The Problem of Feral Cats

Feral cats kill about 1 million native animals per day in ecosystems which didn’t evolve to cope with cats.  How should we deal with the problem of feral cats? I hear a lot of ‘kill ’em all’ [1]. When in HK I noticed a lot of cats with one ear slightly smaller.. then found out that there were vans of vets capturing then de-sexing cats, marking them by taking a small slice of their ear, then releasing them. I thought that this was a compassionate approach, though may have cost more to do than just killing the cats.
This issue raises some interesting fundamental questions that humans often seem all to ready to answer with our amygdalas – it’s hard not to, it’s in our nature.  Though we do realize that us humans have had the largest impact on the ecology – and that it’s our own fault feral cats are here.  Despite it being humanity’s fault, the feral cat problem still remains. As long as there are a population of human pet owners won’t be 100% responsible for their cats, the feral cat problem will always exist.  A foolproof morality pill for humans and their pets seems quite far off – so in the mean time, we can’t depend on changing cat and human behaviour.

To date, feral cat eradication has only been successful on small islands – not on mainlands.  Surprisingly, it was accidentally found that low-level culling feral cats may increase their numbers based on observation in the forests of southern tasmania – “Increases in minimum numbers of cats known to be alive ranged from 75% to 211% during the culling period, compared with pre- and post-cull estimates, and probably occurred due to influxes of new individuals after dominant resident cats were removed.”

A study by CSIRO, which advocates considering researching and eventually using gene drives, says:

So far, traditional controls like baiting have not been effective on cats. In fact, the only way land managers have been able to stop cats from getting at our native animals is to construct cat-proof fencing around reserve areas, like those managed by Australian Wildlife Conservancy, then removing all the cats inside and allowing native mammals to flourish. This isn’t considered sustainable in the long term and, outside the fences, this perfect storm of predatory behaviour has continued to darken our biodiversity landscape.

The benefit of gene drives is that it can reduce and even eventually eradicate feral cat populations without killing the cats, but by essentially making it so feral cat offspring all end up male.

…there is hope on the horizon—gene drive technology. Essentially, gene drives are systems that can bias genetic inheritance via sexual reproduction and allow a particular genetic trait to be passed on from a parent organism to all offspring, and therefore the ability of that trait to disperse through a population is greatly enhanced… Using this type of genetic modification (GM) technology, it becomes theoretically possible to introduce cats into the feral populations to produce only male offspring. Over time, the population would die out due to lack of breeding partners.

Research into gene-drives and broader genetics can help solve a lot of other related problems.  Firstly I don’t assume we should  just assume that future tech will be able to solve all our problems, though if we sequenced as much species as possible and kept highly accurate and articulate records of ecosystems, this may help to rejuvenate or even revive species and their habitats at some time in the future – and genetics (esp gene-drives and CRISPR) research has proven to be very powerful – so from the point of view of wildlife / ecosystem preservation, a catalog and revive strategy is surely worthy of serious consideration. One might see it as restoration ecology + time travel.

There are a myriad of considerations but what are the fundamental, ultimate goals of mitigating the negative impacts of feral cats? Two goals may conflict – species preservation and overall suffering reduction. Should we see single goals as totalizing narratives – in practice perhaps not – but great fodder for thought experiments:
1) Species preservation: If this is the ultimate goal, acknowledging that the most upstream cause of feral cats are humans, we could impose staggeringly huge fines on people for not being responsible pet owners – and use that to fund studies and programs for ecosystem preservation – given current technology we can’t resurrect long gone species, though we can try to more deeply catalog species genomes and ecosystem configurations with the hope that one day once we solve human irrationality, perhaps we can then be in a position to choose to engage in efficient comprehensive re-wilding programs – incidentally we may wish to curb the population of pet lovers (for the record, that’s a joke :))
2) If Suffering reduction is the ultimate goal then that really changes things up – there is a ridiculous amount of suffering in the wild, as both David Pearce and Richard Dawkins show. Should we eradicate nature? I’ll stop there.

