John W. Campbell, Editor of Astounding Science Fiction, Described Actuarial Escape Velocity in 1949

Some of the voices of the past can appear entirely contemporary, because they saw further and with greater clarity than most of their peers. John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science-Fiction Magazine, died of heart disease at age 61 in 1971. In 1949 he wrote an editorial on the future of medicine, aging, and longevity that wouldn't seem out of place today. He anticipated what we presently call actuarial escape velocity, or longevity escape velocity, the idea that gains in life span through progress in medical technology allow greater time to benefit from further gains - and eventually, we are repaired more rapidly than we are damaged, escaping from aging. These commentaries of past years, printed on paper, often vanish into the void. Fortunately this one remains.

As was the case for Timothy Leary in the 1970s, Campbell in 1949 overestimated what could be achieved with the technology of his near future. They were not the first to do so. Thus those of us who have advocated and raised funds for the rejuvenation biotechnology of today must have an argument as to why this decade is different, why we are not doomed to a certainty of aging to death just like Leary and Campbell. That argument must be detailed, robust, and heavily scientific.

That argument exists! Look no further than the SENS rejuvenation research programs and the extensive supporting evidence for the effectiveness of working to repair the root cause molecular damage of aging. This approach is different from the hypothetical approaches to intervene in aging that were proposed in the past - though Campbell is closer to it than Leary. The SENS thesis on aging predicted that senolytics to clear senescent cells from old tissues would be effective as a means of rejuvenation, and now we are finding that this is in fact the case. Senolytics robustly turn back all manner of measures of aging and age-related disease in animal studies. Implementing the rest of the SENS agenda, to repair or work around the molecular damage at the root of aging, is the way to demonstrate that, yes, it is different this time around.

Oh King, Live Forever!... - Astounding Science-Fiction Magazine, Vol. 43, No. 2, April, 1949

At some point in the history of the world and the history of medical science, a point will be reached such that a child born at that time can, if he chooses - and has reasonable luck so far as mechanical damage goes - live practically forever. This point in time will be some forty or more years before the perfection of the full requirements for continuous life - and this point may already have passed, without our knowing it.

For it is inherent in the nature of things that the critical birth-period can not be known until after the event - until after the perfection of the final techniques. Modern medical techniques have been developed to a high point - and on an exponential curve of progress, as is normal in an advancing science - with a view to keeping children and young adults happy, healthy and reasonably sane. The rise in the average-age-at-death statistics has been largely influenced by the diminution of infant and young-adult mortality; medical science has been devoting the greater measure of its efforts to that end of the problem.

Now, with an increasingly older population group, with increasing masses of people in the older age brackets as their biggest problem, systemic failure type medical problems, rather than acute infectious problems will predominate. Heart disease takes the place of diphtheria; cancer replaces tuberculosis. Childbirth fever is vanquished - the problem is hardening of the arteries. Pediatrics is a well-advanced science; gerontology, its opposite number, is practically an unexplored field.

The first achievements of an advancing study of "old age and why is it" will naturally be concentrated on the typical conditions that kill the aged - systemic failure troubles such as heart and artery breakdowns. Of course, the only real cure for the systemic failures of the aged is the very simple and obvious one - youth. Not chronological youth, but metabolic youth. Research must be done on that problem, and is being done. The efforts being made at any time will, of course, be basically palliative - treatments that are primarily symptomatic. The obvious symptom of trouble is heart disease; the cause is old age. The medical profession assures itself that it isn't out to find the secret of eternal youth - simply to cure heart disease. But if it succeeds in cleaning up all the symptoms, one by one, the sum total of the results must, necessarily, be metabolic youth.

Some of the more forthright researchers are headed directly toward the more all-inclusive goal of extended maturity - i.e., extended youth. The two groups of researches will, inevitably, meet on a middle ground of success, sooner or later. For the present and near-future, say twenty years hence, we can expect some very real extensions in active life span, before the onset of the symptoms which, collectively, are termed "old age", and, simultaneously, a successful attack on the more outstanding problems of old age. The combined effect may be to extend the useful period of life as much as thirty years. Certainly not a figure to be confused with "eternal youth" - but pleasant none the less.

During the next succeeding years, incidentally, progress may well be at a faster rate. If the maturity extension techniques are applied to the research workers themselves - naturally! - the experience and ability gained in the previous years of work will be available to aid in further advances. Instead of spending thirty-five years learning how, and then twenty-five years doing research, a man with an added thirty years of life would be a far more efficient unit of civilization; a non-producer for thirty-five years, he could be a producer for fifty-five!

