Can Science Reverse Aging?

"I plan to live forever," says futurist José Cordeiro.

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"In 30 years, I will be younger than today, not older," says José Luis Cordeiro, who's a founding faculty member at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley-based think tank devoted to futurism. "Why? Because we are going to have rejuvenation techniques, and these experiments are beginning right now."

A mechanical engineer with a degree from MIT, Cordeiro has worked in fields ranging from monetary policy to petroleum engineering, and he created the first formal "future studies" course at the Austrian School of Economics in Venezuela, his birth country.

Cordeiro is an extreme optimist, who says technological progress will solve most of the world's problems. He sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie at the annual libertarian conference Freedom Fest in Las Vegas to discuss immortality, artificial intelligence, and the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Edited by Ian Keyser. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Zach Weissmueller.

Music: "Aspirato" by Kai Engel, Creative Commons.

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This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Nick Gillespie: Let's talk about the future of two things. One about Singularity University, and then also about Venezuela, your home country.

Singularity University is a place that is dedicated to exploring, and analyzing, and coming up with what the future looks like, especially in terms of, kind of, life enhancements, human life enhancement, longevity, life extension. What's the most, what are the things that you're most interested about right now?

José Cordeiro: Well, things are accelerating. We really live in exponential times, and medicine is being radically transformed. There is a disruption, and we are going to be living longer lives, healthier lives, probably indefinite life spans, very soon.

Gillespie: Define very soon.

Cordeiro: Well, we talk, delayed as by 2045.

Gillespie: Okay.

Cordeiro: Ray Kurzweil, who is the chairman of Singularity University, he says that he plans to become immortal by 2045, and I believe in that as well. In fact, I do not plan to die.

Even more interesting, in 30 years, I will be younger than today, not older. I will be younger.

Gillespie: Oh, so–

Cordeiro: Why?

Gillespie: Yeah.

Cordeiro: Because we are going to have rejuvenation techniques, and these experiments are beginning right now. There are patients that are being rejuvenated with experimental treatments.

Gillespie: What are some of those treatments, and how do we know that they will work, either immediately, or in the long term?

Cordeiro: Well, one of the things that are being experimented with is increasing the telomeres at the end of the chromosomes. Actually, this is what cancer does. Cancer cells are biologically immortal. They do not age, so scientists are trying to understand why cancer has discovered how not to age, so that we can apply that to the rest of the body. This is one of the most interesting things that are being experimented, and there is already one human patient that has undergone this kind of treatment for over one year, and her cells, actually, are becoming younger, according to the length of the telomeres. They are regrowing, they are becoming longer, which means she is younger today.

Gillespie: Wow. From a policy angle, what are the regulatory angles that most intersect and block this kind of research, or this kind of advancement?

Cordeiro: Well, this is an excellent question because this experimental treatment cannot be done in the USA right now, because it is illegal. In order to do an experimental treatment, even in yourself, with your own money, you need approvals. So, this person that is undergoing this treatment, Liz Parish, who lives in Oregon state, she actually had to fly to South America. I helped her, also, to find some doctors that could help to start this treatment. Even though she paid, and she did it on herself, that was not legal in the USA, so she had to go to another country.

I think this is horrible. In the USA, the medical industry is highly regulated, and you cannot try an experiment on yourself, and that is a tragedy, I think.

Gillespie: How do you guard against the negative singularities? So, you know, because the singularity can be great, and that's kind of 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 outcomes from this type of exponential growth and advancement in technology and capabilities?

Cordeiro: I am very optimistic, in general, but I realize that there are always negative outcomes, and we have to be prepared for those, but I am not worried about artificial intelligence. In fact, how can you be worried about becoming more intelligent? You will be able to know more, to do more things, to be more intelligent.

So, the problem is not artificial intelligence, the problem is human stupidity. And, sadly, human stupidity is very natural. So, what we need to do is to become more intelligent, to enhance our intelligence, and artificial intelligence will help us do that.

