Ray Kurzweil: Computers Will Extend Human Lifespan

Assistive technology pioneer Ray Kurzweil dicusses his predictions for the future.
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Assistive technology pioneer Ray Kurzweil dicusses his predictions for the future.

Courtesy of TechWeb In just 15 years, we'll begin to see the merger of human and computer intelligence that ultimately will enable people to live forever. At least that's the prediction of author and futurist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil told a keynote audience at the SCO6 supercomputing conference that nanobots will roam our blood streams fixing diseased or aging organs, while computers will back up our human memories and rejuvenate our bodies by keeping us young in appearance and health. The author of the book The Singularity Is Near, Kurzweil says within a quarter of a century, non-biological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence. He predicts that it will then soar past human ability because of the continuing acceleration of information-based technologies, as well as the ability of machines to instantly share their knowledge. In an interview with InformationWeek, Kurzweil said people and computers will intermix with nanobots, blood cell-sized robots, that will be integrated into everything from our clothing to our bodies and brains. People simply need to live long enough—another 15 to 30 years—to live forever. Think of it as replacing everyone's "human body version 1.0" with nanotechnology that will repair or replace ailing or aging tissue, he says. Parts will become easily replaceable. "A $1,000 worth of computation in the 2020s will be 1,000 times more powerful than the human brain," says Kurzweil, adding that in 25 years we'll have multiplied our computational power by a billion. "Fifteen years from now, it'll be a very different world. We'll have cured cancer and heart disease, or at least rendered them to manageable chronic conditions that aren't life threatening. We'll get to the point where we can stop the aging process and stave off death." Kurzweil isn't writing science fiction. In fact, Microsoft's Bill Gates, a robotics director at Carnegie Mellon University, an MIT professor, and a physicist have all endorsed his book. He has received the National Medal of Technology and the Lemelson-MIT prize. The directors of the National Institute of Health have asked him to speak to their members. Kurzweil says he's simply looking back and measuring the computational progress the human race has made over the last century and then projecting that same line of progress forward into the near future. Actually, we'll hit a point where human intelligence simply can't keep up with, or even follow, the progress that computers will make, according to Kurzweil. He expects that non-biological intelligence will have access to its own design plans and be able to improve itself rapidly. Computer, or non-biological, intelligence created in the year 2045 will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today. "Supercomputing is behind the progress in all of these areas," Kurzweil says, adding that a prerequisite for non-biological intelligence is to reverse-engineer biology and the human brain. That will give scientists a "toolkit of techniques" to apply when developing intelligent computers. In a written report, he said, "We won't experience 100 years of technological advance in the 21st century; we will witness on the order of 20,000 years of progress, or about 1,000 times greater than what was achieved in the 20th century." According to Kurzweil, here's what we can expect in the not-so-distant future: —Doctors will be doing a backup of our memories by the late 2030s; —By the late 2020s, doctors will be sending intelligent bots, or nanobots, into our bloodstreams to keep us healthy, and into our brains to keep us young; —In 15 years, human longevity will be greatly extended. By the 2020s, we'll be adding a year of longevity or more for every year that passes; —In the same timeframe, we'll routinely be in virtual reality environments. Instead of making a cell call, we could "meet" someone in a virtual world and take a walk on a virtual beach and chat. Business meetings and conference calls will be held in calming or inspiring virtual locations; —When you're walking down the street and see someone you've met before, background information about that person will pop up on your glasses or in the periphery of your vision; —Instead of spending hours in front of a desktop machine, computers will be more ingrained in our environment. For instance, computer monitors could be replaced by projections onto our retinas or