In a quaint neighborhood located in Venice, California, there exists a row of unassuming, similar residences inhabited by ordinary people going about their finite lives, engaging in activities like sharing pizza with friends, celebrating birthdays by blowing out candles on cakes, and indulging in late-night television binges. However, in the midst of this typical scene, halfway down the street, resides Bryan Johnson, a 46-year-old tech entrepreneur of substantial wealth, who has dedicated the past three years to an extraordinary pursuit: the quest for immortality.
Johnson, a centimillionaire, has invested over $4 million in the development of a life-extension system known as Blueprint. This system entails relinquishing all decisions regarding his physical well-being to a team of medical experts who employ data-driven methods to devise a strict health regimen aimed at reducing what Johnson terms his “biological age.” This regimen entails the daily consumption of an astounding 111 pills, the use of a cap emitting red light onto his scalp, the collection of his own stool samples, and the attachment of a miniature jet pack to his penis during sleep to monitor nocturnal erections—a regimen that categorizes any action hastening the aging process, such as enjoying a cookie or sleeping fewer than eight hours, as an “act of violence.”
Bryan Johnson is not alone in his pursuit of defeating the ravages of time among middle-aged, ultra-wealthy individuals. Figures like Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel have previously invested in Unity Biotechnology, a company dedicated to developing therapeutics targeting age-related diseases. Elite athletes also resort to various therapies to maintain youthful bodies, from hyperbaric chambers to cryotherapy, along with specialized “recovery sleepwear.” However, Johnson’s mission transcends conventional means of preserving health and vitality; it is about surrendering his entire being to an anti-aging algorithm, with the firm belief that death is a choice he refuses to make.
Outsourcing the management of his body, in Johnson’s view, necessitates triumphing over what he terms his “rascal mind”—the part of human nature inclined toward post-dinner ice cream, 1 a.m. amorous encounters, or late-night beer with friends. The ultimate objective is to rejuvenate his 46-year-old organs to mirror the vitality and function of 18-year-old counterparts. Johnson asserts that the data amassed by his medical team suggests that Blueprint has already bestowed upon him the bones of a 30-year-old and the heart of a 37-year-old. This experiment has led him to assert that “a competent system is better at managing me than a human can,” marking a profound breakthrough that, in his perspective, redefines the essence of human existence. His rigorous dietary and exercise regimen, he contends, holds a place in history alongside the Italian Renaissance and the invention of calculus; while Michelangelo had the Sistine Chapel, Johnson extols his special green juice.
However, when I arrived at Johnson’s residence one Monday in August, my intention was not solely to ascertain the effectiveness of his intricate anti-aging strategies. Given my family’s history of cancer and my personal penchant for pepperoni pizza, I harbored doubts about my own prospects for longevity. Instead, I dedicated three days to observing Johnson’s lifestyle, aiming to understand what life governed by an algorithm would entail and whether this “next evolution of being human” would retain any semblance of humanity. If living akin to Johnson promised eternal life—a considerable if!—would such an existence be desirable at all?
Kate Tolo, Johnson’s 27-year-old chief marketing officer and ardent follower, greeted me at the door. Originally from Australia, Tolo had committed to Blueprint just two months prior, becoming the first individual besides Johnson to test its effects on a female body. Tolo is known as “Blueprint XX.”
Upon entering Johnson’s residence, I was struck by its exquisite simplicity, devoid of clutter, with expansive floor-to-ceiling windows offering vistas of the pool and luxuriant green surroundings—an ambiance reminiscent of an Apple Store set amidst a jungle. Tolo presented me with a small bowl of specially prepared chocolate, meticulously processed to eliminate heavy metals and sourced exclusively from regions with a high polyphenol density. Regrettably, it tasted quite disagreeable. Additionally, she prepared a juice-like concoction containing chlorella powder with spermidine, an amino complex, creatine, collagen peptides, cocoa flavanols, and ceylon cinnamon. Tolo and Johnson affectionately referred to it as the “Green Giant,” yet its appearance leaned more toward obsidian, resembling the residue washed off a duck following an oil spill. She deftly mixed it, avoiding any spillage on her pristine white jumpsuit, and informed me that its transit through the digestive system could vary among individuals. I hesitantly took a sip, finding it akin to Gatorade but gritty.
