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The Race of Exponentials

We live in a world of exponential developments, and that’s awesome. Whether it’s computational power, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, genomic sequencing, IoT, robotics, material sciences, virtual and augmented reality, or synthetic biology — more and more evidence shows up that Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns is a reality for the technological developments that will shape our world sooner than our intuition makes us think.

Tragically, there is another exponential development that could monkeywrench all the other ones — not for the world, but for you. It’s your biological aging process. In the 1820s Benjamin Gompertz discovered that the death rate statistically doubles every seven years of age. Today, there is a more profound scientific explanation for this. The Hallmarks of Aging identify nine different mechanisms that cause biological aging. As cellular and molecular damage they do not only accumulate in parallel, but form a mutually synergistic alliance of damaging forces. Furthermore, the body’s natural repair mechanisms are damaged in the same way, leading to an equally accelerating decrease of the counterforce to the accumulating damage.

The effect on our intuition is similar to the one of exponential technological developments. Most of the damage and cell junk starts accumulating from early age on, in some cases already in the womb. The exponential acceleration, however, happens on such a tiny scale that we don’t perceive its effects until our early thirties. The rapid decline most of us face in our eighties is when the aging exponential starts skyrocketing. The according causes of death, like heart failure or cancer, are expressions of the final stage of life-long exponential developments. So-called diseases like Alzheimer’s (the accumulation of beta-Amyloids) or Parkinson’s (the decrease of certain dopamine-producing cells) would happen to all of us if nothing else kills us first — and if we don’t do something about it.

That doing has two aspects. The first is lifestyle. Yes, there are those supercentenarians who smoke until the age of 120, but I wouldn’t bet on having their disposition. With every bad habit you potentially trigger a deadly exponential. And I wouldn’t even encourage you to redesign your life accordingly, if there wouldn’t be the second part of the action plan: the incredible opportunity of our time to harness exponential technologies like genome sequencing and programming in alliance with AI and quantum computing to reverse the hallmarks of aging.

As the causes of aging are widely identified (at least wide enough to do something about it), the most promising approach to be successful during our lifetime is to frequently repair the damage and clean up the junk in our bodies. In the future we will also be able to reprogram our genome to prevent ourselves from damage and junk in the first place, but that’s still a quest too ambitious for the moment, since we haven’t thoroughly understood the fine workings of the human metabolism to start re-engineering it in an aging-preventing way.

However, for both approaches the exponential technologies mentioned above will help us a great deal. At the moment, research and development of repair therapies is still fairly slow. The search for genes in other species to express the crucial enzyme is partially more like a treasure hunt than a Google query. Experiments are real-time explorations in blue oceans. But with every step — and a lot of steps are taken every day — data banks grow, sequencing gets faster, deep learning can be applied more effectively, and simulations become more sophisticated. The biotech startup Insilico Medicine for example has already made it its core approach to use AI to reverse aging, and it won’t be the last. Nuritas and Recursion Pharmaceuticals follow a similar approach.

Leveraging exponential technologies will not only boost the therapies’ development, but also their customization, and finally their affordability.

The remaining question for you is which exponential will affect you more in the long run: biological aging or rejuvenation biotechnology? What you can do to foster the latter is to donate, e.g., at Methuselah Foundation, lifespan.io, or Maximum Life Foundation. You can vote for according political parties, promote the whole movement in general, or encourage scientists around you to focus on curing aging.

If you want to know how to slow down your own exponential aging, you’ll find answers in my book Life Extension Design.

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