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Google Tackles Aging With Calico
August 12, 2014 7:03 PM   Subscribe

Calico, the company Google launched in September to try to cure death by tackling aging and illness, now has an official website..."

"The new website doesn't offer a ton of information [...], but does outline the company's mission and introduces us to some of the people who will be involved."

"The site also has a careers section, where it says it will post career opportunities when they become available."

"Understanding the fundamental science underlying aging and finding cures for the intractable diseases associated with aging require time, deep technical expertise, research and partnerships," reads the site's careers section.
posted by danabanana (133 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have long been an opponent of death and maintained that opposition in the face of everyone who responds by telling me to "read some sci-fi, it would be horrible!" (Only because they're still stuck in a death-based imagination...in my death-free world, all the problems are solveable).

Anyway, just now seeing that Google wants to cure death I was very excited. But on clicking the link, I see that all they want to do is cure aging and thus bring about longevity. Not good enough. Sorry. When are we going to actually stop death? That's what we need to work on. This is what every physicist in the world should be working on.

Yeah, I mean curing aging would be nice, but it's about time we stopped punching at the various causes of death and launched a direct attack on death itself.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:07 PM on August 12 [25 favorites]


I'm not looking forward to dying myself particularly, but I can't imagine anything fucking the world up - politically, ecologically, socially - more than making people immortal.
posted by aught at 7:17 PM on August 12 [31 favorites]


That's why we only need to make one person immortal -- me.
posted by Behemoth at 7:18 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


Ecologically? Why do we worry about ecology? Because it's necessary for life. Fuck it up and people die. Not in my death-free world. Politically? Worried about war? If it didn't kill people, war wouldn't be so bad. Socially? If stuff gets too messed up here we could just shoot ourselves into space and go live on the moon (or the sun, or other planets). The only reason we don't do that already is that we'd die. Get rid of death and we can do it. All the pro-death arguments are based on things that are bad because they lead to death. There may also be some pain/suffering involved, but there are pretty simple solutions to those things too, that aren't currently practical because they would kill us. Remove death and it puts a lot of otherwise impractical things back on the table.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:21 PM on August 12 [25 favorites]


If ever there were a perfect metaphor for why post-agricultural revolution humans are doomed to self-extinction, surely this is it.
posted by anarch at 7:21 PM on August 12


<cocks head and looks quizically at IOIHAP>
<cocks head the other way to see if that helps>
posted by Reverend John at 7:27 PM on August 12 [18 favorites]


aught: "I'm not looking forward to dying myself particularly, but I can't imagine anything fucking the world up - politically, ecologically, socially - more than making people immortal."

On the other hand, it seems like global warming becomes a bit more serious if you intend to live to see it happen.
posted by pwnguin at 7:28 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Calico is a project designed to make 40-50 year old billionaires stop aging. Anything else they discover along that road is nice but ancillary to their primary goal.
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:29 PM on August 12 [37 favorites]


> That's why we only need to make one person immortal -- me.

I suspect the current project is Ray Kurzweil's immortality. Benefits for anybody else is a marketable sideline to continue funding development on the primary product.
posted by at by at 7:29 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


So, uh, is Calico like Roko's basilisk in that it is obligated to punish those who fail to help it achieve its aims?
posted by graymouser at 7:30 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Calico is more like an alternate timeline Prometheus where Weyland doesn't bother building rocket ships.
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:32 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I've always hoped and dreamed of living for at least a few hundred years, in part because there's just so much out there to do and see, and in part because I just want to see what happens. We're at a point in human history where the passing of decades, let alone centuries or millennia, brings massive transformations. The future may end up being hellish, but you know: it may not.

Ironically, I'm beginning to think I may not end up living long enough to see the technology arrive that will let me live long enough to fulfill my dream.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:34 PM on August 12 [14 favorites]


Calico is a project designed to make 40-50 year old billionaires stop aging give up their money to research initiatives that have no change of success within their lifetime.
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:35 PM on August 12 [10 favorites]


give up their money to research initiatives

Ah, so it's a tax dodge?
posted by slater at 7:36 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Three-hundred-million cells die in the human body every minute, so most of your cells are in the state of dying and being reborn with new cells. In a similar manner, on a higher level, around 100 humans are dying and being born every minute.

So, just as you are alive, but are really a collection of cells that are alive and working together to make something bigger, I tend to think of the human race as being alive, even though there are many deaths occuring all the time.

If you want to live forever (as a human race), you have to make sure the human race doesn't die off. There are a lot of issues to deal with before we can even get close to solving this problem.
posted by eye of newt at 7:39 PM on August 12 [9 favorites]


Calico is a project designed to...how the fuck would I know? I've never met any of the people on the project, I've never worked in/with the project, and I've never read any deep investigative reporting on the project.

I'm surprised so many MeFites seem to have such intimate knowledge of the motivations of people involved in, well, pretty much everything.
posted by Bugbread at 7:41 PM on August 12 [12 favorites]


I've been thinking about Ingress recently, and I've picked it up and play obsessively when I can.

While I play, I try to think of possible ulterior motives, such as people tracking and so forth. Although it tracks my movement, and such, it doesn't seem to me that this is a good motive, because playing the game changes where I go and my travel behavior. I suppose it tracks how I am willing to change my plans based on where the next locations are.

The game tracks notable permanent human artifacts and meeting places of social value. While playing, I do take the time to study the area and why this artifact is an in-game target.

Each day I play, I learn something new and good about humanity. Ingress has brought me to veterans memorials just meters away from my home that I hadn't ever noticed before. I've seem works of art that are extremely beautiful. I've been to Korean churches, Buddhist temples, Jamba Juice and fields filled with trees planted in memory of children who lost their lives to cancer.

I meet people of differing cultures all the time, and I am almost forced to talk to them to explain my presence. I also meet and talk to other players, IRL and in game. IMHO, this is the ulterior motive - it gets people to SEE other cultures and art and talk and share. It brings humanity up a few notches.

This is especially important with the cultural, racial and religious tension we live with everyday - it bridges the gap between people who do not know other cultures and people of those cultures. It is, in my opinion, a very good tool, especially in the one-sided area I live in - the south - which has a lot of Western Religious views that I wouldn't say are intolerant of other cultures, just ignorant of them.

I also think that the sheer number of people and the global-ness of it really strikes me as something that can prevent real-world fighting and war - if we fight over these stupid portals, perhaps we wont fight IRL.

It's also teaching me that the metric system is very easy to get used to.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 7:44 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Anyway, about Calico, could it have something to do with Sergey Brin announcing that he carries a gene mutation (higher risk of Parkinson's disease)?

This strikes me as "The Man Who Fell To Earth" scenario. Perhaps Sergey and Elon Musk should work together if they aren't alreay?
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 7:47 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


That's why we only need to make one person immortal -- me.

That might be the point of the project - along with them hoovering up every last AI and robotics company they can find. Immortal transhuman god-kings served by a machine empire. If I had Page and Brin's resources, that's what I would be doing with 'em. But I'm a seething misanthropic nerd with power issues, and they're... ummm...

I for one welcome our new God-Kings and their machine empire.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:49 PM on August 12 [11 favorites]


If my lifespan was a couple of hundred years I would have time to try to learn to play the lute!
posted by winna at 7:51 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Obligatory: Death continues to be our nation's #1 killer.
posted by adamrice at 7:56 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I bet they're going to try to use science to do this!
posted by juiceCake at 8:02 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


> I'm surprised so many MeFites seem to have such intimate knowledge of the motivations of people involved in, well, pretty much everything.

