Jeff Bezos pops champagne after emerging from the New Shepard capsule after his space flight on July 20, 2021.
All things must die, according to the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, but that could change.
A growing number of tech billionaires have chosen to use their enormous wealth to help people “cheat death”.
Jeff Bezos from Amazon, Larry Page from Alphabet, Larry Ellison from Oracle and Peter Thiel from Palantir are just a few of the super-rich who, according to interviews, books, and media reports, have taken a keen interest in the rapidly emerging field of longevity.
While breakthroughs are far from guaranteed, they hope that various drugs, therapies, and other life science technologies will enable humans to live well over 100 years and possibly 200, 300, or even longer.
But will their efforts benefit humanity as a whole or just a few elites? A difficult question that divides opinions.
The filter-down effect
“Technologies that are initially only affordable to the rich tend to become more widely available over time,” Stefan Schubert, a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science who specializes in “effective altruism,” told CNBC . This applies to everything from air travel to smartphones to medication.
Tech investor Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype, told CNBC that Silicon Valley’s quest to live forever will ultimately benefit all humanity.
“I think involuntary death is clearly morally bad, which makes the pursuit of longevity a morally noble thing,” Tallinn said. “Early adopters always tend to pay more and take greater risks than the ‘mass market’.
Tallinn added that he believed it was “counterproductive” to require a new service to be available to everyone before anyone could use it, but said he understood instinct.
Sean O hEigeartaigh, co-director of the Center for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University, told CNBC that many advances in longevity research could have far-reaching benefits, adding that they could affect the incidence or severity of older age-related diseases such as Dementia and heart could decrease health.
“A significant short-term increase in maximum life expectancy seems unlikely to me, but it is more plausible to identify and stop age-related factors that increase obesity and the severity of age-related diseases,” said Ó hÉigeartaigh.
Some fear that the earth’s finite resources could come under pressure as people live longer and healthier lives.
However, until significant progress is made in extending life, ÓhÉigeartaigh anticipates that populations in other parts of the world will be more stable.
“I anticipate a meaningful lifespan extension will be a century or more away, and by then I expect a parallel change in attitudes towards euthanasia,” he said, adding that euthanasia will be more acceptable and more common in the years to come will be.
What about climate change?
While some believe that billionaires should be able to spend their money on what they see right, not all think that tech billionaires should use their money to fund life-extension research.
Jon Crowcroft, a computer science professor at Cambridge University, told CNBC it would be better to spend more of their billions on climate change mitigation technologies rather than longevity research.
“It’s a little pointless to live forever on a dying planet,” said Crowcroft.
But Tallinn told CNBC it found the tech billionaire’s efforts to support longevity research “commendable”.
“I think it is generally unfair to pit good causes against each other in a world where most resources are wasted on morally unimportant or even reprehensible things,” said Tallinn.
The hunt for the billionaire’s immortality
Bezos, the second richest man in the world behind Elon Musk, invested part of his $ 199 billion in a new “rejuvenation” startup called Altos Labs, according to a report by MIT Technology Review earlier this month.
The anti-aging startup, which allegedly pursues biological reprogramming technology, is also reportedly backed by Russian-Israeli venture capitalist Yuri Milner, who made a fortune as a former investor in Facebook.
Elsewhere, Oracle founder Ellison has donated more than $ 370 million to research into aging and age-related diseases, according to The New Yorker.
Meanwhile, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page helped start Calico, a secret company that tracks mice from birth to death in hopes of finding markers for diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s, according to a report in the New Yorker . Calico is part of Alphabet, the holding company that also includes Google.
One of the biggest advocates of life extension among tech billionaires is Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and Palantir and supported Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal Inc.
VCG | Getty Images
In 2006, he donated $ 3.5 million to support antiaging research through the Methuselah Mouse Prize charitable foundation. “Rapid advances in biological science predict a treasure trove of discoveries in this century, including dramatically improved health and longevity for all,” he said at the time. According to Time, Thiel had increased his investment in the Methusalah Mouse Prize foundation to $ 7 million by 2017.
According to The New Yorker, Thiel and Bezos both invested in San Francisco-based Unity Biotechnology, a company whose founder allegedly said it wanted to “vapourize a third of human diseases in developed countries.”
Stocks with a term extension?
Across the Atlantic, UK billionaire Jim Mellon told CNBC last September that he plans to IPO Juvenescence, his own life-extension company, over the next six to twelve months.
It has yet to happen, but Juvenescence continues to invest in a wide range of antiaging therapies that it believes have the potential to prolong human life.
One of those investments is Insilico Medicine, which aims to use artificial intelligence for drug discovery. Juvenescence has also endorsed AgeX Therapeutics, a California-headquartered company trying to make stem cells that can regenerate aging tissue, and LyGenesis, which plans to develop a technology that uses lymph nodes as bioreactors to grow replacement organs.
Other billionaires, including Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Australian software company Atlassian, and NEX Group founder Michael Spencer, have invested in Juvenescence.