Effective Altruism and Effective Research for Human Longevity

The effective altruism movement is a good example of the sort of thing that can only arise in the modern information-rich environment of easily available data and cheap communication. It is half a reaction against the waste, fraud, and general ineffectiveness that characterizes all too much large-scale philanthropy, and half a chance to meaningfully reexamine what everyday philanthropy can look like in an age of greater communication and knowledge. It is easy to salve the conscience by donating to a group that one believes are going to do good, and most people go no further than this. That allows charities to become inefficient and self-serving, and in the worst cases results in organizations that have become symbiotic with the problem they are allegedly solving, and supporting them actually makes matters worse. Is it possible, with minimal additional effort, to do better than feeling good as an individual and actually donate in ways that achieve good in the world? The effective altruists would like to pave the way to make that possible for everyone.

When it comes to human aging, one doesn't have to run the numbers all that rigorously to determine that more suffering and death is produced by aging than by any other single cause. Aging is something like 600 times worse than malaria for the human race, for example, when only considering mortality. It is probably worse than that when also considering disability and duration of suffering. From the point of view of whether or not something is a glaring problem that we should all devote a little time to helping with, it doesn't much matter whether aging is 100 or 1000 times worse than malaria: either case should be a clarion call to action. Yet people don't think much on the topic of doing something about aging, even though most are generally supportive of research into treatments for specific manifestations of age-related disease.

I suspect that most people who debate the numbers are somewhat skeptical of the prospect for increasing human life span. Near all modern medicine for age-related diseases introduced over recent decades produces gains of just a few years of additional life expectancy at most. Exercise does just as well, spread over a lifespan. When the choice is between spending funds to gain a few years for older people or spending funds to improve quality of life for younger people, the philanthropic institutions of the world have tended to bias strongly towards the latter option. Fair enough. But the technology has advanced. It is no longer about determinedly wrestling with the inexorable damage of aging to gain a few extra months of life expectancy for someone with a low quality of life. Rejuvenation therapies will produce large and ever-increasing gains in health and life expectancy for older individuals, where "large" will soon enough mean additional decades of healthy life.

Still, comparatively few lines of research into human aging and longevity have the prospect of leading to rejuvenation. Many are marginal. So effective altruism aimed at bringing aging under medical control and producing very large gains in life span depends upon effective research and development. This means choosing the right strategies to support, those based on repairing the damage that causes aging, rather than those that try to paper over or compensate for the damage in some way. It is very hard to keep a damaged machine running when repair is not on the table, and this has been well demonstrated in medical progress and practice over the second half of the 20th century. Gains were small and hard-won, precisely because the wrong strategies were applied to the treatment of aging. Researchers attempted to treat the end stage symptoms rather than repairing the cell and tissue damage that lies at the root of all age-related disease.

These two articles from groups considering the reinvention of philanthropy are interesting to contrast on this basis. One sees the potential for very large gains in life span, and a control over disease and disability, while the other does not. Evidently, this makes a large difference to the calculus of efficiency when considering whether or not to support research into human aging.

A general framework for evaluating aging research. Part 1: reasoning with Longevity Escape Velocity

Longevity Escape Velocity (LEV) is the minimum rate of medical progress such that individual life expectancy is raised by at least one year per year if medical interventions are used. This does not refer to life expectancy at birth; it refers to life expectancy calculated from a person's statistical risk of dying at any given time. This is equivalent to saying that a person's expected future lifetime remains constant despite the passing years. It's possible, given sufficient ongoing improvement of medicine and its democratisation, that nearly everyone on the planet, at a certain date in the future, will benefit from therapies that allow Longevity Escape Velocity to be attained, at least until aging is eradicated completely.

If a given intervention "saves a life", this usually means that it averts 30 to 80 Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). This figure comes up from the remaining life expectancy of the recipients of the intervention. In order to evaluate the impact of aging research, one could be tempted to try to estimate how many end-of-life DALYs that a possible intervention resulting from the research could save and adjust the number using the probability of success of the research.