The cynicism stems from Google's recent-ish hiring of Ray Kurzweil, whose obsessions with living forever are frequent fodder of conversation and who already seems to have borne significant influence within the company, such as on some of their robotics ventures. Even if Calico was unaffiliated with Google, the snark might take on a different tone but probably not go away completely, given the apparent megalomania and philosophical leanings of some technocrats of Silicon Valley.

I'd love to be wrong, but of all the vanity projects a billionaire could throw their spare billions at, there are many problems one could be solving or pleasures one could be pursuing. Life extension as a pure pursuit (rather than the set of health-related problems whose solution could extend some lifespans) sounds grandiose and egotistic.
posted by at by at 8:02 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


Physical aging is a tragedy and anything said to the contrary is a defense mechanism against what we can't control. Before the advent of anesthetics, there were people who believed that pain during surgery was meaningful and was good for your soul.
posted by the jam at 8:19 PM on August 12 [23 favorites]


What will happen to personality and sanity/mental health of individuals who extend their lifespans indefinitely? I fear we might find a way to live forever, but end up mad or depressed after a few extra decades.
posted by humanfont at 8:23 PM on August 12


< cocks head and looks quizically at IOIHAP >
< cocks head the other way to see if that helps >


doesn't help. ioihap and I have been arguing about this for years - and she still doesn't understand that the end of death would be horrific. She needs to watch more Star Trek.

also read Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett.
posted by jb at 8:30 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


This is just setting us all up for a great big game of Highlander, where there can only be one at the end. Once immortality is achieved, you'll be able to download the app from the Play Store on your Android Sword.

Here We are. Born to be kings.
We're the princes of the universe.

posted by SpacemanStix at 8:31 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


So, Elon Musk wants to die on Mars, and Page and Brin don't ever want to die.

To each gazillionaire his own, I guess.
posted by notyou at 8:36 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


I don't think the folks involved are going to ram immortality down the throats of anyone here. Pretty sure you get to die if you want. Hell, it's the default setting!

Complaining about a bunch of people (probably fruitlessly) looking to avoid death is like taking a firm stand against someone trying to draw plans for a rocketship to Pluto. I mean, just look at what will happen if they managed it, everyone will have to take a rocketship to Pluto! The Earth will be utterly fried to a crisp by the flames of all of those departing rocketships!
posted by adipocere at 8:41 PM on August 12 [11 favorites]


I used to find anti-death arguments very persuasive, even obvious. Now I'm not so sure.

Given that we live under (presently deferred) Malthusian pressures, old people can only live longer if there are fewer new people. Why should we prefer old people over new people?

I'm still selfish, and I hope that medicine continues to improve, extending my life as far as it will go. But I no longer feel that it's just right. It's a trade-off of some (people's) interests against others.
posted by grobstein at 8:41 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Ok, I just read that jb. From what I can tell, they are not immortal (if they were, they wouldn't fear germs), they're just living in a germ free bubble that protects them from many kinds of death. This is different from my proposal in which death doesn't actually exist. If the Gideons had that, they could just live in space or at the bottom of the oceans, or anywhere else without worry and it would solve their overcrowding problem. Their problem is that germs can still kill them, and presumably other things (why is the Gideon on the space ship even thinking about air running out?) can too. This is not the death-free world that I propose. This is the longevity world that Google is pursuing.

I believe Reaper Man is about death going on strike or some such? A completely different scenario from what I propose. See, if death goes on strike and you pick up your stuff and move to the bottom of the ocean, then death will eventually go back to work, or they'll hire some Death Scab, and when that happens you'll drown and die. Nobody is dying right now is not nearly the same thing as death no longer exists.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:41 PM on August 12


Reminds me of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story.
posted by Schmucko at 8:43 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Physical aging is a tragedy and anything said to the contrary is a defense mechanism against what we can't control

Aging is life. Death is a furtherance of life in a cycle of balance.

So, Elon Musk wants to die on Mars, and Page and Brin don't ever want to die.

To each gazillionaire his own, I guess.


There's only so much you can spend on not being hit by a bus. I'd think $20M tops.
posted by angerbot at 8:43 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


I think that illustrates the point precisely. Aging is not life. Is it your contention that, in fact, lobsters are not alive since they lack most if not all the problems we associate with aging? Are sturgeon not alive? Are a couple different types of trees not alive?

I'm guessing you would grant all of those things are actually alive.
posted by Justinian at 8:47 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


How are we going to kick our ageless billionaire overlords out of SF now? 1000 years from now an entirely ossified Disney hipster city populated with animatronic Potemkin artists, junkies, and pigeons will still be selling artisinal toast and cupcakes to eternal regulars.
posted by zippy at 8:51 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I dropped biology so I don't know if this is true for other organisms, but as humans go nature has it figured out: you're a kid, then you have and raise kids, then you assist your kids in the difficult responsibility of raising kids. By the time your grandkids have kids you're mostly superfluous to the project and you take leave of the world. Anyway, you can extend lives to 150 but most people are still going to believe all the best music was made when they were 18. So why bother?
posted by TimTypeZed at 9:01 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Physical aging is a tragedy and anything said to the contrary is a defense mechanism against what we can't control.

Yeah, I agree with this, actually. We've come up with ways to brace for impact or soften the blow, but it's an existential problem that becomes virtuous in our response primarily due to the fact that has been unsolvable. Deep down, I think, many feel that the cessation of inherently valuable human beings, and the fact that they literally become forgotten by the universe (worrying that loved ones will be forgotten is one of the worst things about grieving, actually), is a tragedy of the deepest order and rightly causes angst. A lot of ink, sweat, and tears have grappled with this through history, and I'm okay giving it some resolution, if possible, in ways that are also sociological and ecologically responsible. If I can put hope in some solutions to aging being possible, it's not too hard to hope for that kind of humanitarian balance.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:11 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


also Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold - it's really bad for the young if the old never die.
posted by jb at 9:16 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I hope they succeed. Good luck getting to another star with a habitable planet before good old Sol burns out. Seems like an exercise in futility to me. Granted some humans might make it that far, but anyone living today? I doubt it.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:23 PM on August 12


jb: According to the Wikipedia article, death still exists in the cryoburn. Also, even if eliminating death were bad for the young, who cares? People would be young for an infinitely small proportion of their lives.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:25 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


That's... a rather long time in the future. Perhaps if we try really hard we can find some middle ground between living for a few short and often unhealthy decades and dying of ennui as the sun burns itself out billions of years from now.
posted by Justinian at 9:26 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


doesn't help. ioihap and I have been arguing about this for years - and she still doesn't understand that the end of death would be horrific. She needs to watch more Star Trek.

Try this: you know how when you get on that crazy crowded morning rush hour bus in the morning, and you're pressed up against all these strange smelly sweaty people and some of them clearly didn't wash their hair or brush their teeth and there's that one lady that bathed in SkinSoSoft and this one guy is obviously sick and coughing and sneezing and can't cover his mouth because he has to hold on to the bar and you are totally going to catch it and why the fuck could he not just stay home. And even though you're only on it for like 15 minutes it feels longer and it's terrible and you arrive atwork in a bad mood, already stressed out and you haven't really started your day yet? Without death, that's earth, and you can't get off.
posted by Hoopo at 9:28 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Prediction: Their major product will somehow involve a cocktail of the blood of Ozzy Osbourne, Keith Richards, and Dick Cheney. And maybe a horseshoe crab.
posted by argonauta at 9:29 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


and you can't get off.