Gillespie: Elon Musk, recently, you know the impresario or entrepreneur behind Tesla, and a variety of other, you know, PayPal, a variety of things, recently came out and talked about having a kind of a preemption against certain types of artificial intelligence. Do you think he's getting nervous about the future?

Cordeiro: Well, maybe a little bit, but he has other plans, as well. You know, 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. So, he's investing himself in artificial intelligence. So, I guess he's not too worried.

Also, he's a personal friend of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who are betting everything on artificial intelligence. So, I think Google know what they are doing.

Gillespie: Yeah. Many people are opposed to the idea of immortality, and this isn't even a question of when, or whether it will become operational, but you know, they're just against it because they say it's unnatural. What is your response to people who say we shouldn't try to extend our lives, or enhance our capabilities?

Cordeiro: Well, average life span about 2,000 years ago was 20 years, you know. Then, in the 19th century, we hit 40 years. Today, we are in 80 years. So, this is increasing very fast, and we are living longer, healthier lives. So, I think this is what humans do. We want to live better. We want to improve the world, improve our human condition. So, I think this is our nature, to live in a better time, with better lives. So, I think it's very natural.

What is not natural, is to want to die at age 20.

Gillespie: So, you are Venezuelan. Venezuela, it seems to be in the end game of a horrible catastrophe, a completely man-made catastrophe. What is your sense of how events are playing out in Venezuela?

Cordeiro: As I mentioned before, I am very afraid of human stupidity. You know, we are very stupid, humans are very stupid. We need to be more intelligent. Therefore, we need to get rid of these horrible, stupid governments, and enhance them. Actually, maybe we could have a robot president, who could be more intelligent.

But, talking about the situation in Venezuela, right now, it really is a tragedy. The country has gone back in time about a century. People are poorer, there is no food, there are no medicines, and there is criminal regime that is dealing in drugs, and that is the problem. This is a narco general regime. They will not leave power, because all of those Generals, who are so corrupt, they know that once they get out of power, they will end up in jail.

The drug and enforcement agency has ordered to capture seven generals, the Vice President of Venezuela, and the Minister of Defense. So, they, sadly, have no way out anymore.

Gillespie: Is there a way of this to end with less bloodshed and less suffering?

Cordeiro: Well, I wish, but then some of the military would have to revolt against the generals who control the drug dealings. So, it is going to be very difficult. Very difficult situation.

Gillespie: Well, we'll leave it there. We've been talking with Cordeiro, he's a founding faculty member of Singularity University, and a Venezuelan native. Thanks for talking to us.

Cordeiro: A pleasure, Nick.

Gillespie: For Reason, I'm Gillespie.

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  1. If you reversed aging wouldn’t you only live long enough to become some jizz again?

    1. And an egg.

      Mmmmmmmmmmm… eggs.

      1. The incredible, edible….

        1. Ovulation discharge?

          1. When you eat an egg you’re eating chicken menstruation. Think about it.

    2. We are already well underway in reversing the aging process.

      In fact, once we reverse penis growth and re-engineer anuses to double as vaginas in a more satisfactory fashion, societal evolution will reach its climax (so to speak).

  2. Filthy immigrant. Get out!

    /s

    1. Where’s Joe Arpaio when you need him?

      1. He just got pardoned, just needs to go get his badge and gun back.

  3. I saw this movie. Don’t these anti-aging inventions turn you into a zombie or something?

    1. “Mad, they call me. Mad? Is it madness to seek to bring mankind to new plateaus? Is it madness to seek the welfare of the human race? NO, a thousand times no!

      “Of course, maybe wearing a colander on my head is madness…”

      1. “Of course, maybe wearing a colander on my head is madness…”

        Never.

