[LINK] Larry = Harry sans magic? Google vs. Death

post by shminux · 2013-09-18T16:49:17.876Z · score: 25 (31 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 55 comments

Google's announcement, Time magazine rather sensationalist headline.

In any case, it's nice to know that Google set its sights to "challenge ... aging and associated diseases". Apple's Tim Cook:

For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. 

One more step towards "world optimization".

55 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Alexandros · 2013-09-18T22:05:20.551Z · score: 17 (23 votes) · LW · GW

If all we get out of this is a serious challenge to deathism (Tim Cook AND Larry Page? Woah.), well, that's a huge change for the better. But I do think these guys have what it takes to go further still.

The saddest thing about the reaction on HN is that so many commenters are angry this thing that we don't even have yet and didn't even dream of a few hours earlier will be 'only for the rich'. It really does boggle the mind.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-18T22:59:54.512Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't read the HN comments, nor do I intend to, but it doesn't seem particularly mind-boggling to me that many people are more concerned by the size of the advantage-gulf between them and more powerful humans than they are by the absolute level of advantage they enjoy.

After all, for most of our lives more powerful humans have been the biggest threat we have to worry about, and the magnitude of the threat they pose has been proportional to the size of that advantage-gulf.

I'm not saying it's a rational response given the specifics of this situation, merely that it's an understandable habit of thought.

comment by pangel · 2013-09-18T23:48:08.990Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I have met people who explicitly say they prefer a lower gap between them and the better-offs over a better absolute level for themselves. IIRC they were more concerned about 'fairness' than about what the powerful might do to them. They also believed that most would agree with them (I believe the opposite).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-19T00:38:01.573Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, 'fairness' is often a concept that gets invoked in these sorts of discussions.

For my own part, given world W1 where I have X1 and the best-off people have Y1, and world W2 where I have X2 and the best-off people have Y2, such that (X2 < X1) and (Y2-X2) << (Y1 - X1), within a range of worlds such that X1 and X2 are both not vastly different from what I have today, I expect that when transitioning from W2 to W1 I would experience myself as better off, and when transitioning from W1 to W2 I would experience myself as worse off.

I expect that's true of most people.

It's not necessarily the only important question here, though.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-21T18:05:49.089Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, that which certain right-wingers here on LW were fighting against wasn't a straw man after all. :-/

comment by deskglass · 2013-09-20T23:18:49.185Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You're making predictions about something you could just observe. This is the comment thread. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6406084 In it, the primary critic of Catico, bowlofpetunias, considers themself among the elite it benefits. That is, what you believed to have happened did not happen.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-21T15:11:10.189Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the pointer.

comment by kilobug · 2013-09-19T08:27:38.355Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

"It will be only for the rich" is a valid concern. Not one that should make us discard antideathism, but one that is worth being addressed fully and seriously, not discarded as "it boggles the mind". The prospect of having a few rich people living forever while most still know old age and death is a real potential failure mode. And it's not like the world isn't full of places without universal healthcare in which people who don't have the money are left dying while they could be saved.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-19T07:13:37.597Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

commenters are angry this thing that we don't even have yet and didn't even dream of a few hours earlier will be 'only for the rich'. It really does boggle the mind

This fits Robin Hanson's model of inequality talk being about grabbing.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2013-09-20T17:02:16.075Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The saddest thing about the reaction on HN is that so many commenters are angry this thing that we don't even have yet and didn't even dream of a few hours earlier will be 'only for the rich'.

I agree. These commenters seem to be ignorant of both the history of technological progress and modern socioeconomic reality. In case after case - cars, flight, computers, cell phones, electricity, indoor plumbing - a technology started out very expensive and rapidly became inexpensive and widely available as it became popular (in some sense, the most important factor determining the price of a technology is not its innate sophistication, but its popularity - the more popular it becomes, the less expensive; and anti-aging technology will be very popular). Furthermore, there are very few health-improvement technologies that are both 1) highly effective and 2) available only to the wealthy - expensive medical treatments are usually experimental. Also, one of the big problems with our current system is that it spends millions of dollars on the homeless.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-18T21:20:39.838Z · score: 16 (26 votes) · LW · GW

Even if this is just throwing money at the problem it is a vast improvement. Most people don't even realize it is a problem at all, so this is something that should be cheered:

Yay Larry! Yay Google! Yay capitalism!

