August 06, 2003

A Cure for Aging

Speaking of the Future with Aubrey de Grey

Aubrey de Grey has been with the Department of Genetics at Cambridge University for more than 10 years. Over that time, his research has progressed from extensive work in mitchondrial mutations to a bigger problem: how to stop human aging. I met Aubrey at a recent gathering of Foresight Institute senior associates. With his long hair, longer beard, and deadpan English demeanor (make that demeanour), he didn't immediately strike me as the kind of guy who would have a hand in fundamentally redesigning the human experience.

But then I heard what he had to say.

What Aubrey has to say is explosive — aging is curable. The answer will soon be in our grasp if we devote the necessary resources to going after it.

One of the things I learned in our recent chat is the relationship between aging and predation. As Aubrey eloquently points out below, highly predated (i.e., frequently eaten) animals age pretty fast if allowed to do so. They have to. If you spend your whole life in a shadow of possibility that a lion or a leopard could take you down at any time, you are forced to live life in fast forward mode. You don't have time for meeting cute, dating for a few years, and then getting engaged. You mate, you produce young, you move on. You don't have time for regrets and reminiscences and long good-byes. You live, you die, that's it.

That was once our lives. A long time ago, human beings (and our ancestors) lived a fast-forward life under the constant threat of predation. As we grew in our understanding of the world and our ability to shape our circumstances more to our liking, our life expectancy increased. Today, there are few predators that still threaten us. But of those that remain, there is none more frightening than time. Even if nothing else gets you, it's still there. It's always been there, prowling in the background, waiting for its moment.

If Aubrey de Grey is right, we might soon have the means of warding off this last of the predators, of seeing to it that its moment never comes.

Aubrey, let's begin with a snapshot of the problem you're trying to solve. What is aging?

That's a question which has a reputation for being hard to answer, but in fact the only hard thing is finding an answer that suits all contexts. For purposes of discussing aging as a problem to be solved, we can define it as the set of side-effects of normal metabolism that progressively reduce our remaining life expectancy. If no such side-effects existed, we could clearly still die of causes having nothing to do with aging, but our probability of doing so in any given time period would not differ depending on how old we were.

Via your SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) project, you have identified and pronounced curable seven "killers" which will eventually do all of us in (if something else doesn't get us first.) Let's run through the list of them, with you explaining what each one is and how it can be treated.

We'll start with nuclear mutations/epimutations:

Nuclear mutations are changes to the DNA sequence of our chromosomes, and epimutations are changes to the molecular structure of individual DNA units (termed bases) or to proteins that bind the DNA. Epimutations make our DNA more or less easy to make proteins from than it would otherwise be. Both these things happen randomly to cells as side-effects of metabolism, and they're progressive — they accumulate with time — so they count as aspects of aging by my definition just given.

In my view — though some people disagree — the only mutations or epimutations that matter are ones that make cells more eager and/or able to divide. These mutations eventually lead to cancer, which we need to cure if we're going to achieve a non-diminishing remaining life expectancy. Other mutations happen too rarely to matter until we're far older than any human has ever yet been. To be precise: they don't happen any more rarely than cancer-promoting ones, but because a cancer can kill us starting from just one cell whereas other mutations can't cause tissue malfunction unless a reasonable proportion of cells are affected, that isn't enough to matter. So, it's enough to stop cancer-promoting mutations from mattering, and that can be done by stopping cancer itself from mattering. We can do that by making sure that all cancers die before they get big enough to kill us. It turns out that this may well be doable by a very general method: replacing all our stem cells with ones whose telomere-elongating genes have been deleted. Those stem cells would probably only last a decade or so before becoming unable to make the cells we need them to (such as our blood), but we could just repeat the process every decade.

Mitochondrial mutations:

Mitochondria are components of cells that house their own DNA. They are unique in this — all our other DNA is in the nucleus. The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) suffers mutations, just like the nuclear DNA, though it doesn't suffer epimutations. The way to fix this problem is not to get rid of the mutations but to obviate them. Only 13 proteins are made from the mtDNA — less than 0.1% of what the nucleus encodes. It turns out that many nucleus-encoded proteins actually function inside the mitochondria, despite being constructed outside them. After construction, they are dragged through the mitochondrial surface by a special machine called the TIM/TOM complex. So we could stop mitochondrial mutations from mattering by putting copies of the 13 relevant genes into the nucleus, with modifications that would cause them to be imported into mitochondria just like these others. The technology for doing this mostly exists already — indeed, a few of the 13 have already been made to work this way in cell culture. The only really hard part is probably going to be getting the genes into living cells within our body — somatic gene therapy — and progress in that area is steady, albeit slow.

Intracellular aggregates:

Our cells are constantly breaking down bits of themselves, when they get damaged or when they have done their job. This is an extremely critical part of metabolism. Its accumulating side-effect is that the processes of degradation are not perfect — occasionally, molecules are targeted for degradation but don't go quietly, because of the particular type of damage they've suffered. These accumulate in the cell and eventually take up so much of it that cell function is compromised. We can fix this by making cells better at breaking stuff down. This should be doable by giving them extra genes encoding enzymes from soil microbes.

