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The human upgrade – Tech billionaires’ quest to defy death

  • Harnessing Google’s genius and algorithmic power
  • Paypal’s Peter Thiel’s approach to death is to fight it
  • Oracle’s Larry Ellison is on a quest to escape the inevitable
  • How are we planning to reach immortal life?
  • The ethics of research into immortality: Bill Gates says no

With the already present technological and medical advances, more than a billion people will live past the age of sixty by 2025. This means that, compared to less than two centuries ago, we are living almost twice as long. Advancements in disease prevention provide vast benefits to society – not in the least economically – and greatly improve our quality of life.

The billionaires of today believe they can create the fountain of youth, using algorithms and big data – the same technology they used to create the information revolution. Founders of the world’s Tech giants such as Google, Oracle and PayPal are paying hundreds of millions of dollars towards the quest for immortality. From this we can see that defying death is not a specific academic pursuit – it’s a thriving area of technological innovation and the transformation of biomedical research.

The world’s billionaires are all driven by the idea that reprogramming, rebuilding and regenerating our organs, cells and DNA will allow us to live healthier, happier and longer lives. They fund research into creating nanobots to heal our bodies from the inside out and into exploring ways in which our brains can be digitised – as it is believed that our minds can live on long after our physical bodies have perished. This article looks at how these Tech giants combine technology, genomics, big data and long-range thinking to unlock the secrets to reversing or at least slowing the ageing process.

Harnessing Google’s genius and algorithmic power

After finding out that he was at risk of developing Parkinson’s, co-founder Sergey Brin of Google donated a handsome $50 million to research into cures for ‘old age’ diseases. Larry Page, another one of Google’s founders also committed a staggering amount – no less than $750 million – towards the longevity cause with his anti-ageing research company California Life. At this mysterious biotech company, affectionately named Calico, they believe that they have the ability to not only enhance the quality of life but also prolong life. Scientists in molecular biology, genetics and pharmacology are researching ways to counteract age-related diseases and slow the ageing process. Larry Page, Google Ventures’ Bill Maris and Ray Kurzweil, the futurist hired by Google as director of engineering, have all expressed an interest in Singularity (humans and machines merging to become trans-humans) and the radical extension and improvement of millions of lives – through biotechnology and healthcare. As a result of Google’s genius and algorithmic power and by employing non-commercial dedication, California Life could actually come very close to realising these lofty goals. They have the ability to attract the most brilliant of minds – who might prefer working on matters of life and death, rather than games and apps. They have vast access to consumers and possess core data handling skills – encompassing unparalleled data collection abilities, causal-relationship detection and pattern-matching.

brown boots on brown soil with the word immortality written in white capitalised letters
Founders of the world’s Tech giants such as Google, Oracle and PayPal are paying hundreds of millions of dollars towards the quest for immortality

Paypal’s Peter Thiel’s approach to death is to fight it

Paypal’s co-founder and tech luminary Peter Thiel’s approach to death is to fight it. The Sens foundation received $6 million towards research into longevity research that is set to transform the international biomedical and science fields. Since he sold his payment system PayPal to eBay in 2004, Thiel has invested millions of dollars in technology and science that will help humans live longer, healthier lives. The Methuselah Project, named after the oldest man in the Bible, makes use of the immense micro-processing power that fuelled the development of the Internet to gain a better understanding of the most complex machine of all time: the human body. Using their ideas and their billions, Methuselah’s research is aimed at developing drugs that target specific types of cellular mutation and destruction related to ageing. They believe that rejuvenation and restoration at the molecular level – prolonging cellular life – should result in prolonging the life of organisms made up of those cells. Their bold ideas and radical science will postpone the unavoidable cellular destruction that results in body failure and mortality. Thiel believes that evolution is a true account of nature that we should try to transcend or escape.

