Christine Peterson on Technology and Longevity

Christine Peterson is co-founder of the Foresight Institute, one of the oldest of the numerous research and advocacy organizations that emerged from the transhumanist community of the 1980s and 1990s, focused on the development of molecular nanotechnology. Based on her public statements, her position on longevity and technology has in recent years appeared to me to be similar to that of Ray Kurzweil, in that there is too much of an emphasis on taking action now via optimization of supplements and diet, something that I think cannot produce sufficient benefits to merit the investment in time required. In addition you'll never in fact know whether or not your investment in time is actually helping, and the size of the best possible result in terms of healthy life gained is still tiny.

If you look at the comments on this post, however, you'll see that Peterson rejects this interpretation, and notes her position to be much the same as mine, which is to say that SENS-style rejuvenation research is front and center as the primary goal. From my point of view, and apparently Peterson's as well, the only way out of the hole we're in with respect to aging is medical research after the SENS model that aims at repairing the cell and tissue damage that causes aging. Everything else is a distraction.

The October 1, 2015 podcast of The Optimized Geek featured Foresight Co-Founder and Past President Christine Peterson: A Glimpse at the Future Lifespan of Humans (55 minutes). Christine explained the development of nanotechnology in three stages. Currently we are moving from the first stage focus on nanomaterials, like stain-resistant pants, into the second phase, dominated by nanoscale devices. The most exciting change change will come with the third stage, in which systems of molecular machines will operate with atomic precision. In responding to a question on what we might see in the next ten years, Peterson suggested that although nanotechnology in that time frame would still be mostly about nanomaterials and simple nanodevices, one of the most interesting applications would be in health, giving the example of more effective diagnosis, imaging, and treatment of cancer through enhanced targeting specificity.

What might advanced nanotechnology look like 30 years from now? Peterson began with the question: What limits do the laws of physics set on what we can build with systems of molecular machines able to build with atomic precision, including inside the human body? One of many applications would be correcting DNA mistakes and mutations cell by cell. Other targets could be damaged proteins and plaques from Alzheimer's, etc. With this level of technology, lifespans would not be limited by aging or traditional diseases, but only by accidents that destroyed the brain, leading to estimated lifespans on the order of 10,000 years. With technology to record the molecular structure of brain, back-up copies of individual brains could be made, eliminating even the 10,000 year limit.

Peterson described "the quantified self" and "biohacking" as taking an engineering approach to making changes and improvements in our bodies. Approaches range from the traditional, like diet, exercise, and stress reduction, to the more exotic, like supplements to improve brain chemistry, or to improve health and longevity. Peterson cautions however, that while taking supplements is easy, figuring out which supplements to take is difficult. Although not of immediate use for those who want to take action now to improve their health and longevity, for those who want to advance research in longevity, Peterson recommended Aubrey de Grey's SENS Research Foundation.

For those who, due to illness or advanced age, will not be able to survive until the future when aging is cured and disease eliminated, Peterson addressed the question of whether there is available today some form of suspended animation to maintain a body until it can be repaired. In the early days of "cryonics", recently deceased bodies were placed at low (liquid nitrogen) temperatures for preservation. Later, certain chemicals were introduced as antifreeze to reduce biological damage caused by freezing. More recent technology has introduced improvements that have been tested on donated organs that are reversible; that is, a viable organ can be recovered from low temperature preservation. Arrangements can be made with cryonics organizations - the largest one is Alcor Life Extension Foundation - to implement for you the best suspended animation technology available at the time that you need it. Peterson shared that she is signed up for it because "I do not see a down side."



I have been following Christine's (Foresight) website for over 5+ years along with Meme Longevity (Fight Ageing), and Ray's Kurzweil. They are all very imformative with Fiight Ageing the most active and informative (IMO).

Posted by: Robert Church at October 13th, 2015 11:22 AM

I'll have to check Christine's stuff out. I read a lot of things on here and on kurzweilai as well, Robert.

Posted by: Ham at October 13th, 2015 12:04 PM

I agree that the SENS model is more important to longevity than diet and supplements, so can you correct the commentary above my quote? Thanks!

Posted by: Christine Peterson at October 18th, 2015 2:46 PM

@Christine Peterson: The commentary is accurate as it stands, in that it states my view of your position on lifestyle optimization of the sort endorsed by Kurzweil. From where I stand you, and you are far from alone in this, put too much emphasis on optimization in diet, supplements, and other lifestyle items as something worth spending meaningful time on. This is a distinct and separate thing from your support of SENS and prioritization thereof.

This has been a point I've been making for years, that optimization is essentially impossible given the data and technology available today, that gains are tiny even if it was possible, and thus it is a terrible waste of time and potential to try to go beyond the 80/20 point on lifestyle and minor benefits to aging and longevity:

Posted by: Reason at October 18th, 2015 3:18 PM

I can see how someone could get that impression, but it would not take into account my over three decades of hard work promoting molecular nanotechnology, largely for its applications to longevity ( This year, for example, I was the lead facilitator and did much of the program development for the Foresight Workshop on Atomic Precision for Medical Applications, which was kicked off by an orientation from SENS. So if you consider my body of work overall, it leans much more in the direction of basic research than quick fixes (that won't get we where we want to be). I appreciate your work at and hope you will tweak the post above to take into account my overall career and reputation. Thanks!

Posted by: Christine Peterson at October 19th, 2015 6:22 PM

I've been following Cristine's work since the first Life Extension Conference she organized in 2010, and I know she's aware that diet and supplements will not solve our overall problem. Rather, basic research is required.

Posted by: Dan Dascalescu at October 19th, 2015 7:47 PM

@Christine Peterson: The post is edited, and in conjunction with your posted comments that should serve to clarify the points you desired clarified.

Posted by: Reason at October 19th, 2015 8:41 PM

Christine has long been a respected leader within the nanotechnology and health extension community for many years. Her passion in exploring, gaining knowledge, and connecting scientific communities is unmatched in Silicon Valley.

Posted by: Traci Parker at October 19th, 2015 9:11 PM

Thanks for updating the post, greatly appreciated!

Posted by: Christine Peterson at October 20th, 2015 3:51 PM

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