People have been trying to live forever for … basically forever. But cheating death has always been a particular obsession for the rich. Ancient Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang took mercury pills in his quest for immortality during the third century BCE (whoops), while Egyptian pharaohs had their remains mummified to prepare for the afterlife—only to have powders made from their crushed-up bones consumed by the likes of European royalty seeking health remedies in the 16th and 17th centuries. In more recent years, elites have experimented with young blood transfusions and syringes filled with the cells of fetal lambs, which they’ve had injected into their buttocks.
The present-day pursuit of physical immortality—or, at the very least, a substantially extended lifespan—is a booming business. Google has an aging research venture called Calico; tech titans like Peter Thiel and Jeff Bezos are investors in startups focused on longevity; and entrepreneurs like Bulletproof Coffee founder Dave Asprey, who has publicly declared his goal of living to 180, have built lifestyle empires around their passion for biohacking. Many Silicon Valley types also ascribe to the idea of the singularity, popularized by Google director of engineering Raymond Kurzweil, which holds that by 2045, AI and biotechnology will have rendered humankind effectively immortal.
It’s easy to dismiss today’s immortalists as modern-day pharaohs and emperors—enjoying access to practically everything life has to offer, and unwilling to accept the reality that death will, inevitably, put an end to their good fortune. But the business of immortality is worthy of serious consideration because Silicon Valley’s war on death reveals what is perhaps the tech class’s single defining characteristic: A refusal to accept limitations.