Oracle’s Larry Ellison is on a quest to escape the inevitable

To ‘solve the problem of ageing’, founding chief executive of Oracle, Larry Ellison, invested over $430 million into researching DHEA – the hormone scientists think can slow the ageing process. Ellison is yet another one of these billionaires exploiting his power and wealth on a quest to escape the inevitable: death. In his pursuit of immortality, he created the Ellison Foundation that focuses on research to find a cure for ageing. Ellison says that death never made any sense to him and he believes that it’s just another corporate opponent that he can outsmart. He lost his mother to cancer and he claims that life couldn’t be more dreadful than to suffer from that disease.

How are we planning to reach immortal life?

Ending death by curing disease

Peter Thiel and partners Brian Singerman and Sean Parker are focusing on biotech companies that are researching ways to cure viral diseases, various types of cancer and ageing. They are not looking for incremental approaches such as life-extending drugs but rather ‘absolute cures in anything they do’. The partners believe that all viral diseases will be curable within ten years. By that time we will also have a better idea of what exactly ageing is, what causes it and, finally, how to stop it.

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Freezing the body until cures have been found

Another way to cheat death, scientists believe, is by cryonics – ‘freezing’ our bodies in order to preserve them until a future medical technology can fully restore our health. Cryonics, although it sounds very sci-fi, is actually based on modern science. According to Alcor, an American non-profit organisation that researches, advocates for and performs cryonics, if the body’s basic structure is preserved, we are able to stop and restart life. An example is the practice of freezing embryos. They are preserved by lowering the temperatures in such a way that life’s chemistry is completely stopped. It is already possible to cool organs the size of a human brain by vitrification – the cooling of tissue by temperatures as low as -120⁰C without causing ice formation.

Repairing tissue with nanotechnology

With the vast developments in nanotechnology, in thirty to forty years, we will have microscopic robots travelling through our bodies, repairing and regenerating tissue, even individual cells, molecule by molecule. Nanotechnology could help us wipe out diseases and any ‘preserved’ person could theoretically be recovered – provided the basic structures of the brain which encode personality and memory are still intact – unless they are first digitally backed up – which is also possible with nanotech. Humans will eventually be a fusion of man and machine – also referred to as technological singularity – as nanobots make their way through our blood streams. Eventually nanobots will even completely replace biological blood.

Developing artificial brains and avatars

Scientists believe that we can achieve immortality by the year 2045. Dmitry Itskov says that, by then, we will have created technologies that will make it possible to transfer our personalities and our memories to artificial carriers. This will enable us to extend life, even become immortal. According to 35-year old Russian billionaire and media mogul Dmitry Itskov, this will be achieved by developing an avatar, a robot connected to our current selves. The human brain will then be transplanted or its contents and consciousness transmitted to the artificial brain of the avatar. By the year 2045, our consciousness will have evolved into a type of Internet of global consciousness. By then, we will no longer need physical presence. Robots will have developed their own artificial intelligence and will be able to perform physical tasks for us. Although all of this sounds very sci-fi, the Tech sector is of the opinion that thanks to exponential technological developments there will be no end to our knowledge evolving and expanding.

The ethics of research into immortality – Bill Gates says no

Some science historians, philosophers and economists believe that technological research in genetically modified organisms, neuroscience, stem cells and viruses tinkers with nature in such a way that things could easily get out of hand. If technology makes the extension of life, or even immortality possible, it will lead to great upheaval. Imagine the pressure on the economy and our natural resources. Immortality would also completely disrupt ‘family’, the cornerstone of society. Imagine a crowded planet with old citizens that we can’t support or various generations of the same family being alive forever, simultaneously.

Another ethical point to ponder is the knowledge that immortality would only be accessible to and benefit the rich as the research is carried out through their own private funding. Also, is the quest for life extension motivated by the desire to serve humanity or their own benefit? Isn’t immortality the ultimate, elusive and egocentric goal for he who already has everything?

Bill Gates, unlike the other wealthy Tech giants described in this article, believes that it is arrogant to want to be immortal. Especially because most people on this planet have no access to life’s essentials and are dying of curable diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. According to Gates, the billions of dollars that are being pumped into this type of research to benefit the wealthy few should be spent on those who need it most.


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