Soil microbes?

No kidding! Think about it: we bury people in the soil and they're full of these aggregates. Unlike bone, the aggregates are made of energy-rich molecules -- ones that a microorganism could live off if it could break them down. So, genes to do that breakdown should evolve. We know that this logic is valid because it is exploited in many ways in the field of bioremediation: bacteria have been found this way that can eat TNT, dioxins, rubber, many things. We also have preliminary experimental evidence, generated by a colleague of mine. Moreover, there's good reason to believe that we wouldn't need very many such genes in order to break down most of what we currently accumulate.

Cell senescence:

This is a phenomenon best known in the artificial system known as cell culture, but it happens in our bodies, too. Cells get into a state where they have lost the ability to divide, but they also do various things they're not meant to, especially secreting molecules that may be harmful. They increase in abundance with age, so they're part of aging. The most promising way to fix this problem is just to kill the affected cells. This will not deplete the tissue of cells, because neighboring (non-senescent) cells will divide to replace the lost ones, which are relatively few and far between. Killing the cells can probably be done most effectively by enlisting the immune system -- that is, vaccinating us against something that these cells express on their surface but other cells don't. The search is on for such molecules; if they can't be found, an alternative is to target something into cells that is toxic only if in the presence of something which is found only inside senescent cells.

Extracellular aggregates:

These are just like intracellular aggregates in terms of their origin and their accumulation. The most well-known one is the amyloid plaque that we see in Alzheimer's disease, but there are plenty of others, including in normal aging. The most promising way to get rid of them is just as for senescent cells — to vaccinate against their component molecules. This is already being tried by various groups. The difference from senescent cells is that being engulfed by some other cell (which is what vaccination causes) won't necessarily make the aggregate dissolve; but if it doesn't, we can just use the same approach as for aggregates that were intracellular all along.

Extracellular crosslinks:

These are distinct from extracellular aggregates, because the molecules that are linked together in aggregates are themselves detritus, whereas here we're talking about links between useful, functioning molecules. They accumulate because the molecules in question are very long-lived: they are the ones that give some tissues their elasticity and texture, which are important for their function in places like the artery wall. This elasticity is reduced by the cross-linking. The cross-linking is randomly induced as a side-effect of sugar metabolism. The elimination of these cross-links sounds tricky, but in fact there has been a lot of progress in the past few years. A small molecule has been found, called ALT-711 (or, more technically, phenacyldimethylthiazolium chloride), which seems to break the random cross-links without doing harm to the regular, orderly cross-links that are laid down on purpose in the tissue to hold it together. There is still a lot of controversy about exactly how it works, but there's no doubt at all that it does work — it's been in clinical trials for hypertension for a few years now. A molecule with similar properties has reputedly been identified by an Indian company.

Cell loss, cell atrophy:

Quite a lot of our tissues have only rather limited ability to replace cells that die. The heart is a good example — heart cells die off at a considerable rate throughout life, and the only thing the body seems to be able to do in compensation is to make the remaining cells bigger and to fill in the spaces between them with increasing amounts of fibrous material. This is a reasonable short-term strategy, but clearly it can't work forever. Various parts of the brain also lose cells during life. Cell atrophy is a particular problem for some brain cells too: rather than dying, they lose their tendrils (synapses) and so become unable to communicate with other cells.

As you might expect, cell atrophy is easier to reverse than cell loss. There are certain naturally-produced molecules, growth factors, which promote regrowth of synapses when they are supplied in greater amounts than the body normally does. There's plenty of progress in reversing cell loss too, though. In fact, of all the therapies I've discussed here, this is the one that's best-known. We can in principle replenish essentially any tissue by introducing cells that are in a state that resembles the developmental precursors of the cells we're trying to replace. This is a great example of how powerfully we can improve on what evolution has achieved without understanding how our therapy works in more than the most utterly superficial way: we just put the cells in and they do the rest. They find the exact best place to reside, and go through the mysterious differentiation process to replace the lost cells.

So the much-sought key to long life exists somewhere in the midst of the those seven killers. If we could develop a treatment for only one of the seven, which do you think would give us the most bang for the buck?

The chances are that no one of these would give us a noticeable life extension benefit on its own. A couple of them might do so — a few years ago I wrote a book about the role of mtDNA mutations and suggested that the therapy I just described might double life expectancy — but even back then when mitochondria were my main focus I only gave this a 10% chance of that degree of success.

What do you consider a realistic timeframe for putting treatments in place that address all seven?

That's hard to say, because some of them need really good gene therapy, which is still rather black magic. I won't stop there, though, because I feel that biogerontologists have a duty to give their best guess at timescales. What I can say is that we should be able to implement all seven in mice within a decade. This is because gene therapy in mice is a lot easier, for the simple reason that we don't have to worry about safety. And the thing is that as soon as we do implement them in mice, and presuming that they give the sort of life-extension benefits I predict, the general public will realize that aging is not inevitable after all, and will push incredibly hard for more work on human gene therapy etc. to get the therapies working in humans as fast as possible.

If these treatments are put in place, how long can we expect to live? Forever?

