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.