I was immensely glad to find this community, because while I knew intellectually that I was not the only person who felt that rationality was important, death was bad, and technology was our savior, I had never met anyone else who did. I thus determined my career without much input from anything except my own interests; which is not so bad, of course, but I have realized that I might benefit from advice from like-minded people.

Specifically, I would like to know what LessWrong thinks I should do in order to get into "immortality research." Edit: that means "what field should I go into if I want humanity to have extended lifespans as soon as possible?"

I feel immortality, or at least life-extension, is one of - if not the - most important thing(s) humanity can accomplish right now. I don't think I am suited to AI work, however. Another obvious option is an MD, but that's not in my temperament either. My major right now is biochemistry, in preparation for a doctorate in either biochemistry itself, or pharmacology.

I think there's a good chance that advances in this area could contribute to life extension; aging is a biochemical process, right? And certainly drugs will be involved in life extension. But is this the best place to apply my efforts? I have considered that biogerontology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerontology) might be better, as it is about aging specifically; but I don't know much about the field - only that Wikipedia says it is new and very few universities offer degrees in it. My final idea is nanotechnology of some kind; I believe nanomachines may be able to repair our bodies. I'm not sure what type of nanotechnology I'd be looking at for this, or if degrees in it are offered.

Any ideas, suggestions, or comments in general are welcome. I favor the biochemical approach as of now, but only through temperament. As far as I know, AI, biochemical/pharmacological methods, and nanotechnology are all about equally close to giving us immortality. If someone feels one option is better than the others, or has recommended reading on the subject, please share!


Thanks in advance, my new rational friends.

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I suggest you write to Athena Andreadis at Harvard, ask her what's missing from the SENS Foundation's "seven research themes", and try to fill the gap.

Thank you! I will do so forthwith.
Maybe I need to more research on that lady, but I got the impression she thought the whole thing was bunk? Btw Hul-Gil I commend your zeal.
Thank you. :D I hope to inspire everyone to feel the same way - then we'll be immortal in no time!

Have you looked at the stuff SENS foundation is doing, and tried to figure out if any of it is close to what you're studying?

Their Academic Initiative especially seems aimed at people in your circumstances.

Thank you - I am looking now.

I recommend cryobiology research for consideration, if that's something that interests you. Achieving reversible cryopreservation (particularly of the brain) seems like a more modest near-term goal than developing a method of reversing aging.

Can you provide arguments/evidence for why it should be a relatively low cost goal?
Perhaps it presumes too much but it seems that many consider it possible we can preserve brain state information for an extended amount of time without understanding it or having any specific ideas of how to reconstitute a thinking being based on that information.

I'm in a similar situation (chemistry pre-med student). Personally, I'm interested in nanotech because that field is new, and requires researchers who are inventing the way forward. That appeals to me; I think it sounds fun, plus it's an important field for immortality. I don't have a lot of connections to that field though, although it's definitely something I'm looking into for graduate work.

Additionally, diseases like Alzheimer's are serious obstacles to immortality, and are really and truly horrible. Two of my grandparents are information-theoreticall... (read more)

The best way for you to advance research on immortality is to earn as high a salary as possible and donate money to people doing immortality research.

I think this statement hold truer for individuals whose competitive advantage is best suited for a high salary career. It seems the OP is inclined towards science, so it makes sense to go into a scientific field, again one that plays to the individual's competitive advantage. I personally wouldn't know what to suggest, though. Porter's idea looks good, assuming there is a noticeable gap in SENS' research that they aren't actively trying to fill. As a Junior in High School, I've actually been thinking about this quite a bit, and I would also like to go into life extension or cryonics work.

Not everybody can follow this prescription though. Somebody has to do the actual research.

True but irrelevant to what Hul-Gil should do since his actions would have only a small impact on the total number of people who conduct immortality research.
Under what circumstances, then, would you say that it would be a good idea for someone interested in bringing about human immortality to go into research?
very high IQ and low social skills. people with very high IQ and high social skills can generally make enough money to pay for several researchers.
I'm asking specifically what field I should go into; perhaps that wasn't clear enough. Your suggestion is not correct if my intellectual contributions would be more valuable than any or most monetary ones I could make. But don't think I have not considered the opposite, too; to that end, what's the best way to make money? Economists aren't as rich as I would have guessed.

