Fantastic Voyage Q&A
What’s the key message?
We make the scientific case that immortality is within our grasp. We explain how to slow down aging and disease processes to such a degree that you can remain in good health until the more radical life-extending and life-enhancing technologies – now in the research and testing pipeline – become available.
What sort of life-extending technology are you referring to?
Fantastic Voyage is a guide for aggressively applying today’s knowledge – we call it Bridge One – to enable you to live long enough to take advantage of the full development of the biotechnology revolution – Bridge Two.
What are some examples of this?
Biotechnology is providing the means to actually change your genes: not just designer babies but designer baby boomers. We’ll also be able to rejuvenate all of your body’s tissues and organs by transforming your skin cells into youthful versions of every other cell type. Already, new drug development is precisely targeting key steps in the process of atherosclerosis (the cause of heart disease), cancerous tumor formation, and the metabolic processes underlying each major disease and aging process. The biotechnology revolution is already in its early stages and will reach its peak in the second decade of this century.
And this will bring radical life extension?
Well, biotech is Bridge Two, which, in turn, will allow you to reap the benefits of the nanotechnology-AI (artificial intelligence) revolution – Bridge Three – which does have the potential to allow you to live indefinitely. With nanotechnology, we can go beyond the limits of biology, and replace your current “human body version 1.0” with a dramatically upgraded version 2.0, providing radical life extension.
And how does that work?
The “killer app” of nanotechnology is “nanobots,” which are blood-cell sized robots that can travel in the blood stream destroying pathogens, removing debris, correcting DNA errors, and reversing aging processes. The nanotechnology revolution will reach its peak in during the 2020s.
Haven’t there been promises in the past along these lines?
Until recently, there was relatively little that could be done about our short life span, other than to rationalize this tragedy as “a good thing.” But that is now changing. We have devised a new program that enables even older baby boomers like ourselves to live long enough to live forever by aggressively reprogramming our biochemistry to forestall aging and disease processes.
Where is this ultimately going to take us?
Within a quarter century, nonbiological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence. It will then soar past it because of the continuing acceleration of information-based technologies, as well as the ability of machines to instantly share their knowledge. Intelligent nanorobots will be deeply integrated in our bodies, our brains, and our environment, providing vastly extended longevity, full-immersion virtual reality incorporating all of the senses (like the “Matrix”), "experience beaming” (like “Being John Malkovich”), and vastly enhanced human intelligence. The result will be an intimate merger between the technology-creating species and the technological evolutionary process it spawned.
Okay, let’s get practical, how do I slow down aging now?
1. The most unique aspect of our program is to supplement aggressively. Our bodies evolved in a different era when short life spans were in the interest of the species, thereby freeing up scarce resources for the young and those caring for them. So we need to reprogram our biochemistry to change the ancient programs in our genes. We provide a detailed guide to which supplements will contribute to your health and slow down aging based on your particular health situation.
2. Eat foods that slow down aging and disease processes. For example, sugars and simple starches increase insulin resistance, a key source of aging, so we recommend a low “glycemic index” diet. Sugar and starch also promote what’s aptly called AGEs (advanced glycation end-products), which are damaging cross links that form between the body’s proteins.
3. Chronic inflammation underlies every step in heart disease, and promotes all major degenerative diseases, but you can reverse inflammation with anti-inflammatory foods. For example, it’s important to emphasize the anti-inflammatory fats found in such foods as fish, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.
4. Each of us is different, so we provide guidance on how to customize your program based on test results, including genomic tests. We also provide guidance on exercise and stress management.
This sounds complicated.
Fantastic Voyage is not a one-trick pony. Many popular health books provide a single key idea. But our bodies are complex, and no one message captures the key to slowing down aging. There are a dozen important aging and diseases processes, and we provide programs to address each one. So we don’t give you menu plans and schedules. Rather, by truly understanding how your body works, you can set your own priorities, and devise your own customized program.
Can we really forestall diseases like heart disease and cancer?
