Why we really should ban autonomous weapons: a response

September 20, 2015


We welcome Sam Wallace’s contribution to the discussion on a proposed ban on offensive autonomous weapons. This is a complex issue and there are interesting arguments on both sides that need to be weighed up carefully.

His article, written as a response to an open letter signed by over 2500 AI and robotics researchers, begins with the claim that such a ban is as “unrealistic as the broad relinquishment of nuclear weapons would have been at the height of the cold war.”

This argument misses the mark. First, the letter proposes not unilateral relinquishment but an arms control treaty. Second, nuclear weapons were successfully curtailed by a series of arms-control treaties during the cold war, without which we might not have been here to have this conversation.

After that, his article makes three main points:

1) Banning a weapons system is unlikely to succeed, so let’s not try.

(“It would be impossible to completely stop nations from secretly working on these technologies out of fear that other nations and non-state entities are doing the same.” “It’s not rational to assume that terrorists or a mentally ill lone wolf attacker would respect such an agreement.”)

2) An international arms control treaty would necessarily hurt U.S. national security.

3) Game theory argues against an arms control treaty.

Are all arms control treaties bad?

Note that his first two arguments apply to any weapons system, and could be used to re-title his article “The proposed ban on <insert type here> is unrealistic and dangerous.”

Argument (1) is particularly relevant to chemical and biological weapons, which are arguably (and contrary to Wallace’s claims) even more low-tech and easy to produce than autonomous weapons. Yet the world community has rather successfully banned biological weapons, space-based nuclear weapons, and blinding laser weapons, and even for arms such as chemical weapons, land mines, and cluster munitions, where bans have been breached or not universally ratified, severe stigmatization has limited their use. We wonder if Wallace supports those bans and, if so, why.

Wallace’s main argument for why autonomous weapons are different from chemical weapons rests on AI systems that “infiltrate and take over the command and control of their enemy.” But this misses the point of the open letter, which is not opposing cyberdefence systems or other defensive weapons. (The treaty under discussion at the UN deals with lethal weapons; a defensive autonomous weapon that targets robots is not lethal.)

Indeed, if one is worried about cyberwarfare, relying on autonomous weapons only makes things worse, since they are easier to hack than human soldiers.

One thing we do agree with Wallace on is that negotiating and implementing a ban will be hard. But as John F. Kennedy emphasized when announcing the Moon missions, hard things are worth attempting when success will greatly benefit the future of humanity.

National security

Regarding argument (2), we agree that all countries need to protect their national security, but we assert that this argues for rather than against an arms control treaty. When President Richard Nixon argued for a ban on biological weapons in 1969, he argued that this would strengthen U.S. national security, because U.S. biological warfare research created a model that other, less powerful, nations might easily emulate, to the eventual detriment of U.S. security.

Most of Wallace’s arguments for why a ban would hurt U.S. national security are attacking imaginary proposals that the open letter doesn’t make. For example, he gives many examples of why it’s important to have defensive systems (against hacking, incoming mortars, rockets, drones, robots that physically take control of our aircraft, etc), and warns of trying to “fight future flying robot tanks by using an equine cavalry defense,” but the letter proposes a ban only on offensive, not defensive weapons.

He argues that we can’t uninvent deep learning and other AI algorithms, but the thousands of AI and robotics signatories aren’t proposing to undo or restrict civilian AI research, merely to limit its military use. Moreover, we can’t uninvent molecular biology or nuclear physics, but we can still try to prevent their use for mass killing.

Wallace also gives some technically flawed arguments for why a ban would hurt U.S. national security. For example, his argument in the “deception” section evaporates when securely encrypted video streaming is used.

His concern that a military superpower such as the U.S. could be defeated by home-made, weaponized civilian drones is absurd, and consideration of such unfeasible scenarios is best confined to computer games. Yes, nations need to protect against major blows to their defensive assets, but home-made pizza drones can’t deliver that. Some advanced future military technology might, and preventing such developments is the purpose of the treaty we advocate.