Why can't I get off?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:30 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Why can't I get off?

I think you meant to post this in AskMe.
posted by not_on_display at 9:33 PM on August 12 [19 favorites]


Worried about war? If it didn't kill people, war wouldn't be so bad.

If only it weren't possible to do lots of horrific things to people that would make them want to die in a war.

Given the amount of kids that die of various easily fixable things before their 5th birthday, it might be nice if Google decided that that's the problem they want to fix before ensuring that a few billionaires get to live to to 500.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:36 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


I don't understand this desire to "live forever". When I was 10 I looked forward to being a teenager. As A teen I wanted to be an adult. As an adult I want to contribute to certain communities. But there will come a time when I've served my purpose, and it'll be helping no one, least of all myself, to hang around.

After all: I'm just carrying on a very small part of a very complicated society. I'll have kept alive certain currents for others to carry on, but of what interest am I, even to myself, when all the torches have been passed, when the world I adapted to has been superseded?
posted by phrontist at 9:46 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story.

Haha, I just read that recently. Kinda like Woody Allen via William Gibson. Or the other way around.

(Sub-plot Spoiler: Immortality = Plastic surgery + over-priced diet supplements. Also: doesn't really work as promised).
posted by ovvl at 9:46 PM on August 12


it might be nice if Google decided that that's the problem they want to fix before ensuring that a few billionaires get to live to to 500. ...but, um, Google is kinda run by billionaires? I mean, not so much the poor kids, you know, unless they're willing to watch a LOT of ads.
posted by aramaic at 9:48 PM on August 12


aught: "I'm not looking forward to dying myself particularly..."

I don't need your way of life
I can't stand your attitudes
I can do without your strife
I don't need this fucking world
I don't need this fucking world
This world brings me down
Gag with every breath
This world brings me down
I'm looking forward to death

posted by symbioid at 9:58 PM on August 12


As I've grown older, my desire to live forever has diminished. After all, you only get to be 17 once. Perhaps smarter people will know what to do with the extra time. As it is, having more time would only increase my time spent on Metafilter.
posted by dmh at 10:00 PM on August 12


So there's exactly zero new information here. The website just has pictures of the officers and the article basically just says, "hey look, a website."
posted by octothorpe at 10:02 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


...but, um, Google is kinda run by billionaires? I

True. But not just billionaires. Gazillionaires with the same fantasy of eternal youth that rich people chewing monkey glands in the 19th century had. Luckily it will end with about the same rate of success as that. But we'll have to hear a lot more about it parceled as helping human progress.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:02 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Calico is a project designed to make tasty, tasty burritos. The immortality thing is a cover.
posted by mazola at 10:06 PM on August 12


You can do anything at CALICOLABSCOM, anything at all. The only limit is your death.
posted by daninnj at 10:18 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Calico cats are most always female and I am wondering if the secret is in using lady monkey glands?
posted by Scram at 10:32 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Things I miss about being 17 or 18:
  1. Health and the proper functioning of most everything. Not everyone is lucky in this regard, but generally you feel pretty good and recover quickly from excesses
  2. The ability to learn things quickly, and to remember stuff easily
  3. A sense of "things are going to be better" even if a particular situation was rough; generally you hadn't dealt with the same shit so many times you could still fool yourself
  4. A sense of wonder and of infinite time stretching out in front of you, with plenty of time to make decisions, change course, do things, etc.
While I would welcome the first two just because, the last two are what I think many contemplate when wishing to be 18 again. They wouldn't be coming back, I don't think. Or maybe they would?
posted by maxwelton at 10:46 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


The reason why journalism is going down the tubes is I can look at this Calico website and nowhere does it say or imply they intend to cure death.

That is good, because if you can't die, you're not living.

This one time the Buddha said "All conditioned things are impermanent." Then he died.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:46 PM on August 12


Death isn't necessary for people, it's just an artifact of our animal nature. Animals die because the thing that's really important is our genes, and for most people those get passed on. After that happens nature (in the abstract sense) doesn't care what happens to you and me, so we slowly self destruct. That's all aging and death are. There's nothing moral or divine about it.

But death is wrong, in a human moral sense, and senescence (the aging process) is even worse. Everyone we love. Everyone we care about. Everyone we look up to and admire. They'll all age, slowly breaking down, losing everything that defines them, enduring ever mounting indignities and tragedies until the odds are finally stacked too much on the negative side and a disease comes along to finally carry them away.

If Google's Calico can do something about that, then I very much hope they succeed. A world where people could live much longer lives would be a world much more invested in the future. Maybe even a world willing to sacrifice for a better tomorrow, if the decision makers actually stand a chance of living to see it.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:49 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I kind of guffawed and rolled my eyes about Calico when it was announced, because let's be honest, Google has pretty much no skills when it comes to this, and this isn't an engineering problem like building an electric car, this is an open ended research project. Art Levinson's involvement could have been explained away as just being another incestuous half-assed SV feel-good attempt. But then they somehow got David Botstein to join. Botstein is no BS, and I can't imagine him getting involved with anything half-assed, even if it was just a vehicle to do extremely well-funded yeast research.

But still, this is wide open research, even with all the resources in the world, there's no guarantee for any sort of success. It's a fantastic marketing vehicle, and probably will be a good place to do fundamental research, but saying that they're "tackling" anything is so naive as to be laughable. Google is nothing if not good at drumming up good press. Who else could launch a research institute and get this type of breathless marketing for free?
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:49 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Getting good scientists to join is probably not that hard. Promise scientists lots of resources to pursue their research and they are going to take you up on it, even if they don't believe your goal is achievable.

Hell, my husband just got hired to do research on a project where, on day two, he determined that the project goal was impossible due to breaking some fundamental laws of the universe. He (because he's more ethical than me) called a research group meeting and explained this, but the general consensus was, nah, let's do it anyway, because we'll probably do some cool science on the way to getting stuck.

I think the nice thing about Calico will be that Google will do some cool science on the way to getting stuck. And those people saying they should be throwing their resources at lowering child mortality or whatever? I'm pretty sure that the sorts of things you discover when you try to "cure" aging are things that have useful consequences for other fields of medicine too.
posted by lollusc at 10:57 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I find it a bit weird (possibly in an older sense of the word) that they chose the name "Calico" because I happen to have known a few of a particular sub-variety of calico cats who were alive and lively well into their twenties, and I do suspect there's something we could learn from them that might extend human life, but it wouldn't help anybody alive now.
posted by jamjam at 11:00 PM on August 12


Google's also invested a ton in robotics research, per an NPR interview I was listening too last night. What I'm saying is robot cyborg billionaires ruling us forever.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:02 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


As I've grown older, my desire to live forever has diminished. After all, you only get to be 17 once.

What if living longer didn't mean "being older"? What if you could feel like you were 30 when you were 80? That's more of what we're talking about here, not extending life indefinitely into unimaginable decrepitude, but extending the years a person is healthy.
posted by the jam at 11:12 PM on August 12


I thought Google was already all over this.
posted by instamatic at 11:18 PM on August 12


People are so weird. The older I get the more I realize how short our time is and the more I wish everyone had more time. How can you possibly think this is enough (assuming good health)? Do people just sit around bored wondering what to do with their day? Is death really such a relief from the apparently unending tedium of everyday living?
posted by Justinian at 12:01 AM on August 13 [6 favorites]


What if you could feel like you were 30 when you were 80?