If your passion is science, if at a gut level you believe that's where you can make the best contribution, do that. Making real money takes a hell of a lot of drive; it's not something that's at all likely to be accomplished by following the steps because you've been intellectually persuaded it's the course of highest utility.

The same is true in reverse, of course; if your passion is to start your own company, do that and donate money to immortality research.

In other words, don't try to choose in the abstract the career of highest utility. Choose from among those careers with high utility, that one where you have comparative advantage; and listen to your gut about where your comparative advantage lies.

I think you're right, but many people here seem to disagree and it is quite likely I'm wrong; I haven't actually researched in detail how difficult it is do, say, financial trading. What evidence are you basing this on?

The best ways to earn a high salary are to go into finance, law or to start your own business.

You should be careful to properly measure the marginal intellectual contribution you can make to a field. Think what would happen if the organization you would work for hired the next best candidate. Your marginal contribution is the difference between what you would do and what this second best candidate would do. You need to take into account that anyone who ends up paying you to conduct immortality research would likely have paid someone else to do it if you weren't around. In contrast, if you end up donating money to an organization that does immortality research then there isn't any other money this organization loses because they end up getting your funds.

I think this account of marginal contribution is wrong. Here's a handwavy model to explain why. Suppose there are N people in the world working on X, and you're the Mth best. And suppose (laughably) that every organization doing X hires exactly one person, the best person it can get. And (also laughably) that everyone works for the best organization they can, and that that's the one doing the most valuable work in X. Write A(n) for the importance of the nth-best organization's work and B(n) for the quality of the nth-best person's work. OK. So the total utility we get is the sum of A(n) B(n). Now, suppose you weren't there. The organization employing you gets the next-best person instead, and then the next-best organization gets the next-next-best, etc. In other words, instead of A(1)B(1) + A(2)B(2) + ... + A(N)B(N) we get A(1)B(1) + ... + A(M-1)B(M-1) + A(M)B(M+1) + A(M+1)B(M+2) + etc. The total utility loss is therefore A(M)(B(M)-B(M+1)) + A(M+1)(B(M+1)-B(M+2)) + etc. The first term here is what James_Miller describes, but there are all the others too. (Another way for the scenario to play out: Everyone's already employed; then you drop out and your employer has to hire ... whom? Not the next-best candidate, because s/he is already working for someone else. They'll get the (N+1)th-best candidate, not the (M+1)th-best. The most likely actual outcome is something intermediate between the one I described above and this one.) Suppose, for instance, that the As and Bs obey a Zipf-like law: A(n) = 1/n, B(n) = 1/n. Then the utility loss is sum {M..N} of 1/n (1/n - 1/(n+1)) = sum {M..N} of 1/n^2(n+1) ~= 1/2 (1/M^2 - 1/N^2), whereas James_Miller's account gives about 1/M^3. If M is much smaller than N -- i.e., if you'd be one of the best in the field -- then James's figure for the utility loss is too small by a factor on the order of M. If M is comparable to N -- i.e., if you'd be towards the bottom of the pack -- then James's figure is too small by a factor on the ord
This applies well to small organizations or departments, but large organizations, especially universities, could hire researches to work in a field, rather than on a specific task. Researchers working on important problems can work on things that no one would do in their absence.
"X" was meant to be the name of a field rather than of a specific task. I don't think that makes much difference. But yes, there are contexts in which if you weren't available your work simply wouldn't be done. In that case, your marginal contribution equals your contribution, and once again, the "your contribution minus the next-best person's" calculation gives much too small an answer.
A few other remarks. If A(n)=1 (i.e., more attractive employers aren't actually doing more useful work) then the Miller marginal-utility loss is 1/M(M+1) and the gjm marginal utility loss is 1/M-1/N, for much the same ratio as before. If A(n) or B(n) or both decrease really quickly with n -- A(n) = 2^-n, say -- then the error is smaller. The super-naive approach of pretending that the marginal utility loss equals the utility your work would have done is a much better approximation than "replace self with next-best candidate and change nothing else" is.