        *adjusts colander to jaunty angle*

        1. Do you have a whole bunch of crescent shaped sunburn spots on your head right now?

          1. Early on one learns to periodically rotate the colander.

    2. Just watched ST:TOS – Miri the other night… We see how well that worked for them!

      1. You don’t need the “TOS” appendage. Star Trek is called Star Trek.

  4. So he’s one of the bad guys from Defenders?

  5. Ray Kurzweil, who is the chairman of Singularity University, he says that he plans to become immortal by 2045, and I believe in that as well. In fact, I do not plan to die.

    Can’t fault a guy for wishing, I guess.

    1. Wouldn’t it be just awesome-sauce?

      Just imagine, 100 years from now, all of us still here, only younger and wicked smarter?

      1. “wicked smarter “

        Dream on!

      2. Just imagine, 100 years of jokes about SIV fucking chickens.

        1. A hundred of years of being called cuck because you’re trolling over at breitbart. My god what an amazing world we live in, thanks technology!

      3. So….Tony would be less progtarded?

    2. Note to self: live to 2045 somehow.

  6. Theoretically, if you replaced everything but the brain with robotics, one bit at a time, could you not eventually reach a place where ‘aging’ and ‘death’ are malfunctions and wear and tear that can be mitigated?

    /notabiologistorevenallthatsmart

    1. Brain jelly still gonna rot.

      1. *cries saline lubricant tears from metal eye sockets*

      2. How many times do I have to tell you to refrigerate your brain jelly?

      3. doesn’t matter, we’ll have the technology to download our memories and then we can just kill that lame wetware and become immortal bots.

    2. Only if ‘the brain’ were like a Lego piece, clearly and uniquely identifiable and separable from all the rest of the body.
      It’s not. Where does ‘the brain’ stop and ‘the nervous system’ begin?

      1. It doesn’t. You have to preserve the whole nervous system, which is a tricky problem.

        1. Nope, the paradigm is fundamentally flawed.
          Quite clearly we don’t have to preserve the whole nervous system, or amputations would count as brain damage.
          Equally, the brain is as intimately bound to the endocrine system as it is to the nervous system.
          Brains are not separable ‘parts’.
          Bodies, organisms, are not assemblies of pieces/parts. That’s not what organisms are.
          Physics and mechanics are not useful models for biological systems, even though physics and mechanics continue to apply.

          1. Well, I am assuming people will want to keep all their parts. Easier to preserve an arm than to replace it with a robot arm. Most people will not prefer that, I think. As for the endocrine system, you could replace the organs with little pumps. But, again, it is easier to just rejuvenate them with stem cells.

            1. Or learn to grow whole new body parts from stem cells.

          2. Brains are not separable parts? Huh? We can remove areas of brains that have known functions and the rest of the brain continues to perform all the other functions. That pretty much indicates that brains are separable. The same goes for bodies. What evidence can you point to back these sorts of claims?

          3. Somebody tell that to all the people with reattached fingers and toes.

            Oh, and fucking *transplanted hearts*.

            Even if the human body cannot be treated as a Lego block right now, that is nothing a thorough CRISPR-ing won’t fix.

            1. yep if they can figure out the parts of dna that result in DNA “falling apart” and getting old then they can CRISPR in new part that doesn’t do that.

              1. Well, that’s the hope.

                But I was just talking about the ability of nerve cells to detach and reattach (like a Lego set). We already know nerves can reattach: otherwise we wouldn’t be able to regain feeling in reattached fingers and toes. So if our brains, as currently designed, can’t do that, it’s a simple matter of CRISPR-ing them into a new design that can.

          4. Nah, everything can be replaced.

  7. He sort of lost me when he discussed increasing life expectancy, such as how 2000 years ago, it was 20 and today we’re up to 80. I hear that kind of stuff all the time, and it shows a lack of understanding statistics. These figures represent AVERAGE life expectancy AT BIRTH. It’s not that 2000 years ago, nobody lived to be 80 or even 100 — it’s just that the average was skewed way downward by all the infants who died during childbirth or shortly after from disease and malnutrition.