There is a lot to discover, but it's not possible to discover something for the very first time twice.
posted by dmh at 12:09 AM on August 13


If you want to argue that there are other public-health projects that Google should be spending its money on, go right ahead. What I can't wrap my head around is the argument that we shouldn't try to cure aging, because then we'd be surrounded by old people.

Replace aging with any other ailment and it sounds absurd: "AIDS kills 1.5 million people per year. We shouldn't waste time and money figuring out how to treat it; if we did, we'd be crowded out by too many people who failed to die of AIDS. When someone contracts AIDS, it means they've served their purpose, and now it's time for them to die and get out of everyone else's way."

I'm all in favor of people not being forced to live longer than they truly want to, but you don't get to make that decision for somebody else.
posted by teraflop at 12:14 AM on August 13 [5 favorites]


What if living longer didn't mean "being older"? What if you could feel like you were 30 when you were 80? That's more of what we're talking about here, not extending life indefinitely into unimaginable decrepitude, but extending the years a person is healthy.

There's a term for this: Healthspan. And extending healthspan is probably far more achievable than expanding lifespan and certainly more achievable than "curing death".
posted by kisch mokusch at 12:47 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Aging research is actually a pretty mainstream, if heterogeneous, part of biological research. There is a division of the National Institute of Health devoted to funding work in this area, for example, that has a pretty lucid description of what they mean when they talk about the biology of aging. I'm trying to finish a presentation right now which is obviously why I'm on MetaFilter but maybe I can dig up some reviews tomorrow.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:00 AM on August 13 [3 favorites]


I'm sure it's not that hard to attract talented scientists when you offer a lot of resources.

Of course, everyone who's ever watched a movie knows this will end four-five decades from now with a mummified looking Sergey Brin demanding results from those researchers, and when they don't have anything to give him, he'll suck their very life force out, giving him a brief respite from death.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:01 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


I will be applying. Where else could you cause cancer in so many billionaires and get paid for it?
posted by benzenedream at 1:01 AM on August 13 [4 favorites]


Meh. Death is an illusion, anyway. Consider these two facts: time, space, and matter are quantuum, that is, they come in discrete units, like pixels, and according to the findings of WMAP, our universe (based on it's background 'flatness') is very likely infinite. (IIRC this has been determined to a 5-sigma degree of confidence (7-sigma being the 'gold standard' of 'nearly' 100% confidence) which translates to our entire universe being at least ~64 trillion times the volume of our observable universe (which is about 90 billion light years across and filled with a ridonkulous number of galaxies and etc.)). Since all matter is apparently the same no matter where you look, and space is not a continuum, at infinite distances you begin to run out of ways to arrange said matter and the universe begins to repeat itself. This concept is often referred to as the 'exact copy distance' (the distance at which you encounter a perfect copy of our entire observable universe. Of course, between here and there are countless imperfect copies where even the unlikeliest of scenarios (within the constraints of the laws of nature, of course) become not only possible, but inevitable. Like, for example, the copyverse (a term I just made up, I believe) where you didn't just step in front of a bus, the one where aliens land and trade you immortality medicine for your iPhone, or (my personal favorite) the one where L'Oreal age-defying make-up actually works. Even if you die here, there's pretty much no way to kill you everywhere.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:07 AM on August 13 [6 favorites]


That was the subject of one of my first comments on Mefi! Good times.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:24 AM on August 13


"Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." --Susan Ertz
posted by kinnakeet at 1:29 AM on August 13 [6 favorites]


"The only thing worse than being immortal is not being immortal." --Me
posted by Justinian at 1:46 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


"Reach for the stars, because even if you fail, you will land on the moon." -- Neil Armstrong
posted by en forme de poire at 2:28 AM on August 13


Peeps will never starve in my eternal empire!
posted by supercrayon at 2:33 AM on August 13 [3 favorites]


Death has already been cured. Fact.

I was dead as Dillinger in a friends pickup, dead for a long time, too, and these amazing docs brought me back, using amazing technologies put together by other amazing docs. (Long-winded account click here.) I died three times that day -- July 6 2004 -- and three times they brought me back. I'm ten years beyond my "expired by" date, as of last month.

A friend of mine has been cured of death -- lymphoma -- dreadful chemo and radiation but he's out and about now, bopping down his road. Without the medical care he received, he's outta here, five years ago. He's a happy guy, now, 29 years old, good job, really sweet new girlfriend who's got this darling little boy, etc and etc.

Curing diseases that prolong life is where it's at. It's a one step at a time thffing. Twenty years ago, HIV was a death sentence, now you go and get some drugs for it, and care about your t-cells, or whatever it is. Doctors cured death, or chemists.

I like to call them medical engineers, because they act like engineers, they seem to think like engineers, they succeed like engineers. They are brilliant. I pretty much love them. Give them a problem and they will design around it, or through it, usually elegantly.

As far as postponing my death, I'm doing my part, eating right as I can, moving my body around, keeping vital social relationships. I was 49 when I died, and I damn sure want another 49, I feel like I've already done my bit for death, I gave at the office or whatever, now just leave me the fuck alone thankyouverymuch. Buzz off. Get the fuck out of here. Beat it.

I believe that I'm here about 30 years too early -- I was born in 1954 -- there are so many changes coming on now, and coming on so fast. Still, not fast enough for me to live as long as all of you kids here. I'm gonna get my 98 years, for sure, I'm pretty goddamned determined on that one, but you may get 110, or 130.

You will be here long enough to watch the US go from white people and black people and and brown people and asian people into just US people, a wonderful thing, it's happening already but I won't see it through that I know of. You will though.

Spain was a huge player in world politics in the early 1900s; now they play soccer there, or something, right? The US is going to be that in the 2000s, and you will see it happen, you'll live it.

Someone upthread said it's for billionaires, but this rising tide will float all boats. At the first, only wealthy people got boob jobs, now the woman working at walmart can pull it off. I could go and get my eyes fixed for a couple of grand, not have to wear glasses, because lasers! When it was new it was out of most peoples reach, now they almost do it routinely, and it won't be long they'll do it at Walgreens when you go there to pick up a prescription, sortof like those horses ass blood pressure cuffs that you sit in a chair and play around with while the pharmacist is working on your order.

In fact, I've been cured of death in another way, most likely -- good psych meds. Manic depression is a total bitch, mixed states the worst of the worst -- sometime if you're up for some giggles, pull up a search on mixed states; the mood black, the thoughts despairing, the energy through the roof, pushing that mood and those thoughts at rocket speed, with huge force behind them. It's swell!

Anyways. I'm glad Google is throwing money at it, and using their expertise to build a good org to make something happen. Might be a flop, but even a flop can set others in that direction.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:15 AM on August 13 [9 favorites]


I for one welcome our new God-Kings and their machine empire.

And I, for one, look forward to destroying them! Who's with me?

/looks forward to Google torturing an exact copy of me for all eternity

If their targeted ads are any indication, it probably won't even hurt
posted by hap_hazard at 4:06 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


I think there is some fundemental pessimism that borders on a fatalistic dystopia fixation in assuming that removing causes of death would cause a global drop in quality of life.

Particularly in the whole "the old must make way for the (potential) young" or the belief that over population is immanent if some of the causes of death are removed.

