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  • 18 minutes is an absolutely brutal time limit,

  • so I'm going to dive straight in, right at the point

  • where I get this thing to work.

  • Here we go. I'm going to talk about five different things.

  • I'm going to talk about why defeating aging is desirable.

  • I'm going to talk about why we have to get our shit together,

  • and actually talk about this a bit more than we do.

  • I'm going to talk about feasibility as well, of course.

  • I'm going to talk about why we are so fatalistic

  • about doing anything about aging.

  • And then I'm going spend perhaps the second half of the talk

  • talking about, you know, how we might actually be able to prove that fatalism is wrong,

  • namely, by actually doing something about it.

  • I'm going to do that in two steps.

  • The first one I'm going to talk about is

  • how to get from a relatively modest amount of life extension --

  • which I'm going to define as 30 years, applied to people

  • who are already in middle-age when you start --

  • to a point which can genuinely be called defeating aging.

  • Namely, essentially an elimination of the relationship between

  • how old you are and how likely you are to die in the next year --

  • or indeed, to get sick in the first place.

  • And of course, the last thing I'm going to talk about

  • is how to reach that intermediate step,

  • that point of maybe 30 years life extension.

  • So I'm going to start with why we should.

  • Now, I want to ask a question.

  • Hands up: anyone in the audience who is in favor of malaria?

  • That was easy. OK.

  • OK. Hands up: anyone in the audience

  • who's not sure whether malaria is a good thing or a bad thing?

  • OK. So we all think malaria is a bad thing.

  • That's very good news, because I thought that was what the answer would be.

  • Now the thing is, I would like to put it to you

  • that the main reason why we think that malaria is a bad thing

  • is because of a characteristic of malaria that it shares with aging.

  • And here is that characteristic.

  • The only real difference is that aging kills considerably more people than malaria does.

  • Now, I like in an audience, in Britain especially,

  • to talk about the comparison with foxhunting,

  • which is something that was banned after a long struggle,

  • by the government not very many months ago.

  • I mean, I know I'm with a sympathetic audience here,

  • but, as we know, a lot of people are not entirely persuaded by this logic.

  • And this is actually a rather good comparison, it seems to me.

  • You know, a lot of people said, "Well, you know,

  • city boys have no business telling us rural types what to do with our time.

  • It's a traditional part of the way of life,

  • and we should be allowed to carry on doing it.

  • It's ecologically sound; it stops the population explosion of foxes."

  • But ultimately, the government prevailed in the end,

  • because the majority of the British public,

  • and certainly the majority of members of Parliament,

  • came to the conclusion that it was really something

  • that should not be tolerated in a civilized society.

  • And I think that human aging shares

  • all of these characteristics in spades.

  • What part of this do people not understand?

  • It's not just about life, of course --

  • (Laughter) --

  • it's about healthy life, you know --

  • getting frail and miserable and dependent is no fun,

  • whether or not dying may be fun.

  • So really, this is how I would like to describe it.

  • It's a global trance.

  • These are the sorts of unbelievable excuses

  • that people give for aging.

  • And, I mean, OK, I'm not actually saying

  • that these excuses are completely valueless.

  • There are some good points to be made here,

  • things that we ought to be thinking about, forward planning

  • so that nothing goes too -- well, so that we minimize

  • the turbulence when we actually figure out how to fix aging.

  • But these are completely crazy, when you actually

  • remember your sense of proportion.

  • You know, these are arguments; these are things that

  • would be legitimate to be concerned about.

  • But the question is, are they so dangerous --

  • these risks of doing something about aging --

  • that they outweigh the downside of doing the opposite,

  • namely, leaving aging as it is?

  • Are these so bad that they outweigh

  • condemning 100,000 people a day to an unnecessarily early death?

  • You know, if you haven't got an argument that's that strong,

  • then just don't waste my time, is what I say.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, there is one argument

  • that some people do think really is that strong, and here it is.

  • People worry about overpopulation; they say,

  • "Well, if we fix aging, no one's going to die to speak of,

  • or at least the death toll is going to be much lower,

  • only from crossing St. Giles carelessly.

  • And therefore, we're not going to be able to have many kids,

  • and kids are really important to most people."

  • And that's true.

  • And you know, a lot of people try to fudge this question,

  • and give answers like this.

  • I don't agree with those answers. I think they basically don't work.

  • I think it's true, that we will face a dilemma in this respect.

  • We will have to decide whether to have a low birth rate,

  • or a high death rate.

  • A high death rate will, of course, arise from simply rejecting these therapies,

  • in favor of carrying on having a lot of kids.

  • And, I say that that's fine --

  • the future of humanity is entitled to make that choice.

  • What's not fine is for us to make that choice on behalf of the future.

  • If we vacillate, hesitate,

  • and do not actually develop these therapies,

  • then we are condemning a whole cohort of people --

  • who would have been young enough and healthy enough

  • to benefit from those therapies, but will not be,

  • because we haven't developed them as quickly as we could --

  • we'll be denying those people an indefinite life span,

  • and I consider that that is immoral.

  • That's my answer to the overpopulation question.

  • Right. So the next thing is,

  • now why should we get a little bit more active on this?

  • And the fundamental answer is that

  • the pro-aging trance is not as dumb as it looks.

  • It's actually a sensible way of coping with the inevitability of aging.

  • Aging is ghastly, but it's inevitable, so, you know,

  • we've got to find some way to put it out of our minds,

  • and it's rational to do anything that we might want to do, to do that.

  • Like, for example, making up these ridiculous reasons

  • why aging is actually a good thing after all.

