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Biotech Science

Do You Want to Live Forever? 1334

Jamie McCarthy writes "In 1918, Gunnery Sergeant Daniel Daly inspired his weary men to attack by yelling, 'come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?' But how would the world change if we could? This month's Technology Review introduces us to the computer scientist, and self-taught biologist, Aubrey de Grey, who thinks immortality could be within our grasp by 2030. Thinking like an engineer, he's broken aging down into seven specific problems, like cell atrophy and mitochondrial mutation, which he believes can all, in principle, be solved. And he has good reason to think those seven are the only 'bugs' standing in the way of a thousand-year lifespan. De Grey is clearly both a genius and a little nuts, but I'm not sure in what proportion..."
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Do You Want to Live Forever?

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  • Re:Social Security (Score:2, Informative)

    by N3Z ( 746334 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @02:06PM (#11410170)
    If we live forever, we can work forever.
  • by bogie ( 31020 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @02:09PM (#11410218) Journal
    Actually that's 2042 not 2031.

    "This is one reason that SS is fundamentally flawed."

    Your take, not fact.

    Btw I'd like to point out that the reason most people need social security is because the most productive years of their lives are behind them and they need it because they have no more earning power. If you were "immortal" you could just keep working and wouldn't need SS.
  • by Holi ( 250190 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @02:15PM (#11410316)
    Daly dreams of being on the cover of Time magazine

    Daniel Daly is dead and buried in Cypress Hills Cemetary. Daly was arguably the greatest marine of all time and the man behind the famous quote. Aubrey de Grey is the self taught micro-biologist who may or may not "dream of being on the cover of Time magazine".

  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @02:40PM (#11410681) Homepage
    " The Social Security System will fail Shortly after 2031."

    No. An utter lie.

    The New York Times []:

    A Question of Numbers

    Published: January 16, 2005


    In 1938, the Social Security Act was only three years old, but its future was already very much in doubt. Conservatives claimed it would bankrupt the nation, and independent critics argued that the way it was financed amounted to ''financial hocus-pocus,'' as one editorial in The New York Times put it. President Franklin D. Roosevelt defended the program, said by a cabinet member to be his favorite, with some of his trademark oratory. ''Because it has become increasingly difficult for individuals to build their own security,'' the president told a national radio audience, ''government must now step in and help them lay the foundation stones.''

    Social Security did become the cornerstone -- not only the biggest government entitlement plan but also the most universal, the most popular and the most enduring. But the debate over Social Security never ended. Barry Goldwater wanted to repeal it; Milton Friedman wrote in 1962 that it was an unjustifiable incursion on personal liberty; and David Stockman, the budget director who personified Ronald Reagan's efforts to shrink the federal government, tried to take a hatchet to Social Security, which he called a ''monster.''

    But in this 70-year struggle, no other conservative has ever come as close to transforming the program as George W. Bush. He is making Social Security reform, including a partial privatization, a centerpiece of his second term. If the most ardent ideologues have their way, such a reform would be a first step toward a wholly new approach to retirement security -- one that would set aside the notion of collective insurance and guaranteed minimums for that of personal investing and responsibility.

    This could do more to reverse the New Deal, and even the Great Society, than Goldwater, Stockman and Reagan ever dreamed of. ''We call it a conservative New Deal,'' says Stephen Moore, author of ''Bullish on Bush: How George W. Bush's Ownership Society Will Make America Stronger.'' In Moore's words, it will be a fundamental shift ''from an entitlement society to an ownership society.'' The key to this transformation, according to a generation of conservative thinkers and crusaders, is reducing the size and changing the nature of Social Security, which now pays benefits of half a trillion a year, and which will only grow bigger as America grows older.