Realistically, given wealth and birth control, birth rates plummet on their own. Any death cure is not going to happen all at once, and something that eliminates calamity as well as aging changes the nature of the species to the point that, as some people pointed out, space expansion is feasible but also that your looking at a creature with so much control over its own biology that pretty much everything is fixable.

And planning everything around death being a needed process is nonsense. We already have done amazing things with maternal mortality and in helping with birth defects- it is the natural way of my species for me to risk death by sepsis or hemorrage every time I have penetrative sex and dealing with *that*, far from choking us in babies and women who didn't have the decency to die in childbirth as part of the same natural inevitability that powers everything else that kills us, it seems to have led to less baby spamming and more human potential.
posted by Phalene at 4:29 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine anything fucking the world up - politically, ecologically, socially - more than making people immortal.

I'm not sure. Having people still around to experience the long term consequences of their actions might just change some things. It might also put a stop to the dumber aspects of repeated history.

The counter argument though is Dick Cheney and his robot heart.
posted by srboisvert at 4:37 AM on August 13 [3 favorites]


I just decided that I now intend to see the 22nd century. Born in 1984, plenty of hella old relatives including my 100+ year-old great-grandad... I rate my chances, though hopefully congenital depression will allow me to actually enjoy it. Maybe I should start practising my cane-shake now.

If Google can do anything to help, all the better.
posted by Drexen at 4:45 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


53, with a 20% chance of heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years (it's just basic biology). Ergo, whatever's coming for life extension, won't come fast enough to keep me going, but I still want my kids to have it. My son's pretty cool, he'll figure out what to do with his immortality.
posted by Mogur at 5:37 AM on August 13


The problem I see with "eternal life" is the ossification of ideas. I'm all for solving medical problems and reducing suffering, but a society made up of 99% old people sounds fucking horrible. Florida unto eternity.
posted by Poldo at 5:45 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


smug little immortal bastards.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:03 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


So I guess this is the "forever" component of Google's "boot stomping a human face" project?
posted by Naberius at 6:06 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


The problem I see with "eternal life" is the ossification of ideas.

What makes you believe this isn't also a biological effect of aging that could be addressed medically?
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:07 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


but a society made up of 99% old people sounds fucking horrible.

Well, I'm sure some will rush in to reply to you, "but they won't BE old! They'll young FOREVER" without understanding the nonsensicality of that statement. I don't think a lot of people understand how society changes around you and gradually alienates you as you grow older, and that this is awful an aspect of growing old as the physical complaints.

In the relatively trivial terms of our popular culture, people mock or forget the music, films, and books that felt so crucial to your formative years; or the books and music simply go out of print and you lose your copies, and they're just gone, lost. Cherished friends change so much they're not your friends anymore. Beloved pets die heartbreaking deaths. People pave over the park where you spent the best summer of your life. Trends crop up in music or the arts that you can't see the sense of, or which are actively offensive to you, yet others all think it's great. Social and political attitudes change and you don't understand how people could believe the things they do. The technologies you were comfortable with become obsolete and you don't see the advantages of the new trendy devices that are all the rage. Political changes occur that make you feel like the bad guys will always be in control of the world. Every year a fresh crop of wars, natural disasters, or epidemics sweeps across some part of the world, spreading untolled suffering, and no matter how much you volunteer or give to charity, it seems like a drop in an infinite bucket. These things seemed solvable, or remote, or irrelevant when you were young, but as you get older and learn more and consider things more deeply they become harder and harder to ignore and it's harder to merrily enjoy your shiny happy life despite the horrors you know are out there.

I mean, it's sarcastically mocked as the "get off my lawn" phenomenon in comment threads around here, but it's a real thing. Any realistic immortality project would need massive psychological research into how to cope with loss and change and alienation and anomie over the long term, in addition to all the medical innovation that would presumably keep the body healthy and non-decrepit. The sheer fact of experiencing years and decades of life changes the mind and personality in ways that it seems to me would make living for centuries, let alone eons (or "forever," whatever that even means in realistic terms) very problematic.

And what does immortality really mean -- living "forever"? Let's be real. There IS no forever; the sun will burn out at some point and destroy the Earth, other suns will do the same to their solar systems assuming we ever figure out how to travel that far, and the physical universe itself is almost certainly a closed system and finite itself, facing either sterile heat death at some point or an obliterating big crunch. And even if we're talking "really long time" instead of "forever," a mind and body that lives ten billion years is not going to be content any more than the one that lives ninety years -- if anything it would be orders of magnitude more grievous and horrible to die with all that time and experience and knowledge and (one would hope) wisdom accumulated.

Many of the comments in this thread and the descriptions of the Calico project trouble me deeply. Does anyone deserve immortality? In so much of the world people are dying of preventable disease and war while they're just children. And others of us are not happy to live relatively luxurious and happy lives into our eighties or nineties?

That's grotesque, on some fundamental level.
posted by aught at 6:34 AM on August 13 [13 favorites]


Well I think the intended solution to that problem is to stop having young people. They're what ruins everything, with their new idea of what's "with it."

If we just all stay like we are forever, we won't need them anyway, and they won't be around to change what "it" is, and there won't be any new and scary "it" to confuse and frighten us. It doesn't have to happen to us!
posted by Naberius at 6:45 AM on August 13


I really think it would be nice to leave it up to the old people whether or not their extended lifespans were somehow too psychologically hard to deal with. I mean really, would you decide that old people don't need cancer research, blood pressure meds etc... because anything over 60 puts them through the agony of being old?
posted by Phalene at 6:54 AM on August 13


As others have noted above, optimizing health for as long as possible is not the same thing as "curing death." Having people live to an average of 110 instead of 75 or 80 doesn't have to be a Malthusian disaster, especially if they can live a very healthy, productive life right up to the end.

Anyway, if we do achieve it as a society at large, I don't think it is going to come in pill form. I think it will come mainly in the form of lifestyle changes backed up by good science, and the likelihood that a majority of people would adopt the changes isn't that great.
posted by gimli at 7:03 AM on August 13


I'm not worried. I trust in Roko's Basilisk to faithfully simulate me in the future.
posted by fivebells at 7:15 AM on August 13


Every year a fresh crop of wars, natural disasters, or epidemics sweeps across some part of the world, spreading untolled suffering, and no matter how much you volunteer or give to charity, it seems like a drop in an infinite bucket. These things seemed solvable, or remote, or irrelevant when you were young, but as you get older and learn more and consider things more deeply they become harder and harder to ignore and it's harder to merrily enjoy your shiny happy life despite the horrors you know are out there.

And you think that this would be a bad thing? That the incredibly aged (and very wealthy) people would also be suffused over time with a profound sense of compassion and empathy? This would be the best thing to happen to humanity ever.

If you were that old, and that kind… You couldn’t just stand there and watch children cry.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:21 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Also, we could probably do with more incredibly wealthy and powerful people concerned about the quality of our planet over a longer timeline than the next election cycle.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:23 AM on August 13


I've given this immortality thing a lot of thought, and see psychological issues.

My own ability to adapt to change has declined with age. At 15, I could not understand the weariness in my parents' faces as they tried to make sense of our new digital VCR. For me, the pace of innovation was exhilarating, a wonderful wild ride. Hey, my mother had ridden around in the very first automobile in her city--why wasn't she more excited about the Internet?

