The Sunday ZEITGUIDE
March 31st, 2019
How the same Silicon Valley heavyweights who remade every facet of life through digital technology are now aiming at remaking its ending.
Aging itself isn’t considered a disease, so there’s been little approved research in to stopping the processes that cause it. But that’s changing as tech entrepreneurs are now focused on this challenge. Death and taxes might not be certainties any more—offshore banking has minimized what the very wealthy pay to the government—and now death might not be the universal endgame we all assumed it to be.
How the One-Percenters Aim to Cheat Death
—Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel were early investors in Unity Biotechnology, which focuses on senolytics, a class of drugs meant to target aged cells that accumulate in the body and cause damage to other cells around them. Other companies like Calico, the secretive firm backed by Google, are researching the benefits of caloric restriction, a method of putting the body in a state of near-starvation that has helped mice in lab tests live longer and develop fewer age-associated diseases.
—More extreme is parabiosis, the process of transfusing blood from a younger person into an older person. One startup, Ambrosia Medical, charged patients $8,000 a pop for a transfusion of one liter of blood—until the FDA issued warnings against the practice.
—The most blue sky vision of immortality involves not drugs or blood, but computers. Advances in AI and computing power could one day allow our brains to merge with machines, an event known as the “I think the brain is like a program in the mind, which is like a computer, so it’s theoretically possible to copy the brain onto a computer and so provide a form of life after death,” said Steven Hawking back in 2013. It could bring a whole new meaning to keeping everything in the cloud.
The Must-Have Conversation
When exploring the possibility of expanding human lifespans to potentially hundreds of years, we run into the question that the creators of new technologies often fail to ask: Not just can we, but should we? What are the implications for an already-strained planet of creating a species that doesn’t die? Who exactly will have the privilege of accessing these treatments? “It’s possible that we’re facing a future in which a small community of very rich immortals reign,” suggests Quartz’s Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz.
There is the hope, however, that new research may not dramatically extend lifespans, but could provide solutions to the afflictions that lessen our quality of life as we age. It’s that dream, of a healthy, disease-free life up until our death, that we all share. “I don’t care what time I die, but I want to be healthy until the day before,” quips Felippe Sierra, a biochemist with the National Institute on Aging.
What Else We’re Reading This Week
Looking for a fix to what ails your company? It may be time to rethink your middle managers. The Wall Street Journal
Behind on getting a physical? How mobile apps are remaking what a visit to the doctor looks like. – Bloomberg
Wondering what to watch this weekend? Here’s why viewers can’t get enough of true crime shows? – Quartz
Global & Society
More reason to worry about an increasingly fractured planet? Why Russia is planning to cut itself off from the global internet. – MIT Technology Review
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