    Life expectancy at any adult age is always at least a few years out. So if you already managed to live to 45, or 60, etc., the chances are good you will make it another 10 years or 15, or 20. If not, there would be no such thing as getting life insurance for any reasonable sum after say, age 35.

    I’m surprised this guy is not aware of this.

    1. Oh, he is, just as the magician is aware of the false bottom to his hat.
      But you don’t scam the rubes by giving away the game with clarity and precision of thought and expression.

    2. Or how life expectancy doesn’t matter for fuck all when death is programmed into our genetic code. Just because we live to see that preprogrammed death date doesn’t change the fact that it’s there.

      Unless this guy or someone else can figure out how to tack on extra telomere’s onto DNA he’s going to have a rough time, and I haven’t seen anything yet that implies there’s a way to successfully do so systemically.

      1. Unless this guy or someone else can figure out how to tack on extra telomere’s onto DNA he’s going to have a rough time, and I haven’t seen anything yet that implies there’s a way to successfully do so systemically.

        Even this is a bit of an obvious oversimplification or foolish double-edged sword. Telomerase was discovered because cancer cells can divide much more than regular cells with/without immortalization. Which means telomerase is great for immortalizing your otherwise senescent cell lines but, at the same time, you’re literally promoting cancer. Cells that incur lots of damage and would regularly turn over before becoming cancerous will now be immortal.

        It’s a widely known truism that the otherwise-enforced 80-100 yr. lifespan is the only thing that keeps prostate, cervical, or other cancer from killing most humans.

        1. This assumes that we don’t deal with the problems that we induce by extending telomeres with other technological tools. For instance, upcoming single cell whole genome sequencing technologies combined with CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing may get rid of cancers or other side effects of telomere extension. One can think of a host of possible biological mechanisms to target. And someone is actively researching every one of them.

      2. Read the article maybe? That’s what they’re doing.

      3. Death is not “programmed” into our genetic code. We have not evolved to age. We just have not evolved to not age. From Aubrey de Grey, a leading scientist in the rejuvenation field: “The virtually unanimous opinion of credentialed biogerontologists is that Nature did *not* create aging through natural selection. Rather, it created organs (especially brains) that are very useful but which rely for their function on being composed of very long-lived cells, a structural feature that makes the accumulation of eventually pathogenic molecular and cellular damage inevitable. Ever since then, Nature has been striving to have its cake and eat it too by inventing more and more elaborate systems to minimize the rate of accumulation of that damage ? but reducing that rate to zero is thermodynamically impossible for structures with no cellular turnover, so the result seems to be that all species with a brain and a fixed adult body size age just slowly enough that only a small minority of them die of aging in the wild rather than of starvation, predation and so on.” https://www.cato-unbound.org/ December 2007.

    3. This is ridiculous. He was answering a moral question, not a practical one: eg, whether or not it is morally acceptable to extend life, not whether genetic modification specifically is a workable option for such.

      Although it is basically an argument for that too. Infant mortality and disease are external factors, but better nutrition does technically extend the life of your cells, rather than merely protect them from premature destruction. A precursor to genetic enhancement in most meaningful ways.

    4. we live far safer lives than our ancestors too and have cures for a great many things that they didn’t . The potential to live to a 100 has always been there, and no doubt there were some healthy/lucky fuckers out there who lasted that long, but it was much much much more likely for people to die at younger ages 100+ years ago.

  8. “I plan to live forever” will look great on his tombstone.

    1. Even better a couple hundred years* after that when some poor shlub trips over a rock, clears away the thin layer of earth and barely makes out the inscription.

      *Optimistically, a trip through your local cemetery will show even WWII and Vietnam veteran’s stones to be severely worn.

    2. I’ll bet every idiotic male human being in every culture going back to the earliest days of mankind thought to himself at some point or another “I will never die”. It’s one of our favorite natural self-delusions, right up there with “Every woman wants to fuck me.” Oddly, you never hear women openly spouting crap like this.