That's an excellent way to think about it. I had not considered it like that; it makes me feel less guilty about the possibility of going into finance! However, intellectual contributions are not necessarily purchasable. That is, donating enough money for an organization to hire two mediocre scientists may not result in the insights of one slightly better scientist; margin size may not be linear. To paraphrase a quote from an article I've forgotten the rest of, "a hundred years of doggy living won't add up to one human insight." Not to suggest I am so excellent as to make all other scientists look like dogs, of course. Rather, I feel that the insights of any one researcher are possibly unique. The example that comes to my mind is that of vulcanized rubber - discovered by accident. Who knows when it would have come about if Goodyear had gone into law instead? Who knows but that I might stumble on the Vulcanized Rubber of Immortality? In any case, a world where everyone researched immortality would be better than a world where one person researched it with the funds of everyone else. Science is my true love and I don't think I shall abandon it, but finance is a little interesting. Do you suggest it just because financial careers come with high salaries, or do you think that understanding of finance means understanding how to manipulate money in order to become wealthy? I envisioned the latter for economics, but like I said, economists don't necessarily seem to be better investors than anyone else.
"Imagine running a dog mind at very high speed. Would a thousand years of doggy living add up to any human insight?" - Vernor Vinge on the Singularity
As for economists and investing, their standard advice is described in the comments here. The reason economists aren't fabulously wealthy is that financial markets are fairly efficient so it's hard to make money unless you have an edge.
One straightforward question to which I've never seen an answer is how the supposed existence of a science of macroeconomics can be reconciled with the efficient markets hypothesis, even the weak one. If you have come up with a macroeconomic theory that has non-trivial predictive power, surely it would be irrational to just publish it in a journal instead of first employing it to make some killer investments.
Like Silas Barta, I have come to the view that a lot of macroeconomics is terribly confused. I have an ongoing mission to make sense of macroeconomics. My explanation of how most macroeconomic theories of macroeconomic fluctuations work at their core is here. I'm not sure I understand your question, so if I'm answering past you, let me know. Anyway, if you came up with a model that predicted macroeconomic variables better than the marginal traders who trade assets strongly affected assets, yes you could make a killing. As I see it macroeconomic modeling is about producing theoretical understanding rather than producing predictions about the path. If we had really good and detailed prediction markets of all important macroeconomic measures, that would generate good predictions but it might not be very enlightening about what policy makers should do differently and why. In other words, modeling answers questions about what forces are at work while prediction about whats going to happen at some specific point in time is about what the net effect of those forces are. Theoretical macroeconomics can help us understand what kinds of things we should try to measure, what kinds of general rules policy makers should adopt etc. A good predictive mechanism can help us determine what people should do right now (should your grocer expect an increase or decrease in sales), whether policy makers do a good job. Does that clarify things?
Such "theoretical understanding" is as if you had a theory of physics that purported to "explain" past observations but was unable to make any predictions about future events. That is not science. At best it's just empty philosophizing, and at worst pernicious bullshit used to rationalize actions out of touch with reality. As for the relevant prediction markets, they already exist for all practical purposes. I don't know much about finance or investment, but I do have at least a rough idea how any correct non-trivial macroeconomic prediction could be translated into a winner investment strategy.
Perhaps I wasn't clear. I don't think that macroeconomic theorizing is useful even if it predicts nothing. Obviously that's useless. I think that macroeconomic theorizing is useful even if they don't generally outperform market predictions of market forcasted variables because it gives you different kinds of information about the economy. For example, imagine a world where relevant traders have very good models for predicting the value of the S&P500. However, these models are proprietary, detailed and heavily specialized for predicting the S&P500. Academic models are open, relatively simple and based on 'first principles'. In this scenario, how useful are these two types models? Depends on what kind of question you're asking: * What will the value of the S&P be in 1 year? Trader models useful. Academic models useless. * What kinds of alternative monetary institutions would be better than current ones? Trader models useless. Academic models useful. Perhaps you could formulate prediction markets to answer the second kind of question well, but I sure don't know how and in any case is not currently something people do. There are also plenty of non-trivial macroeconomic predictions that you cannot make money off of. For example, 'employment will be 1 point higher in 1 year' is non-trivial, but it could be information already perfectly incorporated into the markets. 'printing money now increases employment and inflation for 1 year out' is also nontrivial but may also be fully accounted for. If you don't have access to markets that predict precisely this information, such forecasts can easily be useful. Also, all relevant prediction markets do not exist. Examples: there are no very liquid unemployment prediction markets, there are no very liquid real GDP prediction markets etc. What is individually useful to trade is not necessarily the same thing as what is socially valuable to know.