This line of reasoning is part of the impact, and it has to be factored in, but it doesn't consider where the largest impact of aging research is: making the date of Longevity Escape Velocity come closer. This would have the effect of saving many lives from death due to age-related decline and disease, but here, "a life" means, more or less, 1000 Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs). The average lifespan of a person who reached LEV will be around 1000 years, mostly without disability, as 1/1000 is more or less the current risk of death of someone between 20 and 30 years old.

Open Philanthropy: Mechanisms of Aging

We are highly uncertain about, and do not have internal consensus regarding, the potential extension in healthy lifespan that might result if one or two of the present major objectives in anti-aging research were accomplished. Some of us see several years of healthy life extension as the plausible potential upside and others see larger possible gains, but all of us involved in creating this report expect that any increase in healthy lifespan would keep average lifespan within the range of natural lifespans observed in humans today (barring a historically exceptional increase in the rate of scientific progress).

We think the best case for this cause involves the prospect of healthy life extension within the range that some humans currently live. In contrast, some people who are interested in the mechanisms of aging have promoted the idea of "curing" aging entirely. Our default view is that death and impairment from "normal aging" are undesirable. However, we would have some concerns about indefinite life extension, mainly related to entrenchment of power and culture. We don't have internal consensus on whether, and to what extent, such indefinite life extension would be desirable, and don't consider it highly relevant to this write-up. We don't see promising life science research that would result in indefinite life extension in the next few decades, barring a historically exceptional increase in the rate of scientific progress.

Our program officer offers the following forecast to make the above more precise/accountable: By January 1, 2067, there will be no collection of medical interventions for adults that are healthy apart from normal aging, which, according to conventional wisdom in the medical community, have been shown to increase the average lifespan of such adults by at least 25 years, compared with not taking the interventions.


@Antonio: Thanks. I hope AI ASAP will be used in this.

Posted by: Gekki at January 24th, 2019 4:23 PM

@Gekki: I'm not so confident on the feasibility of AI any time soon (I don't consider the above research as AI, only simple classical neural networks). And, anyway, I'm of the opinion that thinking that AI will solve all or most of our problems is just a way to postpone doing something about them ourselves. Ditto for the singularity. Let's work on the problems at hand, not holding our breath for the singularity.

Posted by: Antonio at January 24th, 2019 4:42 PM

Do you think neural networks can solve it? Agree, that far more people should be doing things like this. I run World Community Grid (WGC) and when spintronics becomes available electric bills will become negligent so there will be no excuse.

Posted by: Gekki at January 24th, 2019 5:35 PM

I think there is at least a 10% chance neural nets can do it.

Posted by: Antonio at January 25th, 2019 1:08 AM

WCG is a good project too.

Posted by: Antonio at January 25th, 2019 1:42 AM

I really don't agree with the last article sampled here. "barring a historically exceptional increase in the rate of scientific progress" is a stupid statement to make since scientific progress is presently climbing an exponential curve.

Posted by: Neal Asher at January 25th, 2019 4:06 AM

Hey there, jsut a 2 cents.

'' In contrast, some people who are interested in the mechanisms of aging have promoted the idea of "curing" aging entirely. Our default view is that death and impairment from "normal aging" are undesirable. However, we would have some concerns about indefinite life extension, mainly related to entrenchment of power and culture. We don't have internal consensus on whether, and to what extent, such indefinite life extension would be desirable, and don't consider it highly relevant to this write-up. We don't see promising life science research that would result in indefinite life extension in the next few decades, barring a historically exceptional increase in the rate of scientific progress. ''

Sigh, we are not out of the woods yet. The THICK, eTHICK, ETHIC woods, that is. What's so wrong about ''curing'' aging..oh it's baloney/snake oil, I forgot...tsk. So I must be a snake oil peddler or a starry-eyed light in the sky that sees in rose-colored glasses for wanting to cure aging or by the love of all that is mighty, 'cure' death itself (or I'm just real dumb believing all the rejuvenation hype or me nearly dead of a disease (atherosclerosis), and 'wanting to live' - a no, no). At least they say that death and impairment from aging are undesirable, so, I guess we got 'one tree' out of these woods... still pretty dense in there & still can't see sht... 1 figurative tree down 6.99 billions to go. At this rate, we will be a 100 years old, and still not even 1 billion down; goes new trees grow and are planted, making us back to SQUARE 1.

