Documenting the Coming Singularity

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Radical Life-Extension is Going Mainstream

No doubt every generation in human history has thought of itself as possessing unique characteristics. And no doubt many generations have. However, there are developments that are now on the brink of occurring that will transform humanity in ways that make the word "unique" seem far too weak to encompass what is coming.

A Science Channel program was aired this week, with little fanfare or publicity, but which nonetheless brought the idea of radical life-extension into the mainstream of public consciousness. It was profoundly moving to me for many reasons which I will explain in a bit. The program was titled very simply, "Time."

When I first saw the listing and decided to record it to my DVR, I anticipated a physics-based analysis of the "fourth dimension," which might have been interesting. What I saw, however, was something I did not expect: an analysis of human aging that culminated with the realistic hope of overcoming it within the lifetimes of those now living.

One of my first pleasant surprises was the program's host, Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist who has a gift of explaining physics in a way that makes it interesting and understandable to the layman. He was the perfect person to be host.

The program began with a description of man's unique awareness of his own mortality and how this awareness gave rise to our desire to overcome the mastery of death. He spent some time discussing religions' promise of eternal life, but pointed out the problem that, in order to receive it, one must have faith that it exists. Dr. Kaku then confessed that, even though the viewer may not require proof of heaven's existence, he does.

As the program progressed, Dr. Kaku explained something that biologists have recently discovered, something that has turned our understanding of death on its head: There is no gene for death. There is absolutely nothing in our genetic code that programs us to die. Rather, everything in our genes is programed for us to live. So what's the problem?

Dr. Kaku then pointed to the fact that our metabolic process, in essence the process of being alive, "leaks" free radicals, which go on to damage our cells so that they do not operate properly. We have mechanisms in place to repair this damage, but those mechanisms are eventually overwhelmed, and our bodies age. That's it. That's the problem. The accumulation of cellular damage that our bodies cannot repair.

The program continued as I was fervently hoping it would, with a brief interview with none other than the bearded one, Aubrey de Grey himself, who explained his confidence that we will be able to repair enough of this damage to delay death long enough for rejuvenation therapies to improve, so that more damage can be repaired, thus buying enough time for further improvements, et cetera. He explained that, while biblical-style immortality would not be achieved using rejuvenation therapies (since humans could still be killed by other means besides aging), living for 1,000 to 2,000 years was definitely possible.

Finally, Dr. Kaku asked the question: If we could live that long by simply drinking the contents of a bottle (and here he held a hypothetical glass bottle of rejuvenation fluid), would we drink it? He walked about it New York City asking people that question. To his surprise, many said that they wound not, citing reasons such as, they would get bored, they would miss their departed loved ones, they would go mad, 80 years was enough, and the like. On the other hand, many said they would, that they loved life and would gladly accept more of it.

Then Dr. Kaku made it personal. "Would I drink it?" After a brief pause and a smile, he said, "Sure."

PS: If you know where a video of this program can be found on the web, please let me know.

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Michael Anissimov said...

Wow! Thanks for blogging about this.

Anonymous said...

If you have any luck with the search for archived video, I know that I'd love to see this. It sounds like one of the best of these kinds of documentaries that's ever hit the mainstream.

bmahfood said...

I'm on the hunt, but no luck so far finding an online video.

Anonymous said...