Will Google Cure Death?

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Put aside philosophy and think in biological terms – the purpose of life is to reproduce. Every species exists only to further its kind. Since every organism must eventually die, there’s got to be some way of preserving the species. That’s the core process of reproduction. But why not have a single organism live forever instead? Ever stopped to think how different things would be if Death didn’t exist? Imagine immortal individuals. While it sounds awesome, it isn’t a very prudent idea in terms of biology. An individual may not naturally die, but it could be killed, or fall prey to disease. It may not adapt to multiple environments. Reproduction therefore, is a better move for nature, over immortality.

But over billions of years of evolution – we as a species have mastered science to the point where we can begin approaching a ‘fix’ to ageing. A prospect or an idea that delights and terrifies in equal measure. Scientists have been trying to unearth the mystery of life and death but how much they have discovered is still unknown and a well-kept secret.

Till a few years ago, immortality was nothing but a myth but as our rate of technological expansion grows exponentially, almost everything is possible. We have now indulged in cloning, sent people to the moon, intend to send people to Mars and have even managed to find the God particle that lets us understand the Universe is an immensely better way. So how is immortality?

A team of scientists led by Dmitri Itskov, claim that, by 2045, humans can live forever with the assistance of machines. They have drawn up a plan that involves creating an entirely new human body called an Avatar with all new body parts will complete the procedure by transplanting the brain so the old thoughts and memories of the person remain with them. This way, they aim to make a human live forever. That, or they would try and prolong their life considerably.

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To try and bring this mission to life, Google Ventures has stepped in. Mr. Bill Maris, CEO, believes that with the right team and drive, Immortality is highly plausible. After all the technicalities were debated, Project Calico was born. The brainchild aimed solely at “curing death,” a ridiculous way to describe it in my opinion, as if death is a disease. The team comprises scientists from various fields such as Medicine, Drug Development, Molecular Biology and Genetics. All the opinionated psychobabble aside, coming back to the facts, Google has tied up with Chicago based pharmaceutical giant, AbbVie. The equipment Project Calico uses is sourced from the University of California, San Francisco(UCSF), who have also come on board as partners.

Some of the other interested parties are Broad Institute, QB3 (another UCSF annex) and also Arthur D. Levinson, former CEO of Genetech and current Apple Chairman. Quite an impressive set of people. The team does have solid credentials. But to what extent will they succeed? Will it only be five to ten more years of  a healthier life or defying death forever? Furthering human lifespan is one thing. Eliminating death is another. One can only wait to find out.

Moving on to the financials and feasibility of the experiment – Calico’s dream will be anything but affordable. One of the giveaways of the high costs of this venture was the content of the open letter penned by Mr. Itskov to the Forbes Billionaires List. I mean, sure, it could be aimed at them because they are also some of the most influential people in the world but there is a whole other list solely dedicated to the influential so why not address it to them? It’s not rocket science to guess the reason behind the choice of lists. Not that there’s anything wrong with the motive, but it is indicative of its prohibitively high cost.

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The venture could take anywhere between 10 to 25 years to even remotely materialise and there is no guarantee of its success. The team would have to run tens of thousands of experiments and would even require to run Human Trials which could prove to be extremely dangerous should they take a turn for the worse. Although, there are other ways to preserve a body forever; Cryogenic Preservation is one such method. It involves freezing the body in a nitrogen chamber at sub-zero temperatures for years. This method will prove to be very useful in cases of people with life-threatening diseases who want to hold out till a cure has been found. Even so, It is anything but cheap. Alcor Life Extension Foundation, who deal in this business – have quoted the price at a whopping $70,000. Although Cryonics can delay death, I personally don’t think that it screams Immortality because what good is Immortality if the individual is going to spend a chunk of their life frozen?

Personally, I think Calico does look like it is headed for success because of the powerful hybrid of the right minds and the financial backing to push it in the right direction. It does look like a logical step ahead in our path to conquering science. But nevertheless, another eventuality that the Calico team should take into consideration and be prepared for, is the failure of the mission. As successful as it might prove to be, such a huge project will also lead to very grave consequences incase it fails. While exploiting the laws of physics has brought about immense advancement, tinkering with nature has never really worked out. There’s global warming, there’s missing food chains, there’s ecological damage – Nature doesn’t take very kindly to our attempts to interfere.

Therefore, the team will do well to prepare themselves in advance for any unforeseen circumstances and to understand every facet of this new concept that they are trying to adopt. Venturing into uncharted territory with little to no knowledge might not be the wisest decision but yes, immortality is highly plausible and one can only hope that it does not end up as a pipe dream.

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