Well, clearly there will always be the risk of death from causes that have nothing to do with aging, so "forever" seems unlikely. But if you're asking whether we will no longer suffer a progressive rise with age in our likelihood of death per unit time, I'd say yes, we won't. That's the definition of "negligible senescence," after all. But I should elaborate a little: this will not be a direct result of those treatments in and of themselves, but of those plus other treatments that we develop in the future. The longer we live, the more things we will suffer from that were developing too slowly to hit us in a currently normal lifespan. But the life extension that we get from these first seven things should give us time to work out how to fix the slower things.

Let's back up for a moment and ask a more fundamental question. Why do we age? And by that, I don't mean how do we age. I mean why. What possible evolutionary advantage could there be to getting old and dying? Is that a fair question, or do we just have to start with the assumption that we do age and go from there?

No in fact, there is a very good answer to your question, which has been debated by evolutionary gerontologists for a long time. In the late 1800's, a prominent biologist called August Weismann realized this was an important question and gave an answer that is wrong, but was accepted by everyone for about 70 years: that aging is good for the species because it allows evolution to work better, by facilitating competition between new members of the species. The older generations would get in the way of this. It wasn't until 1952 that an immunologist called Peter Medawar noted that this couldn't possibly be right, because hardly any organisms in the wild really experience aging. He suggested that the problem is that genes that have deleterious effects on survival are not selected for uniformly. Genes that have those effects only at a late age, as opposed to the ones that are bad for us even when we're young, are more likely to be selected for, because they will not much diminish the number of offspring we have. (Actually this only really works if you take into account that offspring produced later make less of a contribution to the subsequent gene pool because they can't have any of their own offspring until later.)

Let me see if I understand this. We age because genes that are bad for us when we're old don't stop us from reproducing. Because they don't stop us from reproducing, they never got selected against. Aging, then, is just the accumulation of these bad genes that we stumbled on accidentally.

Partly, but they aren't all accidental. A few years after Medawar, George Williams refined this idea by observing that many genes have effects on multiple processes, and thus that a given gene could be bad late in life but good early in life. A gene like that will actually be selected for. We now know good examples of exactly this: gene variants that are protective against cancer are bad for maintenance of the immune system late in life, and genes that give a good reaction to infection seem to be bad for atherosclerosis and neurodegeneration. Later, in 1977, Tom Kirkwood thought about a supplementary question: why do some animals live longer than others? The answer is essentially that the less likely you are to die (per unit time) from causes other than aging (such as predation) the slower your aging should be for maximum progeny survival. A highly predated animal will generally be eaten before it ages even if that aging is quite fast, so it should concentrate on fast reproduction, whereas a less predated animal should try to age slowly so as to have the choice of multiple summers to have offspring that will have enough food to survive. But it turns out that even if a species has no extrinsic mortality at all, they probably won't evolve away all their aging, because (until the arrival of medicine, which wrecks this argument totally) progressively slower aging needs progressively more sophisticated maintenance and repair mechanisms to evolve and be encoded in our genes.

So nature has done the best it could in providing anti-aging capabilities to species for whom long life made evolutionary sense. But now we seem to be back to our seven killers. Are they examples of the good-for-us-early-on-but-bad-for-us-later genes, or do they simply reflect a failure to meet requirements for more sophisticated repair mechanisms? Or both?

Some of each. Cell loss is a good example of the bad side of anticancer defense; aggregate accumulation is really just the result of evolutionary neglect.

What's your response to those who claim that finding a cure for aging is in some way irresponsible or immoral? A number of years ago, the former governor of my home state of Colorado, a fellow by the name of Dick Lamm, made a speech that was to haunt the remainder of his political career. In it, he told his audience that "We have a duty to die" in order to get out of the way, make room for the coming generations, not use more than our share of resources, and so forth. He was talking primarily about heroic lifesaving efforts such as keeping an individual who has had a massive stroke on life support, spending resources and effort on prolonging their life even when there is little or no chance of recovery. His words were widely misquoted as "You have a duty to die," and he became something of a pariah, especially among seniors who didn't take kindly to being told that they should drop dead for the benefit of the kids. But I wonder if there isn't a notion of a "duty to die" lurking in the background of various green movements or in the sustainable growth meme.

I think there probably is, yes. But the deeper question is, why do people find that sort of thinking attractive? I think the only reason is denial: people know they can't escape aging, so they find ways to convince themselves that it's okay not to escape it. When people cease to "know" that aging is inevitable, this whole way of thinking will vanish overnight. As for my response to such people, well, my favorite one is to ask exactly what age the person thinks is the optimal life expectancy for humans, and why that age is better than ten years longer. I've never heard good replies to that one. A similar question is whether the person approves or disapproves of research to delay the age at which people get heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's etc. When they realize that therapies which do that will also, inexorably, extend lifespan, they have to propose that there's some age of onset of those diseases beyond which it ceases to be a good idea to delay them further.

What about the problems that it is argued will plague the long lived? Boredom, for example. Plus, a lot has been said about the relationship between life extension and risk aversion. If we live for hundreds of years, will we find the experience worthwhile? Or will we be too bored or afraid of having an accident to enjoy it?

