Silicon Valley’s quest to live forever could benefit the rest of us
Jeff Bezos pops champagne after emerging from the New Shepard capsule after his spaceflight on July 20, 2021.
All things must die, according to the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, but that could be about to change.
A rising number of tech billionaires are determined to “cheat death” by using their vast wealth.
Amazon‘s Jeff Bezos, Alphabet‘s Larry Page, Oracle‘s Larry Ellison and Palantir’s Peter Thiel are just a few of the super-rich who have taken a keen interest in the fast-emerging field of longevity, according to interviews, books and media reports.
Although breakthroughs may not be possible, the super-rich hope that life sciences technologies, such as medicines and therapies, will allow humans to live beyond 100 years. They also believe they can extend their lives to 200, 300 or longer.
Are their efforts beneficial to humanity in general or just certain individuals? The tricky question is one that splits the opinions.
“Technologies that initially are only affordable to the rich typically become more widely available with time,” Stefan Schubert, a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science who specializes in “effective altruism,” told CNBC. This is true for everything, from medicine and air travel to smartphones.
CNBC’s Jaan Tallinn is a tech investor who stated that Silicon Valley’s desire to live forever would eventually be beneficial for humanity.
Tallinn explained that involuntary deaths are clearly morally wrong, making the search for long life a noble and morally honorable endeavor. “Early adopters tend to pay more for their therapies and are willing to take higher risks than the mass market. This is to be expected if they start on the riskier side.
Tallinn said that while he believes it is counterproductive to demand that all users have access to a service, he acknowledged that it was in line with his instincts.
CNBC’s Sean O hEigeartaigh is the co-director of the Center for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University. He said that there are many advancements in longevity science that could bring about broad benefits. Also, they might reduce the severity of age-related illnesses such as dementia or heart disease.
“Extending max lifespan significantly in the near-term seems unlikely to me; but identifying and arresting aging-related factors that increase preponderance and severity of age-related conditions is more plausible,” Ó hÉigeartaigh said.
Many are worried that Earth’s limited resources may be put under pressure if more people live longer and healthier lives.
However, by the time meaningful life extension advances are made, Ó hÉigeartaigh expects population numbers to be more stable in more parts of the world.
“I believe meaningful longevity extension is a century away. By then, I anticipate a change in society’s attitude towards euthanasia.” he stated, adding that euthanasia would be accepted and more widespread in the future.
Although some people believe billionaires should be free to do whatever they want, others disagree with the idea that tech billionaires should spend their money funding life extension research.
CNBC interviewed Jon Crowcroft from Cambridge University who said they would rather invest more money in climate mitigation than long-term research.
Crowcroft said, “It is a little pointless living forever in a dying world.”
Tallinn, however, said to CNBC that the billionaire technie supports longevity research and finds it “commendable”.
Tallinn stated that he believes it is unfair to put good causes up against bad in an environment where the majority of resources are being wasted on unimportant and even morally reprehensible matters.
Bezos, the second richest man in the world behind Elon Musk, has invested some of his $199 billion into a new “rejuvenation” start-up called Altos Labs, according to a report from MIT Technology Review earlier this month.
Russian-Israeli venture investor Yuri Milner reportedly backs the anti-aging startup, which is believed to be pursuing bio-reprogramming technology. Milner made a fortune investing in Facebook early on.
Elsewhere, Oracle founder Ellison has donated more than $370 million to research about aging and age-related diseases, according to The New Yorker.
Google’s founders Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page launched Calico. Calico is a private venture that tracks the lives of mice, from their birth until death, in hopes of discovering markers for Alzheimer’s or diabetes. According to The New Yorker report, Alphabet is the holding company which also has Google. Calico is part Alphabet.
Thiel is one of the most vocal advocates for extended life among tech billionaires. He co-founded PayPal and Palantir and supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal Inc.
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In 2006, he donated $3.5 million to support anti-ageing research through the non-profit Methuselah Mouse Prize foundation. He stated that rapid advances in biology foretell a treasure trove for discoveries, which will lead to dramatically increased health and long-term longevity. Thiel had upped his investment in Methuselah Mouse Prize foundation to $7 million by 2017, according to Time.
According to The New YorkerThiel and Bezos both made investments in Unity Biotechnology in San Francisco, which is a company founded by a man who reportedly claimed he wanted to “vaporize one third of the human diseases in developed countries.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, British billionaire Jim Mellon told CNBC last September that he was planning to take Juvenescence, his own life extension company, public in the next six to 12 months.
Although it has yet to occur, Juvenescence continues to invest in anti-aging therapies that it believes have the potential for prolonging human lives.
Insilico Medicine was one such investment. This company uses artificial intelligence for drug discovery. Juvenescence has also backed AgeX Therapeutics, a California-headquartered firm trying to create stem cells that can regenerate ageing tissue, and LyGenesis, which wants to develop a technology that uses lymph nodes as bioreactors to regrow replacement organs.
Juvenescence has also been invested by Mike Cannon-Brookes (the co-founder and founder of Australian software company Atlassian) as well as Michael Spencer, the founder of NEX Group.