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

Interview with David Pearce on ‘Wild animal suffering – Ethics of Wildlife Management and Conservation Biology’

David Pearce advocates for a benign compassionate stewardship of nature, alleviating suffering in the near and long term futures using high technology (assuming that ultimately the whole world will be computationally accessible to the micromanagement needed for benign hyper-stewardship of nature).

https://www.spca.org.hk/en/animal-birth-control/cat-colony-care-programme

[1] A discussion in a FB group ‘Australian Freethinkers’ – the OP was “What do you think about the feral cats in Australia?

I hear farmers shoot them. They are huge.

They can’t be doing anything good for small rare marsupials.

Should we be aiming to kill them all?”

John Wilkins – Comprehension and Compression

“In short, data is not knowledge; knowledge is not comprehension; comprehension is not wisdom”

The standard account of understanding has been, since Aristotle, knowledge of the causes of an event or effect. However, this account fails in cases where the subject understood is not causal. In this paper I offer an account of understanding as pattern recognition in large sets of data without the presumption that the patterns indicate causal chains.

All nervous systems by nature desire to process information. Consequently, entities with nervous systems tend to find information everywhere, and on the principle that if some is good a lot is better, we have come up with “Big Data”, which is often suggested as the solution to the problems of one science or another, although it is unclear exactly what counts as big data and how it is supposed to do this. In this paper I will argue (i) that understanding does not and cannot come from larger and higher dimensionality data sets, but from structure in the data that can be literally comprehended; and (ii) that big data multiplies uncertainties unless it can be summarized. In short, data is not knowledge; knowledge is not comprehension; comprehension is not wisdom.


Slides can be found here: https://www.slideshare.net/jswilkins/comprehension-as-compression

Event was held at Melbourne Uni in 2019: https://www.meetup.com/en-AU/Science-Technology-and-the-Future/events/265580084/

 

Consider supporting SciFuture by Subscribing to the SciFuture YouTube channel: http://youtube.com/subscription_center?add_user=TheRationalFuture

 

The Age of A.I. – empowering narratives or accurate forecasts?

An interesting new series ‘The Age of A.I.’ narrated by Robert Downey Jr. – this first episode looks at how AI’s interact with humans ‘Affective Computing’ using object recognition, NLP attempting to simulate human emotion, digital avatars which work like agents for us – similar to John M. Smart’s idea of a digital twin (I kept thinking he will suddenly appear and start narrating), and robotic arms

In a lot of discussion around AI I see what seems like attempts to sooth peoples fears about AI, pandering to our need to feel relevant or unique with dichotomies that take an extreme position (like ‘Superintelligence already exists’) portraying it as a silly misconception, and then offer an attractive alternative which takes the edge off and sometimes even empowers us like ‘AI is a simulation of us’, or Gil Weinberg saying ‘AI augments us, it’s not going to replace us, AI will enhance us’ as opposed to ‘AI will overtake us or replace us’ – which dismisses nuanced alternative scenarios that look more like a combinations of the above dichotomies i.e. ‘AI simulating us’ and ‘AI innovation outside of anthropocentric design’ or ‘ai augmenting us’ as well as ‘surpassing us’… do we really need to wait see AI smashing every ball out of the park before we admit that it can outperform us and do stuff we can’t?

Another part that stuck out for me seems partly true is when Dr Ayanna Howard brings up
1) a misconception that agi / superintelligence exists (now).. I agree but I’d add ‘not yet’ – for what it’s worth, I’ve argued elsewhere that rather than think of generality in AGI as either on or off – there are degrees of generality – and it may our future selves in hind sight look back to the current trends in AI and will be able with confidence pinpoint small but apparent gradients of generality in AI in some projects.
2) and then goes onto say that AI is basically a simulation us humans… some of it attempts to be, but a lot of AI isn’t – it’s alien, it’s obvious that some projects are not trying to replicate the way humans compute intelligence. This quote seems wrong headed.

