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The Invincible Man

Aubrey de Grey, photographed at San Francisco's airport, created the Methuselah Foundation to support scientific research into extending the life span, oh, 900 years.
Aubrey de Grey, photographed at San Francisco's airport, created the Methuselah Foundation to support scientific research into extending the life span, oh, 900 years. (Thor Swift/Post)

"Yes, it is precisely the future," he says. "Except without people who look as old as you and me."

"Of course the world will be completely different in all manner of ways," de Grey says of the next few decades. His speech is thick, fast and mellifluous, with a quality British accent.

"If we want to hit the high points, number one is, there will not be any frail elderly people. Which means we won't be spending all this unbelievable amount of money keeping all those frail elderly people alive for like one extra year the way we do at the moment. That money will be available to spend on important things like, well, obviously, providing the health care to keep us that way, but that won't be anything like so expensive. Secondly, just doing the things we can't afford now, giving people proper education and not just when they're kids, but also proper adult education and retraining and so on.

"Another thing that's going to have to change completely is retirement. For the moment, when you retire, you retire forever. We're sorry for old people because they're going downhill. There will be no real moral or sociological requirement to do that. Sure, there is going to be a need for Social Security as a safety net just as there is now. But retirement will be a periodic thing. You'll be a journalist for 40 years or whatever and then you'll be sick of it and you'll retire on your savings or on a state pension, depending on what the system is. So after 20 years, golf will have lost its novelty value, and you'll want to do something else with your life. You'll get more retraining and education, and go and be a rock star for 40 years, and then retire again and so on."

The mind reels. Will we want to be married to the same person for a thousand years? Will we need religion anymore? Will the planet fill to overflowing?

But first -- why are these questions coming up now? And why are we listening to answers from Aubrey de Grey?

Appalled at the Carnage

De Grey became the archenemy of aging in two steps.

"The first stage happened when I was probably 8 or 9 years old. My mother wanted me to practice the piano, and I would resist it.

"She'd already somehow brought me up to be very analytical and introspective. So I realized it was very straightforward. The best possible outcome of my putting in this enormous time at the piano is that I would become a good pianist. That wasn't good enough. I would make a minimal difference in the world, because there were plenty of other very good pianists already. Well, that won't do. What I actually wanted to do with my life is make a difference to the world. That led me into science very quickly."

In his teens he heard the siren song of the the first British microcomputers, the Sinclairs and Acorns, and never looked back. Computer science filled his undergraduate years at Cambridge and became the field in which he spent more than a decade.

The second stage started when he was 26. De Grey fell in love with and married a geneticist, Adelaide Carpenter, who is 19 years his senior.

He learned a lot of biology over the dinner table, he says, and gradually became driven by the notion that "aging is responsible for two-thirds of all death -- now that means worldwide 100,000 people every single day -- and in the industrialized world, it is something like 90 percent."


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