Johnson entered the room, attired in a green T-shirt and minuscule white shorts. His physique resembled that of an 18-year-old, though his visage bore signs of extensive cosmetic procedures undertaken in pursuit of a perpetually youthful appearance. His complexion radiated a pale, luminescent glow, partly attributed to numerous laser treatments and the absence of body hair. Johnson clarified that the hair on his head was not dyed, but he employed a “gray-hair-reversal concoction” infused with “an herbal extract” to impart a dark brown hue to his hair. Gesturing toward my glass of the Green Giant and then to the nearby bathroom, he inquired if Tolo had issued any warnings. I feigned another sip.
The following day, Johnson meticulously elucidated his morning routine, offering a step-by-step account. Although he had risen at 4:53 a.m., he had deferred most activities until my 7 a.m. arrival to facilitate observation. His bedroom appeared almost austere, devoid of photographs, books, television, or any items one might typically find in a bedroom—no glass of water, phone charger, chair laden with discarded clothing, neglected dry cleaning, towels, mirrors, or any other accoutrements. “I only sleep in here,” he stated. “No work, no reading.” The sole furnishings in the room, aside from his bed, comprised a laser face shield employed for collagen enhancement and wrinkle reduction, and the device attached to his penis during sleep to gauge nocturnal erections. “I experience an average of two hours and 12 minutes of nightly erections of a certain quality,” he disclosed. “To emulate an 18-year-old, it should be three hours and 30 minutes.” Johnson emphasized that nighttime erections serve as a “biological age marker for sexual function” with implications for cardiovascular fitness. The erection monitoring device resembled a petite AirPods case featuring a turquoise strap, resembling a purse for a unique purpose. (It is imperative to clarify that no visual observation of male genitalia occurred during the research for this article.)
When Johnson awakens and detaches the device, he steps onto a scale utilizing “electrical impedance” to gauge his weight, body mass index, hydration level, body fat, and a metric called “pulse wave velocity,” the specifics of which he elucidates but I struggle to fully comprehend. “I’m within the top 1% for ideal muscle fat,” he asserts. Following this, he engages a light-therapy lamp (emulating sunlight) for two to three minutes to reset his circadian rhythm. Monitoring changes in his body, he measures his inner-ear temperature. He initiates his day with two ferritin pills to boost his iron levels, accompanied by vitamin C. Afterward, he proceeds to cleanse his face, apply an anti-wrinkle cream, and dons a laser light mask for five minutes, featuring red and blue lights designed to stimulate collagen production and manage blemishes. By this time, it’s typically around 6 a.m., and Johnson descends to commence his day.
The Blueprint supplement regimen is meticulously laid out on Johnson’s kitchen counter, meticulously organized from left to right. It begins with eye drops intended for pre-cataract care. He then employs a small vibrating device against the side of his nose, purportedly stimulating a nerve that aids in tear production. Johnson prepares his “Green Giant” concoction, a blend he consumes alongside additional pills while sipping a dark-green sludge. “It’s what my body demands,” he remarks. Is there ever a pang of longing for coffee, even a hint? “I adore coffee; it’s such a delight,” he acknowledges. “It’s an addictive escalator for me.”
At this juncture, he embarks on specialized exercises to bolster his grip strength. Subsequently, he proceeds to his home gym, adorned with floor-to-ceiling wallpaper featuring a forest photograph. He partakes in a one-hour routine, even though Johnson is capable of leg-pressing 800 pounds, his daily workout doesn’t differ significantly from that of an exceedingly enthusiastic individual at the gym: a regimen involving weights, planks, and stretches. He adheres to this regimen seven days a week, supplementing it with a high-intensity workout three days a week. On certain occasions during these high-intensity workouts, he wears a plastic mask to gauge his VO2 max, the maximum oxygen consumption rate during physical exertion. Johnson asserts that his VO2 Max places him in the top 1.5% bracket compared to 18-year-olds.
Following his workout, Johnson consumes a meal comprising steamed vegetables and lentils, blended to a consistency resembling that of a sea lion’s skin. He and Tolo eschew conventional meal labels like “breakfast,” “lunch,” or “dinner,” opting instead for “first meal,” “second meal,” and so forth. This is his “first meal.” He extends an offer of “nutty pudding,” a concoction composed of macadamia nut milk, ground macadamia and walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed, Brazil nuts, sunflower lecithin, Ceylon cinnamon, and pomegranate juice. It possesses the hue of a pencil eraser and offers a somewhat dusty taste, reminiscent of vegan yogurt if you have a palate for it.
Johnson contends that all of these practices are driven by a broader purpose beyond sculpting his physique and preserving a youthful appearance. “Most individuals assume that death is inevitable. We are essentially endeavoring to extend the time available to us before our demise,” he asserts. He further maintains that, until now, there has not been a historical era when Homo sapiens could assert with sincerity that death might not be an unavoidable fate.
