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10 things we learned from Aubrey de Grey’s Reddit AMA

by Ricky Piper Published on 6th Aug 2015

by Ricky Piper Published on 6th August 2015

Call him the ‘lord of longevity’, ‘godfather of gerontology’, or simply the Chief Science Officer at SENS, Aubrey de Grey is without a doubt the most public and instantly recognisable face of life extension. As a result, his recent Reddit AMA attracted rather a lot of attention - so much so that the ‘session’ lasted a whole 7 hours. Going through everything can then be quite a strain on your mouse’s scroll button. However, we at LIFEMAG have saved you from going to such trouble,  by breaking the marathon Q&A session down into the ten main points. Here are the 10 things we learned from Aubrey de Grey’s Reddit AMA.

1. A 10 year old living today is 90% certain of achieving ‘practical immortality’

De Grey is characteristically confident that radical life extension can be achieved in the relatively near future. In fact he is confident enough to offer a percentage chance of achieving ‘practical immortality’ for people of a current age. For people currently 40 years old, expect a 60% chance, 30 - 70%, 20 - 80%, and 10 - 90%.

2. Life extension technology for everyone is an absolute certainty

A big concern about when life extension treatments become available is that they will only be affordable for the most well-off. As a consequence we may see a proliferation of designer bourgeoisie super-babies and the gap between the haves and the have-nots transforming into one between mortals and immortals.  De Grey though is less concerned about such things. His belief is that treatments to prolong healthy lifespan are likely to be cost-effective ‘standard’ rather than hugely expensive ‘personalised’ processes, which will in effect ‘pay for themselves.’ He is ‘absolutely certain’ that life extension technology will be available to everyone, and there will be ‘no such split.’

3. You can put your faith in democracy to make radical life extension happen

It is not only a key issue for advocates of life extension that governments are currently not investing enough in aging research, but also that radical life extension is not even a part of public debate. De Grey explains this as due to ‘the fear of getting people’s hopes up.’ Nonetheless, he still believes that we can put our faith in democracy to ensure that radical life extension will eventually happen. Why? Because “Democracy works rather poorly for issues that few people have as their #1 issue. But it works very well indeed for the #1 issue. Once we reach robust mouse rejuvenation and the war on aging is truly waged, this will be the #1 issue by far.”

4. Intermittent fasting and calorie restriction have no effect on health and longevity.

Calorie restriction, intermittent fasting, and a whole host of other diets are linked to increasing health and longevity. For calorie restriction specifically, several studies suggest that this may indeed increase lifespan. For de Grey however, such processes are dismissed as capable of having any significant impact on either health or longevity. When asked about the effect of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting upon longevity, his response - “not much at all.”

5. But injecting blood might just work

The possibility of injecting new blood into old people to increase lifespan has been very much in the news this week. So inevitably De Grey was asked his thoughts on the process as a potential means of radically increasing lifespan. Quite typically, he’s cautious about the potential of such a practice, but concedes that “it may just work.”

6.  Becoming cyborgs isn’t the answer

Addressing the question of whether ‘singularity’ or ‘methuselarity’ offers the best hope for radically increasing human lifespan, De Grey is firm in his belief that methuselarity will get there first. In response to the contention that ‘replacing our bodies with interchangeable mechanised parts while preserving the brain’ would be more cost effective than ‘manipulating our cells’ he contends that “the brain has basically the same problems (types of accumulating damage) as the rest of the body. The reduction in difficulty would be outweighed by the difficulty in building the interface with the non-bio parts.”

7. Blame Hollywood for the poor public perception of cryonics

Cryonics, essentially the freezing of our heads or whole body after death in the hope that technology will later be developed to bring us back to life is gaining popularity. But for most, a concept inextricably linked with science fiction, and perceived as, well, rather weird. De Grey himself is currently signed up with Alcor to have his head frozen, and in defence of the practice blames Hollywood features on the topic such as ‘Vanilla Sky’ for fuelling this perception. On the best way of gaining a more positive public outlook on cryonics he suggests: “fewer high-budget films ridiculing it.”

8. He’s ‘cautious’ about Calico

Arguably the most high-profile company investing in life extension research and development, Google-backed Calico is for many, the best bet for making significant breakthroughs in the near future. But de Grey is cautious: “They are structured perfectly: they are doing a bunch of highly lucrative irrelevant short-term stuff that lets them get on with unlucrative critical long-term stuff without distraction. But the latter may be getting too curiosity-driven and insufficiently translational. We'll see.”

9.  He’s no Ray Kurzweil when it comes to personal choices

Throughout the AMA de Grey is asked numerous questions about his own life style. How much does he drink? Does he take supplements? How much fitness does he do? But essentially, when it comes to his personal choices towards longevity he admits that he rides his ‘considerable luck’. Claiming that he is unusually well-built, and drinks what works for him, de Grey admits that he doesn’t subscribe to the same superfood, supplement dietary regime as other prominent figures such as Ray Kurzweil and Peter Thiel, preferring instead to focus on his research at SENS for the cause of saving ‘many, many lives’ rather than his own.

10. Don’t mock the beard

Finally, for a movement so desperate to be taken seriously, some within the life extension community are concerned that de Grey’s ‘mad scientist’ look may prove counterproductive to the cause. However, when asked whether his ‘crazy’ appearance will ‘turn people off his work’, he remains defiant: “looking bohemian has many advantages. Not least, it reassures people that I'm not in this business for personal financial gain.”

The full AMA is available here