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Bryan Cranston
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Liv Boeree
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Amaryllis Fox
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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Wimpy Cars and Other Implications of Immortality

Question: Will extended life spans make people avoid risky jobs and activities?

Aubrey de Grey: I think there’s going to be a great deal of change in society with regard to priorities and with regard to attitudes to risk when we enter a post aging world and even when we enter a phase before that where a post aging world is widely anticipated. What’s gonna I happen, I think, is that some people are simply going to avoid doing risky things. You know it’s gonna be pretty hard to recruit people into the armed forces for example, and that’s in a lot of people’s eyes rather a good thing. However, it’s also going to be important to have people do risky things, and the way I think we’re going to address that problem is by making those things less risky by throwing more money at the problem sort to speak, more effort at the problem. A fine example actually probably bigger than the ones you just mentioned is infectious diseases. A lot of infectious diseases of course are dangerous to young adults; same as for anybody else, and therefore, they’ll be dangerous for chronologically old but biologically young adults, and you know we just don’t spend enough money on developing vaccines against infectious diseases. And the reason we don’t is really stupid; it’s just that vaccines are very profitable you know, and the only reason that’s enough reason not to work on them is because we don’t really care very much about the risk of death through infectious diseases in the developed world, and the reason we don’t care very much is because a very small minority of people actually die of them compared to number of people who die of aging. When death from aging is taken out of the equation of courses that’s no longer true, and I feel that we will rather rapidly ramp our efforts to ensure that we don’t die of infectious diseases either, and the same applies to risky jobs; same applies to road accidents. I think we’ll be driving much, much safer cars that have lots of features that ensure safety even in the context of severe human error; you know lots of things like that.

Question: Will those in an ageless society have a moral responsibility to keep living?

Aubrey de Grey: Well, I don’t think people have moral responsibility to continue living, but I do think that it’s natural for us to view suicide the way that we view it today. When a young adult feels that life is no longer worth living and they wanted to commit suicide, we think they have a problem; we think that it’s appropriate to help them. We’re very pleased that organizations like The Samaritans exist. Now I think that, that applies to people of any age who are healthy. At the moment, it’s reasonable that people as they’re getting older and sicker and generally more incapable, they can begin to effectively lose the will to live, and it’s reasonably appropriate that we should effectively let them do that because there’s nothing more we can do. It’s sort of part of palliative care in a way, but if we have the technology to keep people as healthy as they were in young adulthood and yet they still lose the will to will to live, then I think it would be appropriate for us to regard as psychological problem just as we do for people who are chronologically young adults today and to help them to see what options and opportunities life still has to offer them.

Question: What would be the impact of human immortality on religion?

Aubrey de Grey: Well, of course, the impact of so-called immortality on religion depends on whether you use the word immortality. And I have a lot of problems with the use of the word immortality to describe what I do because it’s taken by religion. Immortality means inability to die; it means inability to actually be killed by anything, and I don’t work on that. I work on stopping people from getting sick. I do not work on stopping people from being hit by trucks. So the question then comes what is the impact of postponing aging on religion, and there I think it’s very clear that the postponement of aging is not merely compatible with scripture it’s actually mandated by scripture because the fact is aging causes a hell of a lot of suffering. And scripture is very clear that suffering is something that it’s good to try to combat and bad not to try to combat, so you know we have a duty, a religious duty as well as moral duty to actually develop these therapies. People are still gonna die. If God wants you dead, he can hit you with a thunder bolt however healthy you are, so there’s no impact on distorting God’s will or anything. There’s no impact on like doing things that are unnatural. The fact is it’s unnatural for the human race not to try to improve their environment. If it was it’s unnatural to try to defeat aging, then it must be unnatural to invented fire and the wheel and all and vaccines and so on, and nobody seems to think that, that was a sin.

Recorded on:  October 2, 2009

Anti-aging expert Aubrey de Grey speculates about how an ageless society would operate differently than the world does today; expect changes in preferred careers and religion, but don’t expect a new outlook on suicide.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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