Finally, Wallace argues that we shouldn’t work towards arms control agreements because people might “merge with machines” into cyborgs or “some time in the next few decades you might also have to get a consciously aware AI weapon to agree to the terms of the treaty” — let’s not let highly speculative future scenarios distract us from the challenge of stopping an arms race today!

Game theory

Wallace makes an argument based on game theory for why arms control treaties can only work if there’s another more powerful weapon left unregulated, that can be used as deterrence.

First of all, this argument is irrelevant since there’s currently no evidence that offensive autonomous weapons would undermine today’s nuclear deterrence.

Second, even if the argument were relevant, game theory beautifully explains why verifiable and enforceable arms control treaties can enhance the national security of all parties, by changing the incentive structure away from a destructive prisoner’s dilemma situation to a new equilibrium where cooperation is in everybody’s best interest.

What’s his plan?

What we view as the central weakness of Wallace’s article is that it never addresses the main argument of the open letter: that the end-point of an AI arms race will be disastrous for humanity. The open letter proposes a solution (attempting to stop the arms race with an arms control agreement), but he offers no alternative solution.

Instead, his proposed plan appears to be that all world military powers should develop offensive autonomous weapons as fast as possible. Yet he fails to follow through on his proposal and describe what endpoint he expects it to lead to. Indeed, he warns in his article that one way to prevent terrorism with cheap autonomous weapons is an extreme totalitarian state, but he never explains how his proposed plan will avoid such totalitarianism.

If every terrorist and every disgruntled individual can buy lethal autonomous drones for their pet assassination projects with the same ease that they can buy Kalashnikovs today, how is his proposed AI-militarization plan supposed to stop this? Is he proposing a separate military drone hovering over every city block 24 hours per day, ready to strike suspect citizens without human intervention?

Wallace never attempts to explain why a ban is supported by thousands of AI and robotics experts, by the ambassadors of Germany and Japan, by the International Committee of the Red Cross, by the editorial pages of the Financial Times, and indeed (for the time being) by the stated policy of the U.S. Department of Defense, other than with a dismissive remark about “kumbaya mentality.”

Anybody criticizing an arms-control proposal endorsed by such a diverse and serious-minded group needs to clearly explain what they are proposing instead.

Stuart Russell is a professor of computer science at UC Berkeley, and co-author of the standard textbook, Artificial Intelligence: a Modern Approach. Max Tegmark is a professor of physics at MIT and co-founder of the Future of Life Institute. Toby Walsh is a professor of AI at the University of New South Wales and NICTA, Australia, and president of the AI Access Foundation.



Google’s New Project Is So Insanely Advanced It Will Blow You Away

September 20, 2015


If Google has its way, our future will be nothing less than a sci-fi movie. After creeping us out with a robotic cheetah and the Google ‘Glass’, Google is all set to bring forth something really amazing. Google’s Project Soli has invented a new interaction sensor using radar technology that can capture motions of your fingers at up to 10,000 frames per second. And that is something that has never ever been done before. Simply put, this technology is so bafflingly accurate that you could operate any device (fitted with this) without having to even touch it.

Google’s New Project Is So Insanely Advanced It Will Blow You Away

Approximately the size of a small computer chip, this technology can transform your hand into a virtual dial machine to control something as mundane as volume on a speaker, or into a virtual touchpad to a smartwatch or a smartphone screen. Check out the GIF below to get a better idea of how this works.

Google’s New Project Is So Insanely Advanced It Will Blow You Away

This chip is actually a miniature gesture radar that captures even the most complex hand movements at close range, at unbelievably hyper speeds and replicates hand gestures. Given the micro size of the chip, it can almost be fitted into literally anything. This technology, if the project is successful, can make the need to touch a device to operate it redundant.

Here, the introductory video.


The World’s First 3D-Printed Titanium Rib Cage Is a Medical Marvel

September 20, 2015


It sounds like something straight out of a comic book, but after losing his sternum and part of his rib cage to cancer, a 54-year-old Spanish man received the world’s first 3D-printed chest prosthetic made from lightweight, but incredibly strong, titanium.

