While the US government still hasn’t shown much interest in supporting longevity research for its citizens, the life extension movement is dramatically expanding around the world.
The author with Dr. Aubrey de Grey (right). Image: Joel Hirschfeld
In less than a month, I'll mark the two-year anniversary to my presidential campaign for the Transhumanist Party. My run for the White House was never about winning, but spreading the idea that Americans can achieve indefinite lifespans through science and technology—if only the government were to help out and put significant resources into the anti-aging field.
While the US government still hasn't shown much interest in supporting longevity research for its citizens, the life extension movement is dramatically expanding around the world. Two years ago, the idea of speaking to 1000 longevity advocates in the same convention hall was a pipe dream. Most transhumanist conferences could barely get 100 people in the same room.
Last weekend in San Diego, that all changed. Billed as the biggest life extension festival in history, RAAD Fest took place from August 4-7. Over 1000 participants made it to the sold-out event, making it the largest group of transhumanists and longevity activists ever to assemble in one place.
The success of the festival signals the growing trend of the life extension movement. In the last few years, major companies like Google's Calico and Human Longevity Inc. have formed to combat aging. Additionally, billionaires like Peter Thiel and Larry Ellison have funded longevity and anti-aging initiatives. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently called for science to end all disease this century.
Leading gerontologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a speaker at the conference, told me, "It's great to see people wanting to live longer. The field of rejuvenation research is improving and it's an exciting time for science."
RAAD Fest was conceived last year by a group of transhumanists and longevity advocates at the Coalition of Radical Life Extension, a nonprofit organization based out of Arizona. On its website, RAAD Fest says it aims to become the "Woodstock" of the longevity community.
James Strole, the director of the Coalition for Radical Life Extension, told me, "Next year RAAD Fest could be two or three times as big—maybe even bigger. And we're looking into having international RAAD Festivals too."
In addition to crowds, a plethora of film crews wandered the Town and Country Hotel and Resort and convention center interviewing participants and speakers. A number of minor celebrities were also in attendance, like Three's Company actress Suzanne Somers and Canadian entrepreneur Peter Nygard.
Some journalists attending the event talked of almost a cult-like feel to the festival, with cheering during the speeches of anti-aging leader Dr. Ron Klatz, BioViva's patient zero Liz Parrish, Alcor CEO Max More, and Life Extension Foundation founder Bill Faloon. I told the journalists that those people that believe in using science and technology to overcome death are incredibly passionate about it. The life extension community is not about money, or fame, or power. It's about not dying—which is perhaps the most significant enterprise ever taken on by humans and science. It's easy to see why some people dedicate their entire lives to the life extension field.
Last Saturday, my speech centered on my presidential campaign, trying to grow the Transhumanist Party, and my #1 policy goal: taking money from the US military and spending it on medical and science research. I also pushed my atheism on the crowd, noting that the US government is unlikely to fund life extension science so long as all 535 members of Congress, eight Supreme Court justices, and our president continue to publicly insist they believe in an afterlife with God.
Some of the best moments of the event took place outside the venue, at the packed luncheons and dinners. I had a chance to catch up with friends from all over the world and learn of new projects and ideas. For example, Singularity University's Jose Cordeiro is working on improving the virtually-unknown cryonics space in Spain. Ben Goertzel is considering if one of his artificial intelligence creations might be able to run for president someday, and at least reasonably debate in the 2020 elections. And Dr. Aubrey de Grey is planning more extensive research after a significant investment was made into SENS Research Foundation, located in Mountain View. SENS specializes in rejuvenation biotechnologies.
My only complaint with the festival was there weren't enough young people there. With tickets priced between $400 and $900, most millennials surely had a hard time attending.
James Strole told me the 2017 RAAD Fest will have more youth provisions and student discounts so those under 40 years of age will attend in far larger numbers. I feel that younger group is very important to involve in transhumanism—even if they don't have to worry so much about aging yet—as they are so prolific on social media and can dramatically help the longevity movement grow.
With 31 countries represented at RAAD Fest, I heard lots of different languages being spoken. And it wasn't just people speaking. Ray Kurzweil gave the event's keynote speech via a robot on the stage, covering the latest ideas he has on the future and how nanobots will someday soon dramatically improve human health.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and the 2016 Presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond human ability.