Here is episode 1: “How far is too far?”

> “Can A.I. make music? Can it feel excitement and fear? Is it alive? Will.i.am and Mark Sagar push the limits of what a machine can do. How far is too far, and how much further can we go?”

Here is the trailer:

The YouTube series so far seem like documentaries to me, and though the purpose may not be to try to be as accurate and intellectually honest as possible but instead be somewhat accurate, make people feel empowered and try not to cause a panic – I feel if we head into the future somewhat blinkered, clinging to empowering narratives, then we may be blindsided when the reality of AI kicks in – in whatever form it actually takes.

Well, maybe narratives are the easiest way for humans to process information – we aren’t unbounded rational machines ourselves, we are inherently bad at thinking about some things – but in order to avoid a narrative trap, it seems at least with some critical thinking skills to discern the world through lenses outside of narrative space we can, we are and we should continue to make headway.

— Adam Ford

 

Anders Sandberg – Freeman Dyson, Galactic Megastructures, Physical Eschatology & the Fermi Paradox

Many of you know the sad news that theoretical physicist & mathematician Freeman Dyson has passed away, so in celebration of his life and achievements, Anders Sandberg (Future of Humanity Institute) discusses Freeman Dyson’s influence on himself and others – How might advanced alien civilizations develop (and indeed perhaps our own)?

We discuss strategies for harvesting energy – star engulfing Dyson Spheres or Swarms, black hole swallowing tungsten dyson super-swarms and other galactic megastructures, we also discuss Kardashev scale civilizations (Kardashev was another great mind who we lost recently), reversible computing, birthing ideal universes to live in, Meinong’s jungle, ‘eschatological engineering’, the aestivation hypothesis, and how all this may inform strategies for thinking about the Fermi Paradox and what this might suggest about the likelihood of our civilization avoiding oblivion.  though Anders is more optimistic than some about our chances of survival..

 

 

Anders Sandberg (Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford ) is a seminal transhumanist thinker from way back who has contributed a vast amount of mind blowing material to futurology & philosophy in general. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Sandberg

Happy Future Day (march 1st) : http://future-day.org

Freeman Dyson: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson
Dyson Sphere: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere
Aestivation Hypothesis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aestivation_hypothesis
Reversible Computing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversible_computing
Kardashev Scales: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale
Nikolai Kardashev: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolai_Kardashev

[Audio version] [Video here]

Event: Responding to the Replication Crisis & Achieving Public Trust in Science – Martin Bush

What is the replication crisis in science? What does it mean for public trust in science?
Martin Bush will discuss these issues as well as the repliCATS project as a response to the replication crisis.

Agenda:
5.30 – Meet, great, and eat.. pub food – it’s actually not bad! Feel free to come early to take advantage of the $8.50 pints from 4.00 onwards (after 6, you can say you are part of the event, and you will still get $8.50 pints for the rest of the night).
6.50 – Introduction – Adam Ford
7.00 – Talk: Martin Bush – Meta-Science and achieving public trust in science

The RepltCATS project : Collaborative Assessment for Trustworthy Science – crowdsourcing predictions about the credibility of published research!

https://replicats.research.unimelb.edu.au/

Martin’s Bio: My meta-research work focuses on public trust in science, and draws on my expertise in the cultural history of popular science and professional experience in science communication and the museum sector. Particular research interests include planetariums, public reasoning practices, the science communication work of the Ngarrindjeri Australian David Unaipon and popular astronomy in Australia in the era of the lantern slide.
https://theconversation.com/profiles/martin-bush-440789
https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/individuals/dr-martin-bush
https://findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/profile/70466-martin-bush

FB Event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/181615326585711/
Meetup Event here: https://www.meetup.com/Science-Technology-and-the-Future/events/268767257/

