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I Went to a Rave With the 46-Year-Old Millionaire Who Claims to Have the Body of a Teenager

I Went to a Rave With the 46-Year-Old Millionaire Who Claims to Have the Body of a Teenager
I Went to a Rave With the 46-Year-Old Millionaire Who Claims to Have the Body of a Teenager

The first few steps on the path toward living forever alongside the longevity enthusiast Bryan Johnson are straightforward: “Go to bed on time, eat healthy food, and exercise,” he told a crowd in Brooklyn on Saturday morning. “But to start, you guys are now going to do a breathing exercise.” He directed the 100-plus people gathered around him to put their hands on the shoulders of their neighbors, forming a series of concentric circles; he then counted as we inhaled and exhaled in unison.

I had arrived at a bouldering gym for the first in a series of events held that day by Johnson, a 46-year-old centimillionaire who made his fortune in Silicon Valley but is best known for waging a war on death that he claims to be winning. His ambitions are somehow greater, and more science-fictional, than those of other biohackers and life-extension fanatics—a group that includes Peter Thiel, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg. Johnson preaches perhaps the most brazen iteration of Silicon Valley’s emerging obsession with AI and commitment to restructuring society around the technology. He believes he has figured out how algorithms, instead of ruining civilization, can lead him to the land of immortals. He wants you, after you exhale on the count of six, to follow.

His origin story follows a familiar arc: Johnson enjoyed massive success in work, found that his soul was crushed as a consequence, and experienced a kind of epiphany in response. He had founded an online-payment company called Braintree that was eventually acquired by PayPal for $800 million. Meanwhile, Johnson has said, he struggled with depression, left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and soothed himself with late-night binge eating. A few years ago, he grew tired of being miserable in and feeling powerless over his body. So he ceded control of it: Just as he imagines that AI will one day run the planet, a much simpler algorithm now runs his body.

Every decision about his health is made by specialized software and a team of 30 medical specialists who monitor and analyze data about his organs. In addition to rising around 4:30 a.m. and going to bed at 8:30 p.m., getting plenty of intense exercise, and taking dozens of supplements throughout the day, Johnson has gotten experimental blood-plasma transfusions from his teenage son, bone-marrow transplants, and gene therapy. He claims that this anti-aging protocol, called Blueprint, has slowed his overall pace of aging by 31 years, put his cardiovascular capacity among the top 1.5 percent of 18-year-olds, and delivered nighttime erections that are frequent enough to rival a teenager’s. (He tracks them through a wearable device called the Adam Sensor while he sleeps.)

Over the past year, Johnson has refashioned himself from a hopeful immortal into a kind of messiah. On social media, he compares himself favorably to Jesus, reasoning that his algorithmically sanctioned, lentil-and-macadamia-nut-heavy diet beats refined carbohydrates and wine. The Brooklyn meetups—the gym, a dinner, and a rave—gave him ample opportunities to spread his gospel, which he calls the “Don’t Die” movement. On Saturday, Johnson recited to me a now-common refrain. He wants to prepare as many people as possible for what he thinks will be the greatest shock humanity has ever confronted: our impending replacement by superintelligent AI. Once that happens, our species’ only remaining purpose will be to not die—and, conveniently, he has already optimized and prepackaged the steps for accomplishing this mission (he’ll sell you his purportedly life-extending olive oil, for instance, for $30 a bottle). Johnson, in other words, is trying to get people on board with using one sort of AI to achieve immortality, all in the service of preventing another sort of AI, which does not yet exist, from taking over our lives. And for some reason, this involves an erection-tracking ring.

Wearing a black T-shirt printed with the segmented “Join, or Die” snake—with a twist on the caption: Join, and Don’t Die—Johnson told me wants to create a Don’t Die nation of 20 million people. This may sound unhinged, but people are listening. Johnson’s societal ambition echoes that of growing numbers of tech executives and venture capitalists trying to build alternative cities and states. His quest for immortality has been the subject of features and interviews in Time, Bloomberg, Vice, The New York Times, Trevor Noah’s new podcast, and more over the past year or so. The Blueprint Discord channel has more than 14,000 members, whom he calls the “Don’t Die Army.” In addition to the meetups Johnson hosted in New York on Saturday, there have been more than 200 Blueprint gatherings in 75 countries this year. Some 5,000 people recently enrolled in a self-experimentation study to see how well the Blueprint protocol works on a broader population. Throughout the day, Johnson repeatedly joked that he was starting a cult.

