Bringing Kurzweil's dream to earth

I've seen a lot of attention to the new Ray Kurzweil book, Fanstastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, but only now have I seen a review by someone knowledgeable about the evolutionary biology of aging. Tom Kirkwood is just such a person, and Nature has his review of the book, along with another book on the same topic (by Philip Lee Miller and the Life Extension Foundation, with Monica Reinagel --- does that sound like a 70's funk band, or what?).

The review is basically supportive of the actual content of the books, but at the same time critical of the hype. Here's a sample:

Peel away the gloss, however, and these two books turn out to be rather humdrum contributions to the growing genre of 'how to' manuals that aspire to tell us "how to benefit from cutting edge science and add years to your life" and "how to extend the prime of your life and rejuvenate your body, mind and spirit". Both books do a fair job of summarizing the current state of knowledge about factors that can affect the ageing process and about what can sensibly be done to increase your chances of living into old age in good health.

And there is this interesting passage:

We know, for example, that, in model organisms, boosting some of the mechanisms for cellular maintenance and repair can indeed extend life-span. This does not mean that the same techniques will necessarily work in humans, because we know from comparative studies that humans are already endowed, for good evolutionary reasons, with much better maintenance systems than shorter-lived species. By analogy, a design modification that boosts the performance of my own modest car will not necessarily make a Maserati go faster, as the Maserati is engineered for peak performance already. But we can try.

One might say the best thing about immortality is getting to see the full effects of compound interest. But don't bet on it yet.


Kirkwood T. 2005. Live long and prosper (combined review). Nature 436:915-916. Full text (subscription required).