Immortality

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Karantalsis
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Immortality

Postby Karantalsis » Tue Nov 13, 2012 12:28 pm UTC

As we build towards the very real possibility of immortal humans, or at least humans that can live forever provided their brain doesn't get irreprably damaged by trauma or disease, I was wondering what peolpes thoughts on the ethical considerations are? Is it ethicaly OK to make someone immortal, counterbalanced by is it ethically OK to deny someone a treatment that can save their life.

As I'm aware people won't all be biologists who have been reading along with modern advances there are a few things I think I should quickly clarify. We can't make poeple immortal yet, being the first.

With the current advances in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) it is possible to cause a somatic cell to return to a stem cell state capable of differentiating into new cells of any type, additionally such cells are "reset" to a state seemignly identical to embryonic stem cells, that is their telomeres are relengthened, which, with other markers removes all aging. These cells are therefore equivalent to newborn cells, perfectly compatible with the original donor, so have no rejection issues, and can form any tissue. Stem cell technology has already been used to form several tissues, including nerve and muscle tissue and has, in animal models, been used to reverse damage and disease. Further, human organs have been shown to be formable (a bladder was produced using stem cells and a mold). Not only this, but it has been shown that stem cells can integrate into the brain and form normal neural tissue, proceeding to regenerate the brain just as native stem cells do.

Further to the above with the ability to sequence and identify problems in genomes advancing very rapidly avoiding or reversing deletirious mutations picked up over time, or antively present, in a stem cell grafted organ is a very real possibility.

These technologies, when mature should allow us to endlessly replace any organ or damaged area, simultaneously "de-aging" that organ, thus immortality. As I said we aren't there yet, but all the seed technologies for such are extant and advancing rapidly.

Thoughts?

P.S. Apologies for not referenceing this, just do a search for stem cells on Natures archive, all this stuff is pretty recent so near the top. For sequencing technology look up Next Gen sequencing, Nanopore and 454 are good examples. For other biologists yes I skimped on detail and stated some things in a very simplistic fashion, was trying to make the discussion accessible.

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Re: Immortality

Postby speising » Tue Nov 13, 2012 6:26 pm UTC

Well, first, with this method you aren't making anyone immortal, you are just prolonging their life. This we are doing already with every medical procedure today, so there's no qualitative difference.
The moral side comes into it when we start to think about who "earns" this procedure, or can afford it.

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Re: Immortality

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 13, 2012 6:34 pm UTC

Are you interested in the philosophical ramifications (ethics, etc), or the scientific ones? If your technology is such that you can make individuals live for, effectively, ever, chances are you aren't terribly concerned with genetic diversity. This isn't really a problem if you have the technology to stop super disease or whatever, but it does mean your technology will effectively be the only thing that advances, and biologically, your species stagnates.

But hey, if we're talking about science fiction biology, lets just assume that you can cybernetically enhance the individuals cognition as well.

Karantalsis wrote:With the current advances in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) it is possible to cause a somatic cell to return to a stem cell state capable of differentiating into new cells of any type, additionally such cells are "reset" to a state seemignly identical to embryonic stem cells, that is their telomeres are relengthened, which, with other markers removes all aging.

iPS are really exciting, but afaik, telomere length isn't affected? This is actually a potential issue with the technique.
Also, it bears mentioning, that iPS doesn't mean you have also developed all the techniques for growing said stem cells into organs.

Karantalsis wrote:Further to the above with the ability to sequence and identify problems in genomes advancing very rapidly avoiding or reversing deletirious mutations picked up over time, or antively present, in a stem cell grafted organ is a very real possibility.

Our ability to sequence DNA is improving at an impressive rate to be sure! The current X-prize goal I think is a full human genome for less than 1,000 dollars in less than a week? However, lets not confuse 'able to sequence whole genome' with 'understanding of what it all means'.
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Re: Immortality

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Nov 13, 2012 8:36 pm UTC

Karantalsis wrote:immortal humans, or at least humans that can live forever provided their brain doesn't get irreprably damaged by trauma or disease
The difference between these is pretty staggering, and shouldn't be glossed over with a mere "or at least". If the mortality effects of aging were completely eliminated, in the sense that there is no rise in mortality rates after people reach adulthood, then I calculated once that the American population would have a half-life of 750 years or so. That is, if mortality rates stayed forever at its lowest post-adolescent level (which probably consists mostly of deaths from accidents or really bad, non-age-related diseases), half of the people alive at any given time would likely be dead within 750 years. If we (arbitrarily) assume there are about a billion people alive today young enough and healthy enough to take advantage of such life-prolonging technology, they would all likely be dead in under 25,000 years. A hell of a long time, to be sure, but still a pretty negligible span in the grand scheme of things. It's not what I'd call particularly "immortal".

