For most people, nothing seems as inevitable as the aging process. We are born, we grow old, and we die. It's a fact of existence.
But also consider that aging is an evolved process. The human evolved aging average seems to be around 80, which is substantially longer than our closest relatives (i.e., chimpanzees and bonobos) average, which seems to be between 40-50. One of the leading explanations as to why we get so many extra decades of life is the grandmother hypothesis. This hypothesis proposes that ancient human infants lucky enough to have grandmothers to help feed and care for them were more likely to survive than those that didn't. Since aging is primarily determined by our genes, this would have gradually selected for individuals with slightly longer life expectancy over evolutionary time.
However, remember that although you probably expect to live into your 70s and 80s, most humans didn't have this luxury. Life expectancy in ancient times was closer to 30, and life expectancy in early 20th century America was only ~45. Improved nutrition, health care, and public sanitation over the past 100 years has gone a long way to improve the human condition.
But overcoming fundamental evolutionary limits to aging requires much more than just vaccines, anti-biotics, and having better access to food. Is it even possible to overcome our evolved aging average? A small but growing number of biologists, engineers, and computer scientists are convinced aging can be completely overcome. Many of them are referred to as "singultarians" or "transhumanists." And now Google (and Apple) are joining them. Google announced the creation of Calico on September 18, a company focused on combating and defeating aging.
At the moment we have little information about the specific research direction Calico will take on its quest to defeat aging. However, for me, Google's announcement to financially commit to defeating aging represents an important symbolic moment for our species. I have considered myself a singultarian or a transhumanist since 2005, after I read Ray Kurzweil's book The Singularity Is Near. Since this time I have remained focused on ideas and research related to radical life extension. I have had the chance to read about some fantastic pioneering research by people like Aubrey de Grey and Ben Goertzel. However, they often encounter general academic ridicule, a popular belief that defeating aging is science fiction, and consequently... a lack of funding for their research.
In a few days time I will be giving a presentation at the Global Brain Institute in Belgium (I've introduced the idea of the Global Brain before). But if I were to tell my evolutionary anthropology professors at the University of Toronto what I was doing in detail, I would probably be met with the same disbelief and ridicule that de Grey and Goertzel often face.
Scientific theories and ideas related to the potential future of genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence, the Internet, and nanotechnology are not currently taken seriously by the majority of people. I think that is all about to change now that Google and Apple are financially committing to this research. As Ben Goertzel has stated, anti-aging research is no longer just being conducted by a few visionaries "howling out in the wilderness." I hope it will help people wake up to the realization that aging is a problem that humans have the ingenuity, the knowledge, and the intelligence to solve.
It may also help people realize that they don't actually want to age and die. If the technology exists to give more youth and more life... we always take the opportunity. So let's make that opportunity a reality.
Our culture is changing. TED gives a platform to longevity researchers. The Being Human 2013 conference ended with a discussion on transhumanism. Google and Apple are now on board. Leading researchers in genetics, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence are on board. Are you?
If you have a chance check out the Humanity+ special Google vs. Death page focused on bringing you the latest transhumanist thought related to the Google announcement.
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