[This section adapted from the Immortality Institute Wiki FAQ section.]

This space is meant to primarily be an area where Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are answered, while providing a little more information about the Immortality Institute. If you have a question that isn't listed, you win a prize! Ok, not really, but we will try to answer the question if you post it to our forums (lots of nice and really smart people there). Also, check out the video FAQ section by the Methuselah Foundation, which addresses many of the same questions answered here, in video format by Aubrey de Grey, PhD.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

These are some of the common Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that we are constantly running across. If you don't see a question you would like answered, use the instructions above (at the top) and we will see what we can do. If you don't see your question answered here, or would like a more in depth answer, check out the video FAQ section by the Methuselah Foundation.

Ok, first off, what is the Immortality Institute?

The Immortality Institute is a non-profit organization with the goal of defeating the disease we call aging. Our official mission is "to conquer the blight of involuntary death." We think that this has the possibility of being accomplished through a variety of means, some more radical than others.

We try to further the goal of defeating aging through a variety of means, including debate and discussion (in our forums) among scientists and researchers in the various anti-aging related fields, the production of various informational materials (films, books, etc.), the hosting of conferences dedicated solely to various aspects about the war on aging, funding of research related to curing aging, and many other ways that we think will provide the most benefit to curing aging as quickly as possible.

Why would you want to live forever?

"Forever" is a long time, and we're not suggesting that. Most people who enjoy life can't get enough of it. Even most of those who claim they don't want to live longer than "natural" will go to the ends of the earth to cure themselves of cancer, heart disease and injuries when they get stricken. Modern drugs, surgical techniques and diagnostic tools are life extension technologies that few refuse.

Is death inevitable?

Death, as a whole, can never be totally eliminated. There may always be accidents, natural disasters, violence, and other things that we have little control over. However, it is possible to slow down, stop, and eventually reverse the aging process. It comes as a surprise to many people - especially to non-scientists- that there may be treatments available in the foreseeable future to stop and reverse the aging process.

Why would I want to live a long time as an old/frail person?

Also you may be asking: Won't there be a lot of old/frail people hanging around if this works? The answer is that that there is a difference between "old" and "frail". If I showed you someone that by all outward appearances appeared to be 30 years old, would you tell me that they were "old"? What if I then told you that the person you were looking at was actually 120 years old? "Old" is a relative term to the observer (when you were 6 or 7 years, did you not think being 21 was "old"?). In the near future when people are living longer and longer life spans, what will "old" be? Almost all of the research currently going on is meant to increase healthy lifespans. "Frail" people (those who are sickly, at the end of their life today) can never have their lifespans dramatically extended because they are much more susceptible to things such as accidents or disease. If it is easier to think about, think of it as extending the "middle" part of your life.

We generally acquire more experience, knowledge, wisdom and skills as we age. Rather than putting people "out to pasture" or in nursing homes, wouldn't society be better off if we kept people youthful and productive? 32% of our country's medical expenses are spent on the elderly (over age 69). Annual health care costs for people over 65 years of age are 400% of those 65 years of age and younger. What if we could eliminate not only the suffering associated with old age, but the expense to society as well?

Won't life get boring if I live for a long time?

It depends, does life bore you now? If life bores you now, then chances might be good that it will continue to bore you, but living a long time should not affect that. Many people have commented that given all they know about today, there is enough to keep them busy for 10 lifetimes (of current time spans). Think of all the wonderful things that you have yet to experience in today's world. Can you honestly say that you have traveled everywhere, tried everything, and experienced life as much as you would want, just given today's state of affairs? Wouldn't you like to stick around to see a society of unlimited resources, energy, health and wealth? Think of anything and everything that you have ever wanted to do. Now, take into account anything and everything you will think of to do in the next 10, 100, 1000 years. Over a long enough time period, anything is possible. Imagine the possibility of private space travel, undersea exploration, few survival pressures, and anything else you can imagine. Society has been progressing faster and faster (think all the accomplishments in just the last 100 years), why is there any reason to believe that you will get bored if you live a long time? The answer is, there is no reason.

Ok, but wait a minute. Who says stopping the aging process is possible?