And the great problem really can't be very extreme: the human metabolism is already so nearly perfectly balanced that it takes many decades of very slow accumulation of imbalances to bring on old age. So small a factor of failure certainly should be correctable - and a small advance should mean a large improvement. With the accumulated knowledge and techniques of the previous research, the second twenty years of work might well see a further extension of maturity by another couple of decades.

The first advance of thirty years would be no "eternal youth" treatment. But - science tends to advance exponentially. That thirty-year reprieve might give just the time needed for research to extend your life another forty years. And that forty years might ... We don't know, nor can we guess now, when in time that critical point will arrive - or has arrived. But somewhere in history there must come a point such that a child born then will be just passing maturity when the life-extension techniques will reach the necessary point. They will grant him a series of little extensions - each just sufficient to reach the next - until the final result is achieved. I wonder if that point has been passed? And my own guess is - it has.

Comments

The 2030s will be the decade of longevity espace velocity. From 2030 to 2039 we will add 10 years of lifespan. We will do this thanks to a big 3 and a small 3. Big 3 will consist of 1) Senolytics; 2) Stem cell therapies; 3) Gene therapies. The Small 3 consist of 1) 3D-printed organs; 2) Super Early detection of cancers and other diseases; 3) Robotic/Nanosurgery. All those 6 things together will add a decade of life extension. I think this is a reasonable and credible prediction.

Posted by: Jonathan Weaver at February 19th, 2019 2:58 PM

Just wow! How did you discovered this text?

Posted by: Antonio at February 19th, 2019 4:17 PM

There are so many ideas that even now are not accepted by mainstream that it feels like a fake anachronism...

>... and on an exponential curve of progress, as is normal in an advancing science - ...
Before the "singularity" concept thinking of scientific progress in exponential terms seems ... unthinkable :)

>But - science tends to advance exponentially. That thirty-year reprieve might give just the time needed for research to extend your life another forty years. And that forty years might ... ... They will grant him a series of little extensions - each just sufficient to reach the next - until the final result is ...

It is almost verbatim what Kurzweil and Abrey say, correcting for the styling differences

Posted by: cuberat at February 19th, 2019 4:18 PM

@Antonio: It was posted to the Gerontology Research Group list recently.

Posted by: Reason at February 19th, 2019 4:22 PM

"It is almost verbatim what Kurzweil and Abrey say, correcting for the styling differences"

Not really. Kurzweil always predicts exponential progress. Aubrey always says exponential progress is not needed, on the contrary, less and less progress will be needed to maintain LEV. See for example this: http://www.exponentialtimes.net/videos/singularity-and-methuselarity-similarities-and-differences?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+exponentialtimes+%28Exponential+Times%29 (there is a short paper on it, but it's behind a paywall, so I provide the video talk).

Posted by: Antonio at February 19th, 2019 4:29 PM

"During the next succeeding years, incidentally, progress may well be at a faster rate. If the maturity extension techniques are applied to the research workers themselves - naturally! - the experience and ability gained in the previous years of work will be available to aid in further advances. Instead of spending thirty-five years learning how, and then twenty-five years doing research, a man with an added thirty years of life would be a far more efficient unit of civilization; a non-producer for thirty-five years, he could be a producer for fifty-five!"

Think about how young people are doing crime and not taking care of their health. That change when they grow older because they develop wisdom. And young people who are against the law. You need to pay law enforcement and if people lived much longer taxed to those sorts of things would not be so high.

Posted by: thoma.a at February 19th, 2019 5:17 PM

@Antonio
once achieved immortality you no longer need exponential progress to maintain it. Exponential rate is important to us , so we have a real chance of reaching it. But it sill sounds too modern if you correct for the language...

Posted by: cuberat at February 19th, 2019 6:02 PM

@thoma.a
this demographic transition is already happening. The society becomes more stable, the crime rates plummet. Probably the societal changes will slow down too. Lets hope that the technological and scientific progress doesn't get affected.

Posted by: cuberat at February 19th, 2019 6:04 PM

In the 40 years after 1949, there was huge progress in the pharmaceutical industry, albeit not curing aging, it was still remarkable. For example he probably would have been able to live a lot longer with today's treatment for heart disease.

With those major advances, from 1980-2000, the pharmaceutical industry grew into the current size. Since 2000 the pharmaceutical industry has been relatively flat in terms of growth. It needs the next paradigm to push to the next level.