Conference: AI & Human Enhancement – Understanding the Future – Early 2020

Introduction

Overview

The event will address a variety of topics futurology (i.e. accelerating change & long term futures, existential risk, philosophy, transhumanism & ‘the posthuman’) in general though it will have a special focus on Machine Understanding.
How will we operate along side artificial agents that increasingly ‘understand’ us, and important aspects of the world around us?
The ultimate goal of AI is to achieve not just intelligence in the broad scene of the word, but understanding – the ability to understand content & context, comprehend causation, provide explanations and summarize material etc.  Arguably perusing machine understanding has a different focus to artificial ‘general’ intelligence – where a machine could behave with a degree of generality, without actually understanding what it is doing.

To explore the natural questions inherent within this concept the conference aims to draw on the fields of AI, AGI, philosophy, cognitive science and psychology to cover a diverse set of methods, assumptions, approaches, and systems design and thinking in the field of AI and AGI.

We will also explore important ethical questions surrounding transformative technology, how to navigate risks and take advantage of opportunities.

When/Where

Dates: Slated for March or April 2020 – definite dates TBA.

Where: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia!

Speakers

We are currently working on a list of speakers – as at writing, we have confirmed:

John S. Wilkins (philosophy of science/species taxonomy) –   Author of ‘Species: The Evolution of the Idea‘, co-author of ‘The Nature of Classification: Relationships and Kinds in the Natural Sciences‘.   Blogs at ‘Evolving Thoughts‘.

Dr. Kevin B. Korb (philosophy of science/AI)  – Co-founded Bayesian Intelligence with Prof. Ann Nicholson in 2007. He continues to engage in research on the theory and practice of causal discovery of Bayesian networks (aka data mining with BNs), machine learning, evaluation theory, the philosophy of scientific method and informal logic.   Author of ‘Bayesian Artificial Intelligence‘ and co-author of ‘Evolving Ethics

 

David Pearce (philosophy, the hedonistic imperative) – British philosopher and co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association, currently rebranded and incorporated as Humanity+, Inc., and a prominent figure within the transhumanist movement. He approaches ethical issues from a lexical negative utilitarian perspective.   Author of ‘The Hedonistic Imperative‘ and ‘The Abolitionist Project

Stelarc (performance artist) – Cyprus-born performance artist raised in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine, whose works focus heavily on extending the capabilities of the human body. As such, most of his pieces are centered on his concept that “the human body is obsolete”.  There is a book about Stelarc and his works – ‘Stelarc: The Monograph (Electronic Culture: History, Theory, and Practice)‘ which is edited by Marquard Smith.

Jakob Hohwy (head of philosophy at Monash University) – philosopher engaged in both conceptual and experimental research. He works on problems in philosophy of mind about perception, neuroscience, and mental illness.  Author of ‘The Predictive Mind‘.

Topics

Human Enhancement, Transhumanism & ‘the Posthuman’

Human enhancement technologies are used not only to treat diseases and disabilities, but increasingly also to increase human capacities and qualities. Certain enhancement technologies are already available, for instance, coffee, mood brighteners, reproductive technologies and plastic surgery.   On the one hand, the scientific community has taken an increasing interest in innovations and allocated substantial public and private resources to them. While on the other hand, such research can have an impact, positive or negative, on individuals, the society, and future generations. Some have advocated the right to use such technologies freely, considering primarily the value of freedom and individual autonomy for those users. Others have called attention to the risks and potential harms of these technologies, not only for the individual, but also for society as a whole. Such use, it is argued, could accentuate the discrimination among persons with different abilities, thus increasing injustice and the gap between the rich and the poor. There is a dilemma regarding how to regulate and manage such practices through national and international laws, so as to safeguard the common good and protect vulnerable persons.

Long Term Value and the Future of Life in the Universe

It seems obvious that we should have a care for future generations – though how far into the future should our concern expire?    This obvious sounding idea can lead to surprising conclusions.

