Friday, September 20, 2013

It's Not Just Google:-- "Monetizing Immortality: How Silicon Valley's Tech Titans Are Trying to Disrupt Death"

From Motherboard:
Who's going to live forever? These guys! Via Google
On Wednesday, Google announced that it is getting in the immortality game, with the launch of an absurdly ambitious new venture that literally aims to stop death. It burned through the media, spurred by a TIME cover story. But Google is hardly the first Silicon Valley giant to fight old age.

Tech titans have poured millions into the multibillion dollar anti-aging industry, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Valley remains a hotbed for the transhumanist movement, which aims to fundamentally transform the human condition, using new technologies to enhance our intellectual, psychological, and physical capabilities—including our ability to live forever.​

So far, we don’t know much about this new Google company, except that it is called Calico and will be led by Arthur Levinson, the former CEO of biotech pioneer Genentech, who is also chairman of the board at Apple. According to the Google press release, Calico—an abbreviation for California Life Company—“will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.”

But in an exclusive TIME magazine interview that accompanied Wednesday’s announcement, Google CEO Larry Page made it clear that his ambitions for Calico are far more grandiose. The new venture is a “moonshot,” Page says, a word he uses to describe Google’s often outlandish attempts to bring the world into the future.

"Are people really focused on the right things?" Page told TIME. "One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you'd add about three years to people's average life expectancy. We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that'll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it's very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it's not as big an advance as you might think."

In other words, curing cancer isn’t big enough. In fact, Page suggests that the ultimate goal of Calico is to cure, or rather “solve,” aging and death—a quixotic goal even for a company that is building a driverless car and wants to use helium balloons to expand Internet access.

But while Calico may be one of the most most high-profile and well-funded attempts to stop the aging process, Page and Co. are hardly the first Silicon Valley dreamers to search for the Fountain of Youth. Here’s a rundown of Silicon Valley’s recent attempts to find immortality:

Ellison Medical Foundation:  Founded by billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, the fifth-richest person in the world,  the Ellison Medical Foundation doles out more than $40 million a year for research in the biology of aging, according to executive director Kevin Lee. The ultimate goal of the Ellison Medical Foundation is not immortality, Lee said, but to find cures for the diseases that accompany aging. "It's about remaining healthy for as long as possible," Lee told me. "I think this is very possible. There's good reason to remain optimistic."

Ellison, who is said to be obsessed with youth, age, and science, is perhaps the most prominent Fountain of Youth seeker in Silicon Valley. "Death has never made any sense to me," Ellison told his biographer, Mark Wilson. "How can a person be there and then just vanish, just not be there? Clearly the reason they're not there is they're off doing something else... Death makes me very angry. Premature death makes me angrier still.''

Prior to creating the Ellison Medical Foundation, the Oracle billionaire invested in the now-failed biotech firm Aeiveos, which had planned to study the genetic makeup of centenarians. The company, which barely survived past its infancy, was created by an early Oracle employee Robert Bradbury, an Extropian who believed that genetic engineering could prolong life.

Founders Fund: Led by billionaire PayPal cofounder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, Founders Fund's motto is "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters." Thiel, Silicon Valley's leading techno-libertarian futurist, has been known to dabble in transhumanism, and his venture capital fund invests heavily in biotech and artificial intelligence. Although these investments have been hit-or-miss—Halcyon Molecular, whose founder claimed he would live for “millions, billions, hundreds of billions of years," tanked last year—Thiel isn't likely to give up on his search for the Fountain of Youth....MORE