- Google Ventures’ Bill Maris said he thinks humans can live to 500 years old
- This will be due to medical breakthroughs and a rise in biomechanics
- Google’s director of engineering Ray Kurzweil previously said we’d be uploading our brains to machines by 2045
- Google Ventures has invested in genetics firms and cancer startups
- Tech giant also set up Calico – anti-ageing research and development labs
- Mr Maris said: ‘We have the tools to achieve anything that you have the audacity to envision. I just hope to live long enough not to die’
- But professor Sir Colin Blakemore believes there’s a limit on human life
- Neurobiologist believes 120 years ‘might be an absolute to human lifespan’
- This is because living for longer is ‘so rarely exceeded’ that even with medical advances, it is unlikely this threshold will be raised
Google has invested in taxi firms, smart thermostats and even artificial intelligence but it is also setting its sights on immortality – or at least increasing our lives five-fold.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Google Ventures’ president Bill Maris said he thinks it’s possible to live to 500 years old.
And this will be helped by medical breakthroughs as well as a rise in biomechanics.
He has already ploughed money into genetics firms and cancer diagnostic startups and said: ‘We have the tools in the life sciences to achieve anything that you have the audacity to envision. I just hope to live long enough not to die.’
Mr Maris founded Google Ventures in 2009 and oversees all of the fund’s global activities. He studied neuroscience at Middlebury College and conducted neurobiology research at Duke University. Elsewhere he has advised Aurolab in the development of a hydrophobic acrylic lens for cataract blindness, and helped develop Google’s Calico project.
Calico is a research and development company set up in 2013 by Google and Apple to tackle ‘ageing and associated diseases.’
Google co-founder Larry Page said the project would focus on ‘health, wellbeing and longevity’ and last September Calico partnered with AbbVie to open a research centre into neurodegeneration and cancer.
Although these firms are focused on extending life naturally, there is also a group that believes machines will be the key to extending out lives beyond 120 – an age that has been quoted as the ‘real absolute limit to human lifespan’.
Google’s director of engineering, and colleague of Mr Maris, Ray Kurzweil has previously said that in just over 30 years humans will be able to upload their entire minds to computers and become digitally immortal – an event called singularity.
At the Global Futures 2045 International Congress in New York last year, Mr Kurzweil claimed that the biological parts of our body will be replaced with mechanical parts and this could happen as early as 2100.
He referred to Moore’s Law that states the power of computing doubles, on average, every two years quoting the developments from genetic sequencing and 3D printing.
In Kurweil’s book, The Singularity Is Near, he plots this development and journey towards singularity in a graph.
This singularity is also referred to as digital immortality because brains and a person’s intelligence will be digitally stored forever, even after they die.
He also added that this will be possible through neural engineering and referenced the recent strides made towards modeling the brain and technologies which can replace biological functions.
Examples of such technology include the cochlear implant – an implant that is attached to the brain’s cochlear nerve and electronically stimulates it to restore hearing to someone who is deaf.
Other examples include technology that can restore motor skills after the nervous system is damaged.
And other experts are in agreement with both Mr Maris and Mr Kurzweil.
Dr Pankaj Kapahi from the Buck Institute for Research On Ageing believes that scientific breakthroughs could potential extend human lives dramatically, by four or five fold.
He made these claims after tweaking two genetic pathways in the lab worm Caenorhabditis elegans, which successfully boosted the creature’s lifespan by a factor of five.
While it could take years of research to extend humans’ lives in the same way, the study raises the prospect of anti-ageing treatments informed by genetic interactions, according to Dr Kapahi.
C. elegans, a type of worm, was the first animal to have its whole genome, or genetic code, mapped, and has been widely used in studies of ageing and lifespan.
The research, reported in the journal Cell Reports, involved blocking key molecules that affect the action of insulin and a nutrient signalling pathway called Target of Rapamycin (TOR).
Single mutations in the TOR pathway were known to extend the lifespan of C. elegans by 30 per cent, while insulin-signalling mutations could double the amount of time they lived.
Adding the two together might have been expected to extend longevity by 130 per cent, but the combined impact turned out to be much greater.
The research may explain why it has proved so difficult to identify single genes responsible for the long lives enjoyed by human centenarians.
‘It’s quite probable that interactions between genes are critical in those fortunate enough to live very long, healthy lives,’ said Dr Kapahi.
Future research is expected to use mice to see if the same effects occur in mammals.
‘The idea would be to use mice genetically engineered to have suppressed insulin signalling and then treat them with the drug rapamycin, which is well-known to suppress the TOR pathway,’ Dr Kapahi said.
But these claims contradict those made more recently at a gerontology conference by Professor Sir Colin Blakemore.
Sir Blakemore, a neurobiologist and former chief executive of the British Medical Research Council, said there is a ceiling on how long humans can live, and how much the body can age – and he stated that that 120 years ‘might be a real absolute limit to human lifespan.’
He added that people living for longer than 120 years is ‘so rarely exceeded’ that, even with medical and technological advances, it is unlikely this upper threshold will be raised.
The comments were made at an event with a panel of gerontologists and scientists where they discussed the future of medicine, global health concerns and life expectancy.
It agreed that medicines will have a limited effect on extending human life, and it was more important to improve the health and quality of life for older people, rather than prolonging it.
The panel also stated it was key to improve the life expectancy in poorer regions, or areas where people typically die much younger than other areas.
The 2014 Global AgeWatch Index, which ranks 96 nations on the quality of life for the elderly, recently stated that by 2050, the number of over 60s will be 21 per cent of the global population.
This is almost double the current figure of 12 per cent.
The proportion of over-80s is growing fastest, too – projected to rise from two per cent now to four per cent of the global population by 2050.