The Year We Chose to Live Forever

October 18, 2016

In 2015, tech billionaires sought anti-aging and cheating demise like never before.

Would the information be shared worldwide and administered in hospitals for free, or would it become private property with a hefty price tag attached ?

Silicon Valley came up with a lot of things this year, like creating an on demand pot-to-front-door service, and devising a sparkly style of destroying foes by shipping them glitterbut one thing its still working on is figuring out how humans can live forever. Research into outshining life expectancy norms has become the pet project of tech billionaires, with entrepreneurs from Mark Zuckerberg to Sergey Brin writing out million-dollar checks to fund their quest.

The list of entrepreneurs jumping on the death-defying bandwagon has grown rapidly over the past few years, creating a veritable whos who of generous donors . Notorious within the ranks are Peter Thiel, PayPals co-founder and developer of Breakout Labs, a fund body for revolutionary research into early-stage science geared toward tackling degenerative cancers; Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who has donated some $430 million to anti-aging quests; and Paul Glenn, a venture capitalist who doles out awards to lab researchers at the likes of Harvard and MIT to investigate the mechanisms of biological aging.

When I interviewed Glenn at his home, there was a book entitled Reversing Human Aging on the coffee table, Adam Leith Gollner wrote in The Daily Beast two years ago. I asked him how he felt about that ideaabout building the Benjamin Button fairy tale real, in fact. Im of the anything-is-possible school, Glenn answered.

The pursuit of stopping the clock on corporeal degeneration are growing increasingly aggressive in those intervening years, with 2015 shows that there is the most dogged yet. The 2045 InitiativeDmitry Itskovs life-extension organization seeking to transfer personalities onto non-biological items and, ultimately, immortalityprojected that this year could be the first in which such a system was created.

The brain computer interface has been slated for launch anytime between now and 2020, dispelling naysayers qualms that such technologies merely have a chance of existing in the very distant future. And theres surely no shortage of money to keep powering this research: Google co-founder Larry Page has diverted $750 million of the companys funds to Calico, its life extension centre; Pierre Omidyar, half of the brains behind eBay, has given millions to analyse cancer recovery; entrepreneurs Peter Diamandis and Craig Venter set up Human Longevity Inc. in a bid to find a the ways and means of elongating the human lifespan.

Much has been written on these philanthropic investors and their infatuation with prolonging existence. But the obvious topic is, surely, why the crusade to elude aging is being led by a bunch of tech rich kids. Theyve got the money, yes, and a natural inclination toward figuring out how things work, but why are entrepreneurs whose working worlds have been dominated by making extravagant gains so consumed with doing the same, seemingly charitable thing?

A few have skin in the gameNapster founder Sean Parker, who suffers from a number of life-threatening allergies, donated $24 million to a research center at Stanford last Christmasbut for the most part, this preoccupation with eternal life looks as though it has become an a la mode trope for the industrys mega-rich.

Take Google, which Brin co-founded with Page in 1998, which has expended years channeling its gains via Bermuda in order to dodge the billions it owes in taxation to the U.K. That money would make a serious dent in the cuts societys poorest face as a result of the endless sanctions handed out by an austerity government desperate to balance the books. Might it be more charitable, then, to use the billions being funneled through avoidance schemes into abiding by the law and helping to reversal their own problems created by a deficit-laden economy youve willfully avoided paying money to for an extended period of time?

Its unbelievably arousing and wonderful to be part of a species that dreams in a big style, explainedbioethicist Laurie Zoloth . But I also want to be part of a species that takes care of the poor and the dying, and Im worried that our attention is being described away to a glittery future world that is fantasy and not the world we live in.

Her sentiments were echoed by Bill Gates, the worlds second-greatest philanthropist( after Warren Buffet ), who expressed that it seems pretty egocentric while we still have malaria and TB for rich people to money things so they can live longer in a Reddit AMA earlier this year.

In any case, whether significant progress of the ilk Thiel and co. are searching for will ever be made remains a big if. But should one of these projects yield a major discovery, who will benefit? As weve gleaned from the plethora of free services constructed flesh( or screen) by these businessmen, theres no such thing as something for nothingand that something has largely been handing over our personal data.

So, if one of Mark Zuckerbergs projects became the first to isolate the exact genes, lets say, that had been proven to enable aging, and then set about obstruct their effects, how would treatment get underway? Would the information be shared worldwide and administered in hospitals for free, or would it become private property with a hefty price tag attached? Or gratis for users in exchange for more personal data?

The goal of these enterprises seems clear, but what theyd actually do if they got there is far murkier. Merely timeand however much of it those vying in the anti-death race have leftwill tell.

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