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Interview with Robin Hanson
by Jonathan Despres. Go to the Interviews.
Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and what current projects are you involved in?
It took me a while to figure out what academic discipline to call home. I went from physics to philosophy of science to artificial intelligence to Bayesian statistics to economics to political science to health policy. Along the way I also studied hypertext publishing (i.e., what is now the web) and future technologies.
Today I am a tenured professor of economics at George Mason University. (You can do a lot of things and call it economics!) I helped to found the field of prediction/information markets, and continue to work in that area. I also study the the nature and rationality of disagreements. For more, see http://hanson.gmu.edu
What are your goals for the next decade?
In addition to nurturing the new field of prediction/information markets, and writing a book on disagreement, I hope return to the subject of the social implications of future technologies. The best people who write in this area know a lot about the relevant specific technologies, but far less about social science. Worse, most of them seem to think that there is no social science, that any thoughts about social processes that pop into their head are just as good anything professional social scientists have to offer. We can do so much better than that.
When do you think will we achieve real life extension?
We now live much longer than our ancestors did. In the developed nations, age-specific mortality rates have fallen at a steady exponential rate for the entire last century. I expect this trend to continue at the same rate for a while. While this is good news for the human race, it will disappoint those who hope to escape death altogether.
Sometime in the next twenty to seventy years, however, I expect this steady trend to be dramatically and suddenly changed by the ability to upload brains into computers. Uploading should allow truly indefinite lifespan, given sufficient social stability and individual wealth.
Do you believe in Cryonics and when will it suceed ?
I expect someone cryogenically frozen today has at least a five percent chance of revival, which is a much better chance of extended life than the other available alternatives. The first feasible form of revival will probably be uploading. The main risks are social and organizational - a physically preserved body will probably be uploadable.
Which path should we take for immortalism, nanomedicine or biogerontology or ?
Unfortunately, medicine isn't as useful as most people think it is (see my review at http://hanson.gmu.edu/feardie.pdf). Eventually I hope for substantial advances, but for now I'd focus on a personal level on things like exercise, diet, avoiding smoking and cities, and so on.
As far as community effort goes, our path should depend on the resources available. If we had enough resources to pursue de Grey's approach, that would be well worth it to humanity from a cost-benefit point of view. But given the sorts of limited resources I expect we will have, we should focus on personal health, and try to speed the arrival of uploading. We can save some resources by avoiding wasting money on medicine. And we might also consider creating prediction/information markets to tell us which approaches are the most promising.
What first attracted you to the idea of physical immortality?
I'm not really that attracted to the idea of immortality. I mainly repelled by the idea of death. When did I first realize I didn't like the idea of dying? Must have been very early.
What a company can do to become sucessful in the life extension business?
Offer a valuable product of course. Damn hard to do, unfortunately.
How handy would an indefinite lifespan be?
I feel somewhat baffled at how to answer such a question. Life is where I do all the things I like doing. On the other hand, "me" a thousand years from now would be so different from me today that, that "I" would mostly be gone in any case. But I wish that future person well, and certainly don't wish death on him.
Do you know a good person who I should interview?