Is it ethicaly OK to make someone immortal, counterbalanced by is it ethically OK to deny someone a treatment that can save their life.
There is no single "make someone immortal" decision or action, though. There is only an indefinitely long sequence of "make someone healthy" decisions. At what age could such a decision suddenly tick over into being unethical (assuming it's not unethical, for example, to provide medical treatment for a sick child)?
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Re: Immortality

Postby dudiobugtron » Tue Nov 13, 2012 8:58 pm UTC

If anyone thinks it is unethical at some point to prolong my health, life, and happiness, then IMO there is something wrong with their ethics. ;)
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Re: Immortality

Postby mathmannix » Tue Nov 13, 2012 9:23 pm UTC

dudiobugtron wrote:If anyone thinks it is unethical at some point to prolong my health, life, and happiness, then IMO there is something wrong with their ethics. ;)


I suppose it depends on what the side effects or drawbacks are to the procedure... might it be unethical for the creepy old billionaire/emperor to be kept alive if the only way is for him to have sex with teenaged virgins every night eat the hearts of babies every night?
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Re: Immortality

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 13, 2012 9:50 pm UTC

dudiobugtron wrote:If anyone thinks it is unethical at some point to prolong my health, life, and happiness, then IMO there is something wrong with their ethics. ;)

I think the issue is also availability. Immortality only available to the 1% is problematic.
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Re: Immortality

Postby speising » Tue Nov 13, 2012 9:57 pm UTC

Otoh, seriously extended lifespans for all of us, presumably in fertile condition, would be a litte problematic for this planet, too.

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Re: Immortality

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 13, 2012 10:16 pm UTC

The good news is women can survive without ovaries, and after menopause, don't need their ovaries anymore. So unless you also replace ovaries, letting people become immortal doesn't actually improve their fecundity.

Well, ok, it kind of does, as the theoretically increased capital each family is going to possess, as well as the increased long term benefit of having offspring, means more people may opt to have more children.
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Re: Immortality

Postby speising » Tue Nov 13, 2012 10:24 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:The good news is women can survive without ovaries, and after menopause, don't need their ovaries anymore. So unless you also replace ovaries, letting people become immortal doesn't actually improve their fecundity.

Well, ok, it kind of does, as the theoretically increased capital each family is going to possess, as well as the increased long term benefit of having offspring, means more people may opt to have more children.


Why wouldn'd you replace ovaries? I can imagine women would want to have children now an then, not only in their "childhood", the first couple of decades of their lives. Denying them that would indeed be a morally problematical decision.

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Re: Immortality

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 13, 2012 10:41 pm UTC

Who said anything about denying?

Given the scope of biotechnology being talked about, I see no reason you couldn't arrest ovulation until the individual wanted. Basically, the scope of biotech required for immortality means most issues or problems we're going to be talking about are pure conjecture anyway. My previous post was assuming you don't do anything to affect someone's reproductive organs, and then considering what would happen if you did. So, there's no reason to assume you couldn't not only replace them, but control the originals better.
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Re: Immortality

Postby speising » Tue Nov 13, 2012 10:55 pm UTC

Well, if you let them reproduce at will, they will probably have a lot more children than today, in the course of a few millennia.

You said, or i interpreted it that way, that the rate of reproduction would not change, and "women can survive without ovaries".

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Re: Immortality

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 13, 2012 11:02 pm UTC

speising wrote:Well, if you let them reproduce at will, they will probably have a lot more children than today, in the course of a few millennia.

What I'm pointing out is that unless you apply this magical biotechnology to matters of reproduction, based on some handwavy conjecture, I don't think you would REALLY change the amount of children people would have (women are still only going to be fertile between the ages of ~12-~50). You may see an increase, because people may potentially have more resources at their disposal (longer life, parents are older, etc), and knowing that raising children doesn't represent such a significant lifetime investment.

If you apply this magical biotech to the issue of women only having a fixed number of ovum, then yeah, you change the equation.
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Re: Immortality

Postby Karantalsis » Wed Nov 14, 2012 1:24 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Are you interested in the philosophical ramifications (ethics, etc), or the scientific ones? If your technology is such that you can make individuals live for, effectively, ever, chances are you aren't terribly concerned with genetic diversity. This isn't really a problem if you have the technology to stop super disease or whatever, but it does mean your technology will effectively be the only thing that advances, and biologically, your species stagnates.


