13 unsolved challenges to infinite life extension
Misha Batin

24 November 2022
The possibilities of our minds are limitless, and it would be a simple betrayal of intelligence to pass by the potential for extending our lives.

That said, if you don't see an all-out struggle against death, there's a reason for it. Yes, there are forces in nature aimed at solving the problem: these are us, the participants of Open Longevity, these are other action groups, and that is most likely yourself. But there is also something that opposes us or else a substantial part of the GDP of many countries would have been given over to necessary research long ago.

There is someone or something that must be defeated for us to stay alive. We must destroy the metaphorical Wall of Death, and to do so we must first understand what it literally consists of and where it is located.

There is also uncertainty about the class of issues we need to tackle to extend lifespan. On one hand, these are scientific problems, and here are two projects to list them: the Open Longevity Roadmap | The Foresight Institute Roadmap. But all of them do not contain a single idea of where the money for a million experiments will come from. The task of increasing funding is of different classes: politics, economics, and culture.

The fact that we still have to defend the basic idea of "staying alive is good and dying is bad" is showing that we are standing in the same place as 40 years ago.

The fight against death is not even stated as such—it is more common to talk about prolonging a healthy period of life. Which, of course, is pure cowardice and following the conservative views. If we are afraid to talk about the struggle against death as our main objective, we won’t be able to defeat it.

Traditionalist society proposes that a person must erase his or her individuality, fulfill a set of well-established rules during their lifetime, and die with peace of mind. This is a mortal society.

That said, the Wall of Death was built centuries ago, not only by the whole culture that justifies death but by human nature itself, created as a disposable, temporary being. All this adds up a whole other class of problems.

As of today, there is not even a conversation, a conference, a book, or a review that assesses the situation in the field of life extension and the fight against aging from the perspective of social processes. There is no consolidated expert opinion on the fundamental tasks' solutions in the field. And the situation is simply ridiculous—the tasks themselves are not formulated.

What are the fundamental problems which solutions will keep us alive and denial of which is guaranteed to lead us to non-existence? Let's try to list them:

Aging is at best recognized as a problem by at least part of society, but death itself is not. Moreover, most researchers on aging are not against death. That is, they study aging for the sake of publications, money, and curiosity but not for the sake of extending life.

I used to treat it as an unfortunate circumstance: let people work on other matters. But here's the thing: if we don't set a goal, we won't reach it.

Unfortunately, the talk about radically prolonging life comes down to the talks about proper nutrition, avoiding all “chemicals”, and improving the quality of life. There are no talks about bold, extraordinary experiments. As a result, energy, time, and funds go to the wrong place.

It comes to complete nonsense: people who, in theory, are in charge of defeating death are acting against the fight. With words like "let's not scare people off". The attempt to adapt to the demands of a mortal society turns out to be nothing but sabotage.

Without realizing it, people are starting to oppose radical life extension ideas. And sometimes they do it quite consciously and openly.

Perhaps the focus should be shifted from aging to the problem of death, the disappearance of the human being. Such a conversation would have a number of important consequences, even for aging research—all the work on the search for a cure for old age would be reformatted, and a fundamentally new class of experiments would be opened up. For example, maintaining the life of a mammal's head outside the body. We will strive to set records in prolonging life, not just to find medical indications.

The study of aging itself isn't going anywhere. It's already a big trend. But extending life as a fight against death requires more focus and attention.

First of all, people don't work on life extension simply because they think it’s impossible. They don't believe they will live up to the technology. Unfortunately, few people are in the business of proving the possibility.

Although things are not as bad as they may seem. And it does may seem so because of the lack of recent life extension records and the increasing complexity of aging as this phenomenon is being studied. We are seeing failure after failure of clinical trials of drugs that remotely resemble aging therapies.

Nevertheless, there are still chances.

The first pro argument is that humanity has not used even 0.01% of its capacity to prolong human life. These are crumbs from the table of consumer society that fall onto aging research. Any little matter is bigger than the pro-life struggle, like the chewing gum market.