      And even if scientists do eventually manage to discover a way to slow down or even stop the cellular aging and decay process, it still won’t mean that we’re “immortal”. No drug can prevent someone from potentially getting hit by a bus or taking a bullet to the head, and I don’t think even the craziest loons out there believe they’re going to ever develop the self-healing capabilities of a Borg vessel.

      1. But genetic- and memory-data storage will let you be quickly grown back as a near-perfect replica of yourself in a cloning vat.

        Death will be an annoyance, not an end.

        1. I’m holding out for time lord regeneration.

          1. Well, that’s one way to get free gender reassignment surgery!

  9. “In 30 years, I will be younger than today, not older,” says Jos? Luis Cordeiro, who’s a founding faculty member at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley-based think tank devoted to futurism. “Why? Because we are going to have rejuvenation techniques, and these experiments are beginning right now.”

    This is funnier than religious people’s beliefs, because religious people at least admit that it takes a god-driven miracle for this to happen to them.

    1. Those who don’t believe in a god usually just insert mankind into the slot previously designated for a deity.

      1. That’s an interesting thing to say.

        Are you saying that the human mind has an inherent god-slot, or that people who once believed in god, but stopped, need something to fill the void?

        I think the same applies to a lot of people who do believe in god, when they talk about people “doing god’s work” and the like.

      2. Science is the only self correcting religion. That’s why it has succeeded where other religions have failed with superstition and hocus pocus.

    2. “Singularity” is a cool, futuristastic name for that moment in the future when everything will cease to exist. That they chose this for their name inspires me that they are totally not blowhards.

      1. singularity has a lot of meanings, and not just the one you are proposing.

    3. Unless you buy the famous Arthur C Clarke quote about sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic.

  10. Hope he’s right, but I’m not likely to invest any money to find out.

    -jcr

  11. “In 30 years, I will be younger than today, not older,” says Jos? Luis Cordeiro, who’s a founding faculty member at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley-based think tank devoted to futurism. “Why? Because we are going to have rejuvenation techniques, and these experiments are beginning right now.”

    This is the crazy “intellectual” equivalent of a 50 year old woman enthusiastically ordering some miracle skin cream from HSN at 3am

  12. Can Science Reverse Aging?

    I guess I’ll be the one to point out that science can’t do anything.

    1. Can technology reverse aging?

      1. Your mom can reverse aging. She just chooses to look like that.

    2. Don’t listen to him Science. You can do anything if you apply yourself. Now get me a beer.

  13. Immortality? Singularity? There can be only one.

  14. People mocking this would do well to remember that there are already species of lobster that do not age naturally (at least that we’ve been able to observe).

    Immortality is an impossibility, but vastly extended life? Child’s play, with CRISPR and telomeres to hand.

  15. His tie is an abomination.

    1. You hate a tie covered in dollar bills?

      “What kind of Libertarian are you!?!”

  16. There’s a more plausible way: clone oneself, knock out the genes which make the grey matter of the brain, raise the clone to age 5, then transplant the brain into the clone. Use nanotechnology to repair the effects of cerebrovascular aging (if the transplantation into the young body doesn’t do that).

    There are some problems with this approach (mainly that the cloned body would still have all the defects/inefficiencies of the individual’s genotype), but in my opinion it is technologically more feasible than general ‘rejuvenation’.

    1. If you can use nanotechnology to rejuvenate the brain… Then why not just rejuvenate the rest of the body? The brain is *more* complicated than the rest of the body, not less, so if you can “repair the effects of cerebrovascular aging”, why not repair everything else just as easily?

      1. The brain is *more* complicated than the rest of the body

        The vascular aspect of the brain isn’t more complicated than the vascular aspect of the rest of the body (with the possible exception of the blood-brain barrier [functionality]). Arteries, veins & capillaries are particularly specialized tissues: using nanotechnology on them is less biologically demanding than using nanotechnology on all types of tissues (i.e. specialized cells constituting tissues).