Titanium implants aren’t new, but replacing large sections of the rib cage is tricky. Titanium prosthetics are usually built from various plate components, and over time they can come loose creating future complications.

Surgeons at the Salamanca University Hospital in Spain decided that a custom-designed titanium prosthetic would better replicate the portions of the patient’s chest that had been removed, and in the long term would be a safer option.

The World's First 3D-Printed Titanium Rib Cage Is a Medical Marvel

Using high-resolution 3D CT scans of the patient’s chest, the surgeons determined what areas needed to be replaced, and then turned to a Melbourne, Australia-based company called Anatomics to design and build the replacement sternum and rib cage.

As impressive as home 3D printers like the MakerBot are, printing with titanium requires a higher level of expertise and equipment. Anatomics actually used a $1.3 million electron beam Arcam 3D printer to produce the prosthetic, the first of its kind in the world, which was then flown to Spain and surgically implanted in the patient.


Just 12 days after their final surgery, the patient, who is now probably the closest thing the world has to Marvel’s Wolverine, was discharged and is recovering well. And 3D printing takes another important step forward to becoming one of the most important technologies of the 21st century.


The coming fuel cell revolution: What you need to know

September 20, 2015


Conversations about fuel cells tend to sway perilously between groundless optimism and exceptional despair. To grasp this visually, one need look no farther than the historical stock chart of FuelCell Energy Inc., the largest player in the fuel cell industry. Three times in the last four years, the company’s stock has doubled in a number of days, before crashing down to new lows. While public sentiment regarding fuel cells seems to be trending pessimistic, three technological forces have been quietly percolating in the background, creating a kind of perfect storm that could propel fuel cell technology from obscurity into widespread adoption.

The first and perhaps most surprising of these forces is the plateauing of battery efficiencies. While hardly a day goes by in which some new academic publication promises to have solved the world’s battery crises, these innovations have been tantalizingly slow in making their way to market. The net effect is that we are still plugging away with the same lithium ion battery tech that has been around for decades. And because of the ever-increasing demand for a solution to the power storage dilemma, many companies have opted to look outside the battery box, and often as not, their eyes have come to rest on fuel cells. Two recent news bulletins suggest the smart money is shifting away from the pursuit of better batteries to the adoption of fuel cells.

Apple Inc. recently made waves by issuing a patent for a fuel-cell-based system that would be capable of powering a MacBook for several weeks without recharge. The patent uses specifications already existing in Apple’s MagSafe charger, suggesting the fuel cell could be used with iPhones and iPads as well. While fuel cells typically work by mixing a fuel such as hydrogen, with an oxidizing agent such as water or oxygen, the Apple patent also lists borohydride, sodium silicate, lithium hydride, magnesium hydride, and other compounds as fuel sources. Apple’s patent comes on the heels of a British company announcing that they had developed a built-in hydrogen fuel cell capable of powering an iPhone for an entire week.

The other company to reveal plans for abandoning the battery in favor of fuel cells is the world’s largest car maker, Toyota. This is all the more surprising given Toyota’s pioneering success with battery-powered vehicles like the Prius. After several years of exhaustive research, the car giant seems to have concluded that battery powered vehicles will ultimately be labeled a historical dead end and have set their sights on vehicles powered by fuel cells. The reasoning behind Toyota’s startling reversal regarding batteries is worth careful scrutiny (especially if you’re in the market for a Tesla or other electric vehicle).

The insurmountable problem with battery powered vehicles as Toyota sees it is the issue of the time it takes to recharge. Even with Tesla’s much hyped “superchargers,” the time it takes to recharge an electric vehicle is nowhere near in the vicinity of what it takes to gas up a normal car. Toyota did the math and concluded that drivers won’t be satisfied waiting around 40 minutes for their electric vehicle to recharge. With the current technology, faster charging introduces massive inefficiencies that obviate the technological advantages of an electric vehicle.