Boredom is a very real problem for less well-educated people, even with their current lifespans. Obesity is an incredibly big problem right now, and it's mostly caused by television — people can't think of anything to do with their time, so they watch soap operas. But that means that boredom can be avoided by educating people better. This will be possible because of the vast increase in global wealth that will result from having our elderly population contributing to society rather than leaning on it through ill health. Risk aversion is certain to rise with life expectancy. I'm not sure whether this will be seen as a bad thing, but it might. I can't see it as a reason not to develop real anti-aging medicine, though!

Can you say a few words about what your own plans would be for a life that spans several centuries?

Well, first of all I have a lot of catching up to do — all the films I haven't seen, books I haven't read, etc.— while I've been spending every spare minute in the fight against aging. But in addition, there are masses of things that I enjoy doing and will always enjoy — spending time with my wife and friends, taking a punt out on the river Cam, playing a game of Othello, etc.— and I reckon I'll just carry on doing those things forever.

At root, the reason I'm not in favor of aging is because I like life as I know it.

UPDATE: Aubrey answers the Seven Questions About the Future.

Posted by Phil at August 6, 2003 08:18 AM | TrackBack

What happens when we achieve near-immortality? What about the population problem? If such methods of curing aging exist, and it is given to everyone on the planet, then the only solution to this problem is to shut the human reproductive system down...for good.

Many people would not agree with this stance, but I think immortality should come with sacrifice.

Posted by: Kadamose at August 6, 2003 03:52 PM

A caveat here. There should be a way to restore the Human race even if most or all technology is destroyed in some cataclysm. For example, currently we can survive the destruction of our technology say due to a bunch of huge electromagnetic pulses (as can be generated by nuclear weapons above the atmosphere). Our ability to reproduce will be virtually unimpaired.

However, imagine if such a thing happened after the Human race becomes immortal and shuts down reproduction. How do you enable reproduction to occur under those circumstances yet still curb reproduction for most immortals?

For an extreme example, one could curb reproduction by requiring some sort of cryptographic key to activate the reproductive organs. Ie, you can't become fertile without the appropriate keys. A foe could then target these key storage areas in an attempt to eliminate the human race. This seems particularly excessive, but the Earth might evolve to a point where reproduction is so heavily regulated, and disobedience so common, that extreme measures are taken to thwart illegal acts of reproduction.

Another solution might be a straightforward tradeoff between reproduction and immortality. Ie, you can reproduce, but you either can't have the immortality treatment or must stop the immortality treatment for a period of time.

In any case, sacrificing unlimited reproduction for immortality seems an obvious tradeoff. We can't have both. My concern here is how to implemnet the tradeoff without risking the future of the race in some disaster.

Posted by: Karl Hallowell at August 6, 2003 05:07 PM

Utter nonsense. It's a big universe.

Posted by: acd at August 7, 2003 11:45 AM

A big universe, yes - but if we were to populate the universe like you suggest, we would be no better than the Grey Goo every uneducated moron seems to fear more than anything.

Our destiny is to become 'gods' and to understand how the universe works - not to populate the universe with worthless, immortal consumers.

Posted by: Kadamose at August 7, 2003 01:04 PM

It ia quite amusing to onte that Sceince fiction has been dealing with immortality and gene engineering for over 75 years.

Foe example the recent "bio-ethics" debate was laughably inept that realizing what Robert A. Heinlein had discoved 5 decades ago: people are constantly 'engineering' their children by their choices for mates. In "Beyond this Horizon" He mentioned that every government scheme for controlling that process had fallen flat and the only proven method was to leave those decisons up to the parents. The politics of immortality were amply covered in "Methusalah's Children".

In short, we OldFans are tickled to death by the "new" debates on this issue. For the record, the salient point of immortality is not "should we live forver?" but "who gets to live forever?".

The shooting always starts over that issue.

Posted by: OldFan at August 7, 2003 02:23 PM

de Grey isn't talking about immortality, he's talking about agelessness. An ageless mortal will still die eventually. On an infinite timeline, he is going to die in an accident, of some disease, or in a violent encounter. For instance, how many wars will the ageless live through, and have to fight in because they won't be "too old" and have to leave it to the younger generation? How many miles will they travel by car or plane? The odds will catch up with him and he will die. Hence, reproduction will still be necessary, though at a reduced rate among those that can afford the anti-aging treatment.

Posted by: James Bennett at August 7, 2003 02:24 PM


The idea that after a certain moment human reproduction would be totally "shut down" so that from that time on there could never be any new consciousnesses to look onto the world afresh, to my mind is appalling -- a massive change in what it means to be human (far more than banishing aging, in my view) -- and totally unnecessary. Defeating aging won't banish death; there will still be accidents and disease for quite some time to come.

If aging is banished as a cause of death, then rather than a definite barrier across one's lifespan at around a certain age, as we find today, there would instead be a "half-life" for people somewhat analogous to radioactive decay, whereby an individual would have a 50% chance of living a certain span, but if he successfully traversed that period, he'd then have a 50% chance of living a similar span again, and so forth. Insurance companies tell us that, with accidents and disease left unchanged in overall mortality, but aging completely removed from the "death" equation, that "half-life" interval would be around 800 years.

