The public echo chamber is often crowded by class warfare sentiments, and they are rarely absent from any discussion of progress in medicine. The green-eyed monster of jealousy dons its best suit and those without power denounce those who have more of it because of their greater wealth. Many believe that the wealthy have greater access to medical technology, while the truth is that those who complain, sitting in the first world, are in exactly the same tier as their wealthier counterparts, with access to exactly the same forms of medicine. The yawning gulf is that which exists between the complainants and the genuine poor in the third world, while the only thing that being first world wealthy buys you is a more handsome, well-dressed set of doctors than the average American will see. Under the hood the drugs are the same, the heart surgery the same, the cancer treatments the same, the outcomes the same. We are all aging to death, and the demographic studies tell us that massive wealth doesn't buy you all that much of an advantage at all.
That is unless the wealthy choose to spend that massive wealth on research and development, the production of entirely new capabilities in medicine. In which case they and everyone else might win together - provided the right research programs are funded. The wealthy who choose to fund medicine with the goal of extended health longevity are, with only a few exceptions, doing it not for their own benefit for but the population as a whole. Most of them believe that they will not live long enough to enjoy more than the first tentative results, as they are either not aware of the potential of SENS-like rejuvenation research programs if fully funded, or not yet convinced by those who advocate that work.
A truly wealthy individual is primarily a figurehead for a process, a life consumed by the demands of maintaining a vast amount of property and business interests. He or she cannot also be a citizen scientist, taking the years to become knowledgeable enough to make their own call about what is the best path forward in research. These high net worth individuals are each the leader of a tribe, beholden to advisers and interests, insulated from views and truth by a layer of people regardless of their desires on that front, and with many ongoing responsibilities that have little to do with philanthropy. Almost all philanthropists in the modern mold of successful businessmen are philanthropists in their snatched spare time, a minute here and a minute there taken hastily around the edges of the all-consuming job of steering their ventures. The exceptions are rare and usually older, retired, focused on spending down their fortunes to get things done: Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Paul Glenn, for example.
The class war voices would have us believe that the evil modern rich have turned to selfishly building longevity technologies for their own use, and to hell with the result of the world. That is simply untrue, not to mention impossible. It takes thousands of people, an entire industry, to build any entirely new class of medical technology. No-one can keep that to themselves: there are no secrets in business and science, and competitors always arise close on the heels of success. Further, the rejuvenation therapies of tomorrow will be infusions, mass-produced, and cheap as today's immune-altering biologics, taken every few years at a cost that after the first few years will settle to a couple of thousand dollars a shot or thereabouts if today's medicines are any guide. A few decades after that and these will be cheap enough for the third world, one step removed from free, like the simpler medicines of past years are today. In the matter of treating aging as a medical condition, we all win together or we all lose together. This is a collaborative game, not a competitive one.
Given this why do we not see the world's wealthy falling over themselves to change the world? Not just in the way we care about, to eliminate aging, but in general? I think it is that many simply do not know how to even begin to do this. Wealth doesn't grant vision, and becoming wealthy only gives you experience in managing your particular process for becoming wealthy. Most people don't look beyond their immediate surroundings, don't think far to the future, and that is just as true of high net worth individuals as it is of the rest of us. They have followed their particular passion, whatever it was that happened - as a side-effect - to mint money. That doesn't give a person any particular insight into how to use that money to change the world for the better. Look at the number of wealthy individuals who go into politics, for example. That is the ultimate public declaration of a lack of vision: it is an admission that you have no ideas on to how to change the world; you can see no further than ordering people around and rearranging the deck chairs that exist today.
So don't snipe at those who are actually trying to use their wealth to make the world a better place. They're figuring it out as they go along, just the same as everyone else has to, new entrants to areas of interest such as aging research and human longevity. Remember when you were first learning about this field of science and the present state of research? A wealthy individual will have just the same issues as you did; it's no easier for them to figure things out. The best that we can do is to help make the signposts better, more clear, and put forward sensible position statements on how newcomers can help to make a revolutionary difference in this field. (Such as by funding SENS research). This is just the same as we'd do for everyone else, as, after all, we're all in this together.
Although undoubtedly motivated by financial reward, for some investors who have proclaimed their wish to radically extend human lifespan there are also personal factors which can explain each individual's contributions. In this regard, those investing in radical life extension of course want to see the benefits of it themselves. But is it so hard to believe that billionaires really seek to do good with their money? Perhaps these investments can actually be explained as a desire to genuinely improve society by leading the cause of prolonging healthy lifespan.
When Page and Brin formed Calico Labs, Missy Krasner, a Google Health employee declared: "Larry and Sergey have always had this grand vision about how to help society and improve public health." For Sergey Brin this mission has so far manifested itself in over $150 million of personal investments, given primarily to companies that use data to understand DNA. Together with Mark Zuckerberg, he also co-sponsors the $33 million Breakthrough Prize for Life Sciences, awarded to scientists engaged in curing age-related diseases.
Peter Thiel is also driven by the desire to improve public health in the US, a system which he is openly critical of, and one which is increasingly burdened by an aging population. In a Reddit AMA Peter Thiel declared: "We would never design a system like this if we were to start from scratch." As a result, through his $2 billion capital Founders Fund, Thiel regularly provides money for biotechnology companies and researchers looking at different ways to slow down or stop aging. He has provided Aubrey de Grey's SENS Research Foundation with over $6 million to help with their mission to find drugs to cure age-related damage.
Similarly Bill Maris has long insisted on a more meaningful purpose for Google Ventures' investments, and moving into the field of healthcare represents a chance for Google money to be used towards developing a more optimistic scenario where people are given the chance to live longer healthier lives. In exclaiming "medicine needs to come out of the dark ages", he plans to use Google Ventures as a primary vehicle for making this happen.
For the newest tech billionaire to enter the arena, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg the intentions particularly appear to be altruistic and humanitarian. To Stephen Hawking's question in a recent Facebook Q&A on which of the biggest mysteries in science he would like to have an answer to, Zuckerberg wrote an entire list, including "how to cure all diseases" and "what could enable us to live forever?" Also, in 2013, in a status update, the Facebook chief executive wrote: "Our society needs more heroes who are scientists, researchers, and engineers," and "we need to celebrate and reward the people who cure diseases, expand our understanding of humanity, and work to improve people's lives."
Thus, judging by the amounts of money and time these investors are devoting to supporting a range of innovations designed to improve both the human condition and healthcare, one can easily determine that there is genuine interest in making a positive impact on society.