Most molecular and cell biologists feel that once we have a good understanding of the majority of our genes and the proteins they produce, controlling the aging process is inevitable. The human body is a wonderfully complex machine. Deciphering the aging process is simply a matter of figuring out how that machine works. There is a lot of research going on at this very moment by a lot of very smart scientists into the processes of aging, and how to "cure" aging (we here at the Immortality Institute view aging as a disease, and therefore are constantly talking about "curing" aging).

So, bottom line, Can aging be cured?

The answer is a resounding YES! Aging, as we view it today, is a matter of a lot of different things going wrong. Some people have these things go wrong faster, and live shorter lives, whereas some people have these things go wrong more slowly, and live longer lives. There is a lot of research going on at this very moment that will someday lead to "curing" aging.

You seem to be beating around the bush. What, specifically, does it take to cure aging?

Well, I was trying to keep the technical (and possibly more complicated) aspects to a minimum since this is meant to be an "overview" FAQ, but since you asked here it goes.

There are seven things that lead to aging, period. It may come as a surprise to some people that there aren't more, or that I didn't say something more complicated, but there really are only seven things. (I promise!) There is research going on into every one of the seven things right now (some more than others), and once those seven things are "fixed", aging will stop. I know you are saying at this point, what are the seven things? Well they are (in no particular order):

1) Loss and atrophy or degeneration of cells.
2) Accumulation of cells that are not wanted.
3) Mutations in chromosomes.
4) Mutations in mitochondria.
5) The accumulation of "junk" within the cell.
6) The accumulation of "junk" outside the cell.
7) Cross-links in proteins outside the cell.

If we can fix all seven of these things, then that's it!, we are done curing physical aging! Now, to be fair, each of these seven things is very complex in and of themselves. Some are closer than others to being fixed, but there is research going on into each of them right now.

Wow, this is really exciting! When do you guys expect aging to be cured?

This is a very tough question to answer accurately, but we can make a few educated guesses based on past progress and the way research is progressing. Some very optimistic estimates put the time frame for stopping aging at about 10 years, and begin reversing aging in about 20 years. This is the optimistic viewpoint, and some more conservative scientists set their sights on a 20-40 year time frame, while some others see it taking even longer. So much depends on the amount of funding for different types of research, and how it is utilized. Most scientists agree that it will be done in stages, first slowing aging, then stopping it... then reversing it! Also, extending the average life span before extending the maximum life span is seen as something that is easier. The main thing to remember is that, for most people reading this, it could happen in your lifetime! ( you can help speed up the process)

How much will it cost to control human aging?

Like setting a time frame for curing aging, this is another point at which the best we can do is estimate. Some people set the figure as low as $100 to $300 million, which is less than it takes to develop and bring a new drug to market. Others think it will take $100 billion or more, so as you can see there are a wide spectrum of estimates. Some of the most respected experts in the field put the figure at around $1 billion, but there is likely no way to know for sure.

Interestingly enough, there have been various official and unofficial proposals over the years espousing the benefits for society of extended lifespans to policy makers, in the hopes of increasing public funding for initiatives aimed at increasing lifespans. (one example being an article in the March 2006 issue of The Scientist magazine. Free text only version of article. Which was followed up with an "official" proposal to congressmen in the United States by several top scientists in the world.) Contacting your elected officials and telling them that funding anti-aging related research is something that interests you is one way to get the ball rolling on funding this type of research with public finances.

What about overpopulation?

Now that I have convinced you that aging is going to be dramatically slowed, and eventually stopped and reversed, you are probably wondering (as most people do), What about overpopulation? Well, let me put your mind at ease by saying this: Overpopulation is not a problem! I will try to give an overview of just a few reasons why this is the case (bear with me, I will try not to get too technical)

First off, if aging is not slowed down dramatically in the next few years, not only will overpopulation not be a problem, the reverse (shrinking population) will likely be true! World population growth rates have been steadily declining since the year 1960 (see this chart), and are expected to stabilize (read: equal 0%) around the year 2050, and some estimates show it actually begin falling into the negatives at that point. Basically, throughout history the more technologically advanced a society has become, the lower their population growth. This is due to a wide variety of reasons (birth control, people deciding to wait later in life to have kids, more people deciding not to have kids, people having less kids when they do decide to have kids, etc.), but suffice it to say that population growth is declining (in fact, almost every developed country, including the United States, would right now have a declining population if it were not for immigration).

