viernes, marzo 21, 2008

Anti-Aging, Longevity and Immortality

Anti-Aging, Longevity and Immortality Technology

by Gregor Wolbring

March 15, 2008

Anti-aging research is booming. References to a number of anti-aging exhibitions and conferences can be found on the web. And here is a link to one that happened last year in my own province.

Aging is a concern to South Korean policy makers. The country has increased its funding for anti-aging research. The Korea Times mentions the work of Kim Tae-Kook, a professor at the state-run Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology who has created a newly synthesized small molecule that enables human cells to avoid aging and makes cells younger. The article states that “Kim expected that the CGK733-empowered drugs that keep cells youthful far beyond their normal life span would be commercialized in less than 10 years.” I could list Anti Aging research efforts happening in numerous countries, including China.

The Immortality Institute has just published a set of essays on the issue in a book called The Scientific Conquest of Death (PDF). Terms used in the extreme longevity discourse include: ‘cyber-immortality,’ ‘emancipation from death,’ ‘involuntary death,’ ‘immortal-ism,’ and ‘immortal-ist morality.’

The book states “Is it possible that scientists – or at least humankind – will conquer the blight of involuntary death? If so, to what extent will we succeed? What is in fact possible today, and what do the experts predict for the future? Is such a thing as ‘immortality’ feasible? Moreover, is it desirable? What would it mean from a political, social, ethical and religious perspective? This book will help to explore these questions.”

The book discusses biological theories of aging and biomedical strategies to counter it. It talks about alternative approaches such as medical nanotechnology, digitalization of personhood, and cryobiological preservation. It addresses questions that arise if radical life extension becomes a reality. Would it create overpopulation, stagnation and perpetual boredom? How would it change our society, our culture, our values and our spirituality? If science allows us to vastly extend our life span, should we do so? Although the book is written from a ‘we want it’ perspective, it allows for some insight into the debate.

There are many other places where this research is being pursued.

Aubrey de Grey -- one of the most visible people in the field of extreme longevity research – provides insight on ‘Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence’ on the website of the Methuselah Foundation, which he chairs.

De Grey tries to proactively deal with concerns people might have with his focus on extreme longevity research. He covers Overpopulation; Immortal Tyrants; Only the Rich; First Things First; Playing God. And others: I don't even want to live to 1000; I'm too old to have any chance of benefiting; we should focus on curing disease and feeding the starving first; let's become better people first – we don't deserve long lives; we should focus on postponing frailty, not death; life is already long enough to do the full range of what life offers; we'd be denying future generations the right to be born; this wouldn't be saving lives, it would be extending lives; we'd forget so much about our youth that we wouldn't be the same person.

I leave it for the reader to decide whether he effectively addresses these concerns or whether the arguments to dismantle these concerns will lead to other problems.

For people who want to read more, I have written an article called “Should We 'Cure' Aging? A Reply to De Grey” that was published in Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology. It responds to Aubrey De Grey's article called “Life Span Extension Research and Public Debate: Societal Considerations.”

I have responded to some of the arguments De Grey uses to justify the research and why it should have top priority -- especially his argument that extreme life extension research should take priority over increasing the quality of life and health of aging people within today’s typical life span. I have also described three visions of what immortality could look like and the questions they raise.