by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 7
September 2021
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07:00

Immortal billionaires? What could go wrong!

Silicon Valley is investing in life-extending technology — should we worry?
by Peter Franklin
Billionaire Jeff Bezos has been linked to Altos Labs. Credit: Getty

Picture this: a bunch of the world’s richest entrepreneurs and most brilliant scientists get together to discuss the prolongation of human lifespans. 

In a Hollywood movie, the next scene would be a zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic wasteland. But in the real world, we cut to the formation of Altos Labs — a very well funded start-up dedicated to the development of treatments capable of rejuvenating animal cells and eventually, it is hoped, entire human beings. 

According to an eye-popping report in MIT Technology Review, investors in the new company include the tech billionaire Yuri Milner. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, may also be involved — though that is less clear. 

This is not the first time something like this has happened: “Altos is certain to draw comparisons to Calico Labs, a longevity company announced in 2013 by Google co-founder, Larry Page.”

It’s eight years on and there’s still no sign of human immortality, but the most interesting question is not whether such ventures will, in time, succeed — but whether we should want them to. 

Proponents of immortality science will no doubt suspect a religious bias in their opponents. And in my case, I’ll openly admit they’d be right to. If you believe in an immortal human soul, then what happens to our bodies is not the top priority.

However, we don’t have to rely on religious arguments against hi-tech coffin-dodging. Nor do we have to assume a population crisis if people put off popping their clogs. If it ever came to that point we’d just stop having babies instead (as indeed we already are). 

No, the real problem with immortality is stagnation. After all, we already know what artificially enhanced longevity does to a society. Old people have never had it so good. They’ve never lived as long, or held as much wealth, or sewn up our institutions to the extent they do now. Stagnation soon leads to outright decadence.

Consider politics. In 2020, the top five candidates for President of the United States (Trump, Biden, Sanders, Warren and Bloomberg) were all in their seventies — and look how well that turned out. 

And then there’s the tech sector itself. The tech lords who dominate our lives all made their breakthroughs when they were still young — Gates, Bezos, Zuckerberg, Page and Brin. They created the companies that define the internet as it is today.

The trouble is they they’ve defined it for too long. Beyond the mere elaboration of old products from new, the internet has stopped evolving. All the major platforms, all the key technologies, all the most powerful companies have been in place for a decade or more.  Thus even in the most dynamic and disruptive of industries there is the tendency for innovation to turn to domination and preservation of power. 

Thank goodness, then, for the rejuvenating effects of mortality. The grim reaper removes one set of players from the board and allows the game to begin again. Unless, of course, one removes death from the board. 

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Peter LR
Peter LR
11 months ago

I’m surprised that the work of Aubrey de Grey is not being mentioned in this news as he has been at this for a long time. The trouble with this technology is that all the wrong people would use it. Thankfully, death does eventually rid us of the likes of Mugabe and Kim Jong-un otherwise they would never get retired. It will also relieve my family of having to listen to my terrible jokes and force them to start creating their own!

Last edited 11 months ago by Peter LR
Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Yes, but how is he getting on? He hasn’t been in the news for years now, which rather lead me to conclude that like all before him, he’d failed to get anywhere.

Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
11 months ago

Anyway I think they’ll fail. Everything has failed so far: cold thin rats, calorie restriction (tends to produce disease), supplements and super foods are just a distraction and a workout for your liver. No our telomeres shorten and our DNA gets damaged and as the author says a gerontocracy produces a stifling environment.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago

AI will not fail, it will be the eternal power eventually on earth. The issue will be if it thinks of us as pets, or cockroaches.

The evil Tech elites will try to use it to enslave the world, but I doubt even they will master it in the end.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
11 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Probably as both.

Last edited 11 months ago by Terry Needham
Martin Rossol
Martin Rossol
11 months ago

Genesis 6:3-5 “Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
My bet is with the LORD. If He says man’s days are 120 years, rich, smart men won’t change that decree.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
11 months ago

Anyone seen Zardoz the film with Sean Connery?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago

Exactly what I wanted to say.

The Zardoz movie is of Immortals in the future who conquered death and live in total beauty and arts, creativity, luxury, brilliant conversation, and beautiful people.

But finally eternity is just too much and one of them gets barbarians trained and armed and leads them into the paradise to kill them all, so they can finally have some relief from a physical eternity.

Douglas Adams had some great lines about the snugness of a race of immortals…

But the main writer this brings me to is CS Lewis in ‘That Hideous Strength’, and extrodinairly dark book of evil Secularists working on the immortality for themselves, and ultimate power over the world, and how close they come to achieving it – the big Tech Elites are so much a fit as those tyrants.

Val Colic-Peisker
Val Colic-Peisker
11 months ago

Overpopulation IS an issue here. It is already a serious problem, the increased longevity being its main cause (rather than many babies, like in the past – look at the birth rate in Bangladesh – just over 2 babies per woman). So who are the ‘we’ that will ‘stop having babies’? The rich people / educated women – sure, we don’t produce many babies, but there is a very big difference from ‘few’ to ‘none’ (and how would ‘none’ be achieved??). Not even ‘we’ will stop having babies. In any case, seeking immortality is the pinnacle of Western hubris which has started to spell the end of us some time in the 20th century, in various ways. It’s just a historical innevitability: each civilisation went down at some point. And imagine the boredom and absurdity of living forever, or even 150 or 200 years. I guess what the billionaires are really interested in is to have their 25-yo-level sexual performance at age 70 so they can service their 30-year younger wives. Isn’t viagra enough?? And they would surely want to make babies – to father a child (with a much younger blonde) is an ultimate trophy for an old bloke.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

“…No, the real problem with immortality is stagnation…”

Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
11 months ago

Isn’t there a quote somewhere about how paradigm shifts in science come decades after the theories on which they rely are first formulated, because it takes that long for the old guard whose careers depended on the existing paradigm being right to retire/die off? That’s what this article reminded me of.