Aubrey De Grey In The News Again July 6, 2011Posted by Metabiological in Longevity.
Tags: Aubrey de Grey, longevity, science, transhumanism
Despite the fact that the actual word isn’t something you’ll see all that much transhumanism is steadily marching into the mainstream. Case in point; Aubrey de Grey has an article up about him, detailing both his current anti-aging research and his belief that very soon we will create a world without death.
A biomedical gerontologist and chief scientist of a foundation dedicated to longevity research, de Grey reckons that within his own lifetime doctors could have all the tools they need to “cure” aging — banishing diseases that come with it and extending life indefinitely.
“I’d say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what I’d call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so,” de Grey said in an interview before delivering a lecture at Britain’s Royal Institution academy of science.
Okay first things first. I like Aubrey de Grey. There was a time in my life when I wanted to make my way into anti-aging science largely because of his ideas and while I now focus my efforts on a very different field I still regard him as both a vanguard of transhumanism and a great opponent of the inevitability of death. On top of that his SENS approach is one of the few approaches I’ve seen that seems like it has a fair chance in hell of working in the near future.
That being said I think he is wildly over-optimistic in his time frame. Partly this is the result of futurists just having a bad track record overall of successfully predicting the future. Partly this is wish fulfilment in action, with all these wonderful developments happening just in time to save de Grey and his generation (Ray Kurzweil has been accused of the same thing). Finally, it’s almost certainly partly the result of a good marketing strategy. People tend to become a lot more motivated when you tell them that truly wonderful things are just around the corner, if only they’d donate a little more money or give a little more support to the cause.
My problem lies with the concept of the longevity escape velocity. De Grey is quite fond of saying things like, “we will be able to cure the things 150 year olds die of before there are any 150 year olds.” On the one hand I can see the reasoning behind the idea that rapidly advancing medical technologies will allow us to stay one step ahead of the Grim Reaper. On the other hand that whole idea is assuming that Kurzweil’s “Law of Accelerating Returns” (which isn’t actually law) applies not only to information technologies but to any form of technological progress.
In addition I take issue with the idea that we will be able to find cures for ailments before said ailments have presented themselves. The improved predictive ability that will come with developments in synthetic intelligence coupled with our ever growing knowledge of the causes of aging and decrepitude may give us some ability to head-off certain problems before they begin to appear. But even the mightiest SI’s will not be oracles and it seems to me that many of the potential problems that will confront the super-old will only become apparent when people start dropping dead.
I suppose we’ll find out in a few decades or so who is right and who is wrong. And pride be damned, I hope I’m wrong.