These are all things that are worth talking about. I'm interested in both, though I was more interested in the philosophical side in this thread.

Izawwlgood wrote:iPS are really exciting, but afaik, telomere length isn't affected? This is actually a potential issue with the technique.
Also, it bears mentioning, that iPS doesn't mean you have also developed all the techniques for growing said stem cells into organs.


Telomeres do indeed lengthen

Agawari et al. 2009 Telomere elongation in induced pluripotent stem cells from dyskeratosis congenita patients

Additionally we can currently produce some organs, though this technology is very young

http://www.nature.com/news/rudimentary- ... ro-1.10848

Also a bladder, the work for taht has been published, although with ES not iPS, too late at night to dig that paper out right now.

Will read the rest of thread properly tommorow, apologies am tired.

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Re: Immortality

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Nov 14, 2012 2:30 am UTC

Karantalsis wrote:Telomeres do indeed lengthen

Huuuuuuuuuh... I poked around the literature a bit, because the article you linked doesn't prove it as conclusively as it has been proven (your article is studying the effects of iPSCs telomerase activity as it pertains to tissue derived from patients with telomerase activity disorders), but you're absolutely right, telomeres do appear to lengthen in iPSCs, which is a little bizarro to me. Neat!

Karantalsis wrote:Also a bladder, the work for taht has been published, although with ES not iPS, too late at night to dig that paper out right now.

Yeah, for what it's worth, when I was first interviewing for tech positions in 2007, I interviewed at a lab that was working on creating bladders from ES cells. Bladders and trachea are the only two organ/tissues that have been made in this fashion, and the link you provided with the liver being grown was actually just iPSCs that had been induced into liver tissues, which isn't the same, but is, as you point out, a great step in the right direction. Both bladders and trachea are basically just bags of cartilage, making a, say, kidney, or liver, or lung, or heart, would be way crazy harder as the organs organizational form is integral to it's function. Something like a spleen or a pancreas might be another easy step, as they're a bit more simplistic insofar as structure is concerned.
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Re: Immortality

Postby dudiobugtron » Fri Nov 16, 2012 12:03 am UTC

mathmannix wrote:
dudiobugtron wrote:If anyone thinks it is unethical at some point to prolong my health, life, and happiness, then IMO there is something wrong with their ethics. ;)


I suppose it depends on what the side effects or drawbacks are to the procedure... might it be unethical for the creepy old billionaire/emperor to be kept alive if the only way is for him to have sex with teenaged virgins every night eat the hearts of babies every night?


Or even worse:

http://xkcd.com/1065/
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Re: Immortality

Postby Frenetic Pony » Mon Nov 19, 2012 9:29 pm UTC

This is a huge portion of my science fiction novel, so I'm glad I get to write about it elsewhere!

With current computational power still advancing at Moore's law speeds, and optical/induced bandgap graphene computers advancing at a well enough clip this continuing in terms of actual advancement in computational power equivalent well enough there shouldn't be a problem in continuing advancement in the field of life extending drugs. Nor, physically, is there a reason we can't be immortal (current theories of entropy excepting).

The possibility, probability, of extending life exponentially within the next 50 years is quite real. The economic incentive alone is... vast. A quick thought experiment and a few informal surveys, some looking into global GDP reveals the potential revenue of, say, a drug that virtually stopped aging taken yearly, could extend PER YEAR into hundreds of billions of dollars. Possibly more than a trillion, yearly. Nevermind the world's most valuable companies, as an industry it could surpass most countries in terms of out and out revenue.

Simply stated, it's something everyone needs, and everyone might be willing to pay for. The actual implementation of the drug, competition, all will have a lot of impact. You then get into extreme overpopulation and the need for extreme birth control laws. Which interestingly competes with the other, or A nother massive change coming to our world (assumptions of not killing ourselves applying).

The so called "singularity" as stated is rather a silly hypothesis that simply discounts a lot of reality. A single computer system that's smarter than a single human isn't going to produce systems "more intelligent" than it. It took a lot of work, and years, and resources to build that system. They key aspect however, is that of work. For all of human history "work" has been mostly been done by humans. Even with ever growing external power sources, and the industrial revolution and such, much of the intellectual work has still fallen on humans.