Sensing a dead end, Toyota has bet their war chest on a new fuel cell powered vehicle called the Mirai. Unlike the Tesla, the Mirai can be fully refueled in as little as five minutes, bringing it in line with the amount of time consumers are accustomed to spending at the pump.

Media team swarming around the fuel cell powered Mirai.

Belying those that believe the Mirai might be some kind of one off that’s quickly abandoned, reports have surfaced that Lexus will also launch a fuel-cell-powered LS Sedan in the coming year. Mark Templin, executive vice president of Lexus International, has spoken bullishly about the advantages of fuel cells over other electric vehicles, citing design inefficiencies intrinsic to plugin hybrids. “Unfortunately, when you build a plug-in hybrid you add weight to the vehicle, and you make it less fuel-efficient,” said Templin in an interview with Green Car Reports. While he wouldn’t go on record regarding the potential for a Lexus-made fuel cell sedan, he intimated that this would be his drivetrain of choice in the future.

Besides from plateauing battery efficiencies, the second force agitating in favor of fuel cells is stricter pollution laws — specifically recent legislation requiring coal power plants to adopt more stringent emission standards. While coal power plants and fuel cells may seem like unlikely bedfellows, this is exactly what seems to be on the cards, thanks to a joint project being undertaken by the United States Department of Energy and FuelCell Energy Inc. Together they are developing an innovative carbon capture technology which will sequester CO2 and nitrogen dioxide from coal burning power plants and use it to power an attached 2-megawatt fuel cell. The model they are currently working with is designed to capture about 60 tons of CO2 per day.

While the concept of using fuel cells to capture carbon emissions has been around since the 1990s, only in the last decade has the cost of the enabling technology declined enough to make it a viable commercial solution. The higher costs owe in large part to the unique nature of the fuel cells in question, which are called molten carbonate fuel cells and rely on CO2 to operate. This is obviously a more complicated and expensive type of fuel cell than you might find powering your MacBook someday soon.

The third technological shift creating a rising tide for fuel cells is the invention of novel means for affordably creating their component fuels. While the beauty of fuel cells has always been their efficiency and lack of emissions, they have one major drawback – the gases that power them are expensive to supply, and often require inputs from more traditional power sources like natural gas. Hydrogen for instance, the principle component used to power most fuel cells, is contained in water. But in order to separate it from oxygen in a process called electrolysis, more traditional energy sources are often used, thus canceling out much of environmental and efficiency benefits to be gained from a fuel cell.


Recently, however, there have been some promising developments in the creation of new mechanisms for generating hydrogen for fuel cells without resorting to natural gas. For instance, researchers at Rice University in Houston, Texas have devised a relatively simple, low cost way to separate hydrogen from oxygen using sunlight. At the heart of their innovation is a three-layer material made of aluminum, nickel oxide, and gold. Sunlight striking the material gets converted by the gold nanoparticles into high energy “hot” electrons. These “hot electrons” are sequestered on the top layer of the material and used to generate a photocurrent sufficient for splitting water, and siphoning off the resulting hydrogen gas. This hydrogen can then be used to power fuel cells.

If the above system proves commercially viable and able to scale, it could be a game changer for fuel cells, propelling them from a niche industry into the world’s most sensible power source.


Why human genome editing research is essential

September 20, 2015


Research involving editing the human genome, including research with human embryos, is essential to gain basic understanding of biology and germ cells and should be permitted, according to one of the first global meetings to debate the controversial new techniques.

The bold statement was published today (Thursday, Sept. 10) by the Hinxton Group, a global network of stem cell researchers, bioethicists, and experts on policy and scientific publishing, who met in Manchester, England, September 3–4.

Not ready for clinical applications

“We believe that while this technology has tremendous value to basic research and enormous potential for somatic clinical uses, it is not sufficiently developed to consider human genome editing for clinical reproductive purposes at this time,” the consensus statement reads.

