Those Who Say They Can’t Are Usually Right

In the MIT Technology Review Celine Halioua, CEO and founder of Loyal a company working on dog longevity said the antiagig field has “suffered from a branding issue” owing to outlandish claims made in the 1990s and 2000s. “Big names [Aubrey de Grey] in the field were yelling about 1,000-year life spans and immortality,” she says. “To be clear, we’re not creating 1,000-year-old dogs.”

Celine Halioua is very likely correct in that she and her company will not create radical longevity. Just as those who said the World will not need need more than six computers, men will never fly or going into space is impossible were correct. Those who said it could not be done were not part of getting it done.

But maybe Celine is the exception. The famous exception being Wilbur Wright saying in 1901 that men would fly for 50 years.

Celine Halioua misrepresents what Aubrey de Grey said and wrote. Aubrey wrote papers about Longevity Escape velocity. IF we can reverse aging damage in a comprehensive way then we can achieve radical life extension. There is no chance of anyone working on partial and minor aging mitigation resulting in significant life extension.

Nextbigfuture has frequently talked to Aubrey de Grey over the past two decades. Here is a recent interview.

Here is some of what Aubrey wrote and said about 20 years ago about longevity escape velocity.
In practice, therefore, therapies that rejuvenate 60-year-olds by 20 years will not work so well the second time around. When the therapies are applied for the first time, the people receiving them will have 60 years of “easy” damage (the types that the therapies can remove) and also 60 years of “difficult” damage. But by the time beneficiaries of these therapies have returned to biologically 60 (which, let’s presume, will happen when they’re chronologically about 80), the damage their bodies contain will consist of 20 years of “easy” damage and 80 years of “difficult” damage. Thus, the therapies will only rejuvenate them by a much smaller amount, say ten years. So they’ll have to come back sooner for the third treatment, but that will benefit them even less… and very soon, just like Achilles catching up with the tortoise in Zeno’s paradox, aging will get the better of them.

That’s not to say it’ll be easy, though. It’ll take time, just as it took time to get from the Wright Flyer to Concorde. And that is why, if you want to live to 1000, you can count yourself lucky that you’re a human and not a mouse. Let me take you through the scenario, step by step.

Suppose we develop Robust Mouse Rejuvenation in 2016 [NBF now say 2031], and we take a few dozen two-year-old mice and duly treble their one-year remaining lifespans. That will mean that, rather than dying in 2017 [NBF 2032] as they otherwise would, they’ll die in 2019 [NBF 2034]. Well, maybe not—in particular, not if we can develop better therapies by 2018 that re-treble their remaining lifespan (which will by now be down to one year again). But remember, they’ll be harder to repair the second time: their overall damage level may be the same as before they received the first therapies, but a higher proportion of that damage will be of types that those first therapies can’t fix. So we’ll only be able to achieve that re-trebling if the therapies we have available by 2018 [NBF 2033] are considerably more powerful than those that we had in 2016 [NBF 2031]. And to be honest, the chance that we’ll improve the relevant therapies that much in only two years is really pretty slim. In fact, the likely amount of progress in just two years is so small that it might as well be considered zero. Thus, our murine heroes will indeed die in 2019 [NBF 2034] (or 2020 at best) [NBF 2035], despite our best efforts.

But now, suppose we develop Robust Human Rejuvenation in 2031 [NBF 2041], and we take a few dozen 60-year-old humans and duly double their 30-year remaining lifespans. By the time they come back in (say) 2051 [NBF 2061], biologically 60 again but chronologically 80, they’ll need better therapies, just as the mice did in 2018 [NBF 2033]. But luckily for them, we’ll have had not two but twenty years to improve the therapies. And 20 years is a very respectable period of time in technology—long enough, in fact, that we will with very high probability have succeeded in developing sufficient improvements to the 2031 [NBF 2041] therapies so that those 80-year-olds can indeed be restored from biologically 60 to biologically 40, or even a little younger, despite their enrichment (relative to 2031 [NBF 2041]) in harder-to-repair types of damage. So unlike the mice, these humans will have just as many years (20 or more) of youth before they need third-generation treatments as they did before the second.

In 2020, Dr. David Sinclair did the reversing of aging on mice eyes. But it was a test on mice manipulated to age faster.

Significant life extension in the past with the introduction of sanitation, clean water, antibiotics and vaccines did result in life expectancy increasing from 30s to about 80 today.

Life expectancy of 94 is already here for Asian women in New Jersey, Massachusetts and some other states. It is also the life expectancy for women in Monaco. Asian men in the US, Singapore have life expectancy of 85+ and some up to 90.

17 thoughts on “Those Who Say They Can’t Are Usually Right”

  1. Advanced neuralink interfaces should enable us to connect a brain-in-a vat to any kind of
    robotic or human body. After that , we should have to worry only about the nourishment,
    manteinance and life extension of little more than 1 kg of grey matter. My estimate is that
    will be a practical possibility shortly after 2100 (real time).

  2. If there are already too many people in the world, “Useless Eaters” in some circles, would there be any benefit to life extension for the middle class?
    Considering the progress from the $3 Billion Human Genome Project to commercial 23andme pricing I can see some consequences to cheap life extension.
    At the billionaire level it might be accessible, for the working professional and middle classes much less so. Recall that the political classes will find themselves indispensable so will also arrange treatment.

  3. Anti-aging technologies will be driven by the increasing social burden of the costs of aging populations. There is already alarm at the population collapse and aging demographics. Alarm at who will care for all the old people and how the burden of all that medical care can be sustained. The straightforward solution is to treat and reverse aging itself rather than all it’s separate sequelae. A rejuvenated population will work and consume more like people their biological rather than chronological ages.

