Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google’s New Project to Solve Death

Harry McCracken and Lev Grossman, for Time:

At the moment Google is working on an especially uncertain and distant shot. It is launching Calico, a new company that will focus on health and aging in particular. The independent firm will be run by Arthur Levinson, former CEO of biotech pioneer Genentech, who will also be an investor. Levinson, who began his career as a scientist and has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, plans to remain in his current roles as the chairman of the board of directors for both Genentech and Apple, a position he took over after its co-founder Steve Jobs died in 2011. In other words, the company behind YouTube and Google+ is gearing up to seriously attempt to extend the human life span.

In hindsight, it’s incredible just how good humans have gotten at extending our lifespans. Not too long ago, you’d probably be dead by the age of 40, consumed by one of hundreds of lethal diseases. Today, through diet, medicine, hand washing, and other practices, we’ve managed to eliminate most of those diseases. We now live longer than we ever have.

But eliminating those diseases didn’t come without side effects. Symptoms of various cancers, for example, were described by ancient Egyptians, but those they affected died from another disease long before the cancer could take its course. We’re dying from cancer in greater numbers now because those diseases don’t exist (and also likely because we can better detect cancer).

That’s just one example. There are dozens of other diseases and syndromes which exist in greater prevalence now because we live so long. Whatever Calico has up its sleeve will likely tackle these new complications. This is exciting.