Despite the prevalence of such Methuselah-length lifespans, however, deaths due to accidents and disease (sometimes wholesale) will still occur, and thus -- even without considering emigration off the Earth -- reproduction can still take place too. I did some calculations once which indicated that, for a steady state and lacking emigration, the birth rate would have to go down by a factor of about 90% -- which doesn't seem very onerous given the long lifespan that folk would have to look forward to. People could still have children from time to time.

Posted by: Michael E. McNeil at August 7, 2003 02:30 PM

If aging were cured, people would still die. There would be accidents, suicides, other forms of illness.

Based on accident data alone, it appears that the median lifespan would be less than 1,000 years before you got killed in an accident of some sort. Add in plagues, wars, suicides, other illnesses, and 'immortal' people would probably still have a median lifespan of maybe 500 years or less. Of course, we don't know how long life would effect us, and extrapolating from curves based on our current lifestyles is dangerous. Perhaps people would become more thrill-seeking, or perhaps they would become more cautious. Perhaps we'd find that the suicide rate skyrockets past age 100.

As for population growth, that's another big unknown. We do know today that population growth is diminishing, and world population may actually begin to decline after 2050 (U.N. population council low variant model). What would 'immortality' do to our drive to reproduce? Would we have fewer children? Or more?

The future is always uncertain. One thing I'm sure of - institutions and culture will adapt. We've adapted other other huge changes in our condition, and we'll adapt to this. The march of progress continues on. We just may all get to see a bit more of it.

Posted by: Dan at August 7, 2003 02:34 PM

I agree that more time to play Othello would be good. Aubrey and I were both sort of middling players back in the 80's.

Posted by: Arnold Kling at August 7, 2003 03:36 PM


I'd like to congradulate you: I don't know how you manage to live on this earth without being a consumer--wihtout breathing the air, eating the food, and sucking the very life blood of Mother Nature--but it is a noteworthy achievement. Because you do not participate in our entropically leperous culture, you are entitled to fear Grey Goo, something which would mark a lesser soul as a moron.

I salute you! Why, you're almost a god yourself.

Posted by: Nathan Hall at August 7, 2003 03:49 PM

The "grey goo" fear is not irrational, it just requires a very basic understanding of the concept of nano-technology.

The "holy grail" of nano-tach is self-replicating non-bots - machines that can make more of themselves. Of course, the REASON is so you can start with one nano-bot, toss it on a pile of resources, and tell it to make you a car. It will reproduce a few million of itself, build the car (probably incorporating most of the machines themselves), and then wait for the next command.

There are several "grey goo" producing scenarios. The first is this: machines the self-replicate will be the first goal, meaning that they will probably, at first, have no other function, and the controls may not work, either properly or at all.

Second, a malfunction - when you're making 10 million copies of something at the molecular level, mistakes will happen. What if the mistake leaves one machine in "replicate" mode? What you get is basically mechanical cancer.

Now, I'm not saying there's really a major problem here - a few high-temp explosives, maybe a nuke if the problem starts to get really, really out of hand, and the individual nano-bots are gone, just like killing cancer... possibly with the attendant side effects.

It's not world-destroying (most likely), but definitely something to have contingency plans for, as research progresses (and I look forward to it progressing).

Oh, and great big, huge, enormous ditto to OldFan. Until we have infinite resources, "who gets it" is definitely the big, nasty question.

Posted by: Deoxy at August 7, 2003 04:25 PM

You guys really need girlfriends.

Posted by: Kurtis at August 7, 2003 05:37 PM

On population growth: That's an issue we face with or without stopping the aging process. It's not a useful argument.

On lifespan: People will die of course, but more, the brain has finite limits - even without age related damage. Either a person eventually will become a living fossil, unable to learn new things, will "overwrite" old memories, or will be "upgraded" with some currently unknown techniques. In either of the two later choices, eventually a person will become someone, or something else. The concept of "lifespan" starts getting a little vague a few centuries out.

Posted by: VR at August 7, 2003 06:06 PM

anti-aging tech, reproduction, female biology

I think a too male-centric viewpoint is at work here. It takes two to reproduce. Anti-aging technology could theoretically allow a male to remain fertile until death. But females shed eggs from their ovaries every month as a normal part of their life. And don't ovaries have only a limited supply of eggs?

That means that anti-aging tech could leave us with an odd imbalance of fertile males and infertile females. A long term solution to this problem is interesting to speculate about. But I admit, all the shorter term social problems of anti-aging technology will be the REAL problems to deal with.

Posted by: Brad at August 7, 2003 07:14 PM


I don't think you understand your neurophysiology very well. It is not as if each memory takes up a neuron (or two or three) and that, eventually, we run out of neurons. In short, memories are formed by changes in connectivity across large swaths of neuronal tissue and any given cell may participate in hundreds or thousands of memories. That is, memory resides in the pattern of firing across cell assemblies, not in individual neurons.

