Longevity scientist Aubrey de Grey sets the record straight about immortality

Aubrey de Grey, a software engineer turned gerontology expert in the UK, is known for his controversial books and lectures about how humans will eventually extend their lifespans. Currently he's the Chief Science Officer at SENS Foundation, a nonprofit in Silicon Valley aimed at funding new biotechnologies that could extend human life. In fact, many profiles of his work emphasize that he's after "immortality." But in an interview last week with readers of Science magazine, he said he's sick of this mischaracterization:

This is the most insidious misunderstanding of the work that I and other biomedical gerontologists do. We are NOT working to extend life for the sake of extending life. We are working to postpone the ill-health of old age, which will probably have the side-effect of extending life, but it's no more than that, a side-effect. I personally have no idea how long I want to live, and more than I have an opinion on what time I want to go to the toilet next Sunday. In both cases I know I'm going to have better information nearer the time, so it's idiotic to even think about it. However, I can tell you that I have at least 1000 years of backlog already (books to read, films to se...) - don't you? If not, why not?

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Elsewhere in the interview, he and a colleague suggested that for now most people can't expect to live longer than 85-90 years. That's reasonable. I think most of us would be satisfied with living to 85 if we could be guaranteed that all those years would find us in good health.

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DISCUSSION

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John Hazard

Immortality would be the single most awful thing to happen to the human race. Either we'd have to start killing people, or stop reproducing. Killing people means choosing people to die, and you can be sure the means of choice would be unfair. Same with limiting reproduction- which would have the side effect of slowing the birth of new thinkers would new ideas, and the evolution of society.