Discussions at the meeting included the most contentious aspects of these new technologies — the implications for any children born with engineered genetic modifications, and also successive generations who would inherit those genetic changes, according to Debra Mathews, a member of the Hinxton Group steering committee.

“While there is controversy and deep moral disagreement about human germline genetic modification, what is needed is not to stop all discussion, debate and research, but rather to engage with the public, policymakers and the broader scientific community, and to weigh together the potential benefits and harms of human genome editing for research and human health,” says Mathews, the Assistant Director for Science Programs at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.

The consensus statement addresses these ethical concerns, with the group agreeing that, “given all safety, efficacy and governance needs are met, there may be morally acceptable uses of this technology in human reproduction, though further substantial discussion and debate will be required.”

Basic research with human embryos

In the meantime, knowledge gained through basic science research is essential to human understanding of both ourselves and other life, the group says. “Much of our knowledge of early development comes from studies of mouse embryos, yet it is becoming clear that gene activity and even some cell types are very different in human embryos.”

Genome editing techniques could be used to ask how cell types are specified in the early embryo and the nature and importance of the genes involved,” says Robin Lovell-Badge, a member of the Hinxton Group steering committee and Group Leader, and head of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics, The Francis Crick Institute.

The statement emphasizes the importance of “meaningful and substantial public engagement” to decision-making about genome editing, stating that policy restraints on science should have justification that “that reaches beyond disagreements based solely on divergent moral convictions.”

“The relevant regulatory distinction should be not between using genome editing in somatic cells and using it in embryos, but between research and reproduction: whether those embryos are ever destined to be implanted, says Sarah Chan, another steering committee member and a Chancellor’s Fellow at the Usher Institute for Population Health Sciences and Informatics, University of Edinburgh.

“Restricting research because of concerns that reproductive application is premature and dangerous will ensure that it remains forever premature and dangerous, for want of better knowledge,” Chan says.

Good Morning 2029! A World I Don’t Recognize

September 8, 2015


The thing I love most about technology is that its progress is oftentimes plotted along an exponential curve.  As time moves forward the rate of progress increases by an ever expanding amount. Moore’s law is the most well known example of exponential growth within an industry. Moore’s law states that the number of transistors which can fit onto an integrated circuit will double approximately every 24 months. The crazy thing is that Moore’s law is beginning to carry over to pretty much every industry out there that relies on computational power. As computers became exponentially more capable, so do the technologies which use computers as a central brain.

Over the next 14 years, we will see numerous technologies converge, with the brains behind them all quickening their progression, meaning that the amount of technological change we will see by 2029 will likely surpass that of the change we have seen from 1974 to present. I thought it would be fun to take a guess at just how different our lives will be in a mere 14 years from now. Much of my prediction is based on substantially more powerful computer processing power, as well as the maturing of 3D printing as a major technology.  Although what’s written below is merely a guess, much of it is based on technologies which we know will eventually exist, or are in the early stages of development.

May 12th 2029

Today I woke up thanks to my new Apple Watch 9 health companion. The device determined that I was just ending a 90 minute sleep cycle, so it gently vibrated my wrist to wake me up. Boy do I feel energized after just 5 hours of sleep! From bed I quickly ran downstairs to 3D print my waffles which were infused with maple syrup, thanks to my new all-in-one Foodini 12 Food printer. The printer uses fresh ingredients to print me all three meals each day if I ask it to. It downloads recipes from the cloud and suggests meals I’d like based on my past reviews. My waffles took approximately 20 minutes to make, and were superb!

I was running a bit late for work because I decided to take part in a new virtual reality game called Home Run Derby 2029, in which I competed with my brother, 3000 miles away. I lost, but only by one homerun. I have to work on my swing a little more I guess when I get home tonight. I wasn’t too concerned with being 10 minutes behind in my morning routine, despite the fact that I still had to finish project for work before I arrived. I simply ordered an express business class vehicle from Google Cars from my Apple Watch, and within three minutes it was in my driveway. The vehicle was more like a traveling office, no steering wheel, or pedals, just an emergency button, and a whole suite of office supplies, including a 3D printer. I knew the drive to work would be a quick one since I had ordered the express vehicle this morning. Instead of a 45 minute drive it would take me just under 35 minutes. Thanks to the interconnected network that Google had set up, we are able to bypass any traffic via express lanes which will be communicated from the central processing hub. Thirty-five minutes just happened to be enough time for me to 3D c1print out the six models I needed done for an important meeting this morning with a trade partner.

