Chasing immortality: The technology of eternal life

September 1, 2005

The allure of eternal life has been tugging at the human imagination since we first began to contemplate our finitude. From The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known literary work on earth to the Taoist cult of immortality to Ponce de Leon’s quest for the elixir of unending youth, the desire to free ourselves from the Grim Reaper’s grasp has proven as persistent as the force it aspires to counter.

But although we may have been inspired to hear of Himalayan yogis who have been alive for centuries and although our collective obsession with health, fitness, and increased longevity seems to be at an all-time high, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, even the most optimistic among us have probably never seriously considered the possibility that death could become optional.

Indeed, in an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable world, it sometimes seems like our mortality is one of the few things that we can still be sure of. Ray Kurzweil is determined to change all that. In the book he recently coauthored with Terry Grossman, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, the award-winning inventor and futurist lays out a vision of “the science behind radical life extension” that makes most science fiction writers seem short on imagination. And he’s not alone. Over the past few decades, a growing body of research into the aging process has been accumulating in laboratories around the world.

And among the more ambitious of the scientists involved, there is, believe it or not, an increasing optimism about the potential of actually bringing the seemingly irreversible mechanisms of degeneration and decay that have haunted humanity for millennia to a screeching halt. Soon. […]