Tech titans’ latest project: Defy death

For centuries, explorers have searched the world for the fountain of youth. Today’s billionaires believe they can create it, using technology and data.

What many of the recent efforts have in common is a belief that computerized analysis of big data sets can deliver cures, predict outbreaks and discover patterns that would have been impossible for the human brain to process. An oft-cited example is Google’s flu heat map, which is built on the idea that an improved predictor for flu activity might be clusters of searches for, say, Tamiflu or “flu symptoms,” collected from Internet service provider addresses.

That approach turns the traditional scientific method on its head. In the United States, most biomedical research happens at a gradual and sometimes painfully deliberate pace. Scientists start with a hypothesis, conduct experiments to test it and then spend years refining and analyzing the results they collect.

.. And there are few checks and balances on such initiatives. Once, two-thirds of scientific and medical research was funded by the federal government, beholden to the public good. Now, two-thirds is funded by private industry, a growing share by billionaires accountable to no one and impatient with the pace of innovation.

.. America remains deeply ambivalent about using new medical treatments to live radically longer lives. In a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 51 percent said they believed treatments to slow, stop or reverse aging would have a negative impact on society.

.. In that kind of world, social change comes to a standstill, he said; aging dictators could stay in power for centuries.

.. Fukuyama said in an interview. “Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirably by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

.. Vinod Khosla, one of Silicon Valley’s most revered venture capitalists, likened the practice of medicine to witchcraft. He argued that machines are better than the average doctor and that disruption in health care was more likely to be driven by those outside the industry than those in the profession.

.. Since 2010, the National Institutes of Health’s budget has been cut by about $3.6 billion — or 11 percent — after adjusting for inflation

.. Prevailing theory among the tech entrepreneurs holds that the federal government is too risk-averse to properly drive medical research.  A failed project in Washington is akin to a great tragedy — with managers being called to testify at congressional hearings and Government Accountability Office investigations being launched into why so much taxpayer money was wasted. But in the entrepreneurial world, say tech leaders, failure is regarded as a learning opportunity on the way to the next innovation.

 .. scientists, motivated by the pressures to publish and entangled in a web of conflicts of interest, manipulate data so often that it’s impossible to trust the body of scientific literature that  assesses the efficacy of hormone-replacement therapy or vitamin E or low-dose aspirin. Of 45 well-accepted journal articles about medical interventions, Ioannidis found, 14, or 31 percent, were later shown to be wrong or exaggerated.
.. Thiel said the problem with the grant-making processes at NIH, the National Science Foundation and other major funders of research is that they are “consensus-oriented.”
.. everyone would be like Harriette Thompson, the 91-year-old who broke records this year after completing a marathon in 7 hours and 7 minutes.
.. The big challenge of aging research is that to make it work the way people want it to scientists would have to figure out a way to extend all human systems simultaneously and shut them all down at pretty much the same time. Otherwise you would be replacing one way of dying with another.
.. “If you did this, you might start working on some great projects you might otherwise not have attempted because you didn’t think you’d finish,” Thiel said. “You’d treat strangers a lot better because you’d likely see them again. You’d be a much better steward of the Earth than if you thought it was your last day and you were having a crazy party or something.”

Whitey on Mars: Elon Musk and the rise of Silicon Valley’s strange trickle-down science

Musk’s plan to colonise Mars is a sign of an older and recurring social problem. What happens when the rich and powerful isolate themselves from everyday concerns? Musk wants to innovate and leave Earth, rather than to take care of it, or fix it, and stay. Like so many of his peers in the innovating and disrupting classes, Musk prefers to dwell in fantasy and science fiction, safely removed from the world of here and now. Musk is a utopian, in the original Greek meaning: ‘no place’. Repulsed by the world we all share, he dreams of a place that does not exist.

.. Before his death, King had turned his political activism toward the problems of economic inequality and poverty. Abernathy stayed with this focus, and continued to organise people around addressing economic issues for black and white Americans. In July 1969, with the Apollo 11 launch, Abernathy saw an opportunity to keep economic justice on the nation’s conscience. He announced a march to Cape Canaveral in Florida, the rocket launch site.

.. Abernathy told NASA officials, as one of them recalled: ‘The money for the space program should be spent to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend the sick, and house the shelterless.’

.. Abernathy’s insight about the priorities of a country that could send men into space while millions of Americans lacked medical care, shelter and food found a new voice in Gil Scott-Heron.

.. US adventures into outer space – white men in expensive, gleaming white spaceships – captivated popular attention and support in ways that urban poverty did not. Americans continued to send their tax revenues to the heavens.

.. US adventures into outer space – white men in expensive, gleaming white spaceships – captivated popular attention and support in ways that urban poverty did not. Americans continued to send their tax revenues to the heavens.