When I arrived at work we were slammed, but I was prepared. I work for a robotics firm. We are currently in the process of manufacturing our new line of personal assistant robots. This product is called Robot Assistant Version 21. Almost every 5-6 months we come out with a newer, more versatile, better designed model. Unlike 10-15 years ago, it doesn’t take months to create new molds for our latest parts. We use a rapid manufacturing system provided to us by 3D Systems. We can print out new products with a few clicks of a button, at speeds which surpass injection molding techniques, and do it all on a massive scale.

After a long day of work, another vehicle picks me up. This time I ordered an entertainment package. For the next 45 minutes I wander though the dessert fighting off tribal enemies, in a virtual reality experience which is quite amazing. When I arrive home I quickly print myself a hamburger.  Although bioprinters are now available to print out meat that’s not from an actual cow, I used a beef insert that I took out of my fridge for this burger. Bioprinters are still way too expensive for household use.  It will likely be another five years or so before we can have such machines in our homes.

For the remainder of the evening I work on a project I have been spending a lot of time on. I am reconstructing a 1957 Chevy, piece by piece, with my carbon fiber based 3D printer. I’m halfway done the body. Once complete I will outsource some of the more intricate parts, such as the drive shaft, engine, and glass to Staples, who will print me out everything I need. It’s not cheap, but I love cars, and this is something I have always wanted to do. After working for a few hours I finally decide to turn in for the night, excited to see what awesome new technology tomorrow will give me an opportunity to discover.


This guy is running for president with the goal of using science to cure death and aging

September 7, 2015


Taxes, climate change, the wage gap. These are just a few of the issues that both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are expected to tackle during their campaigns.

But presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan has another policy issue at the top of his list: death.

Istvan is the founder of the Transhumanist Party, a political party focused on using science and technology to solve most of the world’s problems. With his campaign, Istvan seeks to make longevity research just as big of an issue as social security or immigration.

For Istvan, aging and death are the biggest plague of our time. And technology is the cure.

“A big part of my own campaign is that aging is actually a disease and not something natural,” Istvan told Tech Insider. “In the 21st century to not be using science and technology for everyone’s direct health and longevity is something that should not be allowed anymore.”

Unfortunately, the government doesn’t see it this way and is investing very little in longevity research, Istvan said.

So the 42-year-old is setting out across the country next month to campaign on the platform of using technology to live forever. But his bus tour will be a bit more flashy than the rest.

Istvan — along with some embedded journalists, scientists, and other transhumanists — will be touring the nation in a converted RV disguised as a coffin — a reminder that the Grim Reaper is coming unless we take action to stop it.

“We have a real chance of stopping death”

Istvan and his supporters will kick off their tour in the so-called “Immortality Bus” on the west coast, stopping in cities across the nation sounding the alarm that there are not enough resources currently being invested in fighting death.

Istvan, like other transhumanists, said he believes that merging technology with human biology can radically extend life. For example, using bionic organs as transplants when our natural organs fail. But this kind of life extension technology will only become possible when people demand that more money be spent on longevity research.

“I think people have just been conditioned to believe that this is just a natural part of existence, that that’s the program,” Istvan said. “And so our job is to uncondition that. To tell them actually it was the program until we reached the 21st century and now all of a sudden we realize that with genetics and bionics and robotics that we have a real chance of stopping death and treating it as something much more similar to a disease than some natural phenomenon.”

