“Okay, lets get started, but first let me grab my pint” said Dr. Aubrey de Grey, as he walked with laptop in hand to his glass. Sitting down and taking one sip I ask “That’s how the do it in England, huh?”, to which he responds matter-of-fact-ly “Yes it is.” This is the beginning of a fun interview if I’ve ever had one.
Having seen Aubrey de Grey’s work for over the past two or three years, it was an honor to be able to catch up with him in person on Sentient Potential and explore some of his thoughts about the future of humanity. For those of you who are less than familiar with his work, Aubrey is the Chief Science Officer at the SENS Foundation (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), and author of a number of books including “Ending Aging.”
Beginnings in Research
I mention to Aubrey that many people know him as the man out to defeat aging, but that few people (myself included) knew much of the story of how he got involved in the field in the first place. His response somewhat surprised me.
Originally, his interests in research were in leveraging artificial technologies to allow humans more leisure time, more time to use our higher faculties, basically having machines “handle the things we don’t want to do… like climb into coal mines or sell hamburgers.” In the 90’s, Dr. de Grey met his wife who just so happened to be a biologist, and was – at the time – working on fruit flies.
Aubrey’s own interests were peaked by biology and as he dug into the field on his own, he was surprised to hear that nearly nobody in the field was working on the problem of aging, of curing the causes of what is the biggest killer of humans on earth. The responses he got to “why” people weren’t working on this problem all seemed irrational and not well thought out. This was the origin of his idea of the “pro-aging trance,” (read more about it on his Wikipedia page) a kind of “deathism” that promotes the idea of death from aging as a good thing without actually thinking the problem through rationally.
In terms of overcoming barriers, Dr. de Grey sees the defeat of pro-aging trance as primary among his concerns to help us extend human life an end the suffering of aging.
Science Purposes, Humanitarian Purposes
Aubrey explains that in the world of research, it is assumed that there are more humanitarian researchers than maybe there really are. Some people do research to figuring things out because they like to figure things out, and a few scientists do research exclusively to apply it meaningfully in the world. Dr. de Grey’s own personal aspirations have always been in helping humanity on the grandest scale, and so his mission (and that of SENS) is the direct application of their research to cure the problem of aging.
What Ending Aging Might Do for the Future of Humanity
I spoke with Aubrey briefly on the topic of the future of humanity, and the potential scenarios (often discussed in the world of transhumanism and futurism) that might involve moving our human conscious into other substrates, giving us long-lasting silicon bodies and potentially moving our minds into computers that are more durable and reliable that our current biological grey matter. Famous proponents like Ray Kurzweil believe that by the 2030’s, mind uploading will be perfected and a preferred mode of existence (some of his predictions here).
It is Aubrey’s belief that the desire to leave our biological substrate will diminish as the “down-sides” of remaining purely biological go down. In other words, when we can more-or-less live forever in our present bodies, Aubrey believes that we will likely not wish to remove ourselves from them. The negative aspects of “being made of meat” – as he aptly put it – would be mitigated by an absence of disease and an absence of the recurring damage which is the origin of aging itself.
Staying in Touch with Aubrey and SENS
The 6th SENS conference is coming up in Cambridge in September 3rd – 7th (details here at SENS.org). Anyone looking to attend can register now.
In addition, you can always contact SENS via their contact form if you have any questions about science, events, local anti-aging related meetups, or anything else at all.
I wanted to say another big thanks to Dr. de Grey for the interview. With innumerable directions for the human future, Aubrey’s research is an approach that much of the world is eager to see progress. Only time will tell, but Aubrey believes that the first 1000 year-old person may already be alive today, possibly in his or her 50s or 60s.