On September 18 Google announced their crusade against death via the Time journal cover. Calico company was created specifically to fight aging. Larry page made it clear for the shareholders that Google is an innovative company and that they can afford the most courageous projects, while the investments won’t be too large and won’t undermine the foundations of the company.
First of all I was cheering with joy: one of the largest companies in the world started to do the most important thing in the world. Even some modest success in fighting aging means hundreds of millions of saved lives. Defeating aging is the absolute happiness of billions of people. There can’t be better news than the one about massive funding of research in life extension. However, my euphoria wore off quite rapidly when I analyzed what was said and what the authors of the mega project should have said but haven’t.
Unfortunately, I have to state a sad fact that the initiators of Calico aren’t going to be effective enough in fighting death but just exploiting the topic of life extension in order to look forward-minded and decisive people. This California company is not going to be involved in the work of thanshumanists and aging fighters of the whole world, but makes a strike at us by misinforming the society. Let me explain what I mean by that. Fighting aging is not the activity of one or several companies, it sure is not WiFi balloons, but in fact, billions of lives are at stake. The life of every person depends on scientific research in fundamental mechanisms of aging. Google took the responsibility for that. In many situations this means that it scared off some potential investors. People thought (and I have already encountered this): “Well, why should we chip in when such big money started to work on this problem?”
The announced project has no content, therefore it looks all-encompassing. It’s a problem that there is no information on how exactly they want to cure aging, what kind of research they will be based on. No company in the world can go in all of the directions that may lead to the victory at once. The world needs to know what it’s about: stimulating immune system, regulating regeneration, creating viral constructs carrying longevity genes, eliminating senescent cells, regulating biological clock? What’s the focus, Calico? This information is needed to distribute the efforts and immobilize even more resources for various technologies. No one in the world can say what is going to be more effective: regulating microbiota, stimulating stress resistance or therapeutic cloning?
One can suppose that Calico company holds some kind of a secret. But where could it come from, if there is nobody announced as part of the team who would have successes in the life extension field and would be a recognized expert in the area of studying mechanisms of aging? Levinson? He’s got no publications in this area. It’s actually a mystery, how he will be able to find time for solving the most complicated problem in the world, having at least three other places of work (chairman of the board for Apple, NGM Biopharmaceuticals, and Hoffmann-La Roche).
Over the last 40 years dozens of people thought that they had the secret to superlongevity in their poket. They all were victims of their own illusions and being in love with their good idea. Solving the problem of aging from the scientific point of view is incredibly complicated. It is naive to think that one good idea will do the trick. It is also irrational to place the cart in front of the horse, meaning, in this case, to make money without carrying out large-scale fundamental research. Generally, commercial interest in our field is a complication for solving the task. Furthermore, striving to gain profit starts to prevail and people begin producing profitable products like supplements, which are useless for life extension purposes.
It’s likely that in the area of life extension most effective will be distributed multi-center research – which is definitely not working in the interest of a single commercial company. What if Google fails? Like Google failed at Google Health, like there are no breakthroughs in curing Parkinson’s, like the Breakthrough Prize didn’t play even a tiny role in life extension, like there is no implementation of promising $1 billion by Google Ventures. What did they promise, “cryogenics”? So, where is it? Where are the announced life extension startups from Google Ventures? Google’s failure can become the failure for the whole industry. Again, people will say: “Oh, look, Google couldn’t do it, therefore there is nothing that can be done.“
I would like to call the founders of Calico to more openness and to using social and political tools in fighting aging. We are facing many goals, including education, and making the value of human life and the value of research aimed at its preservation clear for the society and governments. I would also like to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that there is no organizational solution found yet, that would secure funding of good research projects on human longevity. We will have to find it or die.