Curiosity, Adam Savage, and Life-Extension

post by JoshuaZ · 2011-10-17T03:17:16.705Z · score: 8 (9 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 19 comments

Tonight the Discovery Channel had on their Curiosity series  a program hosted by Adam Savage (of Mythbusters) on whether or not we could live indefinitely. The program probably did have some substantial impact on some people who have not been exposed to that sort of idea before, and may have been especially good at letting people understand that there's a definite possibility that the relevant discoveries might occur in their lifetimes.

However the piece was as a whole decidedly lacking in actual information.  First, the entire program was built around the conceit of Savage looking back from his thousandth birthday and talking about all the technologies that had allowed it to happen. In their hypothetical world, due to a severe car accident in 2022, Savage becomes the first person to benefit from a host of different technologies. There were zero actual interviews with scientists and although actual technological proposals were mentioned such as organ cloning and a brief segment on the SENS work of filtering blood cells, the vast majority was high-budget special effects segements of the new technologies. Also, cryonics was not mentioned at all, since in their hypothetical world, Savage had never needed that particular technology. Similarly, no mention is made of uploading, although Savage does gain cybernetic enhancements to his brain.

At a level of evaluation of narrative rather than  information, the entire piece was a bit incoherent and inconsistent. For example, Savage declares at one point that at age 130, he is then the oldest person in the world. This makes no sense in context since presumably after the basic technologies have been tested out on him they could then be applied to other people, some of whom will be older than he is. In the same section of the narrative, Savage has apparently become the head-engineer of the world's first space elevator construction project. A few centuries later, Savage then has to deal with an asteroid impact obliterating much of North America. My girlfriend remarked that the program came across almost as fanfic about Savage.

Overall, I can't recommend this much but it might do a good job getting people aware of these issues who don't currently know anything.  

Did anyone else see this? What did they think? 

19 comments

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comment by EphemeralNight · 2011-10-17T09:57:17.606Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even the youtube clips were full of conjunction fallacy and other inconsistencies.

fanfic about Savage

This was my thought as well, but heck, if I'd seen that plot summary on fanfiction.net, I'd click it.

comment by advancedatheist · 2011-10-17T17:09:57.055Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

At least the fictional "Adam Savage" character in this show seems relatively unconflicted, both morally & psychologically, about his quest to survive. He didn't articulate concerns about depriving his life of meaning or thwarting "the single best invention of life," according to Steve Jobs.

comment by randallsquared · 2011-10-17T21:58:57.208Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

[...] or thwarting "the single best invention of life," according to Steve Jobs.

Which was even more odd given that it immediately followed a worshipful Jobs documentary featuring Adam Savage and Jamie, which contained that very quote.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-17T21:43:02.689Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why would more life deprive life of it's meaning?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-18T00:06:19.203Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, your sarcasm just went strait over my head, sorry.

comment by Cyborgdreamer · 2011-10-18T22:31:48.560Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It did seem pretty arrogant, especially the part where Adam single-handedly recreates his biological arm and adds external storage to his brain (all with technology scavenged from post apocalyptic surroundings). Also, you had to laugh when switching bodies was portrayed as a translucent brain swimming between them like a jelly fish. All in all, it was about 99% cheesy sci-fi but I still found it entertaining. I'm just happy that it didn't end like most movies about immortality: the protagonist angsting over his 'lost humanity' and killing himself.

comment by Thomas · 2011-10-17T07:10:55.751Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This guy's attitude seemed unscientific to me, from the beginning. He is all about special effects, more or less spectacular. They are his perspective and want to tell his story through them.

comment by Costanza · 2011-10-17T16:11:12.849Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is true, but

By teaching people to hold their beliefs up to experiment, Mythbusters is doing more to drag humanity out of the unscientific darkness than a thousand lessons in rigor. Show them some love.

comment by magfrump · 2011-10-18T18:11:35.785Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even if we all love Mythbusters and acknowledge the good they do, they can still have more and less scientific episodes, and we can still praise or bemoan those differences.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2011-10-17T19:52:00.406Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't Thomas's point precisely that, in this episode, no experiment is done? If Mythbusters fails at testing myths, what use is it?

comment by Costanza · 2011-10-18T18:44:00.137Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What Wix said!

Mythbusters is entertainment, not argument. A big part of the appeal of the show is just blowing stuff up with lots of explosives, just for the fun of it. Even if they never tested myths, if Jamie and Adam hosted a show called Blowing Stuff Up for the Fun of It, would at least have the value of being entertaining.

