underway or being proposed.

Zoltan Istvan is a character, and an outspoken transhumanist in a time when it is becoming perhaps a trifle unfashionable to refer to oneself as a transhumanist. Of course we are all transhumanists together here, reading this post while hoping and planning for a future in which fundamental limits of the human condition will be overcome through technological progress, such as this business of aging, suffering, and dying. Istvan has been publishing and speaking relentlessly on the topic of transhumanism for years now, and of late has settled upon the forthcoming presidential race as one of the few opportunities for an activist to make use of the US political system to promote a cause. In Europe starting single issue parties is a viable approach, but not in the US. So Istvan plans a tour and is already attracting attention and giving interviews:

This US presidential candidate doesn't want to be president - he wants to live forever

Zoltan Istvan was among the earliest candidates to declare his bid for the 2016 US presidential elections. But most Americans still won't know about this writer and Transhumanist philosopher by the time they head to the polls. Istvan knows that. Yet, his platform is refreshing: put science first. His ideas are radical, which is not uncommon for third-party candidates, but they are also appealing: make college education mandatory and free; create policies so that everyone can have designer babies, not just the rich; and discover immortality in the next 15-20 years.

Istvan represents the Transhumanist Party, which claims to have its root in philosophical thoughts going back centuries, and has the core aim of building technologies that will give us superhuman powers. The total number of members of Humanity+, the biggest such membership organization, is only 10,000. His campaign - which includes a bus shaped to represent a coffin - is run with help of a group of volunteers in California.

"The reception in the media has been better than anticipated. I think that's because people are really interested in the kinds of questions we ask, such as those about designer babies, artificial intelligence, exoskeleton suits. The big disappointment so far has been the funding."

I have just donated $10,000 to the Immortality Bus, which was the most rational decision of my life

I have non-zero probability to die next year. In my age of 42 it is not less than 1 per cent, and probably more. I could do many investment which will slightly lower my chance of dying - from healthy life style to cryonics contract. And I did many of them. Me and Exponential Technologies Institute donated $10,000 for Immortality bus project. This bus will be the start of Presidential campaign for the writer of "Transhumanist wager". 7 film crews agreed to cover the event. It will create high publicity and cover all topics of immortality, aging research, Friendly AI and extinction risks prevention. It will help to raise more funds for such type of research.

I'd guess that the Longevity Cookbook may help detoxify rejuvenation biotechnology/lifespan extension science, even if its recommended actions don't do anything beyond that of a healthy diet.

There are plenty of scientists out there who want to keep talk of lifespan extension off the public's radar, for fear that over promising and then under delivering will lead to disillusionment and then cuts in science funding medium term (and cuts to their own person funding in the short term if they advocate for it). Right now only really powerful figures who are financially independent such as George Church or Peter Theil advocate for it.

I think scientists worry too much about over promising. In the 1980s the head of US cancer research said if congress doubled his budget he'd halve the rate of cancer by 2000. They did this and the rate didn't halve, but funding did not dry up as the public were still on board.

I guess what the objecting scientists fear is funding cuts stemming from abject failure, like that which has been experienced with antibodies against Alzheimers Beta Amyloid plaques so far.

Posted by: Jim at July 22nd, 2015 9:55 PM

There is something slightly unnerving about Konovalenko's constant posting of selfies. But I'm ok with anything that promotes longevity.

Posted by: Cosmicalstorm at July 23rd, 2015 2:21 AM

The LW comments already said everything I would have: this is a rather silly publicity stunt, it makes transhumanism look like the fringe instead of the future, and his money would have been better spent given straight to SENS.

Money spent on direct or indirect fundraising/advocacy activities is only of value if the money you spend is less than the money you take in, and I suspect that this kind of McCain-tier busmanship (anyone remember the Straight Talk Express?) is doing more harm than good and accomplishing the exact opposite of what it's supposed to be doing.

Posted by: Slicer at July 23rd, 2015 11:04 AM

The cookbook is ok to raise the bar on awareness for longevity and it will likely feature some good layman science etc... But I still don't think it will tell you much more than your grandma told you, "eat right, exercise and you might live longer". She has said the book will feature more details about the science behind longevity so lets hope that happens.

I agree with Slicer is just makes the work look like fringe and silly instead of some of the work being done which are serious and plausible approaches to regenerative medicine.

Take the work by Irina and Michael Conboy for example at UC Bekeley, apparently they are ~5 years from having a practical system wide regenerative therapy. They reckon about 250k a year for 1-2 years would pay off massively for developing their rejuvenation technology. I have seen their latest 2015 paper and having talked to them I can see this being able to to deliver near future regeneration of multiple tissues and organs. So far their system works in muscle, brain and bone but chances are it has wider systemic application.

However the immortality bus is a foolish idea IMO and will only serve to reinforce the image that Transhumanism is firstly a fringe and secondly could not possibly be associated with any sensible scientific projects.

This touches upon what Aubrey said about words like "Immortality" being not only wrong but damaging. I personally feel this falls pretty much into the same category and could make people working on legitimate solutions to aging like SENS, Conboys Blasco, Fossel etc... look foolish by association (even if they are clearly not wishing to be associated with the H+ movement at all).

It would have been far better to have spent this money on funding UC Berkely and helping Irina bring her rejuvenation technology to market than driving around in a giant coffin. Far too silly and makes us all look foolish when the community and the science desperately needs to gain public support and credibility.

Posted by: Steve H at July 24th, 2015 7:35 AM

"if they are clearly not wishing to be associated with the H+ movement at all"

Stuff like this is why. Hugh Herr, the cyborg who invented his own bionic legs, doesn't call himself a transhumanist either.

As a lifelong transhumanist I can think of remarkably few movements with the name that don't reek of implausibility or general silliness. The only people calling themselves that who have had anything that could be quantified as real-world successes are Ray Kurzweil and his merry men at Google, and their AI/data-manipulation work isn't even in human alteration.

Posted by: Slicer at July 24th, 2015 8:47 PM

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