Furthermore, these patterns are quite plastic and evolve over time (which, among other things, is why our memories of a past event can be absolutely crystal clear and yet quite wrong). It is also true that the combinatorics are stratospherically high: we can indeed remember a remarkably large number of things.

To an extent, you are correct to say that people will become "someone else" in time as their brain continues to learn and evolve. But this is true even within the confines of our current lifespans, is it not? I am certainly not the same person at 43 that I was at 23.

Posted by: Mark Brittingham at August 7, 2003 07:46 PM

Me only cruel immortality consumes.

Posted by: Bernard Hassan at August 7, 2003 07:56 PM


Who are you to tell us what our destiny is?

Posted by: jb at August 8, 2003 05:51 AM

Well, if you are one of those inferior types who believes in the Biblical God - I would say I was 'God in the flesh'.

Seriously though, mankind's destiny is to become gods and to understand the universe and all of the dimensions within it. If you honestly believe that mankind should go out into the universe, repeating the same mistakes as their pathetic ancestors, then you need to rethink your stance on things a little bit - Mankind would be better off destroyed, if that's the case.

Posted by: Kadamose at August 8, 2003 09:42 AM

Reproduction - give everyone "birthright" shares at birth, set the number of shares required to reproduce (never > 2x a person's birthright), and let a market do the rest.

Kadamose - what is it that you hate about people such that you'd consider it horrible to see them spread throughout the universe?

If it's a distaste for uniformity, you hardly need worry - the human race is likely to splinter into "the human races" over the next 100-1000 years, as we gain control over our genetics and different groups make different choices of how and how much to alter themselves.

Posted by: TwinBeam at August 8, 2003 11:29 AM

I have no problem with cloning or genetic engineering - hell, I want a cat girl just like any other perverted male.

However, there's a big difference between creating life with your 'hands and minds' and creating life with the facilities you are born with. Evolution, for the most part, has stopped in humans, therefore natural reproduction is no longer necessary or required.

To create the perfect human being - or better yet, the perfect human hybrid, will require the use of intellect, knowledge, and wisdom and not natural instinct.

And the infamous question that is asked to me quite often, ("Why do you hate mankind so much") is an easy one to answer. Just take a good look around you...people are obsessed with money, power, lust, and they don't care about the cause and effect...they don't even care about traveling the stars or learning the secrets of the universe. They just want to fuck like a bunch of rabbits, make money, and control others - that is ALL they care about. This is a major problem in regard to the future of the species, and if I have anything to say about it, I hope that mankind in its current, self indulgent ways gets completely annihilated. There is nothing but evil in the hearts of men, and this is a fact. I am no exception, of course, hence proving my point.

Nanotechnology, if used the way it is supposed to be used, will usher in a literal heaven on earth, where people seek knowledge instead of money and lust - all forms of government will be destoyed, all forms of religion will cease to exist, and the money system will be eradicated. However, I fear the technology will not be used for this...instead it will be used to amplify the evil that consumes most of mankind already. With this in mind, mankind does not deserve to spread its seed into the universe - until it can come to terms with itself and realize what is truly important, and the meaning of existence.

Posted by: Kadamose at August 8, 2003 12:24 PM

I am focusing on the near term because, reading the news, it looks like even conventional medicine is already finding techniques to extend and rejuvenate life. It looks pretty clear that the people who are going to first benefit from this are the insured and the rich. Although I wonder if some politician might build a campaign to reduce social security costs by subsidizing these tools for elderly people who couldn't otherwise afford it. We have to start thinking about this policy now.

Posted by: Mr. Farlops at August 9, 2003 12:17 AM


The world really ain't that bad... yikes... there's plenty of beauty left in the world. Maybe not in yours it sounds like however.

You should get out of the city and have some fun with your family and friends.. if they can stand having a rain cloud like you around.


Posted by: Anon at August 9, 2003 12:40 AM

Kadamose is oh-so broad minded — so long as the “new humanity” looks like he wants it to.  There's nothing positive that he can point to in mankind's achievements; he goes through a long laundry list of the evils of humanity, declaring that “that [i.e., bad stuff] is ALL they care about,” and asserts that “ALL” people (unlike him) “don't even care about traveling the stars or learning the secrets of the universe.”

Until mankind gets its act together, a la Kadamose, he says, “Mankind would be better off destroyed.”  One can imagine him pushing the button on the Doomsday Machine, restoring the Cosmos back to the nice, clean sterility of Creation Day — eliminating those dirty, messy humans who desire only “money, power, lust....”  Yes, a Dead universe is so much preferrable to those messy, slimy living beings!

Kadamose's jaundiced and baleful view of the vigorous and lively state of human affairs reminds me of what George Orwell had to say about his mindset:

The underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order.  The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because it is untidy; what they desire, basically, is to reduce the world to something resembling a chessboard.

(George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, Chapter 11.)

Posted by: Michael E. McNeil at August 10, 2003 11:53 AM

A few comments. First, exponential growth has to stop at some point. The problem is that you can only obtain resources and space as a rate that is proportional to the cube of time. Even if everyone is a virtual person and everything gets efficiently converted to human habitat, it will happen. That is the nature of exponential growth. Hence at some point, you need growth management.