Since the future is big, there could be overwhelmingly far more people in the future than in there are in the present generation. If you want to have a positive impact on lives, and are agnostic as to when the impact is realised, your key concern shouldn’t be to help the present generation, but to ensure that the future goes well for life in the long-term.

This idea is often confused with the claim that we shouldn’t do anything to help people in the present generation. But the long-term value thesis is about what most matters – and what we do to have a positive impact on the future of life in the universe is an extremely important and fascinatingly complicated question.

Artificial Intelligence & Understanding

Following on from a workshop at AGI17 on ‘Understanding Understanding’ we will cover many fascinating questions, such as:

  • What is understanding?
    • How should we define understanding?
    • Is understanding an emergent property of intelligent systems? And/or a central property of intelligent systems?
    • What are the typologies or gradations of understanding?
    • Does understanding relate to consciousness?  If so how?
    • Is general intelligence necessary and/or sufficient to achieve understanding in an artificial system?
    • What differentiates systems that do and do not have understanding?
  • Why focus on developing machine understanding?
    • Isn’t human understanding enough?
    • What are the pros/cons of developing MU?
    • Is it ethical to develop it?
    • Does morality come along for the ride once MU is achieved?
    • How could MU help solve the ‘value loading’ problem in AI alignment?
  • How create machine understanding?
    • What is required in order to achieve understanding in machines?
    • How can we create systems that exhibit understanding?
    • and how can we test for understanding?
    • Can understanding be achieved through hand-crafted architectures or must it emerge through self-organizing (constructivist) principles?
    • How can mainstream techniques be used towards the development of machines which exhibit understanding?
    • Do we need radically different approaches than those in use today to build systems with understanding?
    • Does building artificially intelligent machines with versus without understanding depend on the same underlying principles, or are these orthogonal approaches?
    • Do we need special programming languages to implement understanding in intelligent systems?
    • How can current state of the art methods in AGI address the need for understanding in machines?
  • When is machine understanding likely to occur?
    • What types of research/discoveries are likely to accelerate progress towards MU?
    • What may hinder progress?

The conference will also cover aspects of futurology in general, including transhumanism, posthumanism, reducing suffering, and the long term future.

 

 

Event: Stelarc – Contingent & Contestable Futures

STELARC – CONTINGENT AND CONTESTABLE FUTURES: DIGITAL NOISE, GLITCHES & CONTAMINATIONS

Synopsis: In the age of the chimera, uncertainty and ambivalence generate unexpected anxieties. The dead, the near-dead, the brain dead, the yet to be born, the partially living and synthetic life all now share a material and proximal existence, with other living bodies, microbial life, operational machines and executable and viral code. Digital objects proliferate, contaminating the human biome. Bodies become end effectors for other bodies in other places and for machines elsewhere, generating interactive loops and recursive choreographies. There was always a ghost in the machine, but not as a vital force that animates but rather as a fading attestation of the human.

Agenda

5.45 – Meet, great, and eat.. pub food – it’s actually not bad! Feel free to come early to take advantage of the $8.50 pints from 4.00-6.00.
6.40 – Adam Ford – Introduction
6.50 – Stelarc – Talk: Contingent & Contestable Futures

Where: The Clyde Hotel (upstairs in function room) 385 Cardigan St, Carlton VIC 3053 – bring your appetite, there is a good menu: https://www.theclydehotel.com.au
When: Thursday July 25th – 5.45 onwards, though a few of us will be there earlier (say 5pm) to take advantage of the $8.50 pints (from 4pm onwards – if you say you are with STF you will get $8.50 pints all night)

*p.s. the event will likely be videoed – if you have any issues with being seen or heard on YouTube, please let us know.

BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Stelarc experiments with alternative anatomical architectures. His performances incorporate Prosthetics, Robotics, VR and Biotechnology. He is presently surgically constructing and augmenting an ear on his arm. In 1996 he was made an Honorary Professor of Art and Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University and in 2002 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by Monash University. In 2010 he was awarded the Ars Electronica Hybrid Arts Prize. In 2015 he received the Australia Council’s Emerging and Experimental Arts Award. In 2016 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Ionian University, Corfu. His artwork is represented by Scott Livesey Galleries,
Melbourne. www.stelarc.org

Denis Odinokov – Conquering Cross-Linking for Biomedical Longevity

In order to achieve biomedical longevity, the problem of cross-Linking of the extracellular matrix needs to be addressed. Cells are held together by special linking proteins. When too many cross-links form between cells in a tissue, the tissue can lose its elasticity and cause problems including arteriosclerosis, presbyopia and weakened skin texture. These are chemical bonds between structures that are part of the body, but not within a cell. In senescent people many of these become brittle and weak. Fixing cross-linking may prove more difficult than just removing it – as it may create a vacuum where more waste is pulled in to fill the void left behind. Though some research is being conducted, the problem deserves a lot more hands on deck – and far more funding.
Denis gives a technical explanation of why conquering cross-linking is important, and strategies for addressing this problem in this interview conducted at the Undoing Aging conference in Berlin 2019.

Introduction to Denis’ writing/research here – “The Impact of Extracellular Matrix Proteins Cross-linking on the Aging Process“.

Understanding the consequences of the formation of protein crosslinks requires more attention both from the scientific community and independent researchers who are passionate with regards to the extension of the human lifespan. By doing so, it allows us to level up the playing field where we can create and work on more serious and impactful solutions.

Also see GlycoSENSSENS proposes to further develop small-molecular drugs and enzymes to break links caused by sugar-bonding, known as advanced glycation endproducts, and other common forms of chemical linking.

 

Jim Mellon – Investing in the Age of Longevity

Interview with hugely successful investor Jim Mellon at the Undoing Aging conference in Berlin 2019!
We cover reasons why it’s a good time to invest in Anti-Aging and rejuvenation biotechnology today, the ethical reasons why we should, and effective advocacy: i.e. what one would say to a billionaire to convince them that investing in longevity medicine is a good thing to do now.
Jim raised over $150 Million for his venture Juvenescence recently!

Transcript

My name is Jim Mellon, and I’m the chairman of Juvenescence, which is a company involved in the science of longevity. It is relatively recently formed; it is about a year and a bit old, but we’ve raised a significant amount of funding – nearly $160 million now – in the last year to advance the cause of longevity science. By the end of this year, we’ll have made 18 investments. Most of them are subsidiary companies of ours, so we control those companies. We give both development and financial backing to the scientist-entrepreneurs and institutions that we collaborate with.

I am fortunate to have two partners who have broad experience in the biotech and healthcare area, in particular, Declan Doogan, who was the head of drug development at Pfizer for a long period, and then he became the CEO of Amarin, which, as you know, is a very successful biotech company with a nearly $10 billion market valuation today. About four years ago, the three of us started a company called Biohaven, which is now listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has a valuation of about $2.5 billion. The company has approval for a drug for migraine, which will be on the market in the US next year. There is a good team of veteran drug developers and business entrepreneurs who have come together to create this Juvenescence company, and we’re very, very excited about it. We’re the biggest investors in the company ourselves, on the same terms as other investors. We will take the company public in the first quarter of next year, barring market disasters, and probably on the US stock exchanges.

We’re interested in this field of longevity science and able to raise significant funding because we’ve been in biotech for quite a long period of time, together, and created a number of companies. It seemed to be a natural outgrowth of the great developments that have occurred in the last few years. The unveiling of the human genome identified aging pathways that can now be manipulated. For the first time ever, you and I are in the cohort that is able to be bioengineered to live a healthier and longer life. It is still in a very primitive stage; we’re in the internet dial-up era equivalent, but the science is advancing very quickly.

