José Luis Cordeiro is a founding faculty member at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley–based futurist think tank devoted to the idea that science may soon allow humans to transcend aging and death. At this year's Freedom Fest in Las Vegas, Cordeiro sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie to discuss immortality, artificial intelligence, and why he's so optimistic.
Q: What are you most excited about right now?
A: Medicine is being radically transformed. We are going to be living longer lives, healthier lives, probably indefinite life spans, very soon.
Q: Define very soon.
A: At the latest by 2045. I do not plan to die. Even more interesting, in 30 years, I will be younger than today, not older.
A: Because we are going to have rejuvenation techniques, and these experiments are beginning right now.
Q: What are some of those treatments, and how do we know that they'll work, either immediately or in the long term?
A: Well, one of the things being experimented with is increasing the telomeres at the end of the chromosomes [which protect our genes from degrading]. Actually, this is what cancer does—cancer cells are biologically immortal. They do not age. So scientists are trying to understand [how to] apply that to the rest of the body. There is already one human patient that has undergone this kind of treatment for over one year, and her cells are becoming younger, according to the length of the telomeres. They are regrowing, they are becoming longer.
Q: What are the regulatory angles that affect this kind of advancement?
A: This experimental treatment cannot be done in the USA right now. It is illegal. In order to do an experimental treatment, even on yourself, with your own money, you need approvals. So the person that is undergoing this treatment, she actually had to fly to South America. In the USA, the medical industry is highly regulated, and that is a tragedy.
Q: The singularity is where a network of machines that have human minds starts multiplying exponentially, and change becomes almost instantaneous and in a positive direction. Do you worry at all about negative consequences?
A: I am very optimistic in general. I realize that there are always negative outcomes, and we have to be prepared for those, but I am not worried about artificial intelligence. The problem is not artificial intelligence, the problem is human stupidity. And sadly, human stupidity is very natural. What we need is to enhance our intelligence, and artificial intelligence will help us do that.
Q: Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind Tesla and a variety of other things, recently warned about dangers with certain types of artificial intelligence.
A: He talks about colonizing Mars. Maybe he wants to get people scared here on planet Earth, so we all go to Mars. On the other hand, he just started a new company called Neuralink, to link our brains, our neurons, to the cloud. He's investing himself in artificial intelligence. So I guess he's not too worried. Also, he's a personal friend of [Google founders] Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who are betting everything on artificial intelligence. I think Google knows what it is doing.
Q: Many people are opposed to the idea of immortality because they say it's unnatural. What is your response?
A: Average life span about 2,000 years ago was 20 years. Then in the 19th century we hit 40 years. Today, we are at 80 years. So this is increasing very fast, and we are living longer, healthier lives. This is what humans do. We want to improve the world, improve our human condition. What is not natural is to want to die at age 20.
This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a video version, visit reason.com.