    The campaign to privatize has not only been about ideology; it has also focused on Social Security's supposed insolvency. Moore's book calls Social Security a ''Titanic . . . headed toward the iceberg'' and a program ''on the verge of collapse.'' A stream of other conservatives have bombarded the public, over years and decades, with prophecies of trillion-dollar liabilities and with metaphors intended to frighten -- ''train wreck,'' ''bankruptcy,'' ''cancer'' and so forth. Recently, a White House political deputy wrote a strategy note in which he said that Social Security is ''on an unsustainable course. That reality needs to be seared into the public consciousness.''

    The campaign is potentially self-fulfilling: persuade enough people that Social Security is going bankrupt, and it will lose public support. Then Congress will be forced to act. And thanks to such unceasing alarums, many, and perhaps most, people today think the program is in serious financial trouble.

    But is it? After Bush's re-election, I carefully read the 225-page annual report of the Social Security trustees. I also talked to actuaries and economists, inside and outside the agency, who are expert in the peculiar science of long-term Social Security forecasting. The actuarial view is that the system is probably i
  • Re:Actually, it is. (Score:4, Informative)

    by CreatureComfort ( 741652 ) * on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @03:18PM (#11411199)

    Except for the obvious difference that the people who receive welfare have not paid a bloody dime into the system. It is those of us who pay income tax that provide the benefits to welfare recipients, on the basis that it is better for all of us to be forced to support them, than for us to see them starving beside the street.

    On the other hand, Social Security is sold to the people as a system where they pay money in over their working career so that they can then have it back after they retire. (The fact that the system doesn't actually work that way seems to be irrelevant to the masses of SS devotees.) What SS should have been, assuming you agree that people are in general too stupid to save money on their own for retirement, is mandatory personal retirement savings accounts. Determine the average length of time people will live, subtract the average length of time they can usefully work, determine the average monthly income needed after retirement, figure out a reasonable rate of return on funds deposited, and do the math to determine how much they need to be forced to save to provide for themselves.

    Social Security was never supposed to be, and should never be thought of as, a welfare program. If you agree that it is a necessary program at all, then it should just be a mandatory retirement account. Every penny of which you put in, is then yours to take back out when the time comes.

  • Re:Worse than that (Score:3, Informative)

    by nero4wolfe ( 671100 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @03:49PM (#11411596)
    Among the things done in the early 1980's "rescue" of Social Security was to increase tax rates approximately 20% more than was needed to meet ongoing obligations. The goal was to build up a surplus to meet the demands of the 'baby boomer' generation when it retired. This was done because they didn't think that the working population of 2020, 2030, etc. would support the otherwise necessary large Social Security tax increases to fund Social Security payments to retiring "baby boomers".

    That surplus is technically still there. You can argue about whether it is sufficient, whether it will last long enough, etc. But that surplus is why the official statements are that the present setup is fine until sometime in the 2030's or 2040's.

    However, it's interesting to look at the funds behind that "surplus" account. It consists mainly of (effectively) bookkeeping entries saying that the federal general fund owes the social security fund a large amount of money. This is because ALL of the "surplus" Social Security dollars that weren't immediately used to pay ongoing obligations were transferred to the federal general fund, where they were spent for general federal purposes. The surplus Social Security monies were not saved or invested. The monies owed to the Social Security fund by the federal general fund are also not reported as a part of the normal federal deficit.

    So once the Social Security fund starts depending on funds from the "surplus" account, it will in effect be presenting bills to the rest of the federal government. The federal government will then have to (a) cut spending enough to find the money, (b) raise taxes, (c) cut Social Security benefits, (d) run bigger official deficits, or (e) some combination...

    There were lawmakers at the time who saw this problem coming and pleaded to keep Social Security a separate fund (one example was Patrick Moynihan from New York) but nothing ever came of that.

    Another factor is that the "baby boomer" generation was followed by what's called in some reports the "baby bust" generation. I've seen some reports that claim that at least in some jobs, if the "baby boomer" generation retires in masse at age 65, for a while there will be real problems getting people with enough experience to fill vacated positions.