With robotics and AI this need no longer be the case. One of my favorite explanations of this was when I was looking up the halting problem. Alan Turing's proof that the halting problem has no generalized solution also, in these words, proved one can build a machine capable of doing anything. Capable of doing anything, a Turing machine. To advance almost a hundred years. There is no physical thing a human can do that an artificial construct can not. As we advance robotics and AI there will be a growing "cutoff" price for human labor, at which point using artificial constructs will be cheaper than paying any human to do that task. There is no reason this cutoff price can not cover everything.

I.E. eventually everything will be able to be done by constructs. Humans will have no reason to do any work and our current limits on both labor and economic models will become non existent. This, too, will almost certainly advance faster than even the average intelligent and well informed human believes today. Of course, any problems visa vis the robot uprising have to deal with the above, and so called trans-humanism, i.e. being able to advance our own state.

To translate: predicting the future is a vast and incredibly interconnected problem. Which is why "hardcore" science fiction novels have dropped to almost nil. I'm trying simply because I think it's fun, and I spend every day researching these things. I doubt the book will be out less than a year from now (though I am picking up pace). Oh, and the conclusion of the novel, and of scientific and technologic advancement is a state indistinguishable from the physical limits of being godlike. No time travel or actual omniscience, breaking other basic logic/seemingly solid physical limits. Not too mention what an "intelligent lifeform" would do with that. Which involves the existence, or non existence, of free will, how we define "who we are". It's an interesting problem.

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Re: Immortality

Postby qetzal » Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:05 pm UTC

I certainly expect lifespans to continue increasing, but I think sustained exponential increase is highly unlikely (except for exponents very close to one). I also doubt we'll come up with a simple pill to virtually stop aging. We don't understand aging very well at all, but what we do know indicates there are multiple fundamental processes involved (loss of telomers, accumulation of genetic damage, accumulation of altered proteins and lipids, etc.) IMO, it's very unlikely a simple pill could halt all that.

Did you know that even single yeast and bacterial cells seem to suffer from old age? See, e.g., this.

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Re: Immortality

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Nov 20, 2012 3:34 pm UTC

qetzal wrote:I think sustained exponential increase is highly unlikely
I suspect that Frenetic Pony is here using "exponential" in the colloquial sense of "a lot".

Frenetic Pony wrote:The so called "singularity" as stated is rather a silly hypothesis that simply discounts a lot of reality. A single computer system that's smarter than a single human isn't going to produce systems "more intelligent" than it. It took a lot of work, and years, and resources to build that system.
Well yeah, which is why as far as I know "a single computer system that's smarter than a single human" isn't what anyone considers to really be the singularity.

I.E. eventually everything will be able to be done by constructs. Humans will have no reason to do any work and our current limits on both labor and economic models will become non existent.
A future in which there's no reason to pay any humans for anything is not necessarily a good thing.

"hardcore" science fiction novels have dropped to almost nil.
Have they?
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Re: Immortality

Postby AvatarIII » Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:09 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
"hardcore" science fiction novels have dropped to almost nil.
Have they?


not at all, but you may have missed them but there have been a few articles and essays on the subject of the decline of Hard science fiction by a critic called Paul Kincaid

http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php? ... fulltext=1
http://ruthlessculture.com/2012/10/03/c ... he-future/
http://www.nerds-feather.com/2012/10/in ... usted.html
http://www.nerds-feather.com/2012/10/in ... ted_2.html

even authors have addressed this in their blogs etc. Alastair Reynolds for example has made several posts on the subject.

http://approachingpavonis.blogspot.co.u ... gases.html
http://approachingpavonis.blogspot.co.u ... crity.html
http://approachingpavonis.blogspot.co.u ... ement.html

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Re: Immortality

Postby dudiobugtron » Tue Nov 20, 2012 8:31 pm UTC

Or if that's not the sort of hardcore sci-fi you're after, I'm sure there are plenty of the other sort too. Maybe the link is NSFW though.
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Re: Immortality

Postby qetzal » Wed Nov 21, 2012 2:24 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:I suspect that Frenetic Pony is here using "exponential" in the colloquial sense of "a lot".

Granted, but what constitutes a lot? I strongly doubt average lifespans will double in 50 years. I'd be moderately surprised if they increased by even 50% (i.e. from ~75 to ~110 for industrialized countries). Possible, sure, but not likely IMO.