The leading causes of death – heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes – do not appear out of the blue. You don’t catch them walking down the street one day. They are the end result of processes that are decades in the making. We help you understand how longstanding imbalances in the metabolic processes underlying life functions can lead to disease.
Conventional medical care is geared toward dealing with long-term degenerative processes only after they erupt into advanced clinical disease. But by this time it is often too late. It's like approaching a cliff, but walking backward. You need to recognize that you're getting closer to the edge and stop. Once you fall off, it’s difficult to do anything about it. That’s what Fantastic Voyage is all about: to provide the knowledge and the specific steps to take, sooner rather than later, to extend your life, your vitality, and your well-being.
Why are you delivering this message now?
Technical progress progresses exponentially, and we’re just now reaching the rapid part of the curve. Our paradigm shift rate – the rate of technical progress – is doubling every decade. The capability of specific technologies such as genetic sequencing and nanotechnology is doubling even faster: every year. These emerging transformations in technology will usher in powerful new tools to expand your health and human powers. Eventually, the knowledge represented in Fantastic Voyage will be automated within you. Today, however, you have to apply that knowledge yourself.
Give me a surprising idea to slow down aging.
Supplement with phosphatidylcholine (PtC), a fatty substance that is a major component of cell membranes. As you age, the PtC in your cell membranes diminishes dramatically, and is replaced with hard fats and cholesterol. This is one important reason that an elderly person’s skin is less supple, and organs less effective. Supplementing with PtC can stop and even reverse this process.
What’s another one?
The prescription drug metformin can significantly reduce the effects of insulin resistance. One adult in three has what’s called the “metabolic syndrome,” also known as “Syndrome X,” which results in a serious inability to process sugar and refined carbohydrate foods like pasta and bread. Most people who have this are not even aware of it. Moreover, almost all adults develop some level of insulin resistance as they age, which is a major contributor to heart disease, stroke, and other diseases. Metformin combats this aging process. In animal tests, metformin (and an earlier version of this drug called phenformin) extended life spans, and produced similar metabolic changes as caloric restriction, even though the animals were not eating less.
So how have you guys done in the aging department?
Ray: My father’s premature death at age 58 from heart disease and my own diagnosis of type II diabetes at the age of 35 defined my early health concerns. The conventional medical treatment made my diabetes worse and did little to alleviate my concern about a genetic predisposition to heart disease. As an inventor, I studied the literature, devised my own program, overcame my diabetes, and wrote a best-selling health book about the experience. More recently, I have become aware of a more insidious challenge: middle age. Working with Terry over the past five years, we applied the same belief in the power of ideas to the problem of aging.
I take 250 supplements a day and really feel that I’m reprogramming my biochemistry, just like I would reprogram my computers.
I’m 56 chronologically, but my biological age, according to an extensive set of tests, is about 40, not much changed from 16 years ago. In many ways, I’m healthier and younger than I was 20 years ago. I have no indications of diabetes. My glucose, HgA1c (a test of glucose levels over the past 90 days), cholesterol, homocysteine (test of methylation processes), C-reactive protein (test of inflammation levels), and other test levels are all at ideal levels. My overall feeling: so far, so good.
Terry: It is said that among the things you can do to enjoy a long and healthy life, it is best to start by “picking your parents wisely.” I am fortunate that both are alive and well at 80 years of age. They are physically and mentally active and enjoy a varied social and cultural life. So it would appear that I started life with “a leg up” on longevity, thanks to their genes. Things aren’t always so straightforward in medicine, however. My genomic testing revealed that I harbor several harmful genetic tendencies. Although I have enjoyed excellent health so far, I am now at the stage of my life where one’s genetic predispositions have a way of manifesting themselves as “full blown” diseases. But with the genetic information I now possess, I've been able to take specific measures to maintain my health, using the best of the Bridge One ideas we present in Fantastic Voyage. I am very optimistic about what the future Bridge Two and Bridge Three therapies will be able to do for both myself and the rest of humankind.
Isn’t it natural to age?
It may be "natural," but we don’t see anything positive in losing our mental agility, sensory acuity, physical limberness, sexual desire, or any other human ability. We view disease and death at any age as a calamity, as problems to be overcome. Until recently, there was relatively little that could be done about our short life span other than to rationalize this tragedy as a good thing. We now have another option.
