What’s the best way to tackle a really huge challenge, like, for example, curing aging?
Divide and conquer. Split the really huge challenge into chunks which, whilst still huge, are each more fathomable than the challenge as the whole.
As you’ll read below, that’s the approach advocated by Andrew Steele, the guest on the latest episode of London Futurists Podcast.
1.) Getting older without getting old
The subtitle of Andrew’s book is “The new science of getting older without getting old”.
What does that even mean, you ask.
It’s not as bonkers as it might sound. Nature contains animal species that have been described, at various times, as “negligibly senescent”, “biologically immortal”, or – to use the word that is the primary title of Andrew’s book – “ageless”.
A tortoise, for example, can be just as sprightly at the age of 140 as it was at the age of 40. Its chance of dying within the next 12 months has remained constant over that 100 year period. The mortality rate of humans, in contrast, is far from flat. It doubles over the course of any 8 year period past early adulthood.
With the right interventions, humans could become ageless too. That’s the thought that animates anti-aging researchers such as Andrew. The most promising way forward, as I said above, is to split aging into a number of separate “hallmarks”, namely aspects of biology with three characteristics:
- They tend to increase with chronological age
- Increasing a hallmark accelerates the overall consequences of aging
- Reducing a hallmark decreases the overall consequences of aging.
Examples include telomere shortening, epigenetic modifications of DNA packaging, misfolded proteins, and increases in senescent cells.
Some of these hallmarks are already the focus of significant biomedical research, and there are credible pathways ahead to obtain cures for them – treatments to reduce these hallmarks and, thereby, to decrease at least some of the overall consequences of aging.
Research into other hallmarks remains underfunded, and is likely to persist in that state unless changes in public financing occur. The overall price tag to unlock much faster progress, Andrew suggests, is $100 billion – a figure that he argues is relatively easily affordable. That’s especially true in view of the enormous benefits that would flow from such investments – economic benefits as well as humanitarian benefits.
To learn more, I strongly recommend this recent podcast episode. Click on the link to see a full breakdown of what the conversation includes.
2.) Curing aging: Plan B progresses too
For our friends and family members – and maybe for us too, as individuals – what happens if disease and legal death arrives before the availability of the kind of rejuvenation therapies mentioned above?
That’s where “Plan B” becomes important – the possibility of someone being cryopreserved in a low temperature biostasis at the point of legal death, until a time in the future where science and medicine have sufficiently advanced to support not only reanimation from biostasis but also the cure of whatever caused their legal death.
Over the last 12 months, Many developments have taken place in the biostasis community around the world.
To catch up with these changes, why not watch this Madrid Singularity event tomorrow (Sunday)? It will be streaming live on YouTube from 4pm UK time.
The speakers will be:
- Max More, PhD (USA) – Director of Communications, Biostasis Technologies
- Emil Kendziorra, MD (Germany) – CEO, European Biostasis Foundation & Tomorrow Biostasis
- Peter Tsolakides (Australia) – Cofounder, Southern Cryonics
The event will take place in English. Live translation into Spanish is being provided via a separate link.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Q&A from the audience. You can type your questions into the YouTube livestream chat window.
3.) A chance for transhumanists to meet in London
The future was delayed. In this case, for three months. The event was originally scheduled for the 10th of November, but was postponed when a London Underground tube strike meant that travel within London would be disrupted that evening. But it was rescheduled to Thursday 16th February.
The event in question features four of the UK’s most prominent commentators on the subject of transhumanism. The chair is Luke Robert Mason, the curator of FUTURES Podcast. His guests will be:
- Prof. Steve Fuller (University of Warwick)
- Elise Bohan (University of Oxford)
- Anders Sandberg (Future of Humanity Institute)
The title of the event is “Our Superhuman Future”:
Transhumanists believe that the only way for humanity to survive in the future is to merge with advanced technology. Today’s rapid developments in gene-editing and artificial intelligence point to the potential for a ‘humanity 2.0’ to upload their minds, enhance their bodies, create robot companions and have babies outside the womb. Ideas that were previously considered science fiction are fast becoming a reality. When might we expect these developments, and what ethical issues will they create?
This will be taking place in the St Pancras Room of Kings Place, not far from Kings Cross Station in central London. Doors will open at 6:30pm with the event itself starting at 7pm.
You’ll need a ticket to attend: click here for the details.
It will be a good chance for transhumanists and friends to gather – along with others who are simply “transhumanist curious”. I’ll be there from 6:30pm onward.
4.) Your opinions wanted, about aging, life extension, death
Someone else who plans to attend the event on Thursday at Kings Place is Rebekka Obrestad, an MA student from the University of Bergen (Norway).
Rebekka is part of a research program based at that university, entitled “Technoscientific Immortality: A study of Human Futures”.
I’m passing on the following message from Rebekka:
My name is Rebekka, and I am a MA student at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen.
I am currently undertaking ethnographic fieldwork in London on social and cultural aspects of technologies that relate to aging and longevity. I am interested in a wide field of practices and projects, from antiaging clinics to political and legal initiatives that aim to change how aging and longevity is viewed. I am also interesting in transhumanism, extreme longevity, cryonics and bio-hacking.
My research is part of a larger project where some of the researchers (masters’ students, PhD students and professors) look at longevity practices in the US as well as in Russia. We are not so much looking at the medical practices, as we are studying the ways in which people change their perceptions of what aging and death is.
For my project, I want to interview people who have opinions about aging, life extension, death etc. Thus, I am wondering if any of you are interested in talking to me? We could do it in person or over zoom, whatever you prefer.
In my thesis I would of course anonymize your name and other personal data, and if you want to you can read the thesis and approve any citations I might use.
