Thursday, September 19, 2013

Google Announces Calico: What does it mean for the future of Health?

With the notably vague announcement of Calico by Google, pundits and nerds alike are left wondering about the details of what this will mean for emerging healthcare trends and life extension technologies in general.

Larry Page, CEO of Google, who originally made the announcement on G+ here, had this to say: "I’m excited to announce Calico, a new company that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases."

The startup involves Art Levinson, the Chairman of Genentech and a director of Hoffmann-La Roche, as well as Chairman of Apple.

I thought that my good friend Gideon Rosenblatt wrote up a great encapsulation of what we know so far in his post over on Google+. Gideon suggests that Google may leverage their significant search capacity and expertise as an entry-point into the genomic (genetic) bio-informatic sciences. If there's one thing Google's good at, it's big data. They index it, graph it, and use algorithms to help people find what they're looking for within that massive set of data.

Gideon says, "What do you want to bet it has to do with smart approaches to managing the data in our genetic code? That's my bet, but it will be interesting to see how this story unfolds over the next year and beyond. I just don't see the company straying that far from its core competencies and this bet is by Google, not Google Ventures."

Some are wondering if this announcement has something to do with Google's semi-recent hiring of the famous visionary, Ray Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil is well known in the Transhumanism circles and is well respected as an accurate predictor of famous trends such as his Law of Accelerating Returns. (definitely well worth your time if you haven't read about it yet)

And others note the similarities with the work of Aubrey de Grey, a renowned anti-aging researcher and evangelist...also well respected in the Transhumanist, technological, and life extension communities. He's the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation, (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) a non-profit devoted to researching "negligible senescence" and rejuvenation therapies.

de Grey has come up with a framework for classifying, studying, and targeting various types of aging processes which he believes to be comprehensive:
Cancer-causing nuclear mutations/epimutations—OncoSENS
Mitochondrial mutations—MitoSENS
Intracellular junk—LysoSENS
Extracellular junk—AmyloSENS
Cell loss and atrophy—RepleniSENS
Cell senescence—ApoptoSENS
Extracellular crosslinks—GlycoSENS

Increasingly, the bottleneck in science and health is becoming information-based. We have so much data we don't know what to do with it all. Biological organisms are extremely complex from a "static" viewpoint and significantly moreso when you realize that biology and chemistry are anything but static. If we have any hope of reaching a more useful understanding of what causes aging and the associated diseases, we are gonna need a lot of professional research, the right digital tools, and a large research effort.

The truly beautiful thing about science these days...or any subject/ the incredible access we each have via the Internet. The World Wide Web is really changing the landscape of science. Ideas can come from anywhere; anyone. Projects can be initiated and supported by ad-hoc "virtual" teams from around the Earth. Questions can be asked from experts in fields we know very little about. An altruistic individual can help disseminate knowledge and raise questions and spark conversations about virtually any topic and anyone interested can chime in. Google+ is a fantastic blessing we have and I'm extremely grateful that Google built that amazing social network...and indeed this very blogging platform I'm typing this in.

Open-Source is a concept, philosophy, movement, and more...practically speaking, it is one of the many wonders of our digital age. An enormous opportunity for volunteers to achieve huge milestones, projects, or even breakthroughs by simply collaborating, hacking, and co-creating together. Small contributions add up to sometimes become world renowned public services, products, knowledge, etc.

So what am I bringing up this optimistic view of self-organizing online interest/topic-oriented communities for? Well, I think that citizen scientists, research hobbyists, and nerds who like to dabble in various subjects that interest them at the time...are a key ingredient in humanity's mission to get everyone healthier and (more) immune to aging.

There are scores of startups and even big established corporations moving into this space. There are numerous fitness trackers, such as Fitbit, the Nike Fuel Band, the Jawbone UP, and the MyBasis that have sprung onto the market recently and more to come. There is Watson by IBM. They are doing some amazing things in healthcare.

Not to mention the whole lifehacking movement and bio-hacking. (I find bio-hacking incredibly exciting by the way.)

I will shamelessly mention that I am also personally invested (time-wise...not so much financially) in this whole health/anti-aging scene. I spend a lot of time reading and researching about cutting edge science about disease and nutrition. This is an area I'm paying close attention to. I think we can each contribute in our own way. And indeed health really requires personal responsibility anyway. We can't just pay for it. We have to put in the effort, go to the gym, go on a run, do pushups in your room, do pullups at the local park, eat right, get quality sleep...whatever you've gotta do to take yourself to the next level.

So this definitely appears to be an area that is growing rapidly. I'd really appreciate some feedback and would love to hear what my readers have to say about this new venture by Google. Are you as excited about the possibilities and opportunities of radical life extension as I am? p.s. sorry if my thoughts are disjointed. I'm working on it.

Cheers to Optimization!
Think for yourself, with others in mind...