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Interview with Nick Bostrom
by Jonathan Despres. Go to the Interviews.
Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and what current projects are you involved in?
I have a science background (physics, computational neuroscience, and AI) but my home field is philosophy. My research interests are quite wide-ranging as a visit to my homepage (http://www.nickbostrom.com) will reveal.
Currently I'm setting up a new interdisciplinary research institute, the Future of Humanity Institute, at Oxford University (http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk). We will start recruiting this fall. FHI will focus on three areas: the ethics and practicalities of human enhancement; global catastrophic risk; and the future of humanity. I'm also a founder and chair of the World Transhumanist Association.
What are your goals for the next decade?
I want to understand the big picture - our place in the world and the long-term prospects for intelligent life. However, my motivation is ultimately practical. I want to contribute to making a better world. Through my research I'm trying to improve our understanding of some of the big picture issues for humanity and the implications they might have for current policy choices. The more specific research questions keep changing as I learn more, but this is the overall goal.
When do you think will we achieve real life extension?
We have been achieving real life extension for more than a thousand years. Ancient Romans lived for circa 23 years. Today, life-expectancy in the world is 64 years. For the past 150 years, best-performance life-expectancy (i.e. life-expectancy in the country where it is highest) has increased at a steady rate of 3 months per year.
But another really huge increase in developed countries would require us to tackle the aging process. I'm hoping that this will be possible within several decades. I don't think it's possible to be very precise about the time scale for this.
Do you believe in Cryonics and when will it suceed ?
My guess is that it is already succeeding in the sense that current cryonics patients could probably be reanimated given sufficiently advanced technology, with their minds reasonably intact. But I don't think reanimation will be possible until we have advanced nanomedicine.
Which path should we take for immortalism, nanomedicine or biogerontology or ?
Both. In particular, I think that a Manhattan-like program to tackle the aging processes should be launched immediately, and should be massively funded.
What first attracted you to the idea of physical immortality?
It's not so much "immortality" per se, but simply the idea that dying when you don't want to die is a horrible thing and that life at its best can wonderful beyond belief. Once you realize that aging will probably be overcome sometime in this century, and that 100,000 people currently die every day from aging-related decay, a sense of urgency is a perfectly natural and sensible response. One doesn't need any special "extra" desire for immortality to appreciate this, just a perfectly ordinary love of life that one doesn't try to rationalize away.
What a company can do to become sucessful in the life extension business?
Lot of different things presumably. It could also be something indirect, like developing better research tools that are useful in biogerontological research. If you own a company you could offer financial support to non-profit research institutions and to individuals who promote the right kind of research. For example, please donate to the M-Prize (http://www.mprize.org/)!
How handy an indefinite lifespan would be?
I've got to say this kind of question puzzles me. It's rather like asking a prisoner of Auschwitz, "How handy would it be not to be forced into the gas chamber". How does one answer this?
My Dragon Fable was an attempt to put things in perspective (http://www.nickbostrom.com/fable/dragon.html).
Do you know a good person who I should interview?
Robin Hanson usually has interesting things to say.