Few people accomplish much, if anything, in death. (There are, of course, some exceptions to this general rule: People like Jesus Christ, Vincent van Gogh and Obi Wan Kenobi come to mind.) So naturally, if you want to be productive, you’re going to have to make sure you stay alive.
While death is an inevitability of life, advances in medicines and technologies are allowing more of us to live longer lives. And since humans are, well, you know, a greedy bunch of little minxes, a massive amount of capital is currently being invested to see whether big data can be leveraged to extend our lifespans.
And there are a whole lot of individuals out in Silicon Valley trying to be the first to make it happen.
Can Data Conquer Parkinson’s?
One such player is Sergey Brin, Google’s cofounder who now oversees the special projects that take place under the umbrella of Google X.
Brin, who’s 41, has a mutation of the LRRK2 gene, a genetic indicator that potentially means he’s more susceptible to developing Parkinson’s disease. While not everyone who develops Parkinson’s has the same mutation, researchers believe the presence of the abnormal LRRK2 gene makes it 30 to 75 percent more likely the afflicted will develop the disease.
By knowing what the future might have in store for him thanks to DNA analysis, Brin is uniquely positioned to attack the disease from a more powerful position—and extend his life and his creative and professional outputs as a result.
In 2008, Brin announced his gene mutation on his inaugural post on Google’s blog. Uniquely positioned thanks to his nearly $30 billion fortune, Brin has the means to enact serious change in the world. (We all realize money is important, whether or not we want to admit it, right?) Borrowing from that first blog post:
This leaves in a rather unique position. I know early in my life something I am substantially predisposed to. I now have the opportunity to adjust my life to reduce those odds (e.g. there is evidence that exercise may be protective against Parkinson’s). I also have the opportunity to perform and support research into this disease long before it may affect me.
The Ultimate Productivity Hack
Rather than waiting for events to run their course and dealing with the consequences afterwards, Brin is taking the steps he can to reduce the likelihood he’ll suffer from the disease, which also affects his mother. He’s certainly planning ahead:
Until the fountain of youth is discovered, all of us will have some conditions in our old age, only we don’t know what they will be. I have a better guess than almost anyone else for what ills may be mine – and I have decades to prepare for it.
How’s that for the ultimate productivity hack? Taking a very well-educated guess on what afflictions might ail you down the line, and doing everything within your power to try to prevent them from surfacing.
While Brin—next to Michael J. Fox—may have the most star power tied to Parkinson’s disease, he’s not the only big name in Silicon Valley taking aim at eradicating illnesses.
The Tech Geeks Shift Their Focus on Health
Brin, of course, wasn’t the first computer guy to put his money toward good use. You’ve heard of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Microsoft wizard’s philanthropic arm that predominantly seeks to provide better healthcare to the youth in third-world countries.
While Gates focuses on making sure quality healthcare is available in the earlier stages of life, many younger tech power players are directing their efforts at the latter stages in life. Case in point? Google’s Calico, whose “mission is to harness advanced technologies to increase our understanding of the biology that controls lifespan,” according to the company’s website. In other words, this Google project seems aimed at conquering death itself—something Gates has admitted he’s not sure he totally agrees with.
“It seems pretty egocentric while we still have malaria and TB for rich people to fund things so they can live longer,” Gates recently wrote in a Reddit AMA.
In the same vein as Calico, billionaire Peter Thiel, who turned a $500,000 investment in Facebook into $500 million when the company went public in 2012, is directing his efforts and resources at anti-aging technologies.
“It’s a massively under-studied, under-invested phenomena,” Thiel recently said. “The way we psychologically deal with aging is through some combination of acceptance and denial. Acceptance is ‘[It’s] going to happen, there’s nothing we can do about it.’ Denial is, ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’ So instead of acceptance and denial, I’d like to see fighting about it a little more.”
But, assuming we can distance him from Calico, like Brin, not all tech juggernauts are investing solely in areas that can be interpreted as wholly self-serving. For example, Sean Parker, he of Napster fame, recently put $24 million toward finding a cure for common allergies. We’re not too productive when we’re sneezing and hacking up a lung all day. Parker’s aiming to make sure none of us have to lose a day (or days) of work because of allergies ever again.
The families that powered the industrial revolution became the wealthiest in the world. The same thing can be said about those who’ve powered the tech revolution. Self-serving or not, chances are these massive investments will eventually help at least some folks enjoy longer, healthier lives.
Who knows? Maybe Sergey Brin will be around in 2248 to invent the Google of the 23rd century.