Who gets to solve death?

Published on
January 10th, 2022
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The two types of “death tech” companies

Taylor Majewski is the founder of Lemon Lab. Previously she was an EIR at Human Ventures, and her writing has been published in the New York Times, Vox, and One Zero. Find her on Twitter: @TaylorMajewski.
“When I was fundraising for the first time, I had not one but multiple venture capitalists ask me what’s going to happen to my business when death isn’t a problem anymore,” Liz Eddy, the founder and CEO of the end of life planning website Lantern, told me on the phone. I had to laugh.
“There is no signal or sign that there’s going to be any massive or even accessible change to the end of life,” Eddy explained. “Maybe there will be an opportunity for the one percent of the one percent in the future, but if there will ever be an opportunity for the masses is a very different story.”
Eddy was referring to the subset of Silicon Valley elites who moonlight as immortalists. In a piece for The New Yorker, Tad Friend divided these folks into two camps: the “Meat Puppets,” who believe we can hack our biology and stay in our bodies; and the “RoboCops,” who believe we’ll merge with technology in order to live forever. These folks find common ground in pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into anti-aging research, claiming that the purpose of technology is to eliminate mortality, and even creating companies with lofty missions that orbit around the same sentiment: “solve death.”
But with the advent of initiatives that aim to extend life, comes a parallel force; startups rethinking the existing funeral and end-of-life planning industries. If the former group is made up of immortalists, then let’s call the latter group realists.
The realists are solving for death in its current iteration; they want to leverage technology to improve the quality of end-of-life care. Realists tend to be more oriented around action versus fascination; they’re talking about death openly, making funeral planning more affordable, and leading online grieving groups. Immortalists err on the side of solving for death due to the frustration that life is too short. They see technology as a means to cheat aging.
Graph: Realists want to move the needle on the y axis, while immortalists focus on extending the x axis.
Graph: Realists want to move the needle on the y axis, while immortalists focus on extending the x axis.
This excerpt is from an article originally published on Every, a publication and writer collective focused on business. Read the rest here.
Comments (5)
Solid reading, and a very interesting space to explore. I think most stay away from the 'end of life' niche because it has such scary connotations. But I fully agree with the author that it needs to be normalised. If there's some major break-through on the life-extension front I think it would look way more dystopian than people imagine. I can't imagine one scenario where it's not going to turn into a chaotic rush to access the drugs or therapies that make it possible. I will be waiting for the first 'immortal billionaire' to be shot or die in a boat accident for all those forever aspirations to vanish into thin air. Compared to that, making death and aging more manageable definitely seems like a better scenario and more predictable investment.
@stelian_dobrescu1 All technologies eventually get to the masses. If/when that would happen, I imagine a chilling effect on what people actually do when they are alive. Since they could potentially keep on going for a very long time, I would think people would stop doing much anything that is physically dangerous to themselves just to not ruin their super long future. E.g. less skiing, physical sports, etc.
Mayur Sharma
Superb post and in depth.
Anna Filou
Why would we ever “celebrate death”? Death is terrible.
Hambo Slay
@blossom word game Can you provide more information on how immortalists view technology as a means to cheat aging?