.. His parents divorced when he was young, leaving Musk to be raised by his abusive father. The boy developed the habit of detaching from reality and entering a dreamlike space of imagination. Later, he would envision new technologies in this state. As a child, he was known as a spaced-out nerd who corrected his peers’ mistakes. He was bullied. By his teen years, Musk fantasised about escaping South Africa for the US. After he graduated from high school in 1989, he followed through on these dreams, leaving behind his impoverished and racially divided country.

.. From his early days in business, Musk developed a reputation for harshness. He chastised one employee who missed a company event to be at the birth of his child: ‘You need to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t.’

.. Musk himself admits that, in his early years as a leader, he assumed that ‘other people will behave like you’. He grew frustrated when he realised that people didn’t behave like him. He lacked a natural ability to empathise with other people’s experiences and points of view.

.. For all its ideals and the great possibilities inherent in them, Tesla remains a company that makes toys for rich people.

.. Musk insists that humans in fact ‘need’ to go to Mars. The Mars mission, he argues, is the best way for humanity to become what he calls a ‘space-faring civilisation and a multi-planetary species’. This otherworldly venture, he says, is necessary to mitigate the ‘existential threat’ from artificial intelligence (AI) that might wipe out human life on Earth.

.. The idea that Google’s CEO Larry Page might create artificially intelligent robots that will destroy humanity reportedly keeps Musk up at night. ‘I’m really worried about this,’ Musk told his biographer. ‘He could produce something evil by accident.’

.. Musk estimates the cost of the Mars mission at around $10 billion per person. His goal is to reduce that cost to $200,000 per person. He said this would allow ‘almost anyone’ to save up and buy a trip to Mars.

.. For $1.5 billion, we could upgrade the lead-contaminated water infrastructure in Flint, Michigan; for $400 billion, we could repair the water infrastructure of the entire US. It’s jarring to think that one of the brightest minds of our age would rather fund 40 trips to Mars than keep children in his own country safe from poisoned water. It’s enough to make one wonder what led Musk to develop such contempt for the billions of humans who could never escape Earth.

.. ‘The idea that Mars will somehow save us from the decisions we’ve made is a false one.’ If we ‘truly believe in our ability to bend the hostile environments of Mars for human habitation, then we should be able to surmount the far easier task of preserving the habitability of the Earth.

.. In his September 2016 announcement, he declared that a fully self-sustaining civilisation on Mars would need around 1 million people. From Earth’s current population of 7.125 billion, the Musk Million would bring 0.014035087719298244 per cent of it to Mars.

.. If Musk prefers the planetary scale of action, he could lead people to preserve our single planetary resource, also known as Earth, the only planet we will probably ever have. Even on Musk’s own optimistic terms, his adolescent space fantasies will benefit only 0.014 per cent of humanity. He makes the politicians who serve the 1 per cent seem like communists.

.. Quite simply, why not address the existential problems facing our society and our fellow humans directly? We don’t need trickle-down science.

.. The moral detachment of the plan signifies a deeper pathology that afflicts our culture of innovation, and celebrates innovators such as Musk, who are all too eager to play with gadgets and leave their fellow humans behind.

Trump Promises a Revelation on Hacking

“I just want them to be sure because it’s a pretty serious charge,” Mr. Trump said of the intelligence agencies. “If you look at the weapons of mass destruction, that was a disaster, and they were wrong,” he added, referring to intelligence cited by the George W. Bush administration to support its march to war in 2003. “So I want them to be sure,” the president-elect said. “I think it’s unfair if they don’t know.”

He added: “And I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”

Donald Trump’s complicated relationship with technology

The incoming president has mastered Twitter, but he doesn’t do email and rarely uses a computer.

Trump’s strange analysis this week of the Russian hacking scandal — “computers have complicated lives very greatly” and “nobody knows exactly what is going on” — sounded wildly out of sync with the tech-obsessed culture that Trump has so expertly tapped into through Twitter.

 .. When conservative commentator Erick Erickson wrote a column last December that pleased Trump, he wanted to send Erickson an email. So Trump scribbled a note with a black Sharpie and had his assistant make a digital scan of the note and email it to Erickson.“He’s the only one who’s ever sent me an email like that,” Erickson said, laughing. “He considers email a distraction.”

.. Erickson added: “He gets his emails printed out, and he reads and annotates them and sends them back as a PDF.” Current and former aides say that is standard practice.

.. Stone said Trump is “obsessed with Twitter” and has “great instincts” because he watches TV so much and understands ratings.

.. Trump told Erickson and others that email is a problem because people waste their day on it and it only opens them up to trouble. He has talked to aides and friends about business executives who were damaged by emails at trials and other politicians, like Hillary Clinton, Anthony Weiner and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who have brought themselves trouble via email.