Compare the number of soccer stadiums to the number of longevity research institutes. The latter simply does not exist. And aging research is probably a hundred times smaller than spending on soccer.

The thing is, those resources need to be taken. No soccer player would give all their fees away to scientists. Scientists need to think about under which conditions they can become popular.

The second thing is reducing the cost of transcriptomes. As soon as we can monitor 20 thousand parameters in the bodies of millions of people, we will know exactly what to turn on/off in order to live longer. Thus being said, making a technology cheaper is quite realistic.

Thirdly, there are theoretically feasible mind-blowing experiments, like keeping a mammal's head alive outside the body, and it can be done right now. After this, it is a question of organ cyborgs, bioincubators, and artificial bodies.

The third and a half. Head transplantation and growing and replacing nerve tissue. It seems that in 20 years we can learn how to replace the body with a donor one. This would give an extra 30 years of life in the absence of Alzheimer's.

Fourth. Improvements in Artificial Intelligence are ahead of schedule. A singularity was promised by 2045, and everything is going according to plan so far. Full-fledged AI will also mean the immediate creation of nanotechnology and total body repair. Not only that, it's modeling consciousness and addressing the theoretical possibility of transferring personality to a computer.

Fifth. I want to predict staggering successes of combinational therapies for aging in the next 5 years on animals. To do this, you and I need to make an effort.

Human beings become more conservative as they age. But one has to be more desperate and courageous in prolonging life, because there is nothing left to lose.

Actually, the decision whether or not to pursue life extension depends as much on an assessment of the odds as on an assessment of the value of living. I suggest valuing one's own life higher than all the money in the world, in which case even minimal odds would be worth the gamble.

First, let's answer one question. Based on what we know about aging from a million scientific articles, how difficult does the task of doubling a person's life expectancy look? Options:

  1. Relatively simple, and it will soon be achieved;
  2. Very complicated but it is fundamentally clear what to do and a breakthrough will happen in 20-30 years;
  3. Monstrously complicated and its solution requires colossal efforts.

Depending on how we respond, we should engage in very different activities.

If we think that a cure for old age is about to be created, then we should launch a biotech startup and competitively create a means of prolonging life.

The tendency to think of the problem as a simple one is based on this logic: it is not that difficult to extend human life by 20 years, and during these extra 20 years we will once again gain time, and so on to infinity.

In the case of "average" difficulty, we should go into pure science, not really counting on profit. Then open science, cost efficiency of life-extension experiments and specialized education will be our priority.

But if life extension seems unimaginably difficult, it is reasonable to engage exclusively in societal change in order to scale up the fight against death by orders of magnitude.

Naturally, both startups and "pure science" also play a role as social interventions, but as experience shows, not very effective ones. So far, scientific advances in aging research have not led to exponential increase in funding. The annual budget of the Buck Institute was around $50M ten years ago, and it still is. The NIH budget has grown from $1B to $4B over twenty years, which cannot be called an impressive result. Aubrey De Grey has never even managed $30M, though he is the most famous person in the industry.

The scale of funding is growing, but smoothly, and no intermediate scientific results convince society.

It comes to the ridiculous: the proposal to increase funding is in turn met with the demand to demonstrate human life extension. Although, money is needed to achieve this very extension of life.

Radical growth of the scale of projects can only be a consequence of social changes.

Say we wrote a book, performed an experiment, shot a movie, published a review, or attended a conference—what impact did it have? We have no way of measuring their effect on society.

A similar challenge in aging research is to create a biological clock by which we measure the effectiveness of interventions.

It's the same with societal challenges. An organism has a genome, and a society has a memome, a set of all memes and dominant behaviors.

Understanding how the cultural code changes under the influence of social interventions is halfway solving the problem of radical life extension.

The scientific method is used in aging research and ignored when it comes to research funding. The researcher surprisingly ceases to be a scientist when it comes to money and simply accepts the rules of the game. First, because this is not their field, they are not the experts in anthropology, political economy, sociology, and even these sciences themselves lack a predictive unit.

