I really enjoyed the talk by Cynthia Kenyon on possible “weak points” in aging processes that can be “attacked” with drugs. Her idea is to identify substances that would make FOXO proteins more active. These proteins are associated with longevity not only in model animals, but also in humans.
The more TED Talks about ways to intervene in aging processes we have, the faster people all around the world would understand the feasibility of life extension therapies. By the way, I was glad to see that there are quite a lot of folks, advocating for longevity in the comments discussion about the video. I think this is another sign of TED audience becoming more and more educated and open-minded in regard to the idea of radical life extension. I would like to address the TED events organizers and ask them to do more talks on the topic of aging.
Massive genome sequencing holds promise for entirely changing our society. Cancer genome sequencing already proved to be effective, we’ll find out a lot about our disease risks and causes and we’ll be able to cure and prevent deleterious diseases. That all will prolong our lives. Plus we’ll be able to find all sorts of new links between our genomes and behaviour like the “cheating” gene.
In this great talk Harvey Fineberg, medical ethicist, asks the audience what would they choose to enchance if there was a possibility. Out of memory, fitness, longevity and creativity the majority chose living longer. I think it’s a very good indication that among the most progressive people there’s an emerging trend of extended longevity. The whole talk was about evolution and what would the next step for us be. I think intelligence serves as the new evolutionary factor as it gives us the opportnity to adapt at best to the environment. The only question is when we will be able to live much longer than we do now? Are we going to make it? I’d love to. What about you?
Rodney Brooks, Director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, speaks about how robots increasingly being integrated into our lives. This is a pretty funny talk. Who knew one can push a robot into an emotional corner? While advancements in robotics have come a long way since Brooks gave this presentation, a lot of this is still very applicable today, especially his demonstration on how we will provide direction to robots on how to perform complex tasks.
Philosopher Nick Bostrom, founder of the World Transhumanist Association (Now Humanity+) and current director of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, presented on humanity’s three biggest problems including death, existential risk and that “life isn’t usually as wonderful as it could be.”
150,000 people die every day. This is a huge number that’s hard to imagine. That’s one of the reasons why people don’t recognize death as a problem, because it’s too big. The other reason is because it’s very familiar. Bostrom gives a beautiful example of comparing people to books. 52 million people died in 2004, which is equal to the loss of 3 Libraries of Congress. This comparison helps to understand the scope of our greatest problem – death. Aging is responsible for a huge portion of human deaths, but unfortunately, there are not enough efforts to cure it.
Existential risk is an important, but neglected problem. The major goal of humanity has to be to survive, but there are very few people who work on evaluating global risks, not to mention prevention of potential catastrophes.
The third problem is basically that humans are limited in so many ways. It would be so great if our life was at its best all the time, but there are quite a lot of obstacles, physical and mental. Nick Bostrom brilliantly explains the idea of transhumanism, which is all about creating and applying technologies that are able to improve ourselves.
TED is known for bringing together some of the world’s top thinkers at conferences around the world to deliver short presentations on “ideas worth spreading.” Here Aimee Mullins, a record-breaing athlete, model and activist, is sharing her experiences and difficulties she had to go though when she was competing in running. Oh, did you know that she has both of her legs amputated below the knee, when she was 1 year old?
This is a terrific story about how technology can augment our lives and make truly unbelievable things come true. Thanks to prosthetic limb technologies people like Aimee Mullins are able not only to cope with their disabilities, but to achieve amazing results in all aspects of life. I am pretty sure that technology will keep improving and at some point of time we may even have better limbs than our natural ones. Just imagine, legs that never get tired and hands that never say you bluf when you play poker. I’m fantasizing right now of course, but I do love the concept of self improvent using technological advances.
And here is Aimee’s presentation at the TEDMED conference last year. Really inspiring.
One of the most intriguing topics in life extension is Neuroscience. In this amazing TED talk Sebastian Seung, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at MIT, tells a story about what may actually be our self – the connectome. The term reffers to the entity of all the connections between neurons in our brain.
Professor Sueng is trying to map the incredibly complex network of neurons by analyzing the images of thin slices of the brain and identifying neural patways.
I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of ideas that are bought up by the researcher.
First of all, he mentioned other people saying the task is too complex and it’s basicly impossible to accomplish. There! This is exactly what is constantly happening to people – they loose hope on solving really complicated problems. No wonder radical life extension is considered an impossible task to implement, but in fact it’s not. It’s just nobody takes into account the acceleration of the scientific progress and the exponential growth of knowledge.
Sebastian Seung says: “Some day, a fleet of miscoscopes will capture every neuron and every synapse in a vast database of images. And some day, artificially intelligent supercomputers will analyze the images without human assistance to summarize them in a connectome. I do not know, but I hope that I will live to see that day.” This is one of the technological challenges, but the problem is finite. There is a finite number of neurons in the brain and a finite number of connections between them. I have no doubt that the problem will be solved in the not-very-distant future.
The other issue is the importance of Professor Seung’s work to radical life extension. Consciousness is believed to be determined by the connectome. If we learn how to preserve our it after the death of the body then we basicly can live forever. Possibly, that can be done by uploading it to a computer. Mapping the neuronal network is the first step to preserving the most precious thing we have – our conciousness.
Rachel Sussman‘s talk at TED is about very remarkable creatures – the ones that are older than 2,000 years. Among these record-breakers is Siberian Actinobacteria that is doing DNA repair below freezing. That’s pretty incredible.
Rachel mentions the absence of “the area in the sciences that deals with the idea of global species longevity”. It’s not that I am really surprized to hear that. Gerontology, or in this particular case comparative biology of aging, has been an ‘outsider-science’ for quite a long time. That needs to be changed radically, because the area of comparative biology is extremely important. It may provide us with some biological clues of how to prolong life, for example, in a way that I have described earlier as the main question in biogerontology.