Now I have reached an age where yes, certain technologies, though dated, are comfortable and efficient. I was in a museum two days ago which featured an exhibit of old but functional typewriters. I sat down at a wonderful old Coronet and felt my fingers merge with the machine--felt the press of my touch causing pleasing, satisfying, percussive things to happen, along with lovely clicks and whirrs and the silvery voice of an actual bell--and, odd as it may sound, I cried. I spend lots of time at keyboards and nothing had felt that good in a long, long time. There's just no payoff with digital keyboards. I felt, in my hands, a pleasure that progress has taken away.

So, I ask myself, if I mourn the feeling of a functional machine, how might I feel when even computers have been integrated into us, into our environments? A young person has no perspective, no sense of loss when privacy is sacrificed or a beautiful landscape defiled. To mourn things you must first know them. Just as I was able to embrace the rise of technology in my youth, I am now in a place to see the cost of its advancement. How might I process changes which will almost certainly accelerate in the next few decades? Even if problems such as our environmental cost can be solved, how might I see the future, having seen the past and present?

I do not feel that I am a depressed person, but I do see how continued change, even if it is without the passage of loved ones, could make me one.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:24 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Calico?
Interesting choice of a project name considering calico cats are (almost) always female.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:32 AM on August 13


> What I'm saying is robot cyborg billionaires ruling us forever.

Yeah, this. If they ever do "cure" death, they're not going to share the cure with us peasants.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:36 AM on August 13


Beloved pets die heartbreaking deaths.

Calico should have a dog division. And a cat department too, cuz of the Calico.
posted by danabanana at 7:39 AM on August 13


Also, we could probably do with more incredibly wealthy and powerful people concerned about the quality of our planet over a longer timeline than the next election cycle.

See, this was the problem with the last gilded age. We gave all the money and power to a handful of ruthless egomaniacs and trusted them to decide how to use it to make the world a better place instead of making decisions as a society with the input of all the society's members.

At least that generation of robber barons decided the way to be remembered was to build libraries and universities. This new lot are just maniacs.
posted by Naberius at 7:39 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


And you think that this would be a bad thing? That the incredibly aged (and very wealthy) people would also be suffused over time with a profound sense of compassion and empathy? This would be the best thing to happen to humanity ever.

Or they could grow weary and tired of the change, fearful and confused by the new ideas of those six generations younger, and protect their wealth and power with walls and private armies. I don't see Donald Trump becoming more compassionate in his 125th year.
posted by TimTypeZed at 7:42 AM on August 13


What makes you believe this isn't also a biological effect of aging that could be addressed medically?

Oh it absolutely is an effect of aging, which is kind of the point. As I understand it brain adaptability peaks before age 5.
posted by Poldo at 7:43 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


That the incredibly aged (and very wealthy) people would also be suffused over time with a profound sense of compassion and empathy? This would be the best thing to happen to humanity ever.

Because the wealthy and powerful of the world are working so hard now to relieve the suffering of those who are poor, sick, and oppressed by war?

The reason why I brought up the point that any longevity program would need to put substantial resources into psychology is I don't think it's a guarantee that living a long time, even healthily, automatically confers wisdom or perspective or compassion.

Also, no one is saying that living forever means being also automatically becoming wealthy and powerful. Imagine an immortality cure were distributed to all in the drinking water... and the majority of the world's people then got to live forever, in poverty and squalor. And be expected to be grateful to Google for it.

Interesting choice of a project name considering calico cats are (almost) always female.

For what it's worth, this article says it's short for "California Life Company."
posted by aught at 7:44 AM on August 13


*molecular biology sigh*
posted by maryr at 8:15 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


Why should we prefer old people over new people?

Wisdom? A better understanding of history and contempt for BS like trumped up casus belli? Smaller ratio of canon fodder to concerned voters? Really, the question should be: why wouldn't you?
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:18 AM on August 13


Yeah, this. If they ever do "cure" death, they're not going to share the cure with us peasants.

Chances are, preventing age-related degeneration is going to be many, many times cheaper the crazy, brutal, expensive ways we marginally extend life right now. Why would it not be cheaper to keep someone healthy than to feebly attempt to care for them as their body decays?

The whole idea of this and SENS is that you whittle away at the terrible effects of aging. If you think it's a tragedy when people get cancer, or dementia, or just can't take a walk in the park because their joints hurt too much, you're upset with aging. The byproduct of preventing this decay is that people will end up living longer... eventually a lot longer... but not forever. You're underestimating number of ways someone can die. The ticking time-bomb of your cells is only one of many. (Even if you're the luckiest person in the world, eventually you'll hit the heat death of the universe.)

There's a huge difference between grandiose immortality and pushing science along so that we don't spend the last 1/4 of our lives barely hobbling and maybe get a certain number more years to live out our stories.

Some of you are saying that life is exactly the right length, right now. But I think you're in the minority. How many times have your heard people say "life is short" vs "life is just the right length and it's just perfect"?
posted by the jam at 8:19 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


At least that generation of robber barons decided the way to be remembered was to build libraries and universities. This new lot are just maniacs.
Our richest (and arguably most maniacal) modern "robber baron" seems to have settled on eradicating malaria as the ideal way to be remembered; if they can pull it off I think he's beaten libraries and universities. Helping children read is nice, but so is helping children not die.

Also worth noting here: it turns out we're not required to only work on one health problem at a time. If you're giving thousands of dollars to global charity then it should all go to whichever has the greatest marginal impact, but if you're giving billions of dollars then diminishing returns can compel you to spread it around.

...

We're all agreed on the morality of "helping children not die", right? I shouldn't have to ask, but since "helping old people not die" seems controversial, maybe it's best to double-check.

I'm also kind of curious whether the pro-death arguments are dependent on status quo bias. Over the last 75 years the USA has cut the death rate by 40% to 90% in every age group. If any of that was a mistake, it would be trivially easy to fix - any proponents?
posted by roystgnr at 8:23 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


I agree with those who have said that if we're just extending life, not curing death, we should focus more on childhood mortality. I just don't agree that we should focus on extending life instead of curing death (I mean doctors should get on extending life, but as a civilization, we need to get some physicists on curing death. I don't think doctors can do it).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:29 AM on August 13


If extending human lifespan is bad, then the converse must be true- decreasing human lifespan is good.

So obviously we need a global initiative to reduce human lifespan as much as possible. Maybe limit it to say, age 30. We could even set up something where we could have a little crystal imbedded in our hand to show our age, and when they turn black, time's up. Or maybe 30 is too old- should we have people die at age 21?

I'm sure mefi could get behind this, right?
posted by happyroach at 8:51 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


So, these google guys want to be Lazarus Long? Remember what he ends up doing? Ew.
posted by valkane at 8:54 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Why should we prefer old people over new people?

Wisdom? A better understanding of history and contempt for BS like trumped up casus belli? Smaller ratio of canon fodder to concerned voters? Really, the question should be: why wouldn't you?


Whuh?

Is the argument that older people have better political opinions than young? Old people wouldn't have voted for the Iraq War? Anything, anything at all to back this up?

Anyway, old people are also more sexist, racist, homophobic and so on, so, if we're playing the "who's the better voter" game (actually a weird way to decide who should live), I'm not sure who the winners are.

More broadly, it seems like even healthy old people have trouble assimilating social change, relative to the young (who have the benefit of being born into it). Some kinds of changes only happen when the old guard dies away, as Thomas Kuhn famously suggested. A society with only old people might be one frozen in place, locked to the morals of its distant youth. If large-scale social change is important and necessary, this could be a disaster.