Your book promises the end of aging, not just slowing it down. Is that realistic?
We are in the early stages of multiple profound revolutions spawned by the intersection of biology, information science, and nanotechnology. With the decoding of the genome and our efforts to understand its expression in proteins, many new and powerful technologies are emerging. These include rational drug design (drugs designed for very precise missions, with little or no side effects), tissue engineering (regrowing our cells, tissues, and organs), reversal of aging processes, gene therapy (essentially reprogramming our genetic code), nanobots (robots the size of blood cells built from molecules placed in our bodies and bloodstreams to enhance every aspect of our lives), and many others.
Isn’t it a bit of hyperbole to say you can live forever?
Consider the metaphor of maintaining a house. How long does a house last? The answer obviously depends on how well you take care of it. If you do nothing, the roof will spring a leak before long, water and the elements will invade, and eventually the house will disintegrate. But if you proactively take care of the structure, repair all damage, confront all dangers, and rebuild or renovate parts from time to time using new materials and technologies, the life of the house can essentially be extended without limit.
The same holds true for our bodies and brains. The only difference: while we fully understand the methods underlying the maintenance of a house, we do not yet fully understand all of the biological principles of life. But with our rapidly increasing comprehension of the biochemical processes and pathways of biology, we are quickly gaining that knowledge. We are beginning to understand aging, not as a single inexorable progression, but as a group of related biological processes. Strategies are emerging for fully reversing each of these aging progressions, using different combinations of biotechnology techniques. In the meantime, we can slow each aging process to a crawl, using the methods outlined in this book.
Many experts, including the authors, believe that within a decade we will be adding more than a year to human life expectancy every year. At that point, with each passing year, your remaining life expectancy will move further into the future.
Aren’t the designs of nature optimal?
Biological systems are remarkable in their cleverness. In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “Human ingenuity may make various inventions, but it will never devise any inventions more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does; because in her inventions nothing is wanting and nothing is superfluous.” We share da Vinci's sense of awe at the designs of biology, but we do not agree with him on our inability to improve on nature. Da Vinci was not aware of either biotechnology or nanotechnology, and it turns out that nature, for all its apparent creativity, is dramatically suboptimal.
Tell me more about bridge two: biotechnology.
As we are learning about the information processes underlying biology, we are devising ways of mastering them to overcome disease and aging and extend human potential. One powerful approach is to start with biology's information backbone: the genome. With gene technologies, we're now on the verge of being able to control how genes express themselves. We now have a powerful new tool called RNA interference (RNAi), which is capable of turning specific genes off. It blocks the messenger RNA of specific genes preventing them from creating proteins. Since viral diseases, cancer, and many other diseases use gene expression at some crucial point in their life cycle, this promises to be a breakthrough technology. Ultimately, we will actually be able to add new genes by “infecting” our cells with specially designed viruses that insert new genes in our genome in just the right place.
Another important line of attack is to regrow our own cells, tissues, and even whole organs, and introduce them into our bodies without surgery. One major benefit of this “therapeutic cloning” technique is that we will be able to create these new tissues and organs from versions of our cells that have also been made younger – the emerging field of rejuvenation medicine. For example, we will be able to create new heart cells from your skin cells and introduce them into your system through the blood stream. Over time, your heart cells get replaced with these new cells, and the result is a rejuvenated “young” heart with your own DNA.
Drug discovery was once a matter of finding substances that produced some beneficial effect without excessive side effects. This process was similar to early humans’ tool discovery, which was limited to simply finding rocks and natural implements that could be used for helpful purposes. We are learning the precise biochemical pathways that underlie both disease and aging processes, and are able to design drugs to carry out precise missions at the molecular level. The scope and scale of these efforts is vast.
And Bridge Three?
As we peer a couple of decades into the future, nanotechnology will enable us to rebuild and extend our bodies and brains and create virtually any product from mere information and inexpensive raw materials, resulting in remarkable gains in prosperity. We will develop means to vastly expand our physical and mental capabilities by directly interfacing our biological systems with human-created technology.