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-09-20T08:25:00.541Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yay! was my first thought too.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-09-18T20:29:51.522Z · score: 15 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Has MIRI put any thought into attempting to convince specifically Larry Page or Sergey Brin that AGI is dangerous and we need to rush FAI first? If they succeeded at that (soon), I would no longer have to assign >50% probability to a paperclipping.

comment by Alexei · 2013-09-20T03:22:49.474Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I work at Google and have given it some serious thought. Without going into to much detail, the timing is not yet correct. However, steps are being taken in that direction.

comment by shminux · 2013-09-18T17:02:17.556Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Also, Scott Adam's self-deprecating take on it:

If you didn’t already have enough reasons to eat right, exercise, and keep your mind sharp, consider what you might be bringing to your own immortality. I was hoping to get there before the dementia sets in. But I just reread what I wrote and apparently I’m already too late.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-09-19T02:44:57.155Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Making other people miserable seems like defection.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-09-20T07:03:36.170Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Lets face it, we all kinda knew at the back of our minds that Google were the ones to end up cracking everything we talk about.

(I know, this isn't quite Singularity Nigh ...)

comment by DanielVarga · 2013-09-18T20:39:18.221Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

“Are people really focused on the right things? 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,” Page said. “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.” (Larry Page as quoted in the Time article)

This is something like the ecological fallacy. In the aggregate, we lose 3 years of potential life because of cancer. No big deal. Looking at the individual level, most of us had close friends who had lost 30 years of potential life.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-09-18T23:13:32.750Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Looking at the individual level, most of us had close friends who had lost 30 years of potential life.

Suppose you could either extend the life of one close friend by 30 years, or the lives of all of your friends by 10 years. (Hopefully you have more than three friends.) Page is pointing out that the second could possibly be on the table, but it wouldn't be obvious because we're so used to treating rare serious diseases instead of making everyone a bit healthier or live a bit longer on the margins.

comment by DanielVarga · 2013-09-19T02:08:21.757Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I fully agree with this point, and I fully agree with Page's goals. But I think there are things here that a simple total-years-of-potential-life-lost framework can not capture. As you might have guessed even from my first comment, this issue is very personal to me. Not long ago a good friend died after terrible suffering, leaving three young children behind. That's very sad, and I really don't know for what values of N could this be balanced in a utilitarian sense by lengthening the healthy old age of N of my friends with 10 years. Obviously, such trade-offs are taboo, but even if I try to force myself into some detached outside view, I still believe that number N must be large.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-09-19T04:23:41.495Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed that not all years are equal, and the impacts of early deaths can be large.

For measuring N, I wonder how much of this is availability bias. I know a number of old people who have outlived half of their friends, as well as seeing a few friends lost early in life. My weak suspicion is that they would favor a lower N, just by more familiarity with death due to old age and a better idea of what old age deaths do to the culture / friend groups / family.

comment by Yosarian2 · 2013-09-18T22:30:40.283Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Anyway, the only reason that we lose "only 3 years" to cancer is that something else is going to kill us not long after if cancer doesn't. However, if we were able to prevent all other forms of death, cancer would still kill all of us eventually.

I tend to think of curing cancer as not just "adding 3 years of life", but as a small but vital part of developing extreme medical (that is, organic) longevity.

comment by Locaha · 2013-09-19T08:30:25.736Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'd just like to remind you that the total annual Pharma industry R&D budget is about 70 billion $. That's for trying to cure individual diseases. I wonder how much will Google invest into trying to cure them all at once.

http://www.fiercebiotech.com/special-reports/biopharmas-top-rd-spenders-2012

comment by Alexei · 2013-09-20T03:24:51.384Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

SENS has been making good progress in anti-aging area with only a few million dollars of donations per year.

comment by Error · 2013-10-03T23:18:19.080Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Anyone know if Google is aware of SENS's existing research? They aren't mentioned in any of the news stories I've seen or in Google's press release. I don't know how much of SENS's research is public but some knowledge sharing might jumpstart Google's progress.

I am very, very glad for this -- only heard of it this afternoon when I happened across the Time piece in a doctor's office.

comment by Alexei · 2013-10-06T01:48:41.622Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Of course they are aware. It'll be interesting to see if anything happens on that front.

comment by shminux · 2013-09-19T14:42:25.922Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The aims are completely different, though. What portion of this budget is dedicated to solving "the challenge of aging"?

comment by Locaha · 2013-09-19T20:05:51.902Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Cancer and heart diseases are part of aging.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-19T20:25:48.944Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Huh? Think of a healthy 30-year-old. Did she age since the time she was twenty? Certainly so. Was cancer and heart disease part of that? Nope, very probably not.