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Re: Immortality

Postby ImagingGeek » Wed Nov 21, 2012 1:36 pm UTC

qetzal wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:I suspect that Frenetic Pony is here using "exponential" in the colloquial sense of "a lot".

Granted, but what constitutes a lot? I strongly doubt average lifespans will double in 50 years. I'd be moderately surprised if they increased by even 50% (i.e. from ~75 to ~110 for industrialized countries). Possible, sure, but not likely IMO.

I'll take that bet! I'd bet on life expectancies decreasing - that is the expected outcome of the current obesity trend. GenX may be the first in a long time to experience a shortening (or at least stalling) of their life expectancies. From an epidemiological point-of-view, GenX's kids are probably going to experience a shortening of their lifespans.

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Re: Immortality

Postby Frenetic Pony » Thu Nov 22, 2012 7:32 am UTC

AvatarIII wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
"hardcore" science fiction novels have dropped to almost nil.
Have they?


not at all, but you may have missed them but there have been a few articles and essays on the subject of the decline of Hard science fiction by a critic called Paul Kincaid

http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php? ... fulltext=1
http://ruthlessculture.com/2012/10/03/c ... he-future/
http://www.nerds-feather.com/2012/10/in ... usted.html
http://www.nerds-feather.com/2012/10/in ... ted_2.html

even authors have addressed this in their blogs etc. Alastair Reynolds for example has made several posts on the subject.

http://approachingpavonis.blogspot.co.u ... gases.html
http://approachingpavonis.blogspot.co.u ... crity.html
http://approachingpavonis.blogspot.co.u ... ement.html


I liked Revelation Space, but really most of Reynold's stuff turned more and more silly after that. Just, throwing stuff around, like that last one I tried to read was about multiple slightly differentiated clones wandering about space in gigantic spaceships for thousands of years that didn't really seem to be going anywhere. Maybe his stuff just isn't for me though :?

But I do definitely see a decline. I've not seen a really, truly celebrated hardcore sci-fi novel of the kind their used to be since Snow Crash. We used to get stuff like that, or 2001, Neuromancer, Ringworld. Things that inspired science and engineering in and of themselves. Heck, the first research and discovery of fission power and the atomic bomb were directly inspired by a short story from HG Wells. What's the last novel that's been directly praised for such? Our own advancement has seemingly begun to outpace our imaginations in terms of the more immediate future. Heck, give an average person a youtube video such as self co-ordinated hexacopter drones or tests of self driving cars and they'll say they're "living in the future" or what they're seeing is something from a science fiction movie, but of course it's real.

Part of the problem, and this is getting way off topic, is that the future seems ever more nebulous and less relate-able to a present day reader, even as it comes ever closer. How do you entertain someone when you have to spend so much time just explaining what the heck is going on, simply because things have hypothetically advanced so far that the world is no longer recognizable for the most part?

I was caught up realizing just how real this problem is becoming, and will continue to be, just by watching this video: http://vimeo.com/52173464 . It's not a science fiction video AT ALL. It's just talking about interface design for Windows 8. Yet part of it was talking about how much the world has changed in just 20 years. The story of trying to get some friends together to go see a movie. Payphones, phonebooks, answering machines that might not even exist, calling the theater, looking up stuff in books of maps, wondering where everyone is. Today we all have cellphones that tell us what time the movie starts, give us directions to the theater, let us buy the tickets, tell us where our friends are and puts us into instant contact with them whenever we want. Yet all of that would have to be explained, just for this simple task, in a science fiction book just 20 years ago.

Oh, and by exponential, I mean exponential. There is zero physical, economic, or technological reason average lifespan can't outpace our own lives into infinity. THAT is what I meant by exponential. By the time the first life extending drugs we have start to decrease in effectiveness due to aging, guess what? We have better ones! And this is what I mean about the problem above as well, just trying to get people to wrap their heads around these things. We, as humans, come to expect aging and eventual death as a given, even in this forum it's present. Yet what, in terms of physics, keeps us from engineering ourselves into immortality? Nothing, there's no question from a physics standpoint it can be done. Should we expect a single generation of life extending drugs, such as those already being proven effective on our favorite analogues of mice in labs? Of course not, why wouldn't development continue? The history of humankind is, on average, one of ever growing and ever more quickly advancing prosperity and technology. There's no reason to foresee the development of such life extending drugs not advancing ever more rapidly as well. Sure, we could kill ourselves, it's possible. An asteroid could hit us, we could be in a giant computer simulation and the plug might be pulled. But barring these things the only real conclusion I can see essentially equates to immortality, quite possibly for anyone and everyone reading this even (getting hit by anvil in an ironic accident not withstanding).

