At this point, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin had already announced Calico – this is the California Life Company. Like Altos, it was widely recruited and paid well, all in the name of understanding the basic processes of aging and using knowledge to increase longevity. It’s difficult to be sure how close our lifespan is to being changed because, as with so much in the tech world, secrecy is valued.
Of course, it’s easy to make fun of these middle-aged men struggling with death – something that, despite all their billions, just once, they cannot bend to their will. Silicon Valley even has a $ 1 million Longevity Prize to attract projects that “cure aging.” But are they so wrong to aim so high? After all, Bezos just blasted himself into space with his own rocket – not bad for a man who opened an online bookstore. Indeed, Silicon Valley residents’ trust in his model – funding courageous ventures that turn established norms upside down – actively encourages hubris. And human health is on an extraordinary upward curve.
Life expectancy has doubled over the past 150 years as infections, vaccines, diet, and maternal health have all improved radically. Today’s big killers – cancer and dementia in particular – are far more difficult to solve. Researchers around the world specialize in treating them as isolated diseases. But what if we approached them differently, say the west coast gurus, not as demarcated conditions but as general symptoms of aging? Then, they say, old age is the disease to be cured.
In fact, over time, the likelihood of developing such diseases increases dramatically. So it’s no wonder that the opportunity to turn back time is so appealing. And that is why it is so important that the chairman of the Altos Scientific Advisory Board be Shinya Yamanaka.
In 2012, Yamanaka received a Nobel Prize for the discovery that four proteins now known as Yamanaka factors can cause cells to revert to a previous state, neither jaded nor specialized over time, but rather youthful and full of potential again – as if a retired accountant found himself again as a teenager in a leather jacket deciding which high school graduation he should take. Four years after Yamanaka’s award, not only cells, but whole mice were treated with the factors and apparently became younger.