Interview

Dr. Aubrey de Grey:

"The progress being made in biomedical gerontology using machine learning depends entirely on the availability of very large datasets"

News of the technology use in science is often alarming. Talented post-apocalyptic science fiction raises important issues and at the same time reinforces anxiety and distrust of science and technology. ALMAMAT. IT Faces asked Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a Biomedical Gerontologist and a BA in Computer Science, several questions about the relationship between IT and science.
interview: anastasiia podberezkina
journalist. trendspotter (Tendencyc.com)
IMAGEs: BY ERIN ASHFORD PHOTOGRAPHY
Aubrey de Grey

BIOMEDICAL GERONTOLOGIST. CHIEF SCIENCE OFFICER IN SENS RESEARCH FOUNDATION. VP OF NEW TECHNOLOGY DISCOVERY IN AGEX THERAPEUTICS. EDITOR-IN-CHIEF IN REJUVENATION RESEARCH. BA IN COMPUTER SCIENCE. PH.D IN BIOLOGY
ALMAMAT. IT Faces: Dr. de Grey, as BA in computer science and Ph.D. in biology, how do you assess the place of IT and IT specialists in today's science, in particular, in biomedical science and gerontology?
Aubrey de Grey: It is really important. New techniques in machine learning are being applied to the problem of aging in many ways right now, and they are succeeding in identifying new drug candidates that are really promising.
ALMAMAT. IT Faces: You talk about aging as an engineering problem that can be solved with the help of technology. SENS Research Foundation has seven areas for rejuvenation technologies research according to seven major classes of cellular and molecular damage*. What is currently known about aging from technological and scientific points of view? And what role do IT engineers, IT and computer science play in your research?
Aubrey de Grey: There is still a widespread misconception that aging is a mystery – that we really have no idea what it is. In fact, we understand aging really rather well, though of course there are still plenty of details missing. We can see that, by looking at the history of my seven-point description that you mention. I first stated it more than 15 years ago, and I haven't needed to change it at all. All the progress we have made in those years has confirmed and built upon that description.
* 7 CLASSES OF CELLULAR AND MOLECULAR DAMAGE:

Cell loss, tissue atrophy
Cancerous cells
Mitochondrial mutations
Death-resistant cells
Extracellular matrix stiffening
Extracellular aggregates
Intracellular aggregates
ALMAMAT. IT Faces: How do you think, is computer science becoming a mandatory part of professional education at the beginning of the third decade of the 21 century?
Aubrey de Grey: Definitely. If people are to make the best use of increasingly sophisticated computer technology, they need to understand it.
ALMAMAT. IT Faces: In the interview, you shared an insight: that many scientists have a purpose of creating new questions, rather than finding solutions based on the discovered scientific answers in order to benefit living humanity. What is the different approach and what problems could be solved nowadays with it? Can IT be useful here?
Aubrey de Grey: I don't think IT is different from any other research area in that respect. Most IT people are on the translational side –finding solutions based on the discovered scientific answers, whereas most gerontologists are on the "creating new questions" side – but they are both moving in the right direction, combining the two skills.
ALMAMAT. IT Faces: Do you think that science and other professional fields are gradually converging because of IT pervasion, computer science, widespread programming education – and it will become difficult to distinguish scientific processes and other social or market processes in future? Are we heading to the state of Science&Engineering-centered civilization and market?
Aubrey de Grey: No, I don't think it will become difficult to distinguish scientific processes and other social or market processes. Yes, IT will pervade all those processes more and more, but it will be a tool, not a homogeniser.
ALMAMAT. IT Faces: Biomedical startups collect a lot of information about users, analyze it and identify patterns. Can this data be useful in biomedical science or other scientific fields? Do you see that this works on practice?
Aubrey de Grey: Oh, absolutely! The progress being made in biomedical gerontology using machine learning depends entirely on the availability of very large datasets.
ALMAMAT. IT Faces: There is an idea that e. g. neuroscience needs not only experimenting scientists but also philosophers for a breakthrough in understanding consciousness. How does progressive science see the key scietific problems and ways to solve them? What do you think is changing in the understanding of the methods and approach?
Aubrey de Grey: I don't think there is any real revolution going on in the ways in which scientific and technological problems are addressed. I think it's only that particular fields – and gerontology is a big example right now – undergo transitions from being purely exploratory to being more goal-directed.
ALMAMAT. IT Faces: In practice, a technologically advanced civilization looks today like Anti-Nature and Human-Centered, not Ecosystem-Centered. We see a lot of disturbing processes. Artificial Intelligence can be useful, but nobody asks the global community which advances are acceptable and unacceptable in AI technology development. Another problem is the difficulty of controlling genetic editing and tracking effects in generations. Another problem is the attitude to the planet, the ecosystem and the biosphere as to humankind's property and its resources. There is a feeling that we are moving towards a planet wholly built up with buildings, the destruction of the natural ecosystem and to such actions on Earth and the Moon, which will lead to irreversible disturbances of natural processes. In this context, as a scientist, what do you think about the situation in science and related business sectors?
Aubrey de Grey: I think we are right to be concerned about those dangers, but I also think that we have the opportunity to ensure that these new technologies cause the opposite of the feared effect: that they actually make it more possible to preserve the environment and to protect the things we value in our world. As technology advances, we will become freer from the constraints of limited resources and more able to work in cooperation with each other, rather than competition.
ALMAMAT. IT Faces: Dr. de Grey, do you think there is a way to make science and technology working for business and business based on science and technology help developing civilization without harming nature?
Aubrey de Grey: Absolutely. In fact, it's already happening. Look at life expectancy as a simple statistic: it is rising much faster in the developing world than in the developed world. People like to say that the world is becoming more unequal, and in some ways that's true, but in the most important ways it is not true.
ALMAMAT. IT Faces: In the fiction movies like Blade Runner 2049, we see such terrific scientific progress, and apocalyptic scenario of technology deliberately brought beyond reason. Observing today's actions and decisions of humanity, many of us would ask researchers: "Why and for what are you doing this or creating that?" Dr. de Grey, how would you answer the question about the imperatives and goals of science: what and why does our civilization do – or should do?
Aubrey de Grey: My answer is simple: don't believe movies. Movies are written with the goal of making money, so they aim to reinforce what people already think – so it is circular logic to think that they have any relevance to how the future will actually be. My goal is just to keep people healthy, however long ago they were born. How can that be controversial? ALMAMAT. IT Faces
Images: by Erin Ashford Photography