Secondly, technology will provide for supporting increasing levels of population. Simply put, as technology extends lives, it makes life more livable for larger populations of people. Since the Industrial Revolution, alarmists have screamed doom and gloom about overcrowding and limited resources (backed by misinterpreted "statistics"). However, the opposite has happened. The population increased by 750% since then, and standards of living soared (would you want to live hundreds of years ago before sanitation, modern conveniences, etc.?). It's not so much a question of resources as education, individual productivity and distribution - social engineering problems, not life extension problems. As long as people produce more than they consume, it's impossible to run out of resources. Even if we stayed where we are right now, with no technological improvements whatsoever, we could support at least 6 billion more people than are on the planet right now! Technology is increasing at a rate faster than population is increasing. It is estimated that we increase the amount of people that we can support at a rate of 20-40% faster than population actually increases.

Third, it is a question of morality. I do not think many people today would advocate mass genocide to reduce populations, do you? Then why do we support approximately 100,000 people dying of the disease of aging daily? Let me pose a hypothetical situation to you (credit to Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D. for coming up with this scenario): Put yourself in the position of someone powerful, for instance the prime minister of France, in, say, 1870 or so, when Pasteur was going around saying that hygiene could almost entirely prevent infant deaths from infections and death in childbirth. In your position, you have some influence over how quickly this knowledge gets out, and thus how quickly lives start being saved. But, you realize that the sooner people start adhering to these principles and washing their hands and so on, the sooner the population will start exploding on account of all those children not dying. What would you have done? 1) Got the information out as soon as possible, or 2) Held it back as best you could in order to delay the population crisis? I have yet to meet anyone who says they would have done the latter. With curing aging, there is no difference. None.

This explanation at this point has probably been long winded enough for a brief overview, but it is simply just scratching the surface. I hope you are convinced now, however, that overpopulation is not a problem.

Won't there be a net cost (or loss) to society of keeping these old people around?

No! In fact, there will be a net benefit to society from keeping people around longer. Think of all the wisdom that is lost every day from people that are dying. What if some of the great scientific minds of our era had another 20, 40, 100 years or more to explore possibilities and benefit society with their accumulated knowledge? The increased health and longevity that we are proposing is not to be confused with drawing out "end of life" frailty and suffering. As stated earlier in this FAQ, we want to increase "healthy" lifespans, which would have tremendous positive returns for society.

So, we would have to spend less on all of the "individual" diseases caused from aging (cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, etc.) since slowing down or stopping aging would slow down or stop the "individual" aging diseases. Also, it has been shown time and time again by many studies (by the International Longevity Association, and various universities) that the extension of healthy life creates wealth for individuals and the nations in which they reside. Another thing is that health care costs that burden society the most normally come at the end of life, and if these end of life burdens were eased or eliminated, society would greatly benefit.

There are a myriad of societal benefits (in addition to the moral ones) for working towards life extension.

What can I do NOW to increase my lifespan?

There are a number of things you can do to increase your healthy lifespan right now. These things are nothing compared to what we will be able to do when the available research and technology progress further, but they are the best we can do now, and may make it possible for you to make it to the time when more advanced therapies are available to keep you young. Some things you can do to increase your lifespan can be thought of as "stuff mom always said to do". This includes eating right, getting plenty of rest and exercise, and generally just living a healthy lifestyle. Beyond these things, another step people have taken is adding supplements to their diet. Still more extreme routes people have taken are hormone supplementation and taking selected drugs that may have "anti-aging" properties. I would direct you to look at the website of the Life Extension Foundation, which is one of the most comprehensive sources on current health and longevity issues in the world. Also, a more simplistic view might be Maximum Life Extension Foundation's document SALADS - Owner's Manual For The Human Body(.pdf document).

Ok, Ok already, I am convinced! How can I help?

Wow, I am glad you saw the logic to life extension so quickly! Usually it takes people at least twice as long as you to come around. First and foremost, since we are the Immortality Institute, I would strongly encourage becoming a full member of the Immortality Institute. Besides helping us out, becoming a full member entitles you to a variety of benefits that are not available to regular members. Also, feel free to contribute on the message boards, or see if you can help out with many of the ongoing projects that we are working on.