I just hope my book is adequate at the job of explaining this, at least to some people. Those I've had it read say it's at least entertaining though (what there is so far). At the very least I'll take that! :mrgreen:

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Re: Immortality

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Nov 22, 2012 2:36 pm UTC

Interesting, I wouldn't call Neuromancer or Snow Crash hard sci-fi by any stretch of the mind. I'd call Stephen Baxter the hardest sci-fi I've ever read. Shrug. YMMV.
Frenetic Pony wrote:Part of the problem, and this is getting way off topic, is that the future seems ever more nebulous and less relate-able to a present day reader, even as it comes ever closer.

Huh, that's an interesting point; I think a lot of good sci-fi picks a future tech, and looks at how it will impact society. A lot of classic sci-fi picked 'hardware' changes; brain-machine interfaces, hover bikes, FTL, unlimited power, that sort of thing. Recently, or at least in the case of some newish cyberpunk I've read, the future tech is a software development, or integration/perfection/miniaturization of extant software. This is probably splitting hairs, but for example, in Quantum of Solace, Bond and associates weren't really given any sort of crazy hard tech (an umbrella that's also a gun and a typewriter!), but were shown using a motion capture, any surface projected software.

I think it takes a lot of creativity to think about how technology will impact society, and I have even deeper respect for authors who can imagine interesting things due to somewhat nuanced or subtle technological advances.
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Re: Immortality

Postby qetzal » Thu Nov 22, 2012 5:57 pm UTC

There most certainly are questions from a physics standpoint whether we can achieve true immortality. If nothing else, it's unclear what the truly long-term fate of the universe will be. The universe may eventually evolve to a state that's fundamentally incompatible with any sort of life. Sure, we don't know if that will happen, and I understand scenarios like heat death and the Big Crunch may not be much in favor these days, but if you truly mean immortal, like you truly mean exponential, you can't just blithely dismiss such considerations.

From the near-term biological perspective, I suspect you don't realize the challenges involved. Yes, there are drugs and strategies that extend life in animal models under specified conditions. But you can't assume they will translate to humans. A 23-year study on caloric restriction in Rhesus monkeys recently found no effect on life span, despite significant benefits in mice & worms (link). Ultimately, we won't know if a drug extends life in humans until it's been tested in humans for decades! That makes it near impossible to have new, better drugs following right behind the leaders, because you don't know which (if any) of the leaders actually work! You don't know which drug you should be improving, or which model system you can trust, even a little, to predict how a potential longevity drug will work in humans.

I'm not arguing that these problems are insurmountable. I'm just saying that I believe near-term progress will be much slower than you seem to be suggesting.

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Re: Immortality

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Nov 22, 2012 7:00 pm UTC

Caloric restriction has largely been debunked; lab rats tend to be wildly obese anyway, being given food ad libitum, so it makes sense that if you feed lab rats a diet more in line with what they evolved eating, they won't die earlier of obesity related issues.
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Re: Immortality

Postby qetzal » Thu Nov 22, 2012 8:40 pm UTC

Yep. That's the point. Things that may seem to work under artificial lab conditions in an animal model will often fail to translate to humans. Resveretrol is another likely example. So the idea that we're on the verge an ever-improving series of longevity drugs is unrealistic, IMO.

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Re: Immortality

Postby Frenetic Pony » Fri Nov 23, 2012 9:09 pm UTC

qetzal wrote:There most certainly are questions from a physics standpoint whether we can achieve true immortality. If nothing else, it's unclear what the truly long-term fate of the universe will be. The universe may eventually evolve to a state that's fundamentally incompatible with any sort of life. Sure, we don't know if that will happen, and I understand scenarios like heat death and the Big Crunch may not be much in favor these days, but if you truly mean immortal, like you truly mean exponential, you can't just blithely dismiss such considerations.

From the near-term biological perspective, I suspect you don't realize the challenges involved. Yes, there are drugs and strategies that extend life in animal models under specified conditions. But you can't assume they will translate to humans. A 23-year study on caloric restriction in Rhesus monkeys recently found no effect on life span, despite significant benefits in mice & worms (link). Ultimately, we won't know if a drug extends life in humans until it's been tested in humans for decades! That makes it near impossible to have new, better drugs following right behind the leaders, because you don't know which (if any) of the leaders actually work! You don't know which drug you should be improving, or which model system you can trust, even a little, to predict how a potential longevity drug will work in humans.

