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Google invests in life extension research
November 1, 2013 - Stephen Browne
“I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.” - Woody Allen For those who were wondering what they were going to get up to after Google Glass, Google announced in September a new startup Calico, dedicated to research on combating aging. And though they're not splashing it all over the media, it's pretty plain they don't mean making old folks' last years more active and comfortable, they mean giving us more years. Lots more years.
Google is reported to be funding this venture to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
This actually doesn't come as that much of a surprise. Last December I mentioned here that Google had hired Ray Kurzweil, Prophet of the Singularity. Immortality is one of the things Kurzweil says is within our grasp.
I've been following the discussion/debate on the life extension project since the mid-60s. During that time I've seen the notion go from the obsession of a few lonely cranks to one that's being taken seriously by reputable scientists.
What we seem to have right now is in the words of one scientist, "a big bottle of hope."
However that hope is on a bit firmer footing than it used to be. We've got a better handle on how to prepare ourselves for a more vigorous and healthy old age. Partly through the classic methods of good diet and healthy exercise and partly through the still controversial use of nutritional supplements.
Moreover, we have new tools available such as genetic analysis which can alert us of future health risks encoded in our genes that we can start planning how to deal with before they show up.
So is Google's new venture going to give us the long-sought Fountain of Youth?
Who knows? I see three possibilities coming from the next few years of intensive, well-funded research:
1) A breakthrough in life extension adding decades, perhaps centuries to our potential lifespan, with all that implies.
2) Some advances in gerontology but with steadily diminishing expectations as problems prove intractable and the goal of significant extensions in lifespan recede into the indefinite future.
3) Convincing evidence that it's just not going to happen. Bummer.
What I don't see is any downside to it. Whatever the result, we won't be worse off for having asked the question.
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