There is another stumbling block of incredible magnitude here: the sustainability of the memome. Culture is cemented by traditions, rituals, proverbs, written and unwritten rules, public opinion, superstitions, moral standards. Most of these work in favor of an individual’s death, and deprive the will to resist, and call for the fulfillment of the goals of the state or the ruling class.

Fortunately, progress is inexorable and is slowly but surely humanizing society. And now it is already transhumanizing it. This change is barely visible, so we must create sensitive measurement instruments for social changes. This way we will avoid thousands of pointless actions that lead nowhere but are wasting our time. Not all projects are equally good.

A cascade of sociological studies examining people's attitudes toward death and their willingness to fight it is the first step in creating such a Willingness to Live Metric. Open Longevity is launching such research and invites you to participate in the survey.

Radical life extension itself has not been invented, and what is being sold right now is not it. Mere and often misleading offers tug at consumer demand. Neither diagnostics, supplements, nor biotech stocks are, by and large, a fight against death. It is all action in the paradigm of mortal society.

As a sad consequence, there is no marketing of immortality. There is no commodity yet in which money can be invested and profits would lead to an exponential increase in the scale of the fight against death.

To sell life extension is to sell a pure idea, a moral choice, in general, a new way of looking at life.

The struggle against death requires new formats and new products. The search for this format is the true fight against aging. We need the best way to influence society in favor of accepting the idea of radical life extension.

It is only art that can accomplish this task—in our case, transhuman art aimed at encouraging people to act against death.
Transhumanist Art Exhibition in Stockholm
The Nobel Prize Museum’s Life Eternal exhibition

It’s scientists’ job to prove the possibility of life extension, and introducing it into society is the task for the artists.

It is transhuman art that will become the commodity that will bring global change closer.
"Waiting for Inspiration", 1994 by Damien Hirst

Prada Gallery in Milan
We propose to give life-extension experiments an artistic form. Artistic form does not mean decorativeness and embellishment. Hirst's installations with dead flies are a good example of a laconic, strong statement. Moreover, he uses an object familiar to any biologist.

Damian Hirst considers the theme of death to be the most important one in art; he feels a keen desire to speak out about the tragedy of the finitude of life and the lack of control over when and what we will die of. All his art is about that.

But transhuman art is supposed to be a step further. It is a premonition of a world freed from death, a movement along the Nietzschean tightrope from the animal to the superhuman.

We invite scientists, artists, and curators to take part in Open Longevity's Time Machines art project. Where animals will travel to the future thanks to "time machines," and following them there is a chance for the future for both the artist and the viewer.
Generative sketches for the project «Time Machines», Open Longevity

Among proponents of life extension, there is an idea of the need to create a positive picture of the future, where people live extra-long lives.

Indeed, the authors of many movies and books immerse a person who has achieved immortality into an exceptionally gloomy scenario. The pursuit of immortality is supposed to be something that a negative character would do. In "Altered Carbon," the elite who have achieved immortality are all scum, scoundrels and perverts.

It is clear why this is the case: if something seems impossible to achieve, it is easier to consider it bad and unnecessary.
It is unclear whether a positive yet realistic image of the future is possible. More precisely, it is not certain that it will be perceived as positive, because for humans as a species, it does not exist.

You can write sagas all you want about spaceships with people on board engaging in capitalist or feudal relations, but this is all utter naivete. So is the fact that they will fight with swords. In the next 30 years, robots will surpass humans in literally everything. Humans will not be needed on spaceships. Nor will their work be required on earth.

The question for the technological future is when artificial intelligence will set its own goals and begin to escalate inventions.

The positive scenario of the future has to do solely with the fusion of humans and artificial intelligence. The story of the end of the 21st century is already the story of the superhuman.

The technological singularity clearly marks the event horizon. It will occur when millions of inventions, for example, in the course of a day, create a picture of the world unimaginable to the imagination. And the next day the number of inventions will increase, and the picture of the world will change. All of this can happen because of the actions of a Superintelligence capable of continual self-improvement.

It would be rather reckless to sit back and wait for the superintelligence to come and solve the problem of aging, to rid us of existential risks. In fact, it itself is the main existential risk. A full-fledged artificial intelligence does not have to treat humans badly. To destroy humanity, an AI needs only disregard its interests.