Beyond us, the M-Prize (or Methuselah Mouse Prize, modeled after the success of the X-Prize) is an organization set up by Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D., that is funding the development of strategies to cure aging in mice, which would pave the way for doing the same thing in humans. Also, Maximum Life Foundation has a goal of "Accelerating Progress in Anti-Aging Medical Research" and are on the forefront of some of the research going on. In addition, The Life Extension Foundation is the "world's largest organization dedicated to finding scientific methods for addressing disease, aging, and death" and has been instrumental in a lot of the current views on aging and how it can be cured. For a more technological approach, The Singularity Institute is on the forefront of what is possible with artificial intelligence and how it can benefit humanity as a whole (through curing aging and other diseases, wiping out poverty, etc.), it is a very worthwhile project and supported by many members of the Immortality Institute.

Apart from specific organizations, spreading the word would be immensely helpful. If you have your own website, blog, podcast, MySpace account, or whatever else, talk about life extension and link to life extension related websites (of course we prefer ImmInst.org). If you do not have your own space now, consider starting a blog to talk about life extension issues. Hundreds if not thousands of people can be reached each year by just a very small blog or website, which would have compounding returns (the people that see it also get involved, which makes more people get involved, etc.). If you are a reporter, or in any way affiliated with any type of news organization including local or national newspapers (or student newspapers), magazines, television, or radio (and podcasts) consider doing a story on, or approaching someone at your organization about doing a story on something to do with anti-aging. You would be following in the footsteps of several news organizations that have had stories on the subject (sometimes on anti-aging in general, sometimes specific stories on individuals such as Aubrey de Grey) such as CBS News, Popular Science, USA Today, and many others. Otherwise, spread the ideas as far and as wide as you can through whatever means you can think of, including email, mailing lists, newsgroups, forums, newsletters, blogs, wikis, news and general information sites, etc. If you see anti-aging related audio or video, upload it to hosting sites (such as Google Video), or find content that is already hosted and promote that as well.

In short, anything and everything that you can do to support the ideals of longevity research, be it financial or otherwise, it will pay huge dividends for the future.

What about all this other weird stuff I see you guys talking about? (cryonics, the Singularity, etc.)

Well, by "weird" I suppose you mean "things you're unfamiliar with". Everything is "weird" if we are unfamiliar with it, but the more educated one becomes on certain subjects, the less "weird" they seem. We are more than willing to provide information on, or discussion about a wide variety of aging related issues (primarily in our forums).


Cryonics (sometimes mistakenly called cryogenics) is basically just a way to preserve people who want a longer life until a future date when this might be possible. It is, most assuredly, not the preferred method of achieving a long life, but as a last resort it has been given a fairly high chance of success. Cryonics is often stated as "the second worst thing that could ever happen to you". (the worst of course being death) There is a lot of very sound science involved with the concept of cryonics, and utilizing today's life insurance policies, you could (depending upon your age, health, etc.) sign up for about the cost of a cup of coffee every day (less if it is that expensive Starbucks stuff). There are 2 main cryonics providers in the world (both located in the United States), Alcor, and The Cryonics Institute. I would direct you to the Alcor FAQs or the Cryonics Institute FAQs if you have further questions about cryonics.

The Singularity

The Singularity is a very complex and difficult to understand issue (much more so than we can cover here). The basic concept is that at some point in the future we will create a smarter-than-human intelligence (there are a bunch of ways this could happen), and this intelligence will come up with concepts and information that we as humans can not, by ourselves, come up with. In the context of the Immortality Institute, this smarter-than-human entity will allow for humans to defeat aging more quickly (using the previously mentioned concepts). There are conflicting schools of thought on just about everything to do with the Singularity (how smart it will be, how fast it will increase its own intelligence, whether there will be a Singularity at all, etc.), but there are a number of groups currently working on building smarter-than-human intelligence. I would direct you to The Singularity Institute's website, which contains a wealth of documents and other information from the basic to the very complex. I would end with, that the Singularity is not what you see in movies like Terminator or other Hollywood movies, they have an interest in making "end of the world" scenarios because those are the types of movies people pay to see. The Singularity, if designed properly, (again take a look at the Singularity Institute's website) will be a tremendous help for humans.

See Also

Please feel free to check out the following for more information on various aspects of the Immortality Institute:

External links