Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Extreme biohacking: the tech guru who spent $250,000 trying to live for ever

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In September last year, the young Silicon Valley entrepreneur Serge Faguet posted an article on the tech website Hacker Noon. It was headlined: “I’m 32 and spent $200k on biohacking. Became calmer, thinner, extroverted, healthier & happier.” Significantly more intelligent, too, he added, with an increased sex drive that dovetailed nicely with his newfound ease at “picking up girls”.
These last two points especially grabbed the attention of the site’s hundreds of thousands of mainly male readers. The comments section under Faguet’s story is full of admiration for his data-driven, problem-solving approach. though a handful of others dismiss Faguet as a psychopath, the embodiment of “Silicon Valley’s toxic machiavellian bro culture”. The article currently has 15,000 upvotes. His follow-up about increasing your intelligence by having sex and micro-dosing MDMA is the site’s second most read article of 2018.
The goal is to reduce the chances of having a heart attack in the next, you know, 80 years
In his working life as CEO, or former CEO, of a string of international startups, Faguet is ruthlessly pragmatic. He applies the same approach to his sole hobby: extreme biohacking. Biohacking is a buzzword that unites the hi-tech, wellness, anti-ageing and science communities; at its most basic, it means doing things to your body or mind to make them function better. This could be as simple as eating more oily fish. But purist biohackers set themselves apart from the average person intent on self-improvement. Theirs is a hyper-technical approach that seeks to understand and “fix” the body with all manner of technologies: if we can hack the world’s most sophisticated computer systems, the thinking goes, why not ourselves?

Faguet intends to live for ever, merging with robots and becoming an ultra human. If that goal sounds creepy, laughable or unrealistic, it’s helpful to remember that it is one shared by many influential figures in Silicon Valley. Tesla’s Elon Musk has repeatedly argued that humans need to become cyborgs to survive the inevitable robot uprising, and hopes to usher in an era of transhumanism with his new brain-computer interface company, Neuralink. Bill Maris, founder and former CEO of Google Ventures, the search giant’s venture capital arm, went on to launch Calico (an acronym for California Life Company), the sole aim of which is to “solve death”. Last November, Sean Parker, the former Facebook president, described his vision of the future thus: “Because I’m a billionaire, I’m going to have access to better healthcare so… I’m going to be, like, 160 and I’m going to be part of this class of immortal overlords.” As much as Faguet likes to think of himself as a rebel pioneer, he’s an emblem of a far wider movement in the wealthy world he inhabits.
“You hear about all these tech billionaires who do these crazy things, but you don’t really know what they do, right?” Faguet says. “Because they don’t talk about it.” Though a mere millionaire, he is unusual in that he does talk about it – very frankly. And some of what he says is deeply unsettling.

It’s 11am in a messy hotel suite in Palo Alto, California. Faguet, it must be said, does not look superhuman. He wears the sportswear uniform of male tech workers everywhere: an old grey hoodie over a white T-shirt, plus the scraggly beginnings, or the end, of a beard. There are faint shadows under his eyes. He is 5ft 6in, weighs 69kg, and is fit but far from ripped. Today, he wears an Oura smart ring on his left forefinger to measure his sleep patterns. To enhance his already perfect hearing, he inserts a $6,000 pair of hearing aids when in public. A monitor that continuously measures his glucose levels, sending data to his smartphone, is implanted under the subcutaneous fat on his belly. Every now and then, usually when he’s talking about world domination, he flashes a big, hungry smile.