I'm not arguing that these problems are insurmountable. I'm just saying that I believe near-term progress will be much slower than you seem to be suggesting.


Oh I love learning about it, there was a great thread not too long ago on these forums about this very topic! I certainly don't expect, the very near term to bring any "miracles". But I do expect, with quite a bit of evidence, that there's going to be life extending drugs in around 13 years available on the market. I say 13 years, because again these drugs, and other approaches to life extending drugs that are approaching testability, are proven to work in mice and act on the same principles we've identified as responsible, at least in part, for the biological process of aging. Combined with 13 years being the current average from being successfully tested in a lab as such to the open market for a new drug, and the aforementioned vast economic incentive for such, I'd feel fairly safe in betting on it in general; if not enough to bet money on a specific company quite yet (it is a new field with hypothetical competition already after all).

And the points isn't that these proposed treatments may even be that effective. No doubt a mouses metabolism may greatly affect the outcome of these treatments visa vis aging. But as I stated, there are multiple theoretical ways to go about this, all very much under examination if not being speculated at for human testing already. And we certainly don't need decades of testing to know if it works. With ever faster, cheaper, and better DNA sequencing machines we'll simply be able to check average change in telomere length after a few years of taking the drug, for example. Not to mention thanks to Moore's law we will (relatively) soon be able to produce super computers able to simulate a drugs affect on us in a far shorter timescale.

And the point of this is that, say you are 35, for example, today. When these grugs hit you'll be 48. You might start taking them at 50. If you take them your life expectancy might go up, on mice it indicated around a 0.5 times increase for the telomere repair drug I believe, so we'll be pessimistic and call it a 0.2 average increase thanks to your age and differences in biology and such. Going from say, the days average of 85 to 102 years on average. A decade later there's another, better drug. It rebuilds telomeres to their average length, and helps repair other genetic defects to keep cells relatively homogenous. Call it an average increase of another 0.2 over the current, assuming you're already taking the first drug. You are 60, your average goes up to 122 point something. A decade later we've gotten yet better! It is the year 2045 after all, just think of the changes we've had since 1979. For the sake of being REALLY pessimistic though we'll just call it yet another 0.2 increase assuming you're taking the previous best. You are now at an average of 144 years of life, assuming you're not dead. You've already gained faster than you've aged, congratulations! And remember, I'm being rather pessimistic about this all. I fully expect that by 2045, and 33 years of studying this, biological immortality will be firmly at least within sight. Or global warming, sorry "climate change", will have drowned us or caught us on fire via... hurricanes of fire, that rain down badgers from Africa or something. Point is I'm being optimistic in my novel.

As I said, I have been studying this, and everything else. For the most part because I just like reading many topics of scientific progress that happen to come up. Though this thread has bee great for showing just how careful I'll have to be on the scientific end of getting people to suspend their disbelief. And if you notice any errors by all means tell me! I do want to do at least a decent job on all of this.

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Re: Immortality

Postby qetzal » Fri Nov 23, 2012 9:51 pm UTC

Have you thought about what it would take to prove that a drug extends life? You'd have to give the drug to lots of people for decades to confirm even a 20% increase in lifespan. You couldn't get such a drug approved in the next 13 years even if you started the study today.

You could attempt to show change in a surrogate marker, like telomere length, but how would you really know that longer telomeres would equate to longer lifespan in humans? Telomere shortening is one thing that keeps cells from proliferating out of control (i.e. becoming cancers). So a drug that increased telomere length in humans might shorten lifespan by increasing cancer rates.

There also the socio-economic issues. What for-profit company will be willing and able to fund multi-decade trials before they can hope to get their drug approved and start making a profit? Someone like NIH could fund such trials, but will they? They will be enormously expensive. I expect NIH will continue funding anti-aging research in animal models, but I definitely don't expect them to fund any human studies for a loooooong time.

As for simulating all this in silico, computing power is not the issue. We don't understand biology well enough yet. Even if we had all the computational power today, we don't have the necessary data to simulate all the interactions that we even know: protein-protein, protein-DNA, protein-RNA, protein-lipid, protein-small molecule, DNA-RNA, etc., etc. And that's ignoring all the things we don't yet know about. Consider that not too long ago, we had no idea that small RNAs played critical and pervasive gene-regulatory roles.