You can read more about the project here: https://www.uib.no/en/immortality/142361/about-project
If this sounds like something you would want to do, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you have any questions, please let me know.
5.) Holiday plans this August: Dublin?
I’m very glad I attended the Longevity Summit in Dublin in August last year. That summit was full of news about progress with longevity initiatives around the world. I met many wonderful people. And the city itself, Dublin, was enchanting. (You can hear some of my reflections on the event in this podcast episode.)
The organisers are planning something even bigger and better this August, 2023. You can read the details here.
The venue will be the Dublin Royal Convention Centre, which is located next to St Patrick’s Cathedral (pictured above).
Why not consider extending your stay, to see more of Ireland, as a summer holiday with a difference?
6.) Even God Herself
In case you missed it: the latest episode of Humanity Unshackled is entitled “Even God Herself” and features transhumanist writer Chris T. Armstrong.
Chris describes his new book as follows:
This is not your standard dystopian science fiction fare. Rather than a typical story propelled by psychologically flawed characters—bent on pitting their ‘all too human’ impulses for coercion and conquest against one another—this is a tale of what humanity might achieve if it could rid itself of its self-destructive, aggressive tendencies.
The protagonist and her co-conspirators strive to manifest the optimistic sentiment of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek: ‘We are an incredible species. We’re still just a child creature. We’re still being nasty to each other around the world, and all children go through those phases. But when we grow up, man, we are going to be something.’ In this sense, Even God Herself is humanity’s ‘coming of age’ story.
It’s a wide-ranging interview, hosted by Rusty Burridge, and with me as co-host chipping in occasional comments.
// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists
I have some misgivings about Andrew Steele’s presentation because of his apparent mistake in a calculation of probability. He states (or that is how I understood him) that if his chance of death were reduced to one in a thousand each year he could expect to live a thousand more years. Not so. After a thousand years the chance of surviving is .999 (one minus a thousandth) to the thousandth power, which is about 37%. The half-way point – a 50% chance of surviving – is reached at 693 years, to the nearest year, which is log(.5) / log(.999).
In an interview nobody, apart perhaps from the late Richard Feynman, would have been able to calculate these things in their head, but any numerate person would have known that even odds would be reached long before the thousandth year.
You may call me pedantic if you wish, but I am not a mathematician, and I know this. Mathematics is the foundation of science; and Andrew Steele’s work relies partly on statistics, which is closely bound to probability.
Hi Graham: Andrew Steele is right here. It’s a well-known result from statistics. It’s something I’ve known since the age of 18, so I silently nodded my head at that point in the interview. The statistical distribution in question is known as an exponential distribution (or, sometimes, as the negative exponential distribution). If the probability of an event happening remains flat at λ, the expected duration until the event happens is 1/λ.
Your calculation looks at something different, not the expected value.
As an aside, I just typed the following question into ChatGPT: “If the chance of death each year is 1/1000, how long is the expected lifespan?”
Here’s the answer given by the AI:
The expected lifespan can be calculated using the formula: expected lifespan = 1 / (chance of death per year). In this case, the chance of death per year is 1/1000, so the expected lifespan would be:
expected lifespan = 1 / (1/1000) = 1000 years
It’s important to note that this is just an estimate and the actual lifespan can be shorter or longer. This calculation assumes that the chance of death remains constant over time, but in reality, the risk of death can change as a person ages or due to other factors.
That’s reassuring – and surprising. Thanks for the clarification. As somebody said (Mark Twain?) it’s not what you don’t know that matters, it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
However, it would be nice to know why my calculation is wrong. It still seems to me (in my naivety) that given 1000 people in this situation, after 693 years only 500 would still be alive on average. But it doesn’t really matter – I accept that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy.
The calculation of expected value integrates the *product* of the probability and the value. Therefore higher values have a disproportionate effect on the expected value. (After all, there’s a nonzero chance, in this example, of someone living to 2,000, or even longer.)
As I said, your calculation isn’t wrong. It just calculates something different. Andrew’s passing mention of this result took for granted the meaning of expected value that statisticians normally use.
What do you think about the rest of the interview?
I asked ChatGPT for some more help here, with the question, “what are the main features of the negative exponential distribution?”
The AI’s answer is below. Point 3 is the salient point for this discussion
The negative exponential distribution is a continuous probability distribution that models the time between events in a Poisson process, where events occur continuously and independently at a constant average rate. The main features of the negative exponential distribution are:
1) Memoryless property: The negative exponential distribution has the memoryless property, which means that the future waiting time for an event is independent of the time elapsed so far.
2) Unimodal: The negative exponential distribution is a unimodal distribution, with a single peak at the mean value.
3) Shape: The negative exponential distribution is a right-skewed distribution, meaning that the majority of the values are clustered around the minimum value and the tail extends to the right.
4) Mean and variance: The mean and variance of the negative exponential distribution are equal to 1/λ, where λ is the rate parameter.
5) CDF and PDF: The cumulative distribution function (CDF) and the probability density function (PDF) for the negative exponential distribution are given by:
CDF: F(x) = 1 – e^(-λx)
PDF: f(x) = λe^(-λx), x >= 0
These features make the negative exponential distribution a useful model for a variety of applications, such as modeling the time between failures in reliability engineering, the time between arrivals in queueing theory, and the time to complete tasks in operations research.
Thanks for the further explanations, but I’m afraid it will probably remain a pons asinorum I cannot cross.
I found the rest of the interview interesting but a little short on substance and detail. I suppose I should read the book; or I might get it as an audiobook, which is my current preferred way to catch up on recent non-fiction.