Not satisfied with the trappings of life that $2.2 billion affords, PayPal founder, Peter Thiel, seeks to defy death in the quest for immortality. Since the selling of his co-founded payment system, PayPal, to eBay in 2004, Thiel has invested literally millions in science and technology that will help humans live longer. He has a lot of company in Silicon Valley with other billionaires from companies like Google and Oracle who all want to solve life’s ultimate problem – how to live forever.
Tech Pioneers Shaping the Future
Thiel and his titanic tech peers are championing research that is transforming the international science and biomedical fields. They are using the vast micro-processing power that fueled the development of the internet to better understand the human body – the most complicated machine of all time.
Theil recently invested $3.5 million into the Methuselah Project (named after the oldest recorded man in the Bible). Methuselah director, Aubrey de Gray, explains that their research focuses on drug development to treat seven specific types of age-related cellular damage, mutation and destruction. In that cells are the building blocks of life, prolonging life at the cellular level should theoretically prolong the lifespan of organisms that are created by the complex combinations of those cells. Restoration and rejuvenation at the molecular level will enhance the functionality of the human body and will defer the inevitable cellular destruction that results in body failure and mortality.
Larry Page, one of the founders of Google, has made one of the most aggressive investments in immortality with his California Life Company, an anti-aging research center. He has the algorithmic power of Google at his disposal and has already committed over $750 million to the cause. At Calico, Page’s nickname for his company, scientists from the fields of medicine, pharmacology, molecular biology and genetics are doing research on ways to slow aging and counteract age-related disease. They believe their efforts will not just lengthen life, they want to enhance the quality of life as well. Calico takes an inter-disciplinary approach to their immortality research that harnesses the computing power and genius of Page’s Google.
Larry Ellison, of Oracle Software fame, is another billionaire who is seeking to defy death by exploiting his wealth and power for the interests of immortality. He created the Ellison Foundation, an organization that doles out over $40 million per year in research to find the cure for mortality. In his biography, Ellison touts his belief that death is just another opponent that he can “outfox.” With lengthening life spans due to already-present medical advances, over a billion people will be routinely living past the age of 60 by the year 2025. Improvements in health care and disease prevention will provide great economic benefit to society and greatly enhance the quality of life – regardless of immortality.
Critics Question Ethics of Research
Many scientists question the ethics of this research that is conducted and funded through primarily private investment. They counter that the mega wealthy invest in research that is motivated by their own hubris rather than an overwhelming desire to serve mankind. Immortality has always been the ultimate elusive prize for the man who has everything. From Chinese emperors with poison pills to Popes and blood transfusions, the history of mankind is littered with the litany of failed quests for the fountain of youth or the secret of life. Even in American 19th century folklore, a Kentucky presidential candidate ran on a campaign platform of immortality through prayer and fasting. Abruptly quashing his plan, the man developed pneumonia and died within months of his announcement.
Ethicists like Paul Root Wolpe, the director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University, say that we should prioritize how we treat the elderly over just trying to extend life spans. He says research shows that over 10 percent of American seniors are routinely abused or neglected. Instead of treating the aged like a burden, Wolpe says we should try to learn from them.
Wealthy Patrons Find Personal Motivation
Many of these mega wealthy entrepreneurs find their motivation on a very personal level. Ellison lost his mother to cancer and watched her suffer through the debilitation and slow decay that accompanies the often-vicious disease. Sean Parker, Napster co-founder, has serious food allergies and has family members with autoimmune disorders. He donates millions to find solutions for these issues. Google’s Sergey Brin has a mutated gene that is associated with the development of Parkinson’s Disease. He has understandably donated over $150 million of his sizeable fortune to research in this area. Many of the tech giants, like Brin and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), even married women in medical research fields they met through their fascination and interest in these disciplines.
Regardless of their motivation, the contemporary efforts of Silicon Valley elites will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the quality of human life. These pioneers of other passions, like Thiel of PayPal, might not achieve immortality in their defiance of death, but their efforts and their money may just help put off the inevitable for everyone.
By Chris Marion
Photo by halal – Creativecommons Flickr License