It may well be that the existing trader models are useless for answering this question, but any novel model that is capable of answering them should ipso facto be able to provide useful investment information. There are endless public controversies over the expected effects of the current monetary policy, which have direct bearing on all sorts of markets, and if you can forecast their effects with more accuracy than any existing model, you should be able to beat the markets. If you really know that employment will be one point higher in a year, there are straightforward implications on trading. For example, people who bet (possibly as a way of hedging their investments) that there's going to be a very bad recession within a year are certainly wrong, and you can profit by betting against them. If I, a complete amateur, can easily think of such strategies, then I can only imagine what expert financiers could do with this information! It's similar with predicting NGDP and all other aggregate variables. I don't see any logical possibility how some macroeconomic prediction could be at the same time: (1) meaningful and non-trivial, (2) more accurate than the state of the art, and (3) useless for investment.
Replying by paragraph: 3) sure; my point was that (1) does not imply (2). 1) I'm not clear on how you're disagreeing with me, so this is mostly going to be a reworking of my previous answer. Let me know if you can clarify your disagreement. Academic and trader models can be better at answering different questions. Neither one need always dominate the other. Academic models might be better at answering questions which rarely come up, for example 'what happens when we change monetary institutions?', so not offer useful investment advice except in those rare occasions but still be useful for deciding what options policy makers should consider. Academic models can also provide much more understandable and accessible models of the economy (see 2). Non-traders may find these much more useful than trader models (which they may not have access to or be able to understand). 2) No. Remember I stated that this information was already taken into account by the market. NGDP, employment etc. are not random walks (Edit: I mean they are not martingales); their expected future value is not independent of past values. Unemployment is highly non random see here. Some macroeconomic variables are random walks, for example stock market indexes, but most of them are not.
I'm not sure I understand you either. Are you actually saying that if I had an oracle capable of telling me what, say, the rate of unemployment or NGDP growth will be in a year, it would not be possible to make investments with above-market returns using this information? Moreover, I am at a loss trying to imagine a theory that would enable us to predict with reliable accuracy what would happen if we changed the monetary institutions in a given way, and which wouldn't also enable us to get reliably accurate information on the uncertain and controversial questions about the consequences of the present monetary policies. This would also constitute valuable investment information. (Or do you think it wouldn't?) On the whole, the problem is that I simply cannot imagine any questions that macroeconomic theories purport to handle where a truly reliable and non-trivial information would not be valuable for investment. Also, you can't answer these questions by claiming that the relevant information has already been incorporated into the market prices, only in some obscure way that we now seek to disentangle. Many investments are specifically made in order to hedge against uncertainty in macroeconomic trends. If you have a theory that eliminates these uncertainties, or at least provides more accurate probability distributions, there's a straightforward killing to be made there.
"On the whole, the problem is that I simply cannot imagine any questions that macroeconomic theories purport to handle where a truly reliable and non-trivial information would not be valuable for investment." One where the prediction is longer than your investment window.