    If you couple that, for example, with statements made by some Democratic staff members during the early 80's hearings on Social Security, that 65 was picked as the retirement age solely because that was the average life expectancy. So you could Social Security problems by just raising the retirement age... And if that encourages people to work longer and mask any employment problem, so much the better.... (at least in the thinking of some lawmakers...)

  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @03:51PM (#11411639) Homepage Journal
    The UK moved from a system like SS to a "privatized" one like the one proposed by Bush. Earlier this month it was described as a "bloody mess" by an English economist, summarizing the general conclusion there.
  • by barawn ( 25691 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:06PM (#11412481) Homepage
    Yah, if you read more at the actual SENS [] website, you'll see in much more detail why the things he's talking about are the only ones you need to really worry about.

    Macrocellular problems are mainly in the "cell loss/atrophy" and "extracellular junk" plus "crosslinking". Extracellular junk is stuff like plaques (Alzheimer's) and probably arthritis as well - it's what degrades people's life experience probably most significantly.

    The really interesting one is the "perfect cure for cancer", WILT - whole-body interdiction of lengthening of telomeres. Basically, the idea is that you can say "I don't care about nuclear mutations. The body already has developed a perfect way of handling those problems - kill off the screwed up cell, and replace it." The main flaw in that is cancer, and so all you really need is a "perfect cure for cancer".

    The perfect cure for cancer is to prevent cells from ever being able to replicate infinitely, by preventing them from lengthening their telomeres (telomeres shorten a little after each cell division, and when they run out, the cell dies) - then, a cancer cell can divide, but eventually, the whole thing up and breaks down. The problem with this, of course, is that your body needs to replicate indefinitely - so his suggestion is that we lengthen telomeres ex vivo - that is, outside the human body. So you go in, say, once every few years, for a treatment, and then you'll never get cancer. If you miss the treatment, though, you'll die, so it's a bit of a tradeoff. :)

    Interestingly, that sounds like a bizarre idea, but it has benefits, because it also would be a cure for a rare disease - dyskeratosis congenita, who are naturally missing the ability to lengthen telomeres. (This of course means these people are cancer-immune: they only live ten years, which is the downside)

    and I think cells are only capable of growing into that patten, not necessarily replacing bad sections.

    If you have an entire bad section, it's not from aging - it's from injury, and that's not what he's talking about. It's just senescence - that is, the falling apart of the body as it gets older.

    It's important to remember most major systems in your body replace themselves completely, on average every 7 years. Some much faster, like the lining of your stomach. So your body is quite capable of replacing cells one at a time, except for senescence.

    One of the best things about this kind of research is that all of the problems he's suggesting we work on have real consequences now. So there's benefit to working on them individually, but we also should be thinking a bit more globally in treatment regarding it. If you can come up with something that gets rid of almost all extracellular junk, for instance, it'll take care of Alzheimer's, heart disease, and several other problems as well.
  • by wbeckler ( 87039 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @07:22PM (#11413948)
    de Grey heads the Methuselah Foundation that awards prize money scientists who achieve certain benchmarks in the extension of life in mice. The foundation is supported by private donations. You can become a sponsor of the prize by donating to the M-Prize [].

    From []:

    A growing number of organizations and scientists know that the control of aging is foreseeable and desirable. It is no longer a question of if but when true medical interventions for aging will be developed. These people are pioneers in more ways than one: more than a few hardy visionaries have decided to become members of the Foundation as donors and by joining The Three Hundred. We share a common vision for the future - a world in which aging has been defeated and the years ahead become open ended.

    "'s possible that we could change a human gene and double our life span."
    Cynthia Kenyon Ph.D. ref

    Cash Prize Total: $122,129

    Cash and Pledges: $855,687

    On the Three Hundred:

    Much like The Three Hundred Greek warriors of Sparta, who bought the armies of Greece precious time at Thermopylae, this is a special group committed to defending the human race from a more ancient enemy... the suffering and misery of the aging process.