However, experts hold a sharply contrasting viewpoint. “Death is not a choice; it is ingrained in our genetic makeup,” asserts Dr. Pinchas Cohen, the dean of the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. Cohen underscores that while extending human life expectancy is conceivable — over the course of the 20th century, life expectancy surged from around 50 to over 80 years — achieving immortality is an implausible aspiration. “There is absolutely no substantiated evidence to support it,” Cohen contends, “and no existing technology even hints at such a possibility.”
Dr. Eric Verdin, CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, concurs, adding, “If you desire immortality, you should turn to a church.” He expresses skepticism not only about Johnson’s claims regarding attaining immortality but also about his assertions regarding age reversal. “He professes to be transparent in his approach, but as a scientist, it’s exceedingly challenging to comprehend the methods he employs to assess his age,” Verdin comments. He notes that the Buck Institute attempted to collaborate with Johnson on research but received no response. Johnson’s disinclination to engage in collaborative efforts with independent scientists deepened Dr. Verdin’s skepticism. “I believe that if he wishes to convince the scientific community that his methods are credible, he should be open to scrutiny and challenges from fellow researchers,” Verdin insists. (Johnson, on the other hand, claims not to recall ignoring Verdin’s invitation and asserts that he and Verdin have recently exchanged amicable emails.)
Some scientists believe that limited age-reversal is within the realm of possibility. In a provocative and hotly debated endeavor, researchers at Harvard Medical School claim to have rejuvenated older mice and are now in the process of investigating whether the aging process can be reversed in human skin and eye cells. However, their experiments adhere to established scientific protocols. In contrast, Brian Johnson, a visionary entrepreneur, has chosen to be a human guinea pig by embracing a multitude of age-related treatments simultaneously, aiming to discern their effectiveness.
Medical professionals not only question Blueprint’s potential to achieve immortality but also express concerns about the health implications of Johnson’s regimen. Dr. Nir Barzilai, the director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, met Johnson at a recent retreat for the Academy for Health & Lifespan Research and was disconcerted by his appearance. Dr. Barzilai noted that Johnson looked unwell, with a pallid complexion and a distinct change in his facial features. He also raised alarms about Johnson’s low body fat, an essential component for bodily functions. Dr. Barzilai emphasized the potential dangers of Johnson’s approach, where numerous supplements and treatments are combined, suggesting that these treatments could interact adversely. He pointed out that conventional medical research typically focuses on the effects of one drug at a time, rather than studying the cumulative effects of over a hundred pills concurrently. Dr. Barzilai firmly stated that Blueprint is not an experiment accepted by the scientific or medical community.
Johnson has not made his personal medical team available for interviews, nor has he provided detailed information about his team. Nevertheless, he intends to share Blueprint with the public. Johnson makes all his biological measurements, ranging from resting heart rate to plaque index to images of his intestines, available online. His YouTube videos detailing his exercise routine and therapeutic experiments have garnered millions of views, and approximately 180,000 people subscribed to his newsletter in the first five months. Blueprint’s inaugural commercial product, a cholesterol-reducing olive oil, is available on his website and features a black box adorned with a red-lit image of Johnson, accompanied by the slogan “Build your autonomous self.” Johnson himself consumes this olive oil, constituting fifteen percent of his daily diet, and it has quickly sold out.
As Johnson, his associate Tolo, and I prepare to enjoy our “first meal” on his expansive rust-colored couch, Johnson directs my attention to a bookshelf filled with biographies of historical figures like Ben Franklin, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, and Napoleon. He emphasizes his affinity for the 25th century more than the 21st century, asserting that he is more concerned with how future generations will perceive him.
Johnson believes that artificial intelligence (AI) represents the most significant development in the galaxy’s history. He contends that in response to the impending AI revolution, allowing algorithms to manage the human body is the ultimate form of human-AI “alignment.” Johnson argues that as AI optimizes various aspects of human life, from marketing to legal research to retail, it is logical for algorithms to also oversee human physiology. He views this as an evolutionary adaptation to an AI-dominated future.
I inquire about the intangible aspects of human existence, the emotions and experiences that define us beyond mere biological functions. Johnson’s perspective is starkly different. He asserts that everything, from love to sex to attending a baseball game, can be reduced to biochemical states in the body. He believes that humanity is heading into a future where control over these aspects will diminish, leading to a divorce from traditional human customs, including philosophy, ethics, morals, and happiness.
