Google vs Death
In a recent post on G+, Google CEO Larry Page said: “Art and I are excited about tackling aging and illness. These issues affect us all—from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families. And while this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress within reasonable timescales with the right goals and the right people.”
Google announced ‘Calico’ on their blog “Google today announced Calico, a new company that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases. Arthur D. Levinson, Chairman and former CEO of Genentech and Chairman of Apple, will be Chief Executive Officer and a founding investor.” … Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Apple, said: “For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. There is no one better suited to lead this mission and I am excited to see the results.”
A quote from Time Magazine, in a issue “Can Google Solve Death?” : “The unavoidable question this raises is why a company built on finding information and serving ads next to it is spending untold amounts on a project that flies in the face of the basic fact of the human condition, the existential certainty of aging and death? To which the unavoidable answer is another question: Who the hell else is going to do it?”
This announcement may be the first anyone has ever heard of an anti-aging initiative – and Google have the economic clout to fund some serious research, though there have been other organizations doing anti-aging research for a long time now – and it is difficult to know how much Google will collaborate with these organizations to help combat aging.
Can Google make a Difference in Anti-Aging Research?
Answer: It depends on the type of research Calico engages in. I recently did an interview with Aubrey de Grey who founded SENS Research Foundation, and was previously at Methuselah Foundation – he has been working on the problem of aging since the 90’s and has seasoned advice on how to go about solving the age old problems of, well.. aging.
Though if Google try to go too far in basic research, and compliment the style of research already done by the government – similar to what the Ellison Foundation. The bad news is that unfortunately the Ellison Foundation (sponsored by Larry Ellison of Oracle) may be closing down, perhaps because of lack of interest – we hope that this does not happen.
The hope is that SENS does have close contact with Calico and help direct the research efforts.
Anti-Aging – a Cause to be Excited?
Pioneering work on aging will not mean very much to the average consumer until it bears fruits. Until consumers have access to working therapies, they will still try to put out of their minds a sense of hope of any chance of progress against the ghastly effects of aging. Why? Perhaps it is hyperbolic discounting – a bias towards a short term payoff of psychological comfort from a defeatist denial of the possible masquerading as acceptance rather than a rational evaluation of the possibility of a far more desirable future albeit much further away. Perhaps it is uber skepticism or just lack of imagination.
Though having a major organization announce a research initiative on anti-aging will likely shape the populations view on it – Google is an organization that people already respect for other unrelated reasons. The announcement may imbue in some minds a sense that a voice of authority has validated anti-aging research – and many who have already may have already developed opinions on anti-aging research will think again as a result of this announcement.
In another recent article at SENS.org, Aubrey says “The ‘beginning of the beginning’ of the war on aging began in the 1990s. Since then, the battle for hearts and minds as to that quest’s feasibility has been proceeding at full tilt. With Google’s decision to direct its resources toward aging, that battle may have been transcended. The curmudgeons no longer matter,” said Aubrey. “It’s no exaggeration to state that the end of the beginning may have arrived. I won’t go so far as to say that my crusading job is done, but for sure it just got a whole lot easier.”
Is Society Waking Up to the Idea that Aging May Not be Inevitable?
Yes says Ben Goertzel in another recent interview, who is happy to see that longevity research is picking up steam and that Google is jumping on board.
Ben suggests that the indirect value of Google funding research & development in Anti-Aging may end up being worth more than the output of their research. Even if Google funded scientists don’t come through with the right breakthroughs – others may take longevity research more seriously just because Google has. Anti-aging is no longer the product of “a few visionaries howling out in the wilderness”.
We can now refocus much of the dialog from “should” to “how”.
The Focus of Anti-Aging Research
Is more funding better? Yes – but..
Will Calico focus on a narrower short term in order to develop useful near term technological spinoffs at the expense of solving more fundamental problems associated with old age?
In order to achieve a greater likelihood of actually rejuvenating the body rather than patching up the effects of accumulated damage shouldn’t there be focus on a board variety of research approaches?
Perhaps with a lot of money riding on there being an outcome, the goals of longevity research may narrow and become more conservative – making it smaller and easier to target to hit. Case in point: When Nanotechnology went from wild ideas of physicists like Richard Fenymein and Eric Drexler, to there being government funding for large scale projects – there was a somewhat narrowing of the scope of what Nanotechnology was originally thought to be – it turned out that most of the funding was aimed at Materials Science instead of Atomically Precise Manufacturing. Not that the shorter term spinoffs that materials science are not worth pursuing, though in the recent past there seems to have been a paucity of focus on the longer term goals of APM. So on one hand, it is great that there is funding, though on the other hand it could be less great if it turns out that the research converges upon a narrow subset of non-maximally exciting paths to the ultimate goal of longevity. We hope to maintain a long-term, intelligent and creative focus as the level of funding and general interest in the area increases without being fully distracted by shorter term payoffs.
Permission to Speak Freely about Anti-Aging Research?
Perhaps the war for the hearts and minds of the public has not yet been won, though it seems that job of crusading for longevity research has gotten a lot easier.
Goertzel talks about a time in his childhood when a relative of his died: “You mean all these people, my parents, me, my friends are all going to be dead – and no one cares? Are we just going to accept this? Come on! This is an Emergency – we should be doing something here! Right? … You are allowed to think that way now, and you won’t get laughed out of university – that’s a big step forward, and Google stepping into the longevity arena is indicative of the progress we are making both scientifically and in terms of attitude adjustment.”
Why not celebrate Longevity Day? – Oct 1st
Perhaps with a subtle tip of the hat to Future Day, comes Longevity Day! So Merry Longevity Day everyone -> let’s all work towards celebrating many many more to come!
“The day is especially significant as, on that day, we have an excellent opportunity to link in the public mind the issue of AGING with the issue of ANTI-AGING research that is probably the only means to truly address and ameliorate the problem of aging.
Nowadays, the issues of aging and anti-aging are often considered separately. We can change this pattern of thought and say on that day: deteriorative aging is a problem, and anti-aging research for healthy longevity can provide the solution!”
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