The industry spends around $140 billion a year on R&D. On the order of 1,000,000 people work in R&D for the global pharmaceutical industry. That wasn't in place in 1949 to anywhere near the same extent, back then the pharmaceutical corporations were small upstart divisions of the chemicals industry.

Posted by: aa3 at February 20th, 2019 3:35 AM

I still think we will die.

Posted by: Dokuganryu at February 20th, 2019 3:35 PM

the question is when and how. Is it from the heat death of the universe or proton decay or from age related conditions at the age of 80 something...

But if you never age you still will have median lifespan of about 800 years if you keep the same risks as the young people. not even close to be immortal but an immense improvement...

Posted by: cuberat at February 20th, 2019 4:51 PM

I just read the article again, and in the last paragraph and he makes the logical point that at some time there will be a child born who in their lifetime escape velocity is reached. He then makes a guess that this point has been passed.

Since the article was published in 1949, that means the child could have been born in 1949. As of this post in 2019, that person is 70 years old. So there are many millions of that age that are in fact still alive.

Some of those 70 year olds will live to be 100 with current technology. So we will have to wait another 30 years to say whether his guess was right or wrong.

Posted by: aa3 at February 20th, 2019 6:49 PM

How extraordinary.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we or our descendants were able, at some point in the future, to go back to retrieve him from the quantum broth?

Posted by: Ben at February 20th, 2019 8:58 PM

I really hope Fightaging.org isn't unearthed in a similar way 70 years from now...

Posted by: jimofoz at February 20th, 2019 9:28 PM

@Ben,

That sounds impossible.

But, I bet people a 200 years ago would see our computers (especially with internet) and smart phones as magical. So, what seems impossible now may be possible down the road.

Robert

Posted by: Robert at February 20th, 2019 11:39 PM

My own philosophy/religious beliefs that I came to believe when I was a teenager, and still believe today is that any idea is possible to bring into reality.

It may come about in a different way than expected, but the essence of the idea is possible. For example inspired by Robert's post, say someone in the year 1700 imagined that people could talk to someone live on the other side of the world. It would have seemed a ridiculous dream.

How I see resurrection playing out, is eventually AI will get so advanced, that super advanced AI can work backwards from the present using logic, and trillions of little pieces of evidence left around to piece together most every move and most everything that every person did in their lives.

Combining that with the dna and other physical evidence, the AI may be able to effectively recreate the person. I know it sounds insane, but this is the kind of thing that AI with like quadrillions of the power of the human mind may be able to do.

Posted by: aa3 at February 21st, 2019 12:40 AM

I honestly don't understand why concern yourselves what if. What we need is solution to aging now, for our generations, not some hypothetical ones..

Posted by: Dokuganryu at February 21st, 2019 9:05 AM

@Dokuganryu: Strictly speaking what's needed for society is a means of mitigating the "grey tsunami" of aging populations in developed countries; that doesn't require people to live longer, just spend less time in ill health before they die; longer and perhaps even indefinite lifespans are just probable consequences of successful healthspan interventions, since people don't die of old age, they die of the diseases of old age.

Posted by: Dylan Mah at February 21st, 2019 10:03 AM

@Dylan Mah - I am already thrilled for the opportunity to be " alive", automatically considered as old merchandise not just because of evolution but also by society. Wonderful.

Posted by: Dokuganryu at February 21st, 2019 11:01 AM

@Dylan Mah - I also don't understand when it's such a problem why won't allow assisted suicide then? Like why then trying to come up with rejuvenation tech and it seems Reason here himself believes he will live forever. So if the goal is letting people die anyway why bother?

Posted by: Dokuganryu at February 21st, 2019 11:27 AM

Robert,

Indeed, it may prove impossible. It's certainly unlikely to be possible any time soon. But dare to dream. It's impossible to imagine what will result from a further five hundred, or one thousand, or one million years of technological progress.

Even so, barring catastrophe, something is going to.

Posted by: Ben at February 21st, 2019 4:21 PM

@Dokuganryu: I'd be thrilled to see longevity escape velocity occur within my lifetime, and even more if it occurred within the lifetime of my parent's generation. But for me at least, that's not the main reason I'm interested in this stuff, and I'd be just as happy to devote my career to this kind of work even if I knew I wouldn't live to see it realized.

Posted by: Dylan Mah at February 21st, 2019 6:22 PM

Dylan, I want to see it realized for everyone, including my hypothetical children which so far I refuse to have if it means they are going to bury their parents and die themselves. This is why I am not thriller by species's progress, since it only prolongs suffering to achieve something like utopia.

Posted by: Dokuganryu at February 22nd, 2019 3:20 AM

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