Google built a hundred-billion dollar behemoth by giving us answers to all of our questions. Now, they may be able to give us an answer to the most worrisome question of all: When will I die?
Predicting the Inevitable
In some way or another we’ve all learned from the deceased. Whether it’s the family stories passed down about your ambitious grandmother. Or the wisdom found in a passing quote. Part of our duty as human beings is to learn from those that came before.
And that includes Google as well, who is learning from the deceased. Not how to live a better life. But rather the patterns that lead up to death.
Essentially, they’re training an algorithm that can predict a patient’s length of stay, time of discharge, and maybe even their time of death. For it to be accurate, the algorithm requires thousands of electronic health records including patient demographics, provider orders, diagnoses, procedures, medications, laboratory values, vital signs, and flowsheet data.
Ideally, understanding the patterns of how people’s bodies may react under similar circumstances could be the “saving grace” for the nearly 750,000 people
(in America) who die in hospitals every year.
This algorithm could help hospitals better allocate resources to those that may be on the verge of critical needs and preparing staff for problems before they occur.
The fact that Google is spearheading this technology is definitely cause for concern. We’re already aware of the insane power they yield. Predicting lifespan would bring their company to oracular proportions.
This makes me think of the manga series, Death Note
, which follows a teen who stumbles upon a notebook with unprecedented power – write any name in the notebook and that person will die. While at first he’s driven by the desire to rid the world of all evil. Eventually, the death gods (Shinigami) offer a proposition – in exchange for half of his life, the Shinigami give him their eyes which can identify the name and remaining lifespan of anyone he looks at.
This is the same corruptive power that Google could potentially weild and that is quite worrisome.
Imagine how their services would change if they knew when anyone using their search engine was going to die. Would they hint at your demise and try to change your behaviors? What types of services would they try to sell us?
I think the majority of us wouldn’t have any interest in knowing the exact day or year of our death (if it were possible). However, if there were a way to procrastinate our deaths, I’m sure the response would be a little different.
Ever since Juan Ponce de Leon navigated the tropical Florida waters, a myth arose about a mystical Fountain of Youth. A place where wrinkles vanished and people lived in their youthful glory for eternity.
While the Fountain of Youth has inspired storytellers for centuries, it is actually the scientists of today that are gaining inspiration from this tale.
Aubrey de Grey is one of these men who believe that there’s a cure for aging. Based on his theories that cells encounter seven types of aging damage
(mutations, junk, etc…), he believes the science already exists to create anti-aging medicine – ideally making 90 the new 50 in the next decade. That’s why he co-founded the SENS Research Foundation and Methuselah Foundation to bring great minds (and great wealth) to the field of tissue engineering
and regenerative medicine
Then there’s the billionaire fashion mogul, Peter Nygard, who’s been injecting
himself with stem cells for years – claiming that his team of scientists are reversing the aging process (many critics are skeptical).
Stem cells are undoubtedly a possible form of rejuvenation. They are unique in that they are undifferentiated; they can become anything, like a blank canvas. So the possibility of using them to regenerate damaged tissues, nerves, etc… is an optimistic dream.
Taking a different approach to immortality is Eternime
– a company that will create a digital replica of you (from your social media and text messages) after you’ve passed away so that your family can interact with a chatbot that talks just like you. Although this form of digital immortality
does nothing to prevent death. It does prolong the memories made on Earth, which are valuable in another way.
Then again, if we can’t find the keys to immortality today, there’s always Cryonics (Cryogenics), which is the process of preserving body and mind in freezing temperatures to be revived at a later date.
In the movie Vanilla Sky, for example, David Aames is in a near-fatal car accident that disfigures his face, leaving the bachelor in absolute despair. Facial reconstruction surgery cannot fix his face, so he decides to be cryogenically frozen until the surgery is advanced. Things are great until his subconscious begins fighting with him, confusion of reality and the lucid dream state sets in, and the psychological thriller unfolds.
Personally, I find Cryonics a bit comical because it exists on the notion that in the future, once science has found cures for aging and other diseases, someone you’ve never met will bring you back from your frozen state. This means that Cryonics companies today are literally getting rich on Hope.
Although there seem to be a few different strategies for attaining life extension goals. They are all united in common belief: death and aging are just another problem to solve.
Aubrey de Grey coined the term “pro-aging trance”, which is the impulsion to leap to embarrassingly unjustified conclusions in order to put the horror of aging out of one's mind. In other words, it’s the common belief that aging is just a part of life and there’s nothing we could nor should do about it.
De Grey and other proponents believe that the pro-aging trance is the largest barrier to life extension progress, considering it’s a wide-held cultural belief. Nonetheless, it’s not stopping them from continuing research and pushing the envelope.
While at the moment, early anti-aging methods may be reserved for lab rats and eccentric billionaires. There will come a time when the public is given the opportunity to postpone the physical and cognitive deterioration we’ve come to accept as part of growing old.
In fact, I believe that in 25 years, just one generation from now, scientists will have conquered aging – giving us the chance to extend our lives by decades.
Follow Your Bliss
I’ve said it before when covering technological immortality. I don’t know which I fear more: Dying before I’ve accomplished all my dreams or living past the point of enjoying life.
For that reason, it’s best to take every day as it comes – treat it as a gift and follow your bliss.
If a day goes by where you aren’t working toward something that brings you joy, then it’s time to change your course.
If scientists conquer aging, then one day we may say, “Life is too long.”
But for now, life is too short to not spend each day following your bliss.