I encountered plenty of believers, among them the requisite start-up founders, crypto investors, and software developers; one man told me that he is on a “longevity journey.” I met several individuals who had adopted the Blueprint protocol for themselves and had blood work done for Johnson’s study, multiple anti-aging researchers, and many people who said that they never want to die.

There were also attendees who could have been your aunt, your best friend’s brother, a neighbor, a colleague—interested in their health and drawn in by what, to them, seemed like an evidence-based approach to physical and mental well-being. Johnson presents himself as the ultimate guinea pig. Dadelie Volmar, a woman in her 40s, told me that Johnson’s story inspired her to “try to gain back time” lost to neglecting her body; Ukachi Asogu, who works in finance, told me that adapting Johnson’s method to her own needs helped her lose 80 pounds. College and graduate students spoke about wanting to be healthy for their studies; a nurse said she found Blueprint after seeing how many conditions in older patients are preventable; others I spoke with just wanted more energy. These were people not interested in superintelligence or immortality so much as in living healthier, perhaps for a bit longer—using the sleep tracker Johnson recommends, testing his recipes.

Back in Brooklyn, with the breathing exercises behind us, I joined several dozen people in a spacious apartment on Saturday evening to hear more about Johnson’s vision. This was billed as a conversation about “the future of being human,” and we were served a light dinner of Blueprint-sanctioned foods: cups of a lightly sweet, chocolaty goo called “nutty pudding”; hummus and crackers; chocolate-coated macadamia-nut bars cut into bite-size squares. After the room settled, Johnson began delivering a series of talking points he has been developing for years and more recently repeating—the evening’s opening speech echoed our interview earlier that day and a conversation I had with Johnson last April, sometimes almost verbatim. Within his lifetime, Johnson told the room, AI will eliminate the need for humans to generate knowledge themselves. We will instead follow the decisions made by all-powerful software. Our species will be rendered purposeless, doomed to destroy itself or the planet. To prevent this fate, we will need to funnel all of our energy toward the one goal that almost everyone can agree on: survival. “On the eve of superintelligence, the only thing we can do as an intelligent species is not dying,” Johnson said.

The philosophy is a strange mix of so-called techno-optimism and techno-fatalism. In Johnson’s telling, algorithms obsolete humanity while also bestowing immortality by allowing us to optimize every health decision. It doesn’t make much sense—the Don’t Die creed assumes that superintelligent AI is inevitable and death is not, that a lifestyle tailored for one person can save a species. Blueprint cannot be called rigorous science, is a source of revenue for Johnson, and has been credibly compared to an eating disorder. Indeed, not everyone at the dinner was sold. One attendee commented that the philosophy seemed rooted in fearing death rather than celebrating life. Another noted that extending life for its own sake, rather than living for some other purpose, seemed silly. And still another suggested that accepting death would actually be the best way to embrace the unknown (Johnson told her to try it and “report back”).

Johnson waved away the objections, suggesting that people judge Don’t Die in terms of the present instead of the unknowable future AI will bring about. He takes the arrival of superintelligence as a matter of faith, trusting seemingly every company in Silicon Valley working to bring such machines into existence. Johnson likened the situation to trying to convince a two-dimensional creature that a third dimension exists; to telling someone in the 1870s that microscopic germs cause disease, or someone in the 16th-century Catholic Church that the Earth revolves around the sun. The analogies reminded me of Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai comparing AI to the invention of fire, or Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella likening the technology to the arrival of electricity—mind-bending analogies that don’t actually say anything meaningful about this speculative future.

Following the dinner conversation, the crowd slowly trickled out and walked over to Ghost—a capped-membership gym for “thought leaders and creatives”—to participate in a three-hour dance party. We would end precisely at midnight so everybody could get some sleep. The bar served three mocktails: Prometheus, Autonomous Self, and Vampire (the latter, a fruity red concoction, did not make me feel younger). A DJ played EDM from a boxing ring. Around 10 p.m., Johnson pranced onto the dance floor wearing the same tee, now cropped just below the segmented snake to reveal chiseled abs. For the next two hours, largely uninterrupted, his legs bounced in a frenzied dance that was part Irish jig, part Electric Slide, part Happy Feet.

With 10 minutes left until midnight, Johnson stumbled over to me, exhausted. “I need to go home, man,” he whispered. It was well past the bedtime prescribed by his sacred longevity protocol—“I’m dying a little bit tonight,” he had said earlier. As he glanced over at a few stragglers still at the rave, I asked him why he’d broken his own rules. Ostensibly, Johnson had sacrificed his sleep to grow the movement. But dancing late, in violation of his algorithm and thus to the detriment of his life span, also clearly brought him tremendous joy—why? He contemplated for several seconds before responding. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know.”


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