Maybe you mean that cancer and heart disease are a mandatory part of being old. But I see no reason for that to be true. Cancer and CVD rates are certainly correlated with age, now, but that doesn't necessarily tell you what is par of aging per se and what is not.

comment by Yosarian2 · 2013-09-20T09:42:05.059Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you were able to fix or prevent the kind of mollecular damage that Grey mostly talks about when he talks about aging, it would probably reduce your odds of getting a heart attack in any given year, but I'm not convinced that it would eliminate it. After all, some people do get heart attacks when they're 30, it's just more rare.

Which means that for extreme longevity you would probably have to still find better ways to deal with, cure, or prevent heart attacks, even if we've already "cured aging" by the narrow definition of aging you seem to be using.

Also, in a related note, if we're talking about "longevity escape velocity" (the point where science and technology adds 1 year of lifespan for each year that passes, making it possible for you to live indefinitely), anything that treats any of the diseases of aging would help with that. Right now, heart attack and cancer are the two big killers in the first world; cure either of those, and you've extended lifespan by several years already.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-24T16:08:11.897Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

for extreme longevity you would probably have to still find better ways to deal with, cure, or prevent heart attacks, even if we've already "cured aging"

Yes, of course. "Curing aging" by itself does little to help with a variety of fatal diseases. People who don't age will still die from infections, strokes, etc. etc.

comment by Yosarian2 · 2013-09-24T23:55:02.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For infections, of course. For things like strokes and heart attacks, it partly depends on what you mean by "aging". Even if your cells aren't aging, if your organs accumulate larger-scale damage over time and eventually fail, would that be considered aging? It's a question of definitions, more then anything else, but I would think it would be.

comment by knb · 2013-09-20T03:30:02.027Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Huh?

I think you're in a terminology muddle. Locaha clearly means "aging" as senescence, not just the passage of time. "Aging" and "senescence" are often used interchangeably, which leads to confusion.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-09-20T05:26:33.951Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Locaha's comment still doesn't really make sense. Senescence is a specific mechanism that makes you more susceptible to cancer and heart disease, among other things. Curing cancer and heart disease won't cure senescence, though curing cancer probably would help. Curing senescence should cause a clear decrease in cancer and heart disease when you improve the ability of human bodies to repair themselves.

comment by knb · 2013-09-20T06:22:18.153Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To cure cancer and heart disease (as opposed to postponing death caused by cancer and heart disease) you would have to stop senescence. As long as senescence continues, heart disease and cancer will occur.

When viewed in this light, you can see that Locaha's comment makes perfect sense.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-21T18:31:25.903Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Huh? Think of a healthy 30-year-old. Did she age since the time she was twenty? Certainly so.

Think of a healthy 20-year-old. Did she age since the time she was 15? (I'm trying to figure what exactly you mean by “aging” -- if you define it too broadly, then aging is not necessarily a bad thing.)

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-24T16:04:08.014Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Think of a healthy 20-year-old. Did she age since the time she was 15?

Yes.

By aging I mean "changes in body and mind that normally come with passage of time".

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-24T19:03:27.716Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

By aging I mean "changes in body and mind that normally come with passage of time".

Then aging is not always a bad thing.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-24T16:33:02.206Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would say, rather, "...to which we don't differentially attribute causes other than the passage of time."

The distinction is important to me, because it gets at what I expect progress in fighting "aging" to look like: as we understand more about the causes and characteristic properties of various physical and mental changes, we are less inclined to describe them as caused by "age" in some vague handwavy way, even if they normally come with the passage of time... we will think of them as caused by a wide range of mostly unrelated diseases and syndromes, all of which happen to become more likely as we age for various different reasons.

And as we learn to prevent or treat those changes, we won't think of that as defeating "aging," we will think of it as defeating those specific diseases and syndromes. After a few generations of this, we will not think of ourselves as having made any progress on defeating "aging", even though most people will live longer healthier lives than their grandparents did.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-24T16:44:42.303Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would say, rather, "...to which we don't differentially attribute causes other than the passage of time."

OK, I'll accept that. I see your point.

However such an approach would require flexibility with what you'd call "disease" or "normality". For example, old people lose muscle mass and cannot acquire it as easily as young people. It it "normal"? It it a "disease"? If you develop a drug that you can take to fix that problem (but you'll have to keep on taking it forever), will you describe it as having defeated a disease?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-24T17:14:36.671Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I'm not exactly sure what we mean by requiring flexibility here, but I would certainly agree that our flexibility with respect to what's a disease and what's normal aging are related.

To put this another way, I would say "effects of disease D" and "natural effects of aging" are both social constructs, and that the psychological/cultural constraints that cause some pattern of observations X to get tagged with the first label also inhibit X from getting tagged with the second label.