A full-fledged artificial intelligence will inevitably be created because the possibility of intelligence has been proven by nature. It may be such an exotic phenomenon as a huge brain grown in a bio-incubator, or the evolution of modern computer neural networks.

Claims from the recent past that a computer will never be smarter than a human being now seem groundless. The notion of man as the crown of creation is unsubstantiated by anything.

Improving artificial intelligence is a gradual process, and humans need to fit into this process physically. Perhaps through improvements of human-computer interfaces. In addition, humans themselves know how to function as a hive mind, distributing intellectual tasks. To survive, we need to become a collective mind. We need to become superintelligent ourselves.

Our article on this topic was published in 2017
Artificial Intelligence in Life Extension: From Deep Learning to Supermind:

“The ultimate step is to merge with AI, which implies blurring the boundaries between the biological brain and the computer. This is equivalent to achieving practical immortality (if no global risks will happen), because brain data will be easily backed up and, if needed, restored. Effectively, human minds and computer superintelligence will merge into a single system. At the same time, people will be able to maintain a preferred level of autonomy with regard to memory, consciousness, and learned skills.”

This is the future without alternatives. Anything else is suicidal, it’s human extinction. Only the superhuman can step into the 22nd century. Humans may still exist, but not as the dominant form of mind.

Perhaps the change in favor of immortality is related to a kind of social algorithm reminiscent of a cellular automaton: when we are involved in a social project, and the simple actions of everyone implement a complex pattern of social change.

Perhaps the most successful such project was the Ice Bucket Challenge. A volunteer fundraising campaign aimed at raising awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and charity for research foundations for the disease.
Ice Bucket Challenge
A bit of Wikipedia.

“The Ice Bucket Challenge, sometimes called the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, is an activity involving the pouring of a bucket of ice water over a person's head, either by another person or self-administered, to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research. The challenge was co-founded by Pat Quinn and Pete Frates; it went viral on social media during July–August 2014. In the United States, many people participated for the ALS Association, and in the United Kingdom, many people participated for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, although some individuals opted to donate their money from the Ice Bucket Challenge to other organizations.

The challenge encourages nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads and then nominating others to do the same. A common stipulation is that nominated participants have 24 hours to comply or forfeit by way of a charitable financial donation.

The Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $220M worldwide. There were more than 2.4 million tagged videos circulating Facebook.

On July 25, 2016, the ALS Association announced that, thanks in part to donations from the Ice Bucket Challenge, the University of Massachusetts Medical School has identified a third gene that is a cause for the disease. Project MinE, a global gene sequencing effort to identify genetic drivers of ALS, received $1 million from the challenge, allowing them to broaden the scope of their research to include new sources in new parts of the world. Having identified the link between the gene, NEK1, and ALS will allow for a new targeted gene for therapy development, as well as focused drug development.”

So, creating an ongoing Ice Bucket Challenge in favor of life extension would be a fantastic solution, and I think it's possible within the framework of a creative association.

One of the major mysteries of the aging studies is the shutdown of research after the discovery of the increased longevity effect.

Suppose a discovery is made, the maximum and median lifespan of a mouse increased by 20% compared to the control. There are dozens of such studies, including exposure to telomerase by the Maria Blasco research group, or senolytic therapies, or suppression of inflammation in the hypothalamus. One could say that these are full-fledged therapeutic effects on one of the mechanisms of aging.

What is surprising is that none of the authors of the above papers have combined their results with other therapies that have shown efficacy.

What could be easier: you have a working medicine in your hands, check it together with another effective treatment.

So what is the reason for the lack of combinatorial research?

This is all even more surprising since the major record of increased life expectancy in a mammal was obtained with the combination of interventions. In 2001 Andrzej Bartke obtained a Prop1 mutation in mice that suppressed growth hormone synthesis, which by itself greatly prolonged the life of the mice, and when combined with caloric restriction he achieved a 2-fold increase in longevity.