    Hand wringing about how old people don’t innovate isn’t based on this situation. People who have been in a field for decades don’t innovate much. Nobody has ever experienced what happens at scale if physically youthful people who are old change fields and start over learning new things. Bringing a lot of different experience to entirely new careers might well produce more innovation than from people new to everything. It’s not obvious that a 70 year old engineer reinventing themselves as an Artist will be less creatively original than a 20 year old who brings no experience at all to it.

  4. What I really wonder is about the cost of those therapies. Although it might be cheaper for insurance to pay for those therapies than for age diseases.

    Then there are all other problems related with basically, immortal humans.

    Imagine many generations of the same family, all looking like they are in their 30s.

    How would society work.

    Tolkien never talks much about the sociological complexities of an Elven society where two individuals born 2 thousand years apart look the same age

    • If it became harder to know if someone was very old or just 30 it might change the cultural norm from “respect your elders” to “give basic respect to everyone until they demonstrate they deserve more or less”.

      At first this seems regrettable since the concept of “respecting elders” is so ingrained in my upbringing but then I have worked enough retail to know that while there are lots of elderly and late middle aged people who deserve respect and are wise, there are others who act like spoiled children who never grew up while some teenagers are wise and mature beyond their years living in the same community as those teens who seem like they have a lot of living to do before they learn how to be functioning adults.

      • Larry Niven wrote about this kind of society forty years ago. He posited that very old individuals with youthful bodies might become incredibly graceful, making them easy to identify as old unless they consciously hid it by pretending to be somewhat clumsy.

        I do recall that I used to smack my funny bone a lot when I was young, other minor injuries were also common. But they really don’t happen anymore, even though I haven’t yet had to reduce the range of activities I engage in.

    • It would require massive readjustments to society, inheritance laws, criminal sentencing – everything, in fact. But, oh boy, what a refreshing set of problems to have!

      • A small increase in life expectacy has already produced a small increase in retirement age,
        in various countries.

    • Not immortal. Definitely not immortal.

      Maybe unaging, but that will simply exchange our life expectancy with a kind of half-life. After all, even if we are able to turn an 80-year-old into a biologically 20-year-old, they might still slip and hit their head, or be struck by lightning, or meet a wild bear walking in the woods, or be gunned down senselessly by feuding street gangs nearby.

      There will be plenty of social changes, but I do not think that it will be enough to compare the pre- and post-Internet eras (compare, say, 1985 to 2015, as Marty McFly did). No matter how technologically-savvy, humans are still human.

      • A lot of people seem to go from “we’ll be able to stop ageing for decades, maybe even centuries” to “therefore immortal”

        I’ve even seen people start talking about heat death of universe…

        It’s like thinking that going from a horse to a car allows you to break the speed of light. They have no idea of the sense of scale they are talking about.

        • First step: stopping aging. Second: restoring youth. Third: enormous increase in personal security. The Dark Forest solution to the Fermi paradox.

      • If our human bodies continued exactly as they are, albeit not aging, a human population would have a half-life of about a thousand years (anyone you were kids with would have a 50% chance of being dead and gone after a thousand years). Assuming, of course, that there are not mental barriers to a human mind keeping it together that long. Or that a vast ennui does tend to develop and lead to a sudden taste for extreme sports and even suicide.

        However, whatever immortality is, it won’t be simply defined and will most likely be approached in stages, each advance incorporating all that is useful from previous stages. One possible extrapolation:

        After 2025: Radical Life Extension (Average lifespan rises by at least 25 years)
        After 2030: Full Medical (Cures for most major causes of death, including most cancer)
        After 2035: Partial Rejuvenation (Regenerative treatments for most major organs)
        After 2040: Minor Immortality (Complete range of organ printing/regeneration/prostheses)
        After 2045: Rejuvenation (Regeneration enables whole body rejuvenation)
        After 2050: Lesser Immortality (Indefinite lifespans)
        After 2060: Pseudo-Immortality (Archive copies)
        After 2070: Strong Pseudo-Immortality (Failover copies, multiple minds in different locations,
        running in parallel)
        After 2085: Immortality (Multithreaded minds, networked, all accompanied by “individualists” fleeing the Solar System)
        After 2090: Minor Godhood (Multiple individuals, networked)
        After 2100: Ascendance of the Overmind (Most of mainstream humanity, networked)

        Somewhere in the early stages, it could be expected that laws will be changed to allow pensions and entitlements to issue lump sum payments and shutdown. Lord knows what this will do to the insurance industry. It could be also drive serious disincentives to capital-based income, were it not for increasing automation causing reduced demand for human workers.

  5. Great article, Brian. I’m on board with the mouse versus human timeline scenario. I suppose three things are possible:

    1) Our understanding of aging and developing rejuvenation treatments gains exponential momentum and we can predict future achievements by applying something like Moore’s Law.

    2) Our ability to roll back our biological clocks plateaus at extending youth to perhaps 1,000 years (still not too shabby).

    3) We make a unicorn-level breakthrough and resolve the problem of aging altogether (for those who consider age a problem). This is probably the least likely of the three, and how long it would take is anyone’s guess.

    • If you can extend lives each generation by a generation or more in length, then unicorn tech is guaranteed, we’re already in unicorn tech by 1800’s and 1900’s standards.

      Add 50-100 years and the world will be radically different.

      • Yeah! That’s how I think about it. At some point it becomes a runaway effect. You end up making advancements nobody expected because the window of opportunity to make those advancements continues expanding. Some of that opportunity for growth might also be due to the ability of those who work on such projects to remain younger for extended periods, so that they can devote more time and brain power.

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