Near-Immortality Within the Next 20 Years? Life-Extension Scientists Hope So

Researchers at the Maximum Life Foundation met recently to discuss their latest anti-aging findings. Their goal is to extend the human lifespan indefinitely by 2029... though it's not yet clear how that'll actually work.

The Huntington Beach-based Foundation held a Longevity Summit earlier this month, where biologists and geneticists shared their research into how humans might live longer — much longer. Futurist author Ray Kurzweil, speaking at the conference, put it thusly:

We are very close to the tipping point in human longevity... we are about fifteen years away from adding more than one year of longevity per year to remaining life expectancy.

Among those in the business, this threshold is known as "longevity escape velocity," and many of the Summit speakers seemed to think we'll get there in the next twenty years.

The speakers came from different backgrounds and specialized in widely different fields, according to press coverage; they appear to have had little in common except a commitment to defeating the aging process. Some of the techniques up for review: organ cryopreservation; tissue replication via stem-cell therapy; chemical supplements to encourage telomere lengthening; and tinkering with cell structures in order to situate our mitochondria more favorably.

There was a lot of talk at the Longevity Summit, and around the website of the Maximum Life Foundation generally, about the fantastic advances we'll one day see. Michael Rose, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, spoke about his work breeding fruit flies to live four times as long as usual, and suggested that a similar degree of hyper-longevity will be available to humans soon.

Yet a lot of what was said at the Summit had a certain best-case-scenario, pie-in-the-sky quality. The entrepreneur Peter Voss gave a presentation on artificial intelligence, which he said can be harnessed to figure out the secrets of human longevity — just as soon as it exists. "Imagine hundreds of thousands of Ph.D.-level machines chipping away at the aging problem," Voss is quoted as saying. Okay — check. It's imagined.

The Maximum Life Foundation itself sometimes uses language that suggests it hasn't thought everything all the way through. From the FAQ page of the Foundation website:

[Q.] Shouldn't we spend our resources feeding the hungry, rather than keeping people alive longer?

[A.] Our best resource is knowledge. The elderly own most of it. By making them productive for extra years, many of those resources can be channeled to solving problems such as hunger. Besides, our planet can accommodate over 6 billion more people before resources are taxed. This doesn't account for future technologies such as new clean energy sources, enhanced food production, efficient water desalinization, and nanotechnology."

Ray Kurzweil's association with the Foundation may itself be cause for skepticism. Kurzweil, though a respected inventor, is known for predicting breakthroughs and utopias that never materialize.

All in all, the Maximum Life Foundation probably bears watching, but anyone hoping to attend the 2200 Olympics may not want to book tickets just yet.