Finally, the war on human senescence and involuntary death has become mainstream. With Google’s announcement of the formation of Calico, a company specifically focused on combating senescence and the diseases it brings about, a large and influential organization has finally taken a stand on the side of longer life. Unlike the cautious, short-term orientation of many more conventional manufacturers of drugs and medical devices, Google’s philosophy of making investments with possible immense payoffs in the distant future offers tremendous hope that this company will be around through the many years it will take to engage in the search for promising treatments and their subsequent testing.
Aubrey de Grey, one of the chief strategists and key intellectual innovators in the escalating war on senescence, has written that Calico signals that the war on aging has truly begun. De Grey emphasizes that it is no longer necessary to persuade most of academia that this war is a worthwhile endeavor: “With Google’s decision to direct its astronomical resources to a concerted assault on aging, that battle may have been transcended: once financial limitations are removed, curmudgeons no longer matter.” As with its remarkable advances in autonomous vehicles, mobile operating systems, and wearable computing, Google does not need to ask the permission of the entire world to explore the possibilities. Rather, it can simply achieve the breakthroughs, whose momentum and adoption naysayers would be powerless to halt.
Funding has always been a major bottleneck for true life-extending research, but now the resources of Google, as well as the highly skilled researchers who will surely be recruited by Calico, will enable this bottleneck to be overcome. Few details about the company are yet available, and it is likely that several years will elapse before major discoveries are announced. However, the barrier to mainstream acceptability of the war on senescence has been breached. Once significant successes are announced, other companies will hopefully shed some of their current caution and will seek to profit from the burgeoning field of longevity research. A few other companies still may even try to emulate Calico before any results are announced – just so as to remain competitive with Google and stay ahead of the pack, in their view.
The key to the success of any sustainable enterprise focused on life-extension research is to recognize that the sole pursuit of profits next quarter or next year is not a viable strategy for altering the status quo in radical ways. Great innovations require great leaps outside the norm. Such leaps are not often immediately rewarded financially by the broader market, which is why much of the longevity research to date has been sponsored by non-profit institutions such as the SENS Research Foundation and various universities. However, a prudent, forward-looking pursuit of profit can take the radical alteration of the status quo to the next level, by harnessing the immensely powerful motive of self-interest for the purpose of improving human lives. In this case, the improvement from gains to human longevity – and hopefully the ultimate defeat of senescence altogether – would be so immense as to be humankind’s crowning achievement. Google develops technologies with the eventual intent of marketing them to millions of consumers, and the success of Calico would be a triumph not just for longevity research but for the dissemination of cures to age-related diseases, and perhaps to senescence itself.
While anyone of sufficient intellectual courage can have a long-term vision and projects aimed at advancing that vision, Google has the distinct advantage of an extremely viable business in the present, which continues to bring in short-term revenues so that Calico does not need to be concerned with profits next quarter or next year. Instead, Calico will be able to survive on the profits of Google’s many ongoing operations, while devoting the time and effort of world-class researchers to pursuing all of the explorations, experiments, and tests that are needed to ultimately develop marketable cures. Once the cures are out there, though, the profits could be unprecedented, because life is the most precious, the most fundamental value we humans have. Any entity that discovers a way to transcend the current frailties of old age and push back or remove the current limits on human lifespans will become fabulously wealthy beyond comparison.
May Calico usher in Adam Smith’s invisible hand in the realm of longevity medicine – a hand that pushes back senescence and death and creates a world where health and wealth are ours to enjoy indefinitely.