I attempt a different angle, questioning the implications of living forever. I ask Johnson to imagine outliving everyone he knows, including his children and grandchildren. He compares this scenario to the feelings of separation experienced during “senior night” in high school, where individuals bid farewell to friends with the understanding that they may never meet again. Johnson suggests that life is a series of transitions, and each stage prompts the question of whether it’s worth continuing.
Tolo, who has been quietly enjoying her nutty pudding on a separate corner of the couch, has not contemplated this aspect. She expresses hope that as many people as possible can embark on the journey of immortality.
In the pursuit of immortality and a future deeply intertwined with AI, Brian Johnson’s Blueprint experiment challenges conventional wisdom, stirring both fascination and skepticism within the scientific and medical communities. While Johnson’s unorthodox approach raises numerous questions, it undeniably provokes contemplation about the boundaries of human existence and the potential for radical transformations in our understanding of life itself.
Johnson voices his perspective once more, stating, “I think your question reflects Homo sapiens for the 21st century. The underlying assumption is, they have roughly 70 years of life. That’s their starting frame: I’m going to die soon, and I can’t do anything about it. So I’m optimizing in this window of time… If you change the frame, and death is not inevitable, none of the previous practiced thought patterns work.”
My 21st-century Homo sapien mind remained skeptical. Johnson seemed to imply that for humans to thrive in a future harmonized with AI, they might have to relinquish some of their innate humanity. It brought to mind “Tuck Everlasting,” the 1975 children’s book about an immortal family who, due to their inability to age, became disconnected from the world, forever isolated.
After leaving Johnson’s residence, I headed to the DoubleTree hotel in Marina Del Rey. At the front desk, as is customary at DoubleTrees, I was offered a chocolate chip cookie. My impulse was to indulge, but I recognized it as an act that would expedite my inevitable demise. So, I left it on the counter and took my Blueprint-approved dinner—steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and lentils, doused in $75 olive oil but utterly devoid of flavor—up to my room.
Johnson’s path to this perspective was far from straightforward. He grew up in a small Mormon community in Utah, where his grandfather owned a farm with horses. Johnson and his four siblings spent most of their time outdoors, assisting with the harvesting of alfalfa and corn. He served as a Mormon missionary in Ecuador, pursued education at Brigham Young University, and later attended business school at the University of Chicago. He married, became a father of three, and in 2007, he established Braintree, a payment-processing company. Five years later, Braintree acquired Venmo, and in 2013, the merged entity was sold to PayPal for approximately $800 million, leaving Johnson with over $300 million.
Despite his financial success, Johnson describes this period as agonizing. He plunged into a deep depression in 2004, which lasted for a decade. The challenges of building his company while raising three young children overwhelmed him. Neither medication nor therapy provided relief. He found himself 50 pounds overweight and deeply unhappy.
Within a year of selling his company, Johnson divorced and left the Mormon church. In 2014, he invested $100 million in creating the OS Fund, which focuses on companies operating in what he terms the “programmable physical world.” These are companies utilizing AI and machine learning to develop new technologies in therapeutics, diagnostics, and synthetic biology. In 2016, he established Kernel, a neurotechnology company that employs a specially designed helmet to measure brain activity. The company’s objective is to detect cognitive impairment at its earliest stages, with a current focus on identifying biomarkers for psychiatric conditions. It can also serve as a somewhat quirky hobby to measure the age of his own brain.
During my visit, we drive to Kernel’s offices, located approximately 20 minutes from Johnson’s home. Despite his mission to “not die,” he still drives himself around Los Angeles in an electric Audi, albeit at a notably sedate pace. Before pulling out of his driveway, he repeats his pre-driving mantra: “Driving is the most dangerous thing we do.” Johnson is aware that his unwavering commitment to living indefinitely could render an accidental death rather ironic. He muses, “What would be more beautiful irony than me getting hit by a bus and dying?”
In Kernel’s open-plan office, I am ushered into a small room where a technician equips my head with what resembles a ski helmet fitted with numerous circular probes. I am instructed to sit and watch a screensaver-style video featuring soft, crystalline shapes morphing into one another. Later that day, I receive my results via email, revealing that despite being 34 years old, my brain’s age is 30.5.
On the way back home, Johnson repeats his pre-driving mantra as he cautiously navigates the streets of LA at around 16 miles per hour. As he elucidates once more why Blueprint represents “the most significant revolution in the history of Homo sapiens,” a black Chevy truck emerges from a Trader Joe’s parking lot. He swerves to avoid it, scarcely missing a beat before returning to his comparisons with explorers like Magellan and Lewis and Clark. Johnson clarifies, “I’m not a biohacker. I’m not an optimization enthusiast. I’m an explorer, concerned with the future of human existence.”