  • But of course, that only works when we have both of these components.

  • And as soon as the inevitability bit becomes a little bit unclear --

  • and we might be in range of doing something about aging --

  • this becomes part of the problem.

  • This pro-aging trance is what stops us from agitating about these things.

  • And that's why we have to really talk about this a lot --

  • evangelize, I will go so far as to say, quite a lot --

  • in order to get people's attention, and make people realize

  • that they are in a trance in this regard.

  • So that's all I'm going to say about that.

  • I'm now going to talk about feasibility.

  • And the fundamental reason, I think, why we feel that aging is inevitable

  • is summed up in a definition of aging that I'm giving here.

  • A very simple definition.

  • Aging is a side effect of being alive in the first place,

  • which is to say, metabolism.

  • This is not a completely tautological statement;

  • it's a reasonable statement.

  • Aging is basically a process that happens to inanimate objects like cars,

  • and it also happens to us,

  • despite the fact that we have a lot of clever self-repair mechanisms,

  • because those self-repair mechanisms are not perfect.

  • So basically, metabolism, which is defined as

  • basically everything that keeps us alive from one day to the next,

  • has side effects.

  • Those side effects accumulate and eventually cause pathology.

  • That's a fine definition. So we can put it this way:

  • we can say that, you know, we have this chain of events.

  • And there are really two games in town,

  • according to most people, with regard to postponing aging.

  • They're what I'm calling here the "gerontology approach" and the "geriatrics approach."

  • The geriatrician will intervene late in the day,

  • when pathology is becoming evident,

  • and the geriatrician will try and hold back the sands of time,

  • and stop the accumulation of side effects

  • from causing the pathology quite so soon.

  • Of course, it's a very short-term-ist strategy; it's a losing battle,

  • because the things that are causing the pathology

  • are becoming more abundant as time goes on.

  • The gerontology approach looks much more promising on the surface,

  • because, you know, prevention is better than cure.

  • But unfortunately the thing is that we don't understand metabolism very well.

  • In fact, we have a pitifully poor understanding of how organisms work --

  • even cells we're not really too good on yet.

  • We've discovered things like, for example,

  • RNA interference only a few years ago,

  • and this is a really fundamental component of how cells work.

  • Basically, gerontology is a fine approach in the end,

  • but it is not an approach whose time has come

  • when we're talking about intervention.

  • So then, what do we do about that?

  • I mean, that's a fine logic, that sounds pretty convincing,

  • pretty ironclad, doesn't it?

  • But it isn't.

  • Before I tell you why it isn't, I'm going to go a little bit

  • into what I'm calling step two.

  • Just suppose, as I said, that we do acquire --

  • let's say we do it today for the sake of argument --

  • the ability to confer 30 extra years of healthy life

  • on people who are already in middle age, let's say 55.

  • I'm going to call that "robust human rejuvenation." OK.

  • What would that actually mean

  • for how long people of various ages today --

  • or equivalently, of various ages at the time that these therapies arrive --

  • would actually live?

  • In order to answer that question -- you might think it's simple,

  • but it's not simple.

  • We can't just say, "Well, if they're young enough to benefit from these therapies,

  • then they'll live 30 years longer."

  • That's the wrong answer.

  • And the reason it's the wrong answer is because of progress.

  • There are two sorts of technological progress really,

  • for this purpose.

  • There are fundamental, major breakthroughs,

  • and there are incremental refinements of those breakthroughs.

  • Now, they differ a great deal

  • in terms of the predictability of time frames.

  • Fundamental breakthroughs:

  • very hard to predict how long it's going to take

  • to make a fundamental breakthrough.

  • It was a very long time ago that we decided that flying would be fun,

  • and it took us until 1903 to actually work out how to do it.

  • But after that, things were pretty steady and pretty uniform.

  • I think this is a reasonable sequence of events that happened

  • in the progression of the technology of powered flight.

  • We can think, really, that each one is sort of

  • beyond the imagination of the inventor of the previous one, if you like.

  • The incremental advances have added up to something

  • which is not incremental anymore.

  • This is the sort of thing you see after a fundamental breakthrough.

  • And you see it in all sorts of technologies.

  • Computers: you can look at a more or less parallel time line,

  • happening of course a bit later.

  • You can look at medical care. I mean, hygiene, vaccines, antibiotics --

  • you know, the same sort of time frame.

  • So I think that actually step two, that I called a step a moment ago,

  • isn't a step at all.

  • That in fact, the people who are young enough

  • to benefit from these first therapies

  • that give this moderate amount of life extension,

  • even though those people are already middle-aged when the therapies arrive,

  • will be at some sort of cusp.

  • They will mostly survive long enough to receive improved treatments

  • that will give them a further 30 or maybe 50 years.

  • In other words, they will be staying ahead of the game.

  • The therapies will be improving faster than

  • the remaining imperfections in the therapies are catching up with us.

  • This is a very important point for me to get across.

  • Because, you know, most people, when they hear

  • that I predict that a lot of people alive today are going to live to 1,000 or more,

  • they think that I'm saying that we're going to invent therapies in the next few decades

  • that are so thoroughly eliminating aging

  • that those therapies will let us live to 1,000 or more.

  • I'm not saying that at all.

  • I'm saying that the rate of improvement of those therapies

  • will be enough.

  • They'll never be perfect, but we'll be able to fix the things

  • that 200-year-olds die of, before we have any 200-year-olds.

  • And the same for 300 and 400 and so on.

  • I decided to give this a little name,

  • which is "longevity escape velocity."

  • (Laughter)

  • Well, it seems to get the point across.