        If I have a compound which cleans the fuel lines (including injectors) in a car, it doesn’t mean that the use of such stuff will fix (or maintain) the cooling system, let alone the electrical circuitry.

        1. Okay…

          So why can’t you use your vascular-rejuvenating nanotech to fix the rest of the body?

          And if you can’t, then how do you expect to fix the neurons in the brain being transplanted? Do neurons not age too?

          Unless you’re talking about nanotech that can *only* fix neurons but not anything else, which could make a brain transplant to a clone body logical, but also doesn’t sound like what your original post was about.

          1. So why can’t you use your vascular-rejuvenating nanotech to fix the rest of the body?

            As I wrote: arteries, veins & capillaries are particularly specialized tissues: using nanotechnology on them is less bio(tecno)logically demanding than using nanotechnology on all types of tissues (i.e. specialized cells constituting tissues).

            “how do you expect to fix the neurons in the brain being transplanted? Do neurons not age too?”

            Now that you asked this question, I’ve looked around I found this:

            Scientists discover how the brain ages.

            Assuming that this research is valid*, then indeed there’s a need for fixing neurons.

            * The article talks about “DNA damage responses”, but it is unclear for me how DNA damage happens in non-proliferating cells, like neurons. But I’m just a layman as far as cell & molecular biology goes; I don’t claim to have all the answers.

            1. doesn’t sound like what your original post was about

              The point I was trying to make with my original post was that I think it is easier to grow a replacement — cloned — body than to figure out a technology which is able to ‘rejuvenate’ all types of already specialized cells in a grown (or even already aged) body. I admitted the need for ‘rejuvenation’ of cerebrovascular tissues; now you brought to attention the need for neural ‘rejuvenation’. The suitability of my plan depends on the question: is it possible to design a generic cell ‘rejuvenation’ technology, i.e. one which can fix all types of (specialized and possibly aged) cells, or is it easier to design cell ‘rejuvenation’ technologies which target particularly specialized (and certainly aged) cells/tissues (i.e. cerebrovascular stuff & neurons). If the case is the former, then my plan isn’t necessary; if the case is the latter, then my plan might be better.

              (We did not discuss how likely a brain transplant is. After all, the transplanted brain would have to be fused with the clone’s spinal cord, which itself is a challenging task. We did make some technological advances in this direction, but I’m not sure how feasible it is right now or in the near future.)

              1. That makes sense.

                There is no scientific obstacle we cannot overcome together!

    2. Doesn’t work morally for a libertarian. You’d have to kill the clone, which is an independent sentient being.

      1. Not if you “knock out the genes which make the grey matter of the brain”, presumably using CRISPR or other gene-editing techniques. The body would be an empty vessel, devoid of consciousness.

        It would have more in common with a new suit than a person.

      2. If you have the capability to clone, you probably have the capability to keep the brain from forming at all. so it would just be a shell and not a sentient being.

  17. You do realize living forever most likely means working forever.

    1. Even if eventually people routinely live to be 200, in France the retirement age will probably still be 35.

    2. Ever heard of compound interest? If I live forever I’m going to be a quadrillionaire before long.

  18. Wait. I thought the government was promising eternal life.

    1. I thought the government was promising eternal life.

      Yes, but only for the taxman.

    2. No, that was only for the national debt.

    3. only for corporations.

  19. Silly man. Life expectancy has increased dramatically in he past several centuries, true. But, mostly because of hygiene and antibiotics and prevention of various diseases. If a child made it past child birth, then two years old when many illness can strike, then get out of teenage years to an adult worker in a safe environment, that child could live to be 80-95 years old just as the lucky people did in past years. We don’t live longer, just that more of us live longer to bring up the average. I wish him luck.

  20. the way science is going, the day of reversing age is not far….

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