This infuriates/enrages me (trying my best passive aggressiveness here keeping it under control), because it's almost like saying: 'there is Nothing you can do, it is absolute unconditional 100.00000% assured you will die, in 120 years or less; ... because I said so and decided it with everyone else - Agreeing - Tough Luck'.

''We don't have internal consensus on whether, and to what extent, such indefinite life extension would be desirable, and don't consider it highly relevant to this write-up''

These line irritates me to my skin down to bone marrow and my blood cells, such disregard for human life...oh...but it's okay to extend 'regular lifespan' until 120...that's 'ok'...such irony, double standard and hypocrisy all same time...'but there will be 'infinite living tyrants/dictators' and 'prisons will have prisoners who live forever and will come back in society one day, in a 1000 years to avenge a millenium old score'........................................

Oh I forgot the overpopulation, old people dying (keep them healthy...but make sure they die on clcok to let the kids replace them/the cycle of life continues...right), resources drought/we destroy planet we are too much...we will never go to another planet...it's selfish teenagers who want to live forever not mature unselfish adults who die like real humans. Real humans, die. altruistic individualism...is bs, we just want altruism, period, in our miserable individualism. Anyone can live forever but by living forever, only problems will happen...therefore so living forever is Bad.

And more stuff like that, it feels like beings stuck in a rat maze; I don't think we can untangle this one, people are just That dense.

As I said before, the minute aging is reversed completely in mouse or whatever, you will see these people climb up the wall and curtains...like cats, doing everything to stop it and will put every roadblock for LEV to happen - it might be 'killed in the can', so you die....Thanks, ethically superior fatalist peoples.

And they say we are 'unconcious' of the repercussions of eternal life LEV, uh, no. We are very conscious but we won't be forever, one day when gone....that'st just a small detail for them and it 'arranges' them. PLain and simple, they are scared that such a realization would happen, they're not 'scared' per say, but rather not believing it and saying it's bs and whatnot, I could handle eternal life on a silver platter, tomorrow and they would say...

''meh.'' [translation: (no).]

...F...."/%"%?!!(expletives), double sigh.

Just a 2 cents.

PS: There loss is our gain, meaning we cannot save others who do not want to save themselves; I fear/think that in the future, only but a vvvvery few (billion-rich) people will obtain this LEV, should it happen in our lifetime. Like petrol companies keeping patents on electric cars (fearing loss of fuel engine motors for electric cars replacement, thus losing industry/$), they want to continue existing (reasonable), except they are willing to step in our way and gang up all the others in their crusade (like SJWs (social justice warriors), here, EJWs (ethics justice warriors), we not immoral by being being immortal, but for them immoral = immortal. Same word, just one letter extra. Both bad.

I think we may be heading towards the Deeper Left vs Right political divide (in the USA and world), wehre it's communautarial/social/democratic vs individual/unsocial/republican world, where immortalty is more in line with invidualism despite being available to everyone (socialism), thus this is more a social individualism than pure communautarism/communism. There could be a WWW3 over life/death, curing aging. It will far more insidious and on a public level, not on the war fields, but right in your streets and neighbors; between the CON-Life and PRO-Life....we are not out of the deadly woods.

Posted by: CANanonymity at January 26th, 2019 12:13 AM

I think for most of us, a realistic goal is LEV rather than extreme life extension to 1000 years or more, simply because it can probably be achieved in our own lifetime; that is before 2050. Once we achieve that, and the science of anti-aging is much more fully developed, we can turn our attention to extreme longevity.

