Alex Zhavoronkov wants to live to be 120 – which is what you might expect of someone whose business card reads “Chief Longevity Officer”. Reaching “120 is likely achievable”, says 43-year-old Zhavoronkov, founder of Hong Kong-based longevity tech company Deep Longevity, via phone from Shanghai, where he’s just emerged from quarantine. “People compete on how fast they can run, how much money they make, but no one is competing on longevity. If you don’t challenge yourself, you won’t live long, but if you set ambitious but achievable goals you can do it.” Big money is being poured into ageing as people not only want to live longer, but wish to enjoy their extended years in good physical and mental health . Basically, what you are doing is identifying those wrinkles in your psychology Alex Zhavaronkov, Deep Longevity’s ‘Chief Longevity Officer’ In 2017, British billionaire investor Jim Mellon invested in one of Zhavoronkov’s companies, Insilico Medicine, a big-data analytics firm applying deep learning techniques to drug discovery and ageing research. Deep Longevity is a spin-out from Insilico. AI drug firm Insilico could boost Hong Kong drug discovery sector. Here’s how First, a little clarity on the types of ageing. When we celebrate our birthday, we are marking our chronological age - how many years we’ve been alive. But we don’t all age at the same rate. Factors such as stress, sleep and diet affect how our organs cope with daily life, which means that our biological age could be quite different from our chronological age. This is where “ageing clocks” come in. They calculate the wear and tear on your organs and predict how many healthy years you have left. The first such clock was developed in 2013 by Steve Horvath and it’s still one of the best-known today. The Horvath clock estimates the age of almost every organ in the body using data from 51 body tissues and cells. Since then there have been plenty of ageing clocks. Most of them estimate a person’s biological age. But a new one -Zhavoronkov claims it is the first of its kind – aims to determine a person’s psychological age, and in turn boost mental health. FuturSelf, developed by Deep Longevity, is a free online application in which users take a 10-minute survey that determines their psychological age – whether they are psychologically younger or older than their actual age. “This is a great clock to introduce longevity mindfulness,” Zhavoronkov says. “It’s the easiest clock to change and the easiest clock to experiment with. Basically, what you are doing is identifying those wrinkles in your psychology.” The app asks you to rate yourself on a sliding scale on topics including “I know what I want out of life”, “How much can I rely on my friends for help if I have a serious problem?”, “I like most parts of my personality”, “Society isn’t improving for people like me” and “I can do just about anything I set my mind to”. In China … [t]hey just went through dramatic hardships [due to the pandemic] and probably got psychologically older – if your optimism goes down, you get older Alex Zhavoronkov A report with insights aimed at improving your long-term mental health and well-being is sent to your email afterwards, with an option to enrol in a free guidance programme. This reporter enjoyed the test, not only because it was quick and easy, but because her reported age was 14 years younger than her chronological age. Who doesn’t want to shave off a decade? But there was more good news from Zhavoronkov. “We have a paper showing that people who are younger psychologically live longer as well. So it’s a strong predictor of how long you will live, because you have a purpose in life,” he says. If your results show that you are significantly older than your chronological age, you can act on the suggestions to improve this. Broadly speaking, Zhavoronkov says younger people are more creative, more imaginative, take more risks and have broader horizons even though they may feel lonely, whereas older people tend to be happier. “We get happier as we age, everything else gets worse. It makes us more content with our imminent decline and death,” he says. He hopes that FuturSelf will direct attention towards the value of AI for psychoanalysis and sees a huge potential market in mainland China. “In China there should be a boom in that area because their psychological counselling is not well developed. They just went through dramatic hardships [due to the pandemic] and probably got psychologically older – if your optimism goes down, you get older,” he says. I don’t want to have a family. I don’t want anything that will impede my progress. My company – and everything I do in life – is focused on this Alex Zhavoronkov Professor Vadim Gladyshev, a biogerontology expert at Harvard Medical School, says the FuturSelf app broadens how we view ageing and the transitions through life stages and emotional states. “[It] offers an interesting perspective on psychological age, future well-being and risk of depression, and demonstrates a novel application of machine-learning approaches to the issues of psychological health,” Gladyshev says. AI systems are revolutionising nearly every aspect of our lives and have already proven to be accurate in predicting human behaviour. FuturSelf, and the work that follows from it, has the potential to help many millions of people around the world, and though it is never going to replace a human therapist , it’s empowering to recognise that while we all get a little older each day, we can take action to remain youthful. No kids by choice for longevity-obsessed Alex Zhavoronkov Zhavoronkov is so focused on researching and better understanding healthy productive longevity that he’s decided not to reproduce. “I don’t want to have a family. I don’t want anything that will impede my progress. My company – and everything I do in life – is focused on this,” he says. Born in Latvia, Zhavoronkov took two bachelor’s degrees at Queen’s University in Canada at the same time – a bachelor of science in computer science and a bachelor of commerce – followed by a master’s in biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University in the US and a PhD in physics at Moscow State University in Russia. “I made quite a bit of money in my early 20s in semiconductors, the same semiconductors used in high-performance computing that are now used in deep learning,” Zhavoronkov says. Cognitive behavioural therapy, a deceptively simple mental health tool In 2014, he founded Insilico Medicine, an AI-powered drug discovery and development company, and became dedicated to what he sees as his life’s work: understanding healthy, productive longevity. He pioneered the applications of deep-learning technologies for prediction of human biological age using multiple data types. In 2018, he moved his company and the team from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, in the US state of Maryland, to the Hong Kong Science Park. The company has since grown to a staff of 200 in nine countries, with locations including New York, Taipei, Shanghai and Abu Dhabi. Why your biological age may hold the key to reversing ageing For a man obsessed with longevity, Hong Kong, which ranks No 1 worldwide for the longevity of its residents , was a natural choice for a home base, and he says he fell in love with the Science Park. “Everything about Hong Kong is super-efficient,” he says. “It’s a very compact city where it’s extremely comfortable to live as a foreigner. You’re in China, but in a foreigner-friendly area. There are few cities that allow you to work and hike in the same day.” Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .