Calico: Larry Page’s Venture to Extend Human Life

TIME has a big feature titled “Google vs. Death” on Google’s CEO Larry Page and his quest to extend the human life with a new company he’s launching called Calico.

At the moment Google is preparing an especially uncertain and distant shot. It is planning to launch 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 human lifespan.

Google isn’t exactly bursting with credibility in this arena. Its personal-medical-record service, Google Health, failed to catch on. But Calico, the company says, is different. It will be making longer-term bets than most health care companies do. “In some industries,” says Page, who spoke exclusively with TIME about the new venture, “it takes 10 or 20 years to go from an idea to something being real. Health care is certainly one of those areas. We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done.”

It’s worth pointing out that there is no other company in Silicon Valley that could plausibly make such an announcement. Smaller outfits don’t have the money; larger ones don’t have the bones. Apple may have set the standard for surprise unveilings but, excepting a major new product every few years, these mostly qualify as short-term. Google’s modus operandi, in comparison, is gonzo airdrops into deep “Wait, really?” territory. Last week Apple announced a gold iPhone; what did you do this week, Google? Oh, we founded a company that might one day defeat death itself.

The unavoidable question this raises is why a company built on finding information and serving ads next to it is spending untold amounts on a project that flies in the face of the basic fact of the human condition, the existential certainty of aging and death? To which the unavoidable answer is another question: Who the hell else is going to do it?

Here’s Larry himself in a G+ post about Calico:

That’s a lot different from what Google does today.  And you’re right.  But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives.  So don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses.  And please remember that new investments like this are very small by comparison to our core business.

Art and I are excited about tackling aging and illness.  These issues affect us all—from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families.  And while this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress within reasonable timescales with the right goals and the right people.

I think this is a huge venture and I wish Larry Page and the team success. I’ll be following closely on the development of Calico.

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