Posted by: Biotechy Marcks at January 26th, 2019 11:25 AM

@Biotechy Marcks,

I can't even imagine living beyond an extra 50-100 thanks to LEV. So, I agree with you, we should have something along the lines of magical powers via nanotechnology that we can not even imagine at this time in 50 years to live even longer. But, I am sure by then we will be exploring other planets and other solar systems, and live a much varied life than we do now. It should be quite interesting in the coming decades. I just hope we don't blow ourselves up in the meantime.

Posted by: Robert at January 26th, 2019 11:29 PM

Hi Biotechy and Robert, just a 2 cents,

That's the thing, we could really be blowing ourselves up before we get to LEV, it's sad. This LEV would be akin to almost god sending a 'god given' 'god send'...god...gift from heavean, who would not like to be blessed with eternal life...apparently many, whom oppose on many ethical grounds because it'S unethical to have LEV, apparently.

LEV, Biotechy & Robert, would allow us more than 50 or a 100 years, the end result of it is truly that it cure aging, and curing aging, leads to curing death. Thus, indeed, the gift of eternal life (when mortality is so low that you DE-age each year....instead of Ageing'...think of it like Benjamin Button film, same thing..'living in reverse'...getting young(er) as times goes).

People Have to start imagining it, we have to imagine that We Could Very Well...liver for Centuries...and yes, a 1000 years, we could...we can't stop extrinsic death (outside accidents/risks hazard exposure), but we can stop intrinsic death (caused by aging over very long time passing).
Thus, if you live as a hermit in a cave for a 1000 years, you could make it to a 1000 years (barring all outside hazards), but that might be a boring life a bit with not much action/recluse...but life is gamble, you bet your odds the minute you leave your door to go outside (your life expentancy drops the instant you are out of your door; that's because the world 'outside' is far more crazy/crazyier and sh happens, sometimes bad and you do not want to be 'at that wrong time, wrong moment' to lose your life).
The more I read news, the more I realize how fickle and fragile life is, but we are really oblivious to it and expose ourselves to so many 'odds' that would ends us much quicker (and we would not have fared long in the cave age days), we just 'accept the dangers and 'live in the fast lane''
Because no one got far in life by being scared, parano, hysterical about everything. I know that.
But, I am surprised that for all this extrinsic exposure, there are not More people dying as they gamble their life/chase odds/sometimes it feels like a 'I have a death wish, come' sticker with a aim bullseye logo is plastered on their forehead, goes to show that we are prretty lucky, but some no, and are unlucky (and end up in the news as people who were at the wrong place, wrong time). It chills me all the time. I think, my god, LEV is our One and Only solution in our close future, it is the most important advance above all for it will change humanity forever, (forever, being just like how long you could live). But, fatalists, will jump on the fatalistic bandwagon of 'forever....you mean?...fooooorrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr........................................'

''well...that's long....too long. I can'T see myself living up to 116 years old... and you want me to imagine, or should I say, fathom, 'forever'....''


Just a 2 cents.

PS: Yes. I want us to Fathom/Imagine/Think that It Could be possible, infinite life, 400 years, 1000 years, centuries, milleniums, think it and let it absorb you..don't think it,s baloney bs, it is Real. And face it/adapt this reality....the question that then lingers:

'Would you like to live forever, or if not that much, say 500 to 1000 years (at the minimum)?'

If you respond: Yes, then, you are not some crazy outlandish deluded person who is joking himself/herself, you are just examining this proposition that could be(come) a reality later.

If you respond: No, then, I don't know what to say. I wish to help you, but, help must come from inside too, only one self can help theirself; you must believe in life/living, if not worth it...and thinking a 100 years old is sufficient and 'too much'/too long alraedy...I can't change your opinion and would repect it.

If yo respond: Maybe, then, maybe is a maybe; I will try to make you see that there is Lots of positives (moreso) than negative (all ethical) to living an very long life (much more than a 100 years...like 600...even infinite, I know these are extremes, but it is to prepare you for a very very long time, longer than you ever would have imagined; you would have a Lot More Time to your life...

So life would a 'litlle bit fairer' (and longer)....because 'waht' is fair about death...nothing. Death is eternity, and life is finite.

Posted by: CANanonymity at January 27th, 2019 3:43 AM

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