However, even this did not make the combinatorial approach a popular method of aging biology. A database Synergy Age was created specifically to list combinations; it shows that to date only 36 genetic combinations have been tested on mice, and 27 on Drosophila. There are even fewer pharmacological combinations in it.

However, studying Synergy Age articles, we regularly come across not only additive effects (when the effects of increasing life expectancy add up), but also synergistic ones (when several interventions extend life longer than the sum of the effects of single ones). These include a double mutant, the worm C. elegance: by the autophagy gene atg-16.2 and a gene involved in insulin-like growth factor signaling daf-2.

For Drosophila, a similar example would be the double "mutant overexpressor" of the rpr and dilp2 genes (strongly expressing both genes), which alters sugar and lipid metabolism and increases resistance to starvation and oxidative stress, ultimately leading to increased longevity.

Given that aging has multiple causes and is divided into separate mechanisms, it seems obvious that combinations are required. However, research on the combinatorial approach is still extremely scarce.

This is primarily due to the increasing cost of research. Testing combinations of therapies requires enormous funding, and that's what all societal changes we were talking about are for.

At Open Longevity, we have an action plan to encourage combinational research.

We are now writing a scientific review to show the promise of combinations in an argumentative way: this includes analysis of the main successful life-extension experiments and the experience of related fields, such as oncotherapy, where combinational therapies have become routine in the last decades.

Our Open Genes database collects all genes related to longevity regulation. It is not just a table with links to articles, but a complete bioinformatics tool for finding the optimal effects.

There are now 2,400 genes in the database, and it is the most comprehensive database of aging genetics in the world.

Open Genes is a versatile tool for selecting combination gene therapies for aging. We will also soon be launching a bioinformatics competition for selecting combinations of anti-aging interventions.

Immortality is the implementation of the idea of being needed. To be needed always.

Open Longevity research shows, above all, that single people do not want to prolong life. Our existence is a derivative of our relationships. The environment will either kill us or save us.

The task of prolonging life almost always comes in the context of common cause, scientific collaborations, community building, public opinion building. It is a grandiose project, requiring a new kind of cooperation, super-collaboration.

Indifference to other peoples’ lives is the reason why people do not seriously fight death. There is a lack of companionship in society.

Simply calling for an increase in the value of human life is declarative because it contains no way of increasing human value.

People need to re-learn how to be friends. There's a problem with the format: people will become friends if they go camping together for a month.

When we talk about prolonging life, we actually have to look for a format where good relationships with each other are realized.

There's another problem here: relationships are a luxury that takes time. How can this struggle for life be built into everyday life?

A game could be a solution. Gamification of life extension is a realistic way of recruiting new heroes in the fight against death. In the end, it should under no circumstances be a zero-sum game, since if research is successful, everyone wins.

Open Longevity suggests that the first step in such a game is to get a volunteer card and, by completing tasks, raise your level.

Social changes happen abruptly: fashion, revolution, the birth and disappearance of certain social groups. People suddenly stop doing one thing and start doing another all together. In his book "Turning Point" Malcolm Gladwell explains that before a radical change, a lot of imperceptible changes are gradually happening.

Such a tipping point for radical life extension has not occurred.

I wish I could fill that invisible pool of small changes as soon as possible, but with what? Tweets, books, projects, NFTs, movies? Probably all of these and a million other things, creating this critical mass is the main task of fighting death. And we have to learn how to produce it much faster than now.

Large and complex tasks require a strategy.
Strategy begins with choosing the area where it will be implemented.

You can't play soccer with a chess opening idea. Success in Dota is of little use when liberating a population center from an invader.

The fight against death takes place in different areas with their own rules and, accordingly, their own strategies.

What are the areas of strategic interest in life extension?

  1. Startups at Longevity Biotech
  2. Education
  3. Lobbying for government programs
  4. Twitter
  5. Creating labs for open science
  6. Reducing the cost of experiments
  7. Secret society
  8. Patient-initiated clinical trials, citizen science
  9. Systematization of knowledge, databases
  10. Development of new methods of impact on living

There can be completely different strategies in each field. In fact, there are even more fields, and we need to find the one where we can get the most effect with the least amount of effort. Where, in fact, to hold the game.