Second, while I don't understand the reasons that Kadamose originally got picked on, I have a nitpick. Human evolution hasn't stopped just because we can't see it happening day to day. For example, large portions of the Earth are conducting a vast genetic mixing experiment (ie, immigration, diversity, and all that). There are interesting human breeding experiments (eg, the orthodox Jew sects). Modern society is selecting for "fitter" people, it's just not what you thought.

For example, I see a massive crash in populations occuring global due to the advent of technology. Obviously, the developed world has experienced it first. What will happen is that people who physically and psychologically can raise families, particularly large families in a developed society. For example, I have an uncle who have twelve kids and those kids had lots of kids. That branch looks like it'll do better than the rest of my near relatives combined.

I don't know what will happen in the future, but I bet that given enough generations of short-livers, the oncoming population decline will reverse. Namely, the right combinations of genetics and memetic systems will result in a positive growth situation. Humanity will adapt to a technological civilization.

Posted by: Karl Hallowell at August 11, 2003 06:02 AM

If, if, if... Kadamose, all those things are already possible. I would like to say they really are a distinct possibility, and not an idealistic dream... but anyway. Remember, it was said (by some) that the atom bomb would eliminate war, which it obviously has not. I, for one, predict that nanotechnology will be developed by some corporation, and used to make money. Whether it will all turn out well in the end, or at least a reasonable amount of time after it is introduced, depends on the specifics of the situation.

Posted by: sankuro at August 11, 2003 07:12 AM

As far as the atomic bomb creating "peace", we can say that less people died in the latter half of the twentieth century due to wars than in the first half. Much of that difference can be attributed to atomic bombs. It's a peace of sorts.

Posted by: Karl Hallowell at August 12, 2003 02:58 PM

I can have unrestrained reproduction and immortality, and I do not care about the moral arguments. I am going to do it anyway, and my children's children's children and I will dine at a table of food that the have-nots produced.

Where there is shortage, the have-nots pick up the bill, just as they do now and always have.

"Expotential Growth has to stop at some point"

If I do stop my growth, it will be because children are a burden on my happiness and economic freedom. It will be on my terms, and not on your economic axioms.

Moreover, let's look at who is doing the exponential growing... If *our* society was experiencing exponential growth, than wouldn't our worker-to-retiree ratio be in order?

I had plenty of time before I was born to be nonexistant. I'm here now, and I'm not giving it up without a fight. Just give me the chance to learn forever.

Posted by: Steve at August 12, 2003 05:00 PM

That's the mentality that needs to be eliminated. Humans were originally hybrids, and were never meant to reproduce in the first place - reproduction was granted to us simply to make a slave race.

The moral argument is not about economics because the money system isn't going to exist in 10 years anyway - it's all about responsibility. In today's world, people having children is both a sign of immaturity and irresponsibilty. You're either part of solution or you're a part of the problem---STOP BEING A PART OF THE FRELLING PROBLEM!

Posted by: Kadamose at August 13, 2003 08:27 AM

Kadamose, I take it that you're a Zechariah Sitchin fan?

Posted by: Phil at August 13, 2003 10:55 AM

Indeed, I am.

Posted by: Kadamose at August 13, 2003 02:21 PM

Kadamose - When eliminating the human race you hate so much, start with yourself....or maybe you should just take your medication. "Reproduction was granted to us simply to make a slave race" !???? Get a grip! At least we don't have to worry about you reproducing...

Posted by: Skullcrusher at August 13, 2003 03:09 PM

If the question is "Who gets it?", I sure as heck hope the answer is "the rich, at first," because (like any new technology) it will eventually be cheap enough for all; whereas if it's "those judged by bureaucrats to be deserving," some of us are permanently SOL.

Posted by: Anton Sherwood at August 19, 2003 09:51 PM

Kinda hard to maintain a status quo when there is NO MONEY SYSTEM. People who think Nanotechnology is going to stimulate the economy are imbeciles - piracy is going to become so rampant, it will render everything literally worthless, and there will be no one who will be able to stop it. It's inevitable. Live with it and stop living in denial - this isn't the dark ages anymore...(or perhaps it is, but we are finally leaving it.)

Posted by: Kadamose at August 20, 2003 12:40 PM

nanotech is not the only scientific frontier that is being considered. i have to go with the guy who said we will have 100's or 1000's of human races e.g. "earthers", "spacers", "ethers" etc.what i mean is each branch of science will overflow into the other and combine in ways we cannot expect or predict... so the question from this seat becomes "is the glass half empty or half full..?"

Posted by: md at August 21, 2003 11:09 PM

I'd bet the ancient Egyptians would have "drank from the cup" of eternal life. Would You? I don't know if I would or wouldn't.

only the strong survive- yhat's how mankind has lived since our existence, and that's how man will live for eternity!