I always say that I wrote my first book on biotech seven years ago, it was called Cracking the Code, and since then, we’ve had CRISPR/Cas9, which didn’t exist seven years ago, we’ve had the cure for Hepatitis C, we’ve had artificial intelligence for the development of novel compounds. The latter of which is a key part of our strategy, as investors in In Silico Medicine, which I think you are familiar with. Then, of course, you have cancer immunotherapy, which didn’t exist seven years ago, and is now a $100 billion / year industry. So, what’s going to happen in the next seven years? We don’t know, but it’s going to be very, very good. If you want to regard it as a casino table, we’re covering all the markers that we can with the funds that we’ve raised. We hope to raise a substantial further amount on the initial public offering of the company in the first quarter of next year, and that will give us enough firepower to do five Phase 2 trials without partners so that we can get the maximum leverage on the products that we’re developing.

So far, we’ve invested in small molecules, which is the specialization of our team. For instance, we have a senolytic drug in development in that area. We’ve also invested in stem cells; we’re the largest investor in Mike West’s company, AgeX Therapeutics, which is now a public company in the US. We own about 46% of that company. Then, via Lygenesis, we’ve also got our first product going into patients in the first quarter of next year, sick patients in a phase II trial, for organ regeneration, regenerating the liver, using hepatocytes to seed lymph nodes to act as ectopic bioreactors to grow fully functioning liver tissue. The FDA has agreed to the protocol for doing that in sick patients, which is a remarkably fast path to demonstrating successful outcomes in that area. If that is successful, then we will look to regenerate other organs, in particular the thymus, which as you know is related to aging in a big way.

We’re moving very, very quickly. We’ve got great colleagues; Margaret Jackson from Pfizer is on our team. Howard Federoff, ex-Pfizer, is on our team. Annalisa Jenkins, who was head of drug development and research and development at Merck Serono, a very big drug company, is on our team. We’ve put it all together remarkably quickly, but we have experience in doing that, and so we’re full of confidence. This is a remarkable time to be alive, and I want to be alive for at least another 20 or 30 years beyond what would be considered to be my allotted life span. The same is the motivating factor for my cofounders, Declan Doogan and Greg Bailey.

Working to extend life is an ethical cause. No one can argue, successfully at least, that this isn’t a good thing to do. There are some people who say “well, it is for the haves and not for the have-nots” but that is rubbish, because, ultimately, all these drugs will become generally available, and some of them already are. Metformin, which, as you are aware, is a drug that has some anti-aging properties, costs essentially nothing. It is a generic drug. As antibiotics, ulcer drugs, and so forth were once expensive and are now very cheap, the same thing will happen to drugs for longevity. Gene therapy and stem cells are another matter, though, and they will probably be expensive things for some time to come. But, undoubtedly, the cost will come down for those as well.

The other people who argue against work on aging talk about overpopulation; if there are all these old people, will there be enough room on the planet. Well, the answer is, we’re already alive, so we’re not going to be adding to the population. You and I are already here. The big issue on population is how many children does each woman have around the world, and that figure is falling dramatically, to the point where we can see populations actually shrinking. Just as an example, if Japan doesn’t allow immigration, or doesn’t have a baby boom, its population will fall from 126 million today to 50 million by the year 2100. So both those arguments, the haves versus the have-nots, and the overpopulation concern, are nonsensical arguments. In my view, there is absolutely no reason why governments, institutions, the general population, and the voting population shouldn’t be pushing really hard to make this happen.

Regarding the aging of the existing population and how to cope with it, the main point made by Aubrey de Grey, and other eminent scientists as well, is that if you treat the top of the cascade of damage in aging, then you are going to treat the underlying diseases of aging that pharmaceutical companies are trying to address. But for those pharmaceutical companies, it is a whack-a-mole exercise, so if you get one disease and that is cured, then you’ll get another one, and they’ll have to cure that one. Ultimately, we become destabilized and we die, all of us. So, let’s try and treat aging as the central disease, and from that as the unitary disease, we’ll be treating the cascade that follows from that.