Again, I don't disagree with the general trajectory that you're predicting. But I strongly disagree with your anticipated timeline. I rarely ever bet, but I'd happily bet you a significant sum of cash that in the next 13 years, there will be no drug in the US (or comparable countries) that's approved based on extending lifespan in otherwise healthy people.

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Re: Immortality

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Nov 23, 2012 11:06 pm UTC

qetzal wrote:As for simulating all this in silico, computing power is not the issue. We don't understand biology well enough yet. Even if we had all the computational power today, we don't have the necessary data to simulate all the interactions that we even know
Well, computing power is kinda the issue, in that the reason we'd have to simulate it on the level of biology (molecular and up) is because it's still computationally infeasible to just simulate everything on an atomic level.
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Re: Immortality

Postby screen317 » Fri Nov 23, 2012 11:34 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
qetzal wrote:As for simulating all this in silico, computing power is not the issue. We don't understand biology well enough yet. Even if we had all the computational power today, we don't have the necessary data to simulate all the interactions that we even know
Well, computing power is kinda the issue, in that the reason we'd have to simulate it on the level of biology (molecular and up) is because it's still computationally infeasible to just simulate everything on an atomic level.
Computing power is definitely a large part of the issue-- look at the limitations in projects such as Folding@Home. Amazing strides have been made in the past 10 years to model protein folding on the greater than a microsecond timescales, but that's still generations of technology away from more relevant timescales in terms of this discussion.

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Re: Immortality

Postby Radical_Initiator » Fri Nov 23, 2012 11:36 pm UTC

screen317 wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
qetzal wrote:As for simulating all this in silico, computing power is not the issue. We don't understand biology well enough yet. Even if we had all the computational power today, we don't have the necessary data to simulate all the interactions that we even know
Well, computing power is kinda the issue, in that the reason we'd have to simulate it on the level of biology (molecular and up) is because it's still computationally infeasible to just simulate everything on an atomic level.
Computing power is definitely a large part of the issue-- look at the limitations in projects such as Folding@Home. Amazing strides have been made in the past 10 years to model protein folding on the greater than a microsecond timescales, but that's still generations of technology away from more relevant timescales in terms of this discussion.

One of the other big problems with computational simulation of biological systems would be the inclusion of water. For such a small molecule, modeling still can't quite figure out the right parameter set to describe it for more than a few properties.
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Re: Immortality

Postby qetzal » Sat Nov 24, 2012 12:41 am UTC

Yeah, sorry, computational power is undoubtedly an issue. I was just trying to point out that we're not just waiting to be saved by Moore's Law. We need waaaay more computing power AND waaaay more understanding of the molecular, biochemical, cellular, and organismal biology.

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Re: Immortality

Postby Izawwlgood » Sat Nov 24, 2012 2:22 am UTC

I loved that scene in the new spider man where they had the computational models of the rat models...
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Re: Immortality

Postby mfb » Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:12 pm UTC

Computational power really depends on the required level of simulation. Recently, IBM simulated a neuronal network where the number of neurons and synapses was comparable to a human brain (see this article, for example) - just a factor 1500 slower than real time. Using the development of supercomputer power, this corresponds to maybe ~15 years (with a factor of 10 in FLOPS every 4 years for the best supercomputer).
If that level of simulation is sufficient, a simulated human brain would be "just" a software issue.

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Re: Immortality

Postby Frenetic Pony » Mon Nov 26, 2012 8:44 pm UTC

Oh certainly, I'm not expecting getting any real simulation of biology on a useful scale for another decade. But... well we are literally getting down to the physically minimum size of individual transistors, we're already starting to count how many atoms across we're going. That being said, heck if we can get graphene working with a bandgap that's economically feasible at large scales that's what, a thousand times faster than silicon? I mean, woot! Certainly there's a bunch of engineering to figure out there in the desing of CPUs with such high clock speeds, but it's not like we might be locked to Moore's law forever, we might go faster in terms of speed increase!

Still, yeah I know it's going to be a while for that. So it goes :mrgreen:

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Re: Immortality

Postby Radical_Initiator » Mon Nov 26, 2012 8:50 pm UTC

Frenetic Pony wrote:Oh certainly, I'm not expecting getting any real simulation of biology on a useful scale for another decade.


Define "useful". :x
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Re: Immortality

Postby SerialTroll » Tue Nov 27, 2012 2:02 pm UTC

Immortality for humans spells death for mankind.

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Re: Immortality

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Nov 27, 2012 2:28 pm UTC

Care to clarify or support that claim, like, at all?
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