Picking horses (was Re: Why are we allowed to age?)

I William Wiser (wwiser@best.com)
Thu, 12 Jun 1997 10:17:03 -0700

Eric wrote:
[Lots of great stuff which I mostly agree with and then ...]

>Until we have ruled out the possibility of molecular nanotechnology
>(and we haven't even gotten close to ruling out that possibility
>yet), it seems to me developing this technology would offer the
>shortest path to being able to do the extremely gnarly gene therapy
>we're going to need to remove or suppress the junk in our genomes
>that kills us.

Nanotech is a great concept and a fine thing to work on but
I don't think it is the shortest path to dealing with the problem
of aging. Nanotech is similar to computers, in that
you will have many different generations of the technology. I
think machine intelligence and nanotechnology are the essence
of where we are going but I can see simpler routes to some of
the basic problems with our bodies.

Using nanotech to stop aging is still going to require an
understanding of the body. The various nano devices will have
to be designed. It may be possible to redesign much of the body
from scratch but the brain will require greater faithfulness
to the original.

I know it sounds like a kludge but I think in the short term
preserving and augmenting the brain by a combination of understanding
(neuronal processes and neuronal aging), pharmacy, gene therapy,
and partial replacement with computer circuits will buy time until
complete brain replacement is possible. Some simple nanotech could
help a lot here but I don't think it is required.

One nice sideline of the neuro approach is the likelihood of
stumbling onto ways to augment human intelligence. Personally
I'd just as soon stay smarter than the computers until I am at
least part computer myself. I don't think its terribly
important but I appeals to me.

>This year it looks like software development is one
>route toward molecular nanotechnology that might help, so I'm
>working on acquiring skills in that area, and I'm also trying to
>bone up on some of the chemistry I've already studied and some of
>the engineering I've never studied before.

Up until about a year ago I thought working on molecular
modeling software while trying to use as much machine
intelligence as possible and paying a lot of attention to protein
chemistry and neurochemistry was the prefect start. From
there one is positioned to go in a lot of directions and is
unlikely to be poor in the mean time.

Now I feel the main thing to be done is to understand the aging
brain, figure out how to keep it alive, and improve it's functioning.
This is a more conservative approach. I see this as the number
one problem we face and until I really understand what is the
minimum requirement to solve the problem of brain aging I am not
willing to assume it will be easy or hard and I am not willing to
skip ahead.

For me all of this is just conceptual for a while. My own
current idea is to do as much as I can to take advantage of the
technologies, skills, etc. currently available to keep me alive
and functioning at my best, and to help others do the same.
I think this makes sense for anyone who has not already done it
because I don't know how long the big stuff will take, because
it is comparatively easy (it lets me do something I can make
progress at in a time frame my mind can grasp), and it will help
me be more capable of progress on the big stuff when I get there.

Of course even the simple stuff isn't that simple. How do I know
which supplements make sense without some aging theory? What are
my favorite ways to gain lots of additional benefits from my work
while making a comfortable living? Which things present meaningful
short term risks and which are not significant enough to bother
with. Etc. The long term guesses do help some.

Anyway Eric, your strategy seems fine to me; it is hard to go wrong
with computation or chemistry paired with a keen mind. I would love
to hear more about why you think nanotechnology is the shortest path