Posted by: student 8 at September 30, 2003 07:29 PM

So if people live for unfathomable lengths of time and can reproduce at will where will everyone live? We sort of discussed this at Gorbachev's, and Kofi's State of the World Forum in 2000. Why weren't you there? Nobody came up with a really great idea, but I say "How about the oceans?" I guess that's where were from, anyway, so sez Stephen Jay Gould, and who would I be to argue? Long lived Eskimos could live in the Antarctic, East Indians in the Indian Ocean (of course), etc. and ol' captainron would be forever crossing Neptune's line of demarcation. Shiver me timbers..!

Posted by: captainron at October 21, 2003 05:42 PM

Some of us expect to convert our wetware into something more compact and efficient.

Posted by: Anton Sherwood at October 27, 2003 12:57 AM

"... when there is NO MONEY SYSTEM"

While the ideal of a society without a trade basis is a utopian one, it's far beyond the ability of even nanotechnology to achieve. Ubiquitous, free molecular manufacturing will render hardware worthless to those willing to break the rules, in much the same way as the internet has rendered software worthless.

Nonetheless, think about the things you pay for that aren't physical. Granted, many of them will change or become meaningless in a mature nano society - I can't imagine paying for electricity when my roof can generate it for me - but there will always be service industries. People are willing to pay quite a lot of money to have their egos stroked, and I don't see that changing.

Genuinely eliminating the money system would require elimination of the concept not only of need (a purpose which will be largely served by mature nanotech) but of desire, and eliminating desire would make the whole thing pointless anyway.

Posted by: Mercy at October 28, 2003 02:31 PM

Quit picking on Kadamose! I find his comments interesting even if I don't agree with them 100%.

Longevity in the human race will bring problems and solutions we can't imagine until we get there. When great minds stop aging, science will advance even faster than it does today. That will be both a problem and a solution.

I just hope that with age comes wisdom. The human race must find ways to coexist without leaving our fate in the hands of political meglomaniacs and religious zealots.

I'd like to know, which of you will drink from the cup and who won't? I'll be drinking.

Posted by: Lucas Donovan at November 12, 2003 03:47 AM

please send it immediately to my inbox

Posted by: james nsan at December 5, 2003 10:49 AM


Thank you so much for publishing this most interesting article and subsequent discussion.
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Website title:
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Website URL:

Website Description:
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Posted by: Dr. Leonid Gavrilov at December 9, 2003 07:19 PM

I believe a cure for aging is a good thing and upon the time the technology comes of hand it should be offered to all, the fear of the world become over populated is silly i feel as if people were given the choice of immortality then a fraction of the population would take it, all the religious people i can see apposing such immorality and it should be there right to refuse any treatment whereas people wanting immorality should be allowed to take that option, and theres always the choice for people to stop any treatment for immotality if after say a couple of hundred years they do eventually want to die.

Posted by: Mark Dawson at January 3, 2004 04:23 AM

Nanotech = elimination of the monetary system you say?

1. Software can be copied at virtually no cost any number of times by almost anyone today.

2. Hardware (not just computer hardware) can only be produced in expensive factories.

3. Microsoft has a greater market value than Toyota.

Until the advent of superhuman AI, there will always be a need for engineers to design the hardware that the nanobots will be told to produce; and there will always be need for technical support.
The workforce that is now employed at the assembly lines is big, but there are many other people that are still going to have a job after nanofactories are created.
There are also entire industries (e.g. entertainment) that will barely be affected.

Even in today's world, almost the entire cost that a company like Intel gets paid when someone buys a computer goes to cover their R&D costs, not the cost of maintaining the production line.
Nanobots are not going to do much R&D for Intel.

Kadamose, get a grip on reality and stop spouting blanket statements you read in some scifi book on topics you are incapable of understanding.

Posted by: Silvatar at March 26, 2004 03:57 AM

I've ready all your posts and some were funny, some were sad, and some were boring. Yet all of you share a great desire in finding the truth, the truth...well where is it? I believe that in this world there are a few people out there (I'm not one of them) who have a special energy. If we find these people...bring them together, to work on this aging problem, then we can find the truth. How do we do it? Well it starts with meeting at one place. I will not come back to this site, if you wish to e-mail me please feel free. If not, then please keep using your curious minds, because maybe one day you'll think of something.

Posted by: ForTheWorld at May 10, 2004 08:30 PM

I think it is possible to cure aging and that's one of my number one goals of life. Currently i am a student at Alabama State University working on my career to become a pathologist. The reason i think it is possible is because technology is expanding to a more better and understanding level, discovering newer things everyday. Some people go against the seek for the cure of aging, but why, why must they, is it God? To me God wants us to discover the cure of aging, it's like a puzzle and we have to find the pieces, because i bet you, people in the older days thought there wouldn't be a cure for some of the diseases that existed then, but yet and still a cure was found because of the improving knowledge of our doctors and technology. But for some weird reason i think i am going to crack the code and make alot of people happy. For some reason i never give up on that main goal no matter what people may say. So to my prospective i always encourage myself that, ' no matter how long it may take me to prove to the world that aging is curable, I Rashonn Hurts in my righteous might will seek out to a success. That's why i salute Mr. Aubrery of his sceniros that puts me a step up of understaning.'

Posted by: RaShonn Jacquez Hurts at June 3, 2004 03:45 PM