All that said, I think this is a kind of silly debate. These points sound like something from a Hollywood SF movie to me. I don't think we are currently at the optimal rate of mortality -- that would be a funny coincidence. It would probably be better to live longer. But it doesn't follow that it would always be even better to live even longer, up to practical immortality.

And the seemingly obvious reasons that long lives are better don't really work. I'd like to live longer, but I'm not special -- I can't offer any impersonal reason that I should continue to live, rather than replaced by a younger person. That discussion has to be had at the level of costs and benefits, if at all, and the outcome is not obvious.
posted by grobstein at 8:58 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Or maybe 30 is too old- should we have people die at age 21?

You're thinking too small. If we made this generation the last one, their lives would be even more precious and meaningful. Then we could set the age limit at 5 or so -- no need to reproduce -- just long enough to perceive one's selfhood before you die. Just think of how glorious those few years would be.
posted by the jam at 9:02 AM on August 13


"Reach for the stars, because even if you fail, you will land on the moon." -- Neil Armstrong

"Shoot for the moon and if you miss, you'll die horribly in space." - John
posted by maryr at 9:03 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Anyway, through my secret Google contacts, I've found out how they plan to solve the problem.

Google is going to buy death, promote it as a service linked to Gmail, and then after a few years, cancel it.
posted by happyroach at 9:07 AM on August 13 [5 favorites]


I'm sure mefi could get behind this, right?

Sure, we'll call it Project Gingham.
posted by eclectist at 9:13 AM on August 13


If extending human lifespan is bad, then the converse must be true- decreasing human lifespan is good.

Extending human lifespan without consideration of a lot of other related factors would have serious consequences. Quantity of life and quality of life are independent measures, and we should be worried about both.

And, no offense, but simplifying a proposition you want to dismiss and inverting it for rhetorical effect to try to make it sound silly doesn't really prove anything one way or the other.

Or maybe 30 is too old- should we have people die at age 21?

Whee!
posted by aught at 9:33 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


We will be like the Ent. Slow to change and contemplative. Our conversations will last decades. The nights will pass as though a single breath were taken. We'll watch stars burn out, and new ones being born. Our children will come late and few. Slowly we'll take to the skies and oceans. A march into the future taken as slowly as a mountain eroded by the wind. The near term - filled with change, hard change. The rotting of the environment and a struggle forward. But if we manage not to drive ourselves and the rest of the Earth's creatures to extinction, a different future.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:33 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Do we also get to be like Groot? Those glowy things would make great expression markers.
posted by maryr at 9:36 AM on August 13


Many of the comments in this thread and the descriptions of the Calico project trouble me deeply. Does anyone deserve immortality? In so much of the world people are dying of preventable disease and war while they're just children. And others of us are not happy to live relatively luxurious and happy lives into our eighties or nineties?

That's grotesque, on some fundamental level.


What? No, it's not grotesque at all. We're fundamentally valuable enough to live beyond our 80s and 90s. All of us. I think the answer to your question is not to devalue human life by putting a cap on it, but to work hard, as well, to value the lives of those who are dying from disease and war. It's not an either-or, it's a both-and. It's all the same question.

Let's value all of life in a way that cherishes it, rather than giving in to the inevitability of any of the things that snuff it out. There's certainly a responsibility to your neighbor in this process, so not hoarding the benefit, not ignoring those who are suffering, and thinking about balancing economic and sociological issues due to population increase is all part of a responsible and imaginative consideration for how this can work.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:43 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


> In the relatively trivial terms of our popular culture, people mock or forget the music, films, and books that felt so crucial to your formative years; or the books and music simply go out of print and you lose your copies, and they're just gone, lost.

Honestly, you should get out more. I've been a serious music head my whole life - I'm 52 - and nearly all the music I listen to has been written in the last ten years. Oh, I do feel that "the pop charts" are particularly bad these days - but I share that in common with a lot of music loving young people. I sometimes wonder how bored I'd be if I were thrown back to 1975... my theory is "very bored".

Ditto with pretty well everything else - film, TV, books (I guess I read a lot of older books simply because they have been reissuing them recently.)

I don't want to live forever. But the shortness of life weighs on me. I'd be really happy just to be guaranteed a reasonably healthy 100. 200 years would be a boon unlike any other.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:08 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


Overpopulation!
posted by not_on_display at 11:20 AM on August 13


Family Guy's take on immortality: Hitler as talk show host
posted by WalkingAround at 11:42 AM on August 13


I'd be really happy just to be guaranteed a reasonably healthy 100. 200 years would be a boon unlike any other.

I understand the sentiment, and I've given the matter a lot of thought.

But be honest, don't you think at 175 you'd just be feeling the dreaded weight of knowing you have only 200 years of life, much the same as you now feel the weight of the prospect of only 80-some years of life in your 50s?

Honestly, you should get out more.

Thanks for judging me so eagerly, but I think you missed my point entirely.
posted by aught at 11:48 AM on August 13


I tend to think there's a lot of overlap between people who want to live forever and people who like the idea of Google Glass.
posted by pullayup at 12:50 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


I read this headline as meaning Google was getting a lovely calico cat whose companionship will of course help with aging.
posted by purple_bird at 1:23 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


I think ageing is self-evidently bad if you just think about what it implies. Almost no one would say that all your biological systems slowly and painfully failing is a good thing.

Death on the other hand is in the weird position of being neutral for the individual (per Epicurus), and good or bad for others based on the goodness or badness of the person in question. For most people, I would wager that the balance falls on their death being bad. This leads me to thinking that death should be avoided. However, I am not entirely comfortable with any of the counterarguments to the problem of ossification of an immortal society, so while I gladly support counteracting ageing, I'm uncertain about immortality.

No matter our position on the philosophy of immortality, I hope we can all agree that the current situation of deciding who dies when by the cosmic lottery of disease and decrepitude is at the very least not optimal.


To IOIHAP: What's this about physicists defeating death? For the kind of immortality you are referring to, mind uploads would seem to be a requirement. For this I would go for computer and neuroscientists. The relevant physics is pretty well worked out.

If anything, physics ensures death - no mind uploading or what have you can defeat the second law of thermodynamics.

Also - about solving war by solving death - I would guess that a society powerful enough to allow people to live anywhere would also have the power to destroy and/or torture them if it were so inclined. It generally seems easier to destroy than to preserve.
posted by Spiegel at 1:36 PM on August 13


kinnakeet: ...To mourn things you must first know them. Just as I was able to embrace the rise of technology in my youth, I am now in a place to see the cost of its advancement. How might I process changes which will almost certainly accelerate in the next few decades? Even if problems such as our environmental cost can be solved, how might I see the future, having seen the past and present?

This is a really good point, and it might be the hardest thing anyone experiencing life extension will have to deal with. Change is inevitable, and it will still happen in a world where people get to live longer than they do now. Things wear out and need to be replaced, accidents happen, and styles come and go. Small things accumulate over time until one day we look around and realize that the world we knew no longer exists. Nothing is permanent in this universe, not even our own sense of identity.

But I'd like to think that people who have experienced so much change will learn to control it over time. Seniors do tend to be more conservative, but the really old (those living past 90, say) will have seen so much change happen against their will that they may have a more flexible attitude, keeping the best things from the past (like the Coronet typewriters) and letting go of the rest. Part of the wisdom needed to get past the age where you're just a senior citizen and enter the realm where it's only science keeping you alive may be this ability to identify the things that truly worthwhile and not get obsessive about losing the things that aren't.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:30 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Spiegel: I kind of figured the only way to cure death would somehow involve controlling time (moving ourselves outside of time?), those other dimensions or parallel universes. If we want to actually still be alive -- not just my consciousness supposedly preserved as a computer algorithm and my memories as a file archive a la singularity -- then I think moving outside of time somehow will be the only way.