None of which really has a damned thing to do with whether people live longer healthier lives, so to the extent that we care about that, we may do better to not get caught up in worrying about these categories.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-24T17:34:45.254Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are a lot of diseases which are different enough from aging to make the distinction more than a social construct: infectious diseases, congenital abnormalities, etc.

But yes, you can say: this is the ideal stable state, I want to maintain it forever, whatever causes it break, be it disease or aging, is bad and we want to fix that. Sure.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-09-26T19:40:54.172Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I expect that approach to hit diminishing returns, i.e., each aditional year of expected lifespan will require solving a greater number of distinct deceases than the previous one.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-26T19:43:41.243Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I agree.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-19T23:00:35.662Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Aging is a word that means different things to different people. Some people think of Botox as an anti-aging treatment.

When it comes to tech people and internet intellectuals Aubrey de Gray defined aging a while ago in a way that doesn't include dealing with Cancer and Heart disease.

Aubrey de Gray basically proposed to tackle aging directly instead of spending so much resources on trying to solve various illnesses.

When Larry Page speaks about aging in the way he does it's reasonable to expect that he uses the word in the way Aubrey de Gray frames the debate.

comment by knb · 2013-09-20T03:27:56.982Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Aubrey de Grey actually does view fighting cancer as a core part of ending aging. His SENS program has 7 steps, one of which is OncoSENS, which specifically is targeted at eliminating cancer.

Heart disease is also an inevitable consequence of aging (because of cell death weakening the heart) RepleniSENS would address this. GlycoSENS would address other cardiovascular problems like arteriosclerosis.

ETA: To clarify, by "aging" I mean senescence.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-20T10:48:46.069Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The WILD strategy that they propose is something very different then the way cancer gets addressed normally by big pharma/biotech.

If Larry would think of addressing cancer being part of the aging that he wants to fight I doubt he would have made the argument that it only gives you 3 years of additional life if we would solve cancer.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-24T16:10:18.788Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

An interesting observation :

"...just two men in the world known to be over 110, compared with 58 women (19 of whom are Japanese, 20 American). By contrast there are now half a million people over 100, and the number is growing at 7 per cent a year. For all the continuing improvements in average life expectancy, the maximum age of human beings seems to be stuck. It’s still very difficult even for women to get to 110 and the number of people who reach 115 seems if anything to be falling."

That is not encouraging for challenging aging.

comment by shminux · 2013-09-24T17:12:07.853Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is not encouraging for challenging aging.

This post, based on this model suggests that mortality rate is doubling every 8 years or so (I think it was discussed on LW and written up on gwern.net before), possibly due to the linear decline in the immune system function with age. Thus finding a way to keep the immune system ship-shape could make a drastic difference in life expectancy.

comment by gwern · 2013-09-24T17:41:46.508Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(I think it was discussed on LW and written up on gwern.net before)

No, just LW: http://lesswrong.com/lw/5qm/living_forever_is_hard_or_the_gompertz_curve/

As for the amyloidosis thing - it's interesting but the sample is very small and I don't understand why Coles thinks there may be causality rather than him just finding a random biomarker correlate (none of his GRG emails help here either).

I'm also a bit skeptical about claims of the centenarian death rates flattening out and ceasing to follow a Gompertz curve since this sort of dieback may be fitting the population better to the curve...

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-24T17:21:11.922Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that keeping the immune system well-functioning is very important.

However, from the same link as above:

"Professor Coles has done 11 autopsies on supercentenarians and finds that most die of congestive heart failure secondary to “systemic TTR amyloidosis”, a thickening of the blood. The rest tend to inhale food particles and get pneumonia. It is not really clear why women live longer than men; probably something to do with their having a different cocktail of steroid hormones."

Amyloidosis is basically proteins which are normally soluble becoming insoluble and accumulating in intracellular space, etc. That's essentially wear and tear, not an immune system failure. On the other hand pneumonia is a pretty clear immune system failure.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-18T20:40:58.739Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There is a serious lack of details. Essentially all that's been said is that Google will throw money at the problem. Well... I don't have high expectations that this will be a game-changer.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2013-09-19T06:07:39.667Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

This is a good sign not because money-throwing is sufficient, but because it's necessary.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-09-20T06:58:59.303Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Anti-aging researchers talk a lot about how they could do so much more with proper funding. I mean, they would say that, but that doesn't mean it isn't true - after all, the odds that the optimal amount of funding was that small is ... small.

Also, Google bring credibility and, perhaps, greater competence/strategy at approaching moonshots.

comment by kurokikaze · 2013-09-19T11:44:18.218Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Google have processing power backed by trained engineers, which might be important too. Google can do things like "Folding@home" on their own.