1) It all depends on whether your predictions are better than or worse than the relevant traders. If the traders already have access to such an oracle, you won't be able to make any money; if they don't, you will. Many macroeconomic variables of interest (GDP, employment etc.) are not martingales which means that predicting their movements is not the same thing as predicting them better than relevant traders. Being able to predict an asset price difference (between now and some future time) and acting on that information tends to move the price to eliminate that difference now. Being able to predict say a difference in unemployment (between now and some future time) does not necessarily tend to move unemployment to eliminate that difference right now. Perhaps the following is a more relevant example: lets that you and everyone else found out a couple of days ago that aliens are going to land on earth in a month. The variable aliens-on-earth (binary) is certainly an important macro variable. Naturally market prices currently reflect the fact that aliens will soon be among us. The current value of aliens-on-earth, however, is False and no amount of trading can change that. Aliens-on-earth is not a martingale; its current value is not equal to its discounted expected value and you can predict it quite well (aliens-on-earth(t) = {False for t < 1month and True for t >= 1 month). 2) I'll give a concrete but extreme question: what would happen if the US moved to a uranium based commodity money system? Would it be good? bad? Trader based models are likely pretty useless for this because no one thinks this is likely to happen so there are few benefits to developing a model for it. Even if they did, you might not have a way to get at those predictions. However, you could get a rough idea about the consequences by building an economic model for this scenario taking into account the economics of money, estimates about the stock and potential supply of uranium, the costs of av
(1) I know what martingale variables are, but I don't see why the non-martingale nature of the macroeconomic variables is relevant. Clearly, if you have figured out a novel way to predict the coming of the aliens ahead of others (or even just to predict its timing and other details more accurately), you can get rich by figuring out how their coming will affect the markets. This is perfectly analogous to a theory that will predict various macroeconomic variables more accurately than the state of the art, since these variables have predictable effect on asset prices. (In fact, once you have this information, they are no longer martingales for you, since e.g. if you know a recession is coming withing a year, the expected trend for countercyclical assets is upward.) Or to put it differently, from all that you have written thus far, I still don't see a concrete example (either actual or hypothetical) of the thing whose existence you assume: macroeconomic predictions that are interesting, novel, accurate, and at the same time useless for beating the markets. (2) I understand that there are hypothetical questions about monetary systems where an accurate answer would have no practical implications by itself. However, presently we are in a situation where there are deep and bitter disagreements even about the predicted consequences of the ordinary and standard monetary policy options. What I find implausible is that one could obtain correct answers of the former sort without a theory that would at the same time be able to give more accurate answers to questions of the latter sort (which would again translate into investment information in a straightforward way). It would be as if you had a theory of mechanics capable of predicting the motions of hypothetical planetary systems but of no use for practical technical problems. (3) Regarding your point about theoretical vs. applied research in other areas, the same heuristic actually is widely applicable. Whenever you see peop
For some reason I feel compelled to return to this topic: My point is not that macroeconomics is a great field filled with great insights (it's not and most macro theorists are terribly confused) but that it's not as ridiculous as you seem to imagine it that some economists have novel, interesting and true things to say about inflation, unemployment, GDP etc and are not themselves fabulously wealthy. (1) For example, some macroeconomic theories predict behaviors like the parable of the babysitting co-op. You can also run experimental economies (like this) and make predictions about the behavior of the economy. I might set up a play economy where different people produce different goods and trade and consume them. Money is traded but not produced. We let this economy do its thing for a while and then suddenly (and without announcing in advance) give everyone 20% more money. Using my favorite macro theory I could make a number of interesting and novel predictions about what will happen (after a long time, prices will be 20% higher; in the short run people will devote more resources to producing traded goods instead of traded goods). Because this is basically irrelevant to the workings of the real economy, my predictions will be both more accurate than market predictions as well as useless for making money in financial markets. Such theories would also make predictions about how good of an idea it would be to transition to a different monetary regime (say a competitive currency regime). (2) As I said before, if traders approximate the parts of your model that are directly applicable then you don't have any useful information advantage. (3) Sure, and there's plenty to be skeptical of in mainstream macro, but that doesn't imply unlimited skepticism.
Yeah, well, the way macroeconomists in the U.S. seem to make killing is by becoming advisors to the government, then giving advice that enriches them or their friends.
But how much money would that "someone else" otherwise have donated to immortality research, if they hadn't got the research job themselves?