Some people say it is hubris to target aging, but I think that this is because until relatively recently, nothing worked. It has been an aspiration of human beings for millennia to find the fountain or elixir of youth, and nothing has worked. So, people are skeptical about the fact that it might be working now: why now rather than 20 years ago or 20 years in the future? But the fact is that it is now, and we need to seize the moment and rise to the challenge. We need much more funding to come into this area, and that funding will drive the science. We need many more advocates for this cause to come to the fore and tp spread the word, that this is going to be monumentally great for human beings.

In my own case, I’ve set up a charity with Andrew Scott, who wrote The 100 Year Life, and we do a Longevity Week in London. We did the first one last year, and we’re doing the next one in November of this year, to spread the word. This will have a big societal impact, on consumption, on the way in which we look at the trajectory of life, but it is also going to have a major impact on us as human beings. In the past, you’d have expected to live to about 85 or 90, the same with me, and now we’re very likely to live to 110 or 120, so let’s do it. Let’s make it happen. I think that all of us, yourself, myself, have relatives, dear friends, and acquaintances who are suffering the indignities of aging as it currently exists. We’d like to relieve that burden of suffering by extending the healthy span of life. The personal motivation is a very big factor. Here in Berlin, there are 300 or 400 people at this conference, and I imagine that all of them, beyond just the business or scientific side of things, have an altruistic motivation for this as well. More people need to do it, so get on to it!

The elevator pitch for high net worth people thinking about investing in this space is that, first of all, we’re at the front end of a huge upward curve. I said earlier on that this was like the internet dial-up phase of longevity biotech. If you’d invested in the internet in the very early days, you’d be more than a billionaire now; you’d be one of the richest people on the planet. We’re at that stage now, so the opportunity for investors is huge, but you could do both. You could invest in something like the SENS Research Foundation or the Buck Institute or one of those wonderful organizations that is trying to advance the cause, and at the same time invest in some of the companies that come out of those institutions. We’ve undertaken two joint ventures with the Buck Institute, and we’ve made a couple of investments as a result of introductions by the SENS Research Foundation, including the organ regeneration program. If you’re a sensible billionaire, you will be putting some of your funds to work in a combination of a charitable enterprise that drives the science and the businesses themselves that come out of those enterprises.

Many thanks to Leaf Science for doing the transcript!

Perhaps one of the most interesting companies in which Juvenescence has invested is Lygenesis, which is developing an approach to address liver failure by creating miniature livers to pick up the slack. Lygenesis is using a technique in which liver cells are delivered to lymph nodes, where they develop and grow into fully working liver tissue, albeit smaller than the organ they replace. If these organs are shown to perform all the functions of a working liver, they could potentially remove the need to replace damaged livers through transplants. Initial work in mice and pigs has been promising, and Lygenesis plans to move to phase 2 clinical trials in early 2020.

Judith Campisi – Senolytics for Healthy Longevity

I had the absolute privilege of interviewing Judith Campisi at the Undoing Aging conference in Berlin.  She was so sweet and kind – it was really a pleasure to spend time with her discussing senolytics, regenerative medicine, and the anti-aging movement.

 

 

 

Judith Campisi was humble, open minded, and careful not to overstate the importance of senolytics, and rejuvenation therapy in general.  Though she really is someone who has made an absolutely huge impact in anti-aging research.  I couldn’t have said it better than Reason at Fight Aging!

As one of the authors of the initial SENS position paper, published many years ago now, Judith Campisi is one of the small number of people who is able to say that she was right all along about the value of targeted removal of senescent cells, and that it would prove to be a viable approach to the treatment of aging as a medical condition. Now that the rest of the research community has been convinced of this point – the evidence from animal studies really is robust and overwhelming – the senescent cell clearance therapies known as senolytics are shaping up to be the first legitimate, real, working, widely available form of rejuvenation therapy.