    The Methuselah Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) registered organization. We are a group of dedicated professional and non-professional VOLUNTEERS who believe that the control of aging is forseeable preserving health and wisdom in a world that sorely needs it. There are NO salaries paid and no money given in compensation for the many hours invested in spreading this message. It is a labor of love. Below find a list of just a few of the individuals who have worked tirelessly in building the bedrock from which the Foundation arises to become the first organization of its kind in the world.

  • not precisly (Score:3, Informative)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @07:45PM (#11414204) Homepage Journal
    if you take the average age based on 5 year old and older, are average lifespan is only a few year longer.
    If you take pre five year old in the mixe, then you are including infant maortality, which was a staggering number until about 75 years ago.

    So, were not actually liveng that much longer, but more of us are given the chance to live beyond 5.

    So the original poster is right about not increase the lifespan, but very very wrong about it not improving health.
  • by Noco ( 620600 ) <zebracrest80&yahoo,com> on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @08:57PM (#11414933)

    I have a degree in Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology. I used to work in a Genetics research lab as well. Now, I'm no Cambridge Scholar, but I'm not stupid. But unless I'm missing something, this guy has basic points wrong in most of his 7 points.

    Eliminating telomerase is not bad, and a way to reduce/eliminate cancer. Telomoerase is essential for Germ Cells, i.e. sperm and egg cells. It seems unlikely to be able to eliminate it in all cells but these.

    Cancer cells don't need telomerase. There are countless avenues to cancerous cell growth.

    Stimulation cell growth is good and necessary. Cell growth in the brain could be extremely problematic. The brain is a living, connected system. The connections are what make the brain what it is. Unlike computeres with fixed hardware and variable software, the brain is variable in both. The electrical patterns can change as well as the paths the patterns take. Essentially, they are insepearable. The addition of new cells, with no way to control their connectedness would not aleveate the problems of cellular degredation and loss.

    Extrecellular protein linkages are unique. Biology is extremely effecient at its use of chemical compounds, structurally. Our knowledge of protein strcuture is limited, due to the limitiations we have of computational modeling due to limited computational abilities. That he should think that extracellular proteins show unique linkages seems hubristic. It is possible we don't understand all protein interactions yet.

    Cell growth can be stimulated naturally. Here, even a passing comment has errors. Muscle cells are stimulated to divide by excercise. No! Excercise increases the size of muscles by stimulating an increase in production of muscle fiber proteins. More proteins cause a cell to be larger, and thus the overall muscle to be bigger. Thus excercise increases the size of muscles, not the number of cells. This is basic biology.

    Mitochondrial proteins will work in the nucleus.While most cells in the world use a universal genetic code, some vary specific cells do not fully share the code's universality. Some non-eukaryotic cells and mitochondria. (It is interesting to note that mitochondria are thought to be descendended from symbiotic [] non-eukaryotics cells themselves.) I don't know off the top of my head if these proteins will work with both codes, but it seems likely that even if the nucleus can produce the raw protein, the proper folding, transport, and ultimate use of the proteins might not occurt since they are not where they need to be, namely inside the mitochondria. Only native proteins might be functional.

    Again, I might have too simple an outlook or be completely incorrect, but it seems that there are basic concepts of biology that conflict with de Grey's ideas.

  • by ( 539566 ) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @10:42PM (#11415780)
    What SS should have been [...] is All those things were done in Chile.
    1. mandatory personal retirement savings accounts.
    2. Determine the average length of time people will live, It's determined every 5 or 10 years. A recent increase in the estimations decreased pensions by 10%.
    3. subtract the average length of time they can usefully work,
    4. determine the average monthly income needed after retirement, 70% of average income while employed.
    5. figure out a reasonable rate of return on funds deposited, I think it was 6%. Real rates have varied wildly.
    6. and do the math to determine how much they need to be forced to save to provide for themselves. You are forced to save 10% of your earnings plus pay 1,5% for life insurance (for your spouse and children). And you must pay the administrators of your fund something near 1%.
    An optimistic summary can be read in this New York Times article, [] written by prominent Chilean member of Cato Institute, José Piñera.

Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"