However, Mythbusters is doing its part to raise the sanity waterline. Adam Savage is only half of Mythbusters, of course. But, in this Discovery show, he's a minor -- but still mainstream -- celebrity communicating the idea that death is not inevitable to a far wider audience than Eliezer or the Singularity Institute could possibly reach, at least right now. This is huge. Death is not inevitable! LessWrongers may forget how much of a shocking message this is to the general population, but now it's on basic cable! Who else is doing anything like this?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-18T20:34:12.737Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The notion we might treat aging as a disease might not have mainstream so much in the general public but aging research's status in the academy has risen quite considerably the last decade and efforts to create therapies to directly battle aging are not (that) frowned upon. Take this Nature Insights for example, I at least wouldn't be that surprised if the academy's attitude towards aging will seep out to the general public in just a few years, but then I might be a bit overoptimistic. . .

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-17T21:53:52.184Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't Costanza point just that Mythbusters challenge peoples beliefs and that's a good thing, even if it tends not (at least in this episode) to be so scientific?

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2011-10-18T22:30:19.886Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lost purpose. You can challenge people's beliefs by espousing a randomly-selected religious dogma; it's quite likely they won't agree with it. That wouldn't be a good thing, however; and it doesn't become good just because you agree with the conclusion. That way lie the Dark Arts.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-17T15:16:16.505Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

... he labels himself a SFX guy by trade. So that really shouldn't be all that surprising.

comment by malcavian · 2012-06-14T12:23:47.085Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why have we only just got this show over here in the u.k.? I agree with the comments above but would like to add the unless we can popularise science and get people interested then it will never progress.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-17T15:24:50.200Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Overall, I can't recommend this much but it might do a good job getting people aware of these issues who don't currently know anything.

Can't say I've really seen it -- not a cable subscriber here (I may correct that for this episode through other channels of media propagation) -- but this meshes with my impression of the general level of scientific expertise found in the Science Channel.

I'm curious: at any point did it mention, at all, that none of the technologies mentioned as being used on Savage for life extension are particularly radical in nature, or that they all have a basis in currently ongoing research? Obviously this holds true of the SENS project to filter senescent blood cells (interesting anecdote: I know the guy who built that particular project's first prototype device for filtering senescent cells from mice. One of the challenges they had to overcome was the small quantity of blood; he did this by designing the device to be reciprocating rather than cycling. He also keeps a neodymium magnet in his office which is weighted in pounds. It's encased in a massive block of foam. He also has a hobby of adding new heat-absorbing materials to obsolescent electronics in order to see how much overclocking he can get out of them -- he once related to me that he got an old 200 MHz up to 3 GHz... for thirty seconds. No, he isn't me.).

I'm more interested in the things like the 'cybernetic' neuroprosthesis (obviously referencing Theodore Berger's work), the cloned organs (obvious reference to multiple projects doing individual tissue cloning -- there's even a company that is now selling cloned human skin that has blood vessels, IIRC.), etc., etc..

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-10-17T15:52:11.139Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious: at any point did it mention, at all, that none of the technologies mentioned as being used on Savage for life extension are particularly radical in nature, or that they all have a basis in currently ongoing research

They were sort of ok about this part. Almost every technology which they mentioned (including the blood filtration) they explicitly said "based on research at the end of the 20th century" or "based on research at the beginning of the 21st century" and then had a very short (generally no more than 10-15 seconds) clip of the actual research, such as one of the actual blood filtration machines. One funny thing was how all the advanced futuristic technology was all shiny and had a blue glow to it and other standard scifi bits while you could tell at a glance what was real footage because it looked a lot more like, well, real machinery.

comment by megusta · 2012-01-12T13:17:20.954Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Guys, they just make a movie out of what could happen in the future.

It's just some predictions about what could be made, based on the prototype right now. remember how fast did the phone turned into a cheap touchscreen based from old black and white phone from 2000-2011?

that is quite fast, so they made some real predictions. their predictions aren't really far from reality, it's still make-able, with an explanation of how it works. maybe, something is quite strange, that's because they really had to cover every single probabilities (they do a good job to it).

i recommend anyone to watch it, it's an eye-opener. especially for scientists and scientist wannabes. don't be cynical because everything is just a visual effects. it's just (good) predictions.