Do You Really Want to Live Forever?Organizations like Altos Labs are funding research in cell rejuvenation and biological longevity
2023 is expected to yield “breakthrough” research in aging treatments, led by the Palo Alto medical company Altos Labs. Jeff Bezos is among the donors of the organization, which notes on its homepage that its mission is “to restore cell health and resilience through cellular rejuvenation programming to reverse disease, injury, and the disabilities that can occur throughout life.”
A Wired article is optimistic about the direction of the research and compares its potential to the development of antibiotic treatment. Andrew Steele writes,
In 2023, early success of these treatments could kickstart the greatest revolution in medicine since the discovery of antibiotics. Rather than going to the doctor when we’re sick and picking off age-related problems like cancer and dementia in their late stages when they’re very hard to fix, we’ll intervene preventively to stop people getting ill in the first place—and, if those treadmill-shredding mice are anything to go by, we’ll reduce frailty and other problems that don’t always elicit a medical diagnosis at the same time.”-Andrew Steele, A Drug to Treat Aging May Not Be a Pipe Dream | WIRED
Others are worried that even if such medical breakthroughs were achieved, they would only be available to those who seem to have the most vested interest in biological longevity: the wealthy and powerful. Maggie Harrison writes at Futurism,
Seeing as how neither wealth nor power, political or otherwise, are historically something that folks are too keen to share, it’s not exactly outlandish to assume that the already-rich makers of such a miracle drug or device might employ some hefty gatekeeping efforts.”-Maggie Harrison, Experts Worried Elderly Billionaires Will Become Immortal, Compounding Wealth Forever (futurism.com)
It sounds almost too dystopian to be making headlines, but this kind of research is well-funded and gaining traction among prominent researchers across the world. If Jeff Bezos is at the donor helm, chances are the research won’t be in want of extra cash. Interestingly, one of Altos Labs’ members of Scientific Leadership is the man responsible for developing the AI that defeated a human in the game “Go.” He’s quoted in his profile:
“I joined Altos Labs because of the unique opportunity to team up with world-class biologists and explore how AI and Machine Learning can be used to understand and control biological processes with the goal of maintaining and restoring the health of our cells.”Altos Labs | Thore Graepel, SVP, Computational Science, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning
Altos Labs’ vision isn’t too far removed from that of the transhumanists who want to computerize human consciousness. For them, however, longevity is a junior varsity goal—what we really need is a way to live forever. Harrison quips at the end of her article, “Anyway. See you in MetaHeaven, where we sacrifice our data to our meat-smoking Lord Zucko in exchange for eternal algorithmic life.”
While perhaps the end goal of biological longevity remains distant, the race for an even longer and healthier life is well underway. Could the results ever be democratized? Would only some people benefit from these “groundbreaking” advances? Who knows. In any case, one question we sometimes neglect is whether the longevity of life is worth it when one’s spiritual, emotional, and mental quality of life is wanting.
In his review of Dr. Randall Smith’s new book From Here to Eternity, Auguste Meyrat writes,
Even granting the assumption that technology will somehow enable immortality, Smith points out how this still doesn’t resolve the matter of meaning. Working through the implications of a life without end, he concludes that such “immortals” are doomed to a meaningless cycle of events in which nothing lasts. In this way transhumanists run into the same challenge as the ancient pagans, whose version of the afterlife also fell short of transcendence—that is, a fuller life on a higher plane of existence, not simply living the same way indefinitely.”-Auguste Meyrat, Remembering Our Mortality in a Death-Averse Culture – Acton Institute PowerBlog
For Meyrat and Smith, biological longevity and technological immortality would still leave us with an existential problem to solve. A life of meaning is what we truly need, and perhaps what we most deeply desire.