Earlier this year, Google Ventures announced the establishment of a new company: Calico (short for California Life Company) whose purpose is to find techniques and invent new medical formulae to extend healthy living. The press, unsurprisingly, has enjoyed a field day with the announcement of this 'birth' with headlines such as, "Does Google want to make you immortal?" and "Can Google solve death?"
But the announcement isn't really so surprising when you consider that the visionary entrepreneurs, who in their late teens and early twenties planned to change the world and whose vision became reality, have now reached middle age. And already observing their parents succumbing to age-specific ills, they will also be aware of preliminary discomforts in their own bodies.
So unlike the character in Kurt Weill's 'Lady in the Dark' who believed that if she made up her mind to do something she would always be able to do so ("Jenny made her mind up at seventy-five / She was going to be the oldest woman alive./ But gin and rum and destiny play funny tricks / And poor Jenny kicked the bucket at seventy-six"), the Google team are fully aware of the finite nature of their own existence. Their aim is for Calico products to be ones that people can take to make the whole of a life time worth the living.
A considerable amount of Google founders' own money is being put into this novel company. But Calico's business plan is by no means novelty-based. It's CEO, Art Levinson (currently Chairman of Apple), was formerly CEO of Genentech, a leading biotechnology company formed over 35 years ago, whose web site informs us that it "discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines to treat patients with serious or life threatening medical conditions."
Genentech's success so far can be measured by the fact that Richard Scheller, currently its Executive VP, won the 2013 Lasker Award - given specifically to a scientist who has devised techniques, information or concepts contributing to the elimination of major causes of disability and death. And only a few days ago Genentech itself won The Economist Innovation Award for the corporate use of innovation.
Anyone entering any contest must face up to the possibility of losing, but innovative individuals and innovative companies see failure as a catalyst for change and either strive to do better in the same field or move to a different arena, knowing that though risk is endemic the task of reinvention also reinvigorates.
With this in mind, teams of people with some of the best brains in the world are aiming to provide us with pills and potions that will help us to remain hopeful, active and productive throughout the final stages of a contest that we all know is going to end in personal failure.
No matter how many doses of life enhancing potions with scientifically proven efficacy Calico manages to devise and bring to market, people who refuse to motivate themselves will find that the good effect of those new drugs so observable in others is - in their own cases – barely noticeable.
People who want to be doing being until being 'does for' them constantly remain open to the next idea, the next vision, the next social connection, the next adventure. Synthesized drugs alone cannot make life worth the living. The effectiveness of future Calico products will always depend on the catalyst of open minds.