In the not-so-distant past, even individuals with the most futuristic aspirations were once ordinary humans. Tolo initiated contact with Johnson back in 2016 when she was immersed in the world of fashion in New York City. The dawn of the AI revolution was on the horizon, and she strongly believed that the future of our species necessitated a symbiotic relationship with AI. Her motivation stemmed from encountering a quote by Johnson in a tech newsletter, where he advocated for humans to “merge with AI.” It was at that point she resolved to work alongside him. After years of persistent efforts, an opportunity eventually materialized, leading Tolo to accept a lower job title and reduced pay to become Johnson’s assistant at Kernel. She reminisces about the countless hours spent in his office, engaging in discussions about the trajectory of humanity.
At the outset of her tenure with Johnson, Tolo was your typical twenty-something individual. She enjoyed alcoholic beverages, creamy lattes, fast food, and late-night dancing escapades with her friends. However, earlier this year, she and Johnson began deliberating whether she should embrace Blueprint, an endeavor to understand how this lifestyle would affect a female body. Before fully committing, Tolo requested a 30-day trial period, during which she adhered to a stringent regimen. This included a meticulously structured sleep schedule, Johnson’s precise dietary protocol, the ingestion of over 60 pills daily, and a rigorous exercise routine consisting of 13 minutes of intense activity and 39 minutes of moderate exercise daily. Tolo also closely monitored her ovulation and menstrual cycle.
Reflecting on her trial period, Tolo recalls attending brunches with friends while bringing her Blueprint-compliant food. She experienced a tinge of melancholy as her friends savored delectable dishes while she adhered to her prescribed regimen. Ultimately, she decided to fully commit to Blueprint, convinced that the health benefits outweighed the lifestyle adjustments. Tolo’s friends adapted to her Blueprint lifestyle, and she shifted her social engagements to earlier hours to safeguard her sleep pattern. They grew accustomed to her habit of bringing her own vegetable concoctions to restaurants. This decision was more than just a commitment; it was a definitive choice. Tolo expressed, “It would also be the final decision in a way. It’s like, I’m deciding to no longer decide again.”
As Blueprint XX, Tolo has relinquished numerous aspects of her life that she had come to cherish. She and Johnson view themselves as contemporary versions of Adam and Eve, contemplating even an Adam-and-Eve themed photoshoot to convey the magnitude of the revolution they advocate for the entire human race. Although Tolo is positioned as vital to humanity’s future, she served and plated all the meals during the visit and appeared to handle most of the household chores.
Currently single, Johnson spends the majority of his time with his 18-year-old son, Talmage. While Talmage adheres to the Blueprint diet, rest, and exercise routines, he opts out of the anti-aging therapies. He briefly donated blood plasma to his father as part of an experiment to assess its impact on aging but discontinued after the results proved inconclusive. Talmage, on the verge of embarking on his freshman year of college, shares many of his father’s attitudes towards lifestyle and life extension. He remarks, “The idea of having pizza is more painful than pleasurable for me.”
Johnson acknowledges that his lifestyle makes dating a challenging prospect, citing “10 reasons why [women] will literally hate me.” These reasons include early dinner times, a lack of sunny vacations, a strict bedtime of 8:30 pm, aversion to small talk, solitary sleeping habits, and prioritizing matters above relationships.
Throughout the visit with Johnson, the interviewer contemplated the concept of “the emergent self,” a notion esteemed by Johnson. It is a self guided “more by computational guidance and less by human want.” However, the innate human trait of desire cannot be discounted. The experience of wanting is profoundly human. Observing Johnson’s commitment to his unconventional lifestyle, questions arose: What did he truly want? Did he miss indulging in birthday cake, staying up late dancing, or savoring hot dogs and beer during baseball games? Johnson yearned for eternal life, but what is life without desires?
There existed numerous desires, each potentially leading to life’s eventual end. The desire to meet a friend for cocktails in Santa Monica, to luxuriate in a hotel bed while watching TV, or to engage in late-night text conversations with friends. The longing to FaceTime with a daughter, one who had led to a joyful weight gain during pregnancy due to buttery pasta and cheese pizza indulgence. The craving for eggs and bacon for breakfast. A fundamental realization surfaced: the richness of life is intertwined with desires, and the pursuit of these desires, despite potential consequences, is an inherent aspect of being human. Life is too brief to cease wanting.