Faguet hums quietly as he fetches the disposable syringe he uses to administer daily injections of somatropin, a hormone that promotes muscle growth. “People think, ‘Oh my God, injection!’” he says. “But the molecule is larger than what can typically be absorbed through the stomach.” There is a big bag of assorted pills in his room, ranging from standard natural supplements, such as garlic capsules, to prescription medications – SSRI antidepressants, lithium, oestrogen blockers. He takes 60 pills a day.
This morning, after his daily meditation session, but before his breakfast of avocados, olive oil, omelette, grapefruit and green tea, Faguet washed down 40 pills. (He eats only once a day, fasts three times a week and tries to follow a ketogenic, or low-carb, diet.) The pharmaceutical oestrogen blockers he takes can boost testosterone by 50%; developed to treat breast cancer, they are increasingly being used by men to boost their fertility – though Faguet believes they help him perform better (more aggressively) in business. He started taking thyroid hormones because his levels are below average, and has since noticed an improvement in his moods. He takes metformin, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes, because clinical trials point to it being a powerful anti-ager. He also takes a small dose of statins to lower cholesterol, usually given only to older or high-risk patients. “The goal is to reduce the chances of a heart attack in the next, you know, 80 years,” Faguet says.
I don’t want my hair to fall out. I don’t want to have cancer when I'm 80
With such precautions in place, he works with 50-year goals in all areas of his life, including sex and emotional wellbeing. He has completely cut out sugar, pornography, masturbation, all menial jobs, alcohol, processed food, news and social media from his life. Also lying, due to potential stress, because in today’s world all your secrets will come out anyway. When I ask why he takes SSRIs if, as he says, he has never been depressed, he replies: “It’s better to have mental clarity and not be bothered by emotions, et cetera.” What he wants instead is “good mood, confidence, focus, energy, willpower, stress resilience, brainpower, calm, health, longevity, removal of social anxieties and inhibitions. All the time. With minimal investment of time and minimal risk.”
In his teens, Faguet was sent from Russia, where he grew up, to Hampshire, where he boarded for two years at Winchester College, the all-boys private school. He dropped out of Stanford University in the US to run his video chat company, TokBox, before setting up a Russian online booking agent, Ostrovuk. His adult life has been spent living out of a suitcase, mainly in hotels in the US, Russia and the far east, where his business is based; he’s currently working on a project he says he can’t talk about. He tells me he doesn’t understand why people would want to have their own home; he doesn’t get attached to things or people. When was the last time he did anything irrational, I ask? Faguet looks startled. Irrational, I repeat – like falling in love? “Ha! I’m not sure. I mean, I certainly do... I’m not sure I can answer that question.”
Faguet’s interest in extreme biohacking began five years ago. Based mainly in Moscow, he was setting up his online travel company, an extremely stressful job: back then, he says, he was a person with “a lot of challenges” – anxieties, insecurities, introversion, weight, focus, anger management and procrastination issues. “At first, I just started reading a lot of scientific research, and basic things stood out: don’t eat sugar, do take vitamin B.” He ran a series of biomarker tests to establish just how averagely human he was. (In Russia, this kind of medical testing is much cheaper and easier to come by.) He was tested for insulin resistance, hormone levels, the state of his microbiome, toxins, athletic capabilities, body fat, mercury and allergies.