For the fiscal year of 2015, Congress allocated about $609.3 billion or 16% of all federal spending to the military. Total federal funds invested in the sciences was just $29.81 billion, or .78% of the same lot. And just a tiny fraction of that, if any, is being spent directly on things that qualify as longevity research, he said.

“We are not spending any of the money directly that could make us live considerably longer. For example, robotic hearts or 3D printed organs,” he said. “There are things we can do out there if we just had the money if the scientists just had the resources, that they could tackle.”

Zoltan Istvan Immortality Bus bacground croppedRachel LynThe final design of the “Immortality Bus.”

Istvan said that with an investment of $1 trillion in longevity research, the aging process could be stopped in just a decade. And in 20 years, researchers could even be capable of reversing the process, he said.

The “Transhumanist Bill of Rights”

Eventually, Istvan’s bus party will make its way to the nation’s capital to deliver a bill that requires the government support a longer lifespan via science and technology.

“We are going to end in DC, walk up the steps of the US capitol building and deliver what we consider a Transhumanist Bill of Rights,” he said. “There needs to be some type of mandate that says it’s illegal to stop or not put forth resources into this type of science, because by not putting money and resources into this type of science you are effectively shortening people’s’ lives.”

For example, when George W. Bush vetoed bills related to spending federal funds on stem cell research during his presidency, transhumanists would consider that a crime, Istvan said.

While Istvan acknowledges that he doesn’t have any real chance of winning, he said he does hope that his audacious campaign gets a conversation started among other candidates about the future of technology in our country.

“When you are a third-party candidate, half of what you do is entertainment to be honest because you are actually trying to spread a message knowing you have very little chance of winning,” he said. “I know it’s probably going to fall on quite deaf ears, but we are going to deliver it nonetheless.”


6 billionaires who want to live forever

September 7, 2015


A growing number of tech moguls are trying to solve their biggest problem yet: aging.

From reprogramming DNA to printing organs, some of Silicon Valley’s most successful and wealthy leaders are investing in biomedical research and new technologies with hopes of discovering the secret to living longer.

And their investments are beginning to move the needle, said Zoltan Istvan, a futurist and transhumanist presidential candidate.

“I think a lot of the most important work in longevity is coming from a handful of the billionaires,” Istvan told Tech Insider. “There are approximately six or seven billionaires that are very interested in life extension, and they are putting in $40 [million], $50 [million], $100 million out there every year or every few years into this stuff. It makes a big difference when you have these legendary figures saying, ‘Hey, we can do this.'”

Here are some of those billionaires investing in antiaging and longevity research and development:

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel

Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Peter Thiel, the billionaire cofounder of PayPal, is known for his early investment in Facebook, but now he is betting big on biotech. Thiel said he believes antiaging medicine is “structurally unexplored,” according to a report from MIT Technology Review.

“The way people deal with aging is a combination of acceptance and denial,” he told Technology Review in March. “They accept there is nothing they can do about it, and deny it’s going to happen to them.”

Thiel takes hormone growth daily and is planning to participate in cryonic freezing after his death, according to the Technology Review report.

The 47-year-old isn’t accepting or denying it, though. He has invested heavily to try to fight death for the last several years. Back in 2006, he pledged $3.5 million to the Methuselah Foundation, a nonprofit group working on life extension by advancing tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Thiel has also heavily invested in biotech companies. Most of his investments in the space are made via his Thiel Foundation. But at least five investments — including the DNA laser-printing company Cambrian Genomics and cancer-drug developer Stemcentrx — via his venture capital firm Founder Fund.

He has also invested $17 million sine 2011 in Counsyl, a company that offers DNA screening.

Larry Ellison

Larry Ellison

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

The founder of Oracle has said he wishes to live forever and is an avid financial supporter into antiaging research.

The Ellison Medical Foundation, which, according to its website “supports basic biomedical research on aging relevant to understanding lifespan development processes and age-related diseases and disabilities,” has donated about $430 million in grants to medical researchers since 1997, about 80% of which has been focused on antiaging developments.

