Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Gregory Benford on living longer

[Continuing coverage of the 2009 Singularity Summit in New York City.]

Next up next is Gregory Benford, the astrophysicist and science fiction author, on "Artificial Biological Selection for Longevity." (Abstract and bio.)

Gregory BenfordHis talk is so far pretty straightforward: figuring out genes that cause disease and eliminating them, which he refers to as "re-tuning bad signals." He's talked about "Methuselah flies," which have been selectively bred to live longer. These flies, he notes, do not have decreased quality of life as they live longer — they are having sex, he says, long past when the normal flies have died. "If that's something that interests you," he says, then you should pay attention to this. Lots of laughter and applause. This has been very common among speakers — making a "joke" about living longer or having better sex, which not really a joke, just a sort of glib affirmation of everyone's aims here. It feels weirdly like a pep really or a political meeting.

Benford is talking about longevity studies, and notes that women have been living longer than men for several centuries. "Or at least, it seems longer," says Benford. Much male applause. Take that, women!

Benford's talk is over, and unless I missed something, he really didn't say anything. He is chairman of the board of a company and is basically just hawking his gene sequencing services that test for your genetic defects. And then they give you nutritional supplements accordingly, to try to fend off whatever diseases you're prone to. Here's a slide discussing what his company does:

A questioner asks what the FDA has to say about this, since they don't recognize aging as a disease (yet). Benford calls on David Rose to answer the question. Rose says the FDA is regulating health, but he says "everyone in this room is going to hell in a handbasket, not because of one or two genetic diseases," but because we're getting uniformly worse through aging. And that, he says, is what they're trying to stop. Scattered but voracious applause and cheering. It's that same phenomenon again — this weird rally attitude of yeah, you tell 'em! Who is it that they think they're sticking it to? Or what?

Benford clarifies his talk in response to another question, saying that the goal of his company is to target specific genetic weaknesses using natural remedies. It's not just aiming at everything, he says. This is meant to be in contrast, perhaps, to Kurzweil's approach of taking massive general supplements.

And now on to Kurzweil again...


  1. Most people most of the time don't concern themselves with the problem of human nature. So they are 'sticking it to' those who want the status quo, which is most of the world. Most people claim they want to die sometime relatively soon because most expect long lives filled with boredom and agony. Even cultures that honor the elderly (unlike america's youth oriented culture) do not support indefinitely long life. The FDA doesn't recognize ageing as a disease probably for scientific reasons rather than political ones.

  2. Matthew, who are these masses of people you're meeting who say they want to die soon?


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