“Gradually, I just started asking myself more complex questions. ‘How can I optimise my hormones?’ That is kind of risky to do without a doctor. I had a long list of questions that I would assemble, then I would go find doctors who claimed to have the answers. I would send them this huge agenda, saying, ‘Hey, here are 40 big questions I have. I want to sit down with you for a long time and talk about them.’ It was almost an exam to figure out who knew what they were talking about and who I would engage with.
“I had experiences with more traditional doctors where I would say, ‘Hey, I would like my blood sugar to be lower than average at the age of 27’ or, ‘I have slightly elevated mercury. We should fix that.’ And the traditional doctor would say, ‘Oh, mercury? Your hair isn’t falling out.’ So I didn’t really know what to do with that. ‘Come back when your hair is falling out’ is not a very good proposition. I don’t want my hair to fall out. I don’t want to have cancer when I’m 80.”
Back in the US, Faguet began amassing what he calls his “medical team”, various established Stanford and Harvard neurologists, cardiologists, endocrinologists and psychotherapists. “They have a small number of clients for whom they do this kind of work,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges for the regular person wanting to do preventive medicine is that there are very few doctors in the world who think this way. The primary diseases that people die from are cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. They do not happen acutely – they happen over 40 or 50 years of your life. By the time you are having any symptoms, it’s too late, because a lot of different systems in your body have been exposed for decades.”
So every few months, Faguet undergoes new tests. He estimates that “there are less than 1,000 people out of the 7 billion on the planet who know as much about their health as I do”. His biohacking spend now amounts to more than $250,000 (“if we do not count the time invested”), most of that on elite doctors who charge $500 an hour. How do his doctors justify prescribing him so many medications, when many of them have been approved for conditions he doesn’t suffer from? “They feel I will benefit.”
Biohackery is a large, varied but predominantly male global community. There are punk biohackers who want to look like aliens and implant ears into their backs, and stunt biohackers like the former Nasa biochemist Josiah Zayner, who injected a muscle-building DIY gene therapy into his arm live on camera. There are high-achiever biohackers who write bestsellers on how to reduce your workload.There are biohackers who are really just gadget freaks, and others whose primary focus is nutrition, looks and fitness, who make huge sums selling superfoods, drinks and pills.
Faguet is different, in that his goals and sensibility are focused on long-term power and achievement. There are people like him all over Silicon Valley, microdosing LSD to boost their productivity. Faguet claims to have permanently enhanced his intelligence by taking a massive 900–1,000mcg dose of LSD. He has used MDMA, too, as a way of emotionally connecting with his family back in Russia, and once to work out a disagreement with a colleague.
Children don’t feel like something that would contribute to my life goals. Friends who have them say it’s harder to focus
“People here [in Silicon Valley] have a technical mindset,” he explains, “so they think of everything as an engineering problem. A lot of people who are not of a technical mindset assume that, ‘Hey, people have always been dying’, but I think there’s going to be a greater level of awareness once results start to happen. What’s going to be compelling for the average human is when you see people who are 80 years old but look 30 and are in very good health. It’s a complicated process that’s well under way, but for the vast majority of humanity it’s completely incomprehensible.”
What if the US introduced legislation to curb genetic innovation? No country is “going to tell me when I am going to die”, Faguet says. “If they do, I’ll just move to another country.” It’s an above-the-law attitude that is not uncommon in Silicon Valley.
Few areas of Faguet’s life better demonstrate his high-handed attitude to the rest of humanity than his approach to the opposite sex.In his extensive research on sleep, he discovered that wearing orange-tinted glasses to filter out blue light for three to four hours before bedtime can be a useful tool, but there is a downside. “If I’m going to a place in the evening where I can pick up girls,” he wrote last year, “I don’t wear orange glasses because I feel a bit insecure about them in a sex-related context.” There aren’t many women in Faguet’s life, and he has no interest in a relationship. “I do have some women I date from time to time. This is a longer conversation, but I just want to spend my time with people I enjoy who energise me. And if you don’t want to engage in that sort of thing [relationships] and you still want to have sex, which is what humans want, then it’s a question of just how do you fix that without spending too much time on it?”
How do you do that, I ask. Faguet says he prefers to “hire sugar-baby-models for sex”, stressing that they are “not prostitutes. Many wealthy people keep mistresses and pay for their expenses or rent their apartment. These are girls who have $20k Hublot watches and vacation in Monaco.” He’s decided against having children, because they are “not a good ROI” (return on investment).
Can he understand how emotionally cut off he might seem to other people? “Look. I think ultimately it’s what your objectives are in life and how it advances your objectives. And children – there’s not that much time to do everything.” (This despite the fact that Faguet is going to live for ever.) “Children don’t feel like something that would contribute to my life goals. Some of my close friends who have children will say privately that they regret it, because it’s much harder for them to focus – it’s really taken away from the things they cared about. It’s just a rational analysis and choice.”
Faguet’s life is colonised by men. He works in an industry where women form less than 20% of the workforce. His business partners have all been men. Why is biohacking such a male scene? “It’s a good question,” he says. “I feel women typically are more conscientious about their health, and more disciplined. But I don’t know many who have an interest in it.” Does that mean women will get left behind, the only people to die off? “I have no idea. I haven’t thought about it that way. But women today live somewhat longer than men. Yeah. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in that regard.”
People will be upset by the fact that the world will be run by a small number of superhumans, who will upgrade themselves

   Faguet has thought more about the broader issue of biological inequality, which he describes as the biggest social-justice issue of the future. Even so, he has little concern about how it might play out in practice. “There are going to be plenty of economic resources. People will have a higher standard of welfare and wealth, because it’ll be cheaper to produce high-quality food and electronics. But if you don’t want to upgrade yourself, you’re not going to have a lot of influence in society. People will certainly be upset by the fact that the world is going to be run by a small number of superhumans, who will upgrade themselves and own the various conglomerates that provide these services. The average non-upgraded human will just not have any political influence.”
Has he never watched Black Mirror? He doesn’t find any aspect of this deeply dystopian? “Why worry about it if you think it’s going to happen anyway?” he says, unfazed. “I’m quite convinced that it is inevitable. And the second bit is, it’s really hard to predict what the world is going to be like. People might spend most of their days playing around in supercool virtual worlds and be happy. There are going to be a small number of superhumans who go off to other star systems – because once you’re immortal and super-intelligent, you don’t really care about ruling the rest of humanity. Why would that matter? You might as well go off and build what you want to build. The desire to dominate other people, it comes from our monkey past.”
What will he do with his extra years? “Ultimately, the real value is being able to upgrade yourself and become something much better and smarter, and live for millions of years and explore other planets.”
Until then, Faguet will keep taking his pills and doing his research and wearing his orange-tinted, sleep-optimising glasses. He is almost emotionally invulnerable. His biomarkers are doing tremendously. At the bottom of the comments section on the article he posted last year, one woman wrote that she wouldn’t put herself through all this, because “I wouldn’t be the real me. I can’t help but feel sad that you dislike yourself so much that you put yourself through this.” Faguet responded coolly: “Oh I definitely dislike the unenhanced myself… [but] science clearly shows that a ‘real you’ doesn’t exist.” There’s no love or radical acceptance in Faguet’s self-help prescription: it’s either upgrade, or fail.

The Guardian.

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