As one example, the interneuronal connections in our brains compute at only 200 transactions per second, millions of times slower than even today's electronic circuits. Circa late 2020s, billions of nanobots traveling in the capillaries of the brain will interact directly with our biological neurons providing a vast expansion of human intellect. They can also provide full immersion virtual reality from inside the nervous system by shutting down the signals from our “real” senses and replacing them with the signals that are appropriate for a virtual environment.
Another example is our red blood cells. Despite the elegant way our red blood cells carry oxygen in our bloodstream and deliver it to our tissues, it is a very slow and cumbersome system. There’s a design for such robotic red blood cells called “respirocytes” by Rob Freitas, a nanotechnology expert, which are thousands of times more efficient than biological red blood cells. Analyses show that with these respirocytes, you could sit at the bottom your pool for four hours without taking a breath.
There is another Freitas design that will be able to augment your immune system, basically robotic white bloods. It will have the capability to destroy any virus, cancer cell, or other invader hundreds of times faster than our biological immune system. We’ve actually watched our own white blood cells destroy a bacterium through a microscope. Although our white blood cells are clever, they are very slow, the process of killing a germ takes over an hour. The robotic versions will do a more thorough job in seconds. They will be able to download software from the Internet to combat specific types of pathogens. If that sounds particularly futuristic, we’d point out that we already have brain implants, such as the FDA approved neural implant for Parkinson’s Disease, that can download new software from outside the patient.
The reality is that biology will never be able to match what we will be capable of engineering, now that we are gaining a deep understanding of biology's principles of operation.
What about government opposition to new technologies such as stem cell therapy? Is that going to hold things up?
These obstacles end up being stones in the river of progress; the broad progression of technology just flows around them. Stem cell research is a good example of this. The research has continued despite opposition from the government and elsewhere. And the controversy has only served to accelerate other ways of accomplishing the same thing, which ultimately will provide superior approaches. For example, there has been substantial recent progress on transdifferentiation: turning one type of cell, such as a skin cell, into another type. After all, what’s the difference between a skin cell and a pancreatic Islet cell, or a heart cell? They all have the same genes. The difference is that different genes are expressed, and we’re learning the molecular triggers that control gene expression. By adding certain chemicals such as peptides and short RNA molecules to cells, we can transform their cell type. This has already been demonstrated. If you want new heart cells, creating them from your own cells has important advantages: you’ll have an inexhaustible supply of them, and these new cells will have your DNA, thereby avoiding an immune system response.
In general, opposition to technology tends to focus narrowly on very specific techniques. The flow of progress in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and other new methodologies is so broad and diverse that these types of controversies do not significantly affect the overall rate of advance.
If people stop dying, isn’t that going to lead to overpopulation?
A common mistake that people make when considering the future is to envision a major change to today’s world, such as radical life extension, as if nothing else were going to change. The three intertwined revolutions of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and “strong AI” (artificial intelligence at human levels and beyond) will result in other transformations that address this issue. For example, nanotechnology will enable us to create virtually any physical product from information and very inexpensive raw materials, leading to radical wealth creation. We’ll have the means to meet the material needs of any conceivable size population of biological humans. Nanotechnology will also provide the means of cleaning up environmental damage from earlier stages of industrialization. In recent years, gains in prosperity have resulted in declines in population growth, although a dramatic drop in the death rate will reverse that to some extent. But dramatic increases in productivity will enable us to provide for all of our physical needs.
Won’t it get boring to live many hundreds of years?
If humans lived many hundreds of years with no other change in the nature of human life, then, yes, that would lead to a deep ennui. But the same nanobots (robots the size of blood cells) in the bloodstream that keep us healthy (by destroying pathogens and reversing aging processes) will also vastly augment our intelligence and experiences. By traveling noninvasively into the capillaries of the brain, these nanobots will interact directly with our biological neurons to create full-immersion virtual reality experiences from within the nervous system, and provide intimate connection to greatly enhanced intelligence. We won’t be bored.