And I guess I'm not so much thinking about one society having immortality, but humanity having it. I don't want it for just myself -- it would be hellish to live forever and spend eternity watching people I care about die -- I want it for everyone.

In fact, the kind of society that would be first to cure death is probably the society that needs it least (though many within that society might need it). I mean if you live a pretty good life (I do), then when you die you can say you lived a pretty good life. But there are people who suffer -- like really suffer and have crappy lives in ways we can't even imagine. I've known some people like that and it really gets to me that when they die, that will be the only life they had. Now part of their suffering would be cured directly by not having to constantly fend of death or themseles or people they love, but in addition to that, if we had millions...no, gazillions, no INFINITE numbers of years, they might still suffer (we probably all would at some point), but given infinite time we'd eventually find solutions to those problems and they would have some solid length of tmie (infinite, in fact) that didn't suck totally.

I think of what makes me philsophically different on death is that I don't beleive in trying to balance the good and bad parts of life. I don't fundamentally think we should look at how much a person is likely to suffer vs. their quality of life in evaluating whether or not maybe it's time for people to die (not in euthanasia sense, but in the way I hear people talk about "letting them go" when people are seriously ill or very old). Instead of balancing, I think we need to maximize the good. If I'm going to suffer for a millon years and then someone is going to tell me a funny joke and I will laugh, I want to stick around to hear that joke.

So, let's move the whole earth outside of time. Then we can all live forever and that will be awesome. And when it's not awesome, we'll still know, that given infinite time, it will be awesome again eventually.

I have no interest in Google Glass.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:36 PM on August 13


Death isn't necessary for people, it's just an artifact of our animal nature. Animals die because the thing that's really important is our genes, and for most people those get passed on. After that happens nature (in the abstract sense) doesn't care what happens to you and me, so we slowly self destruct. That's all aging and death are. There's nothing moral or divine about it.

I really don't think this is true. From a biological perspective, individuals don't matter all that much compared to populations and communities. It's clear that many organisms contain genetic structures that program death at the appropriate point in their life. It's simpler and more effective for multicellular creatures to birth a new generation than to try to repair cellular damage caused by disease, use, background radiation, toxins etc, especially considering that those same processes are slowly damaging the underlying data (dna) needed to repair the damage due to aging. Even dna copying errors are going to become statistically more likely over time. It's very like the idea that you write a new set of backup disks according to a schedule as part of your long-term data storage plan knowing that, given the technology we're using, there's no way to avoid some degradation. There is no alternative to death for organisms like us.

But death is wrong, in a human moral sense, and senescence (the aging process) is even worse.

But you say above There's nothing moral or divine about it. Morality doesn't have anything to do with how biological solutions evolve; it only has to do with how we live our lives in the time we have. Gandalf says it better in LOTR: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." Projecting moral views onto natural processes is confusing and adds another layer of distraction to human experience. That's why it seems "better" to me to understand the natural history of death, or death in the larger context of Life on this planet, instead of worrying about it from a human moral perspective. Even if Google's labs add another few years to our life, individually we're not going to be able to avoid old age, sickness and death.

And here we are in a society that's arguably the most egregious example of a culture whose bias is not only to remain ignorant of death, but to actively deny it, and we're starting a grand project to "cure" death.
posted by sneebler at 10:02 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Even dna copying errors are going to become statistically more likely over time. It's very like the idea that you write a new set of backup disks according to a schedule as part of your long-term data storage plan knowing that, given the technology we're using, there's no way to avoid some degradation.

The problem isn't that errors occur over time, it's that our error correcting mechanisms themselves degrade. Then there's the Hayflick limit. There are probably multiple aging mechanisms built into us that make humans fall apart after so many years of life. Other animals (mostly sea creatures, for some reason) like the Galapagos Tortoise and the Rougheye Rockfish can live 170-200 years without becoming riddled with cancers. It's possible for multicellular animals to live well beyond a "normal" human lifespan of 124 years (even fellow mammals like whales can crack 200) but we're just not built to do that. Death isn't an unbreakable law like F = ma. It's a hardware problem, and those can be fixed.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:47 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


But you say above There's nothing moral or divine about it.

Sorry, I didn't express that very clearly. What I meant was that death serves no higher purpose. It isn't noble, and people aren't performing a service to society by dying. (Although of course the things they did that got them killed may be very noble, like throwing oneself on a grenade to save others.) And the converse is also true: it wouldn't be evil if people stopped dying.

But Death (and even more so aging) is "wrong" on a personal level. It isn't fair or right that that these things should happen to us, any more than it's fair for people to get sick or fall down the stairs. Human beings fix things, it's what we do. This is just one more thing that should be fixed to make life better for everyone.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:59 AM on August 14


and people aren't performing a service to society by dying.

Of course they are. We like to pretend we're not part of the ecosystem, but we are. By dying we free up the resources we would otherwise consume for future living things, and assuming we're not sealed hermetically inside a super-fancy coffin, the atoms that made up our body go back into the world and get re-purposed somehow, someday.
posted by aught at 2:02 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


What I meant was that death serves no higher purpose.

Look out! It's quicksand!

But Death (and even more so aging) is "wrong" on a personal level.

Sorry, that just doesn't work for me. I'm the product of a billion years of evolution, and my allegiance is to life, not to some imagined concept of nobility, even if I like and care about humans.

I do think it would be evil if people stopped dying, not only because we're doing a very poor job of making life fair and right for a large chunk of the world's population, but because human population growth is already putting huge pressures on every ecosystem and food chain on the planet. Why can't we address those issues before starting on "curing" death. We're already living far longer and (one hopes) enjoying a higher standard of living than our ancestors two or three generations ago. What's the rush?

What happens in a world where humans die later and/or less frequently? My favourite example is the non-decaying forest near Chernobyl, which is totally cool in one sense and a great opportunity for study, but very scary in another - if that forest burns it's going to spread radiation over a much larger area, increasing the health risk for another large group of humans, in addition to the people who have already been affected by the Chernobyl disaster. I'm suggesting that's the kind of unintended consequence we'll provoke in a world where humans didn't die "normally".

And I don't really think there's any chance that people will stop dying in any significant numbers; it's just too expensive to keep people alive with a reasonable quality of life beyond their "natural" lifespan. This program might lead to some workable ideas to improve the quality of life for our expected increase in the population of old people though.*


It isn't fair or right that that these things should happen to us

Sure, but that complaint isn't exactly new, is it? Each of us has to come to terms with those existential questions. "The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you." -- Neil deGrasse Tyson

----
*Actually, cynical me thinks this is part of Google's strategy to take control of part(s) of the health care system. Think about it: there's a huge amount of money in diagnostics and treatment, which is a new world of potential for data gathering and branded automation, which G is into. There's a reliable and expanding population of older people, and a general sense that the US is moving towards a more public health care system. What about a public-private partnership? Google (or Microsoft, or Siemens AG) could be in a position to take away some of the profits from those pesky insurance companies. "We want to extend your years and your quality of life!" And the longer a consumer lives, the more time they have to spend money on your products and services.
posted by sneebler at 2:06 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


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