We want to act on three fronts, or rather gather them into a single field:

  1. Testing combinations of interventions
  2. The Transhumanist Art
  3. Building an effective community

“For example, was the 1964 stabbing death of a young Queens woman by the name of Kitty Genovese. Genovese was chased by her assailant and attacked three times on the street, over the course of half an hour, as thirty eight of her neighbors watched from their windows. During that time, however, none of the thirty eight witnesses called the police. The case provoked rounds of self recrimination. It became symbolic of the cold and dehumanizing effects of urban life.

Abe Rosenthal, who would later become editor of the New York Times, wrote in a book about the case:
Nobody can say why the thirty eight did not lift the phone while Miss Genovese was being attacked, since they cannot say themselves. It can be assumed, however, that their apathy was indeed one of the big city variety. It is almost a matter of psychological survival, if one is surrounded and pressed by millions of people, to prevent them from constantly impinging on you, and the only way to do this is to ignore them as often as possible. Indifference to one’s neighbor and his troubles is a conditioned reflex in life in New York as it is in other big cities.”

This environmentally determined explanation seems quite logical to us. The anonymity and aloofness of the metropolis makes people cruel and soulless. The truth of Ms. Genovese's story, however, is a little more complicated and much more interesting. Two New York psychologists, Bibb Latané of Columbia University and John Darley of New York University, conducted a sequential series of experiments trying to make sense of what they labeled the "outsider problem."

They staged various emergencies to see who would come to the rescue. And they were surprised to find that the main factor by which they could predict that a person would come to the rescue was the number of witnesses to what was happening.

For example, in one of their experiments, Latané and Darley asked a student who was alone in a room to act out an epileptic seizure. When there was only one person outside the door who could hear what was going on in the room, he rushed to the student's aid 85 percent of the time. But when people believed there were four other people who could hear sounds characteristic of the seizure, they helped the student only 31% of the time.

In another experiment, people who saw smoke coming from under the door raised the alarm 75% of the time when they were alone, but reported the incident only 38% of the time when they were in a group. When people are in a group, they can be said to be less responsible for taking action.

They assume that someone else will call, or they assume that since no one is acting, then the observed problem (sounds from the next room like an attack, or smoke from under the door) is not a problem at all..."—from Malcolm Gladwell's book "Turning Point. How Small Changes Lead to Global Change."

Now imagine how widely known the problem of death is! In our case, the "problem of the outsider" is taken to the extreme. It is obvious that a huge number of people are dealing with aging and, conversely, it is not at all obvious what significant contribution one person can make.

Based on the logic of Latané and Darley, for a person to begin to resist death, he must be left alone with it. As a matter of fact, this is what happens in life-threatening circumstances.

And how does one leave a person alone with death, which will come in 30 years?
Yes, this is precisely the task of transhuman art. A book, a film, an exhibition. The horror has to be real. Only by looking into the eyes of death do people begin to resist.

I am often advised to write a positive scenario of the future. To answer questions about why people should live.

On the contrary, I think the negative scenario should be shown. Just avoiding it will lead to the realization of the positive. Otherwise, we get a ridiculous situation: we persuade people to live, but they are capricious, bringing up new objections, like what if they get bored.

Here's the difficulty one faces when answering the question, "Well, what do I do if I want to contribute to the fight against aging?" One already has certain expectations, most often of a dietary nature. Like, in order to live longer, you have to follow some kind of diet and drink supplements. People expect practical advice.

All this has nothing to do with the fight against death. Fighting death requires an organizational effort. And the answer to the question above is to join a group dedicated to life extension.
In doing so, one can get close to someone or not, feel the vibe or feel no connection—no worries, just move on to next organization.

Acting on your own without experience in the field seems completely pointless to me. A waste of time, effort and money. It also makes no sense to create your own organization unless you have experience in our field.

And here's the task for organizations: to formalize what they want from their participants. That is, to create a set of instructions. It is precisely the competition, mutual supplementation and evolution of these instructions that is the true struggle with death. The rest is vapid and non-systemic.
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