“Death has never made any sense to me. How can a person be there and then just vanish, just not be there?” Ellison told his biographer Mike Wilson in 2003.

Larry Page

Larry Page

Justin Sullivan/Getty

The cofounder of Google and CEO of Alphabet also founded Calico in 2013. Calico, short for “California Life Company,” focuses on antiaging research. In 2014, the company announced it had an investment of $750 million from Google.

Since its launch, Calico has also entered into several partnerships with different organizations to help it cure aging.

Most recently, Calico announced in April that it was teaming up with the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, one of the largest independent, antiaging research organizations.

In 2013, the group garnered some attention for using genetic mutations to increase the lifespan of earthworms to the human equivalent of 400 to 500 years.

Sergey Brin

Sergey Brin

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google, has also made big investments in antiaging technology.

The 41-year-old has taken a particular interest in curing Parkinson’s disease. Brin disclosed in 2008 that he carried a gene that puts him at higher risk of developing the disease. He has donated more than $150 million to find a cure for the disease.

For Brin, big data could hold the key to better understanding DNA and preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.

Brin, now president of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, also pushed for medical research while he headed up Google X, the company’s semisecret moonshot lab.

One of the division borne out of that lab was the Life Science team, which focused on developing things like a glucose-detecting contact lens.

In August, Brin announced that the Life Sciences team would now be its own company under Alphabet and continue to work on “new technologies from early stage R&D to clinical testing — and, hopefully — transform the way we detect, prevent, and manage disease.”

Last year, Andrew Conrad, head of the new Life Sciences division, said that the team was also working on a treatment that would embed nanoparticles in your bloodstream to detect for diseases like cancer.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg

In June, during a frank Facebook Q&A, Stephen Hawking asked Mark Zuckerberg what big questions in science he’d like to know the answer to and why.

“I’m most interested in questions about people. What will enable us to live forever? How do we cure all diseases? How does the brain work? How does learning work and how we can empower humans to learn a million times more?” Zuckerberg replied.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, along with Brin and his ex-wife Anne Wojcicki, are also founders of the Breakthrough Prize, which awards $3 million to scientists who discover new ways to extend human life.

Sean Parker

Sean Parker


For Sean Parker, cofounder of Napster and first president of Facebook, investing in technologies that can extend life is personal.

According to a report from The Washington Post, Parker suffers from life-threatening food allergies and has relatives that suffer from autoimmune disorders.

The 34-year-old billionaire has donated millions to searching for a cure for allergies and for cancer research, according to the report.


‘Heart in a box’ keeps beating until transplanted

September 7, 2015


A device that reanimates organs taken from dead patients has shown promise in heart transplant surgeries, though it’s raising some ethical concerns, as well. As MIT Technology Review reports, the so-called “heart in a box” uses tubing and oxygen to pump blood and electrolytes into hearts from recently deceased patients, allowing the organs to continue functioning within a chamber. The system, developed by Massachusetts-based Transmedics, has been successfully deployed in at least 15 heart transplants in the UK and Australia, and is awaiting regulatory approval in the US.

Until now, hearts used for transplants have usually been extracted from brain-dead patients; those from dead patients have been considered too damaged. Once removed, the hearts are also stored and transported in cold temperatures to avoid rapid deterioration, though scientists have begun using devices like the heart in a box to keep the organs warm and functioning. That, doctors say, could increase the pool of donated hearts by between 15 and 30 percent.

“The question is whether they are being harmed, and I would say they are not.”

Some say the $250,000 device is still too expensive to be deployed widely, and that it needs greater automation. For medical ethicists, the question is how long surgeons should wait before removing a heart that has stopped. “How can you say it’s irreversible, when the circulatory function is restored in a different body?” Robert Truog, an ethicist at Harvard University, tells MIT Technology Review. “We tend to overlook that because we want to transplant these organs.” Truog says he believes those patients can be considered dead, though it’s ultimately a decision for family members to make. “They are dying and it’s permissible to use their organs. The question is whether they are being harmed, and I would say they are not.”