and technology was our savior

Easy there. Risk from technology constitutes the greatest long-term problem we have right now. It's not at all clear that the benefits outweigh this problem.

I do tend to get pretty enthusiastic about technology. It might end up destroying us before a natural disaster would, but at least we have the theoretical chance to build a much better world for ourselves - a chance we wouldn't ever have without it, I think.

False dichotomy. If a flood is about to destroy your village, total absence of water that would make everyone die of thirst is not the only alternative, and imagining this alternative shouldn't make you "enthusiastic about water" when there's that flood to divert. Don't think about technology as a package deal, that obscures the specifics.

Okay, I see what you meant by your original reply. My reply was based on the idea that you meant a total absence of technology might be preferable. If that seems like a ridiculous idea to you, well, it does to me too - and I'm confused and disgusted by the fact that I have spent a lot of time arguing against people who think that very thing: technology bad... all of it.
This is a common enough failure mode: as soon as "sides" are identified, only arguments in favor of your own side will get any regard. But in reality, there are always positive and negative aspects for any situation or policy, even where the better decision is absolutely clear. Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided.

The question to ask before the question in the header is, "Should you?"

Obviously, I have already asked this. Since I have stated life extension is going to be my life's work, I probably concluded that yes I should. (And with pretty hefty "surety and importance coefficients"!) So do you actually mean "I don't think life extension/immortality is a good idea"?
Yes, that's what I mean.
Why not? I think it's a good idea for a few reasons. Mainly, that death is bad in the abstract, since there is no afterlife and it is the end of experience and thus happiness; and bad for me personally, since I don't think there is an afterlife and I want to continue to experience happiness. There is also the associated grief from those who loved the departed, and the decrepitude of age that makes life not worth living for some. The only aspect of immortality I don't like is the population problem, and I have no reply for that; but I'm mainly concerned with those who oppose it on ideological grounds - like those who might say "death gives meaning to life". To which I say: what meaning? Are your experiences enhanced by the looming prospect of you and everyone you love ceasing to exist forever - or does this provide sadness and anxiety? For almost everyone, it is the latter. My life would seem even more* worthwhile if I did not have a mere ~76 years. *(Even if you are religious, there is a chance you are wrong, so this is still a distinct possibility.) To use an example of Eliezer's, if the benefit of death is so much greater than that of immortality, would an immortal want to die? Probably not, unless they were tired of life. And that, I can understand; when I say immortality, I really mean the ability to choose when you die. I object not to dying when one wishes to, if one ever does, but to the dying being forced upon us, with no concern for our desires. So the question becomes, would an immortal want to be subject to an arbitrary death date? I cannot imagine this ever being the case. Of course, if you are a theist, then this argument would become about the afterlife. I would certainly question a God who sets up a system like this universe, but that's a different debate.
I used to worry a lot about overpopulation, but not so much anymore. We don't have an overpopulation problem, we have a resource overconsumption problem. This is most likely easier to engineer around than death is; it's not like we haven't jacked up the human carrying capacity of the earth several times already.
That's true. Thanks for pointing it out! The U.S.A, for instance, is still mostly empty space, and that goes even for Europe, I think.

I was under the impression that even if SENS research is successful, it won't be immortality that we achieve, but "only" much longer life spans. True immortality wouldn't be possible without WBE.

In a misunderstanding revolving around a word, replace the word with others instead of modifying it with "true".
Living for 1000+ (WBE) years as opposed to 200 (SENS).
WBE earth years, yes? Not subjective ones?
Given that immortality is a word with a reasonably clear definition using a modifier like 'literal' or 'actual' (but, as you say, definitely not 'true') would be sufficient. Especially when the 'other words' are in the previous sentence. Incidentally... the claim seems just wrong. You don't need WBE to achieve immortality. Although at the level of technology required to achieve something sufficiently reliable as to be called immortality without WBE the WBE tech would probably be comparatively trivial.
"True" immortality isn't possible at all, because eventually the universe will end.
I haven't read a whole bunch on cosmology, but I don't think that that is entirely certain. Especially if we have a super-intelligence that is trying to make sure that the universe doesn't end. Also, the difference between 200 years and 2^200 years enormous.
Yet when cast to a boolean is 'true' and when negated to equality instead of difference is 'false'. I suppose that kind of difference matters to people who, say, really don't want to ever die. The difference takes on a whole new meaning when it is the difference between (infinity - 200) and (infinity - 2^200) The space of credible cosmologies where the will of even a super-intelligence from within the system being able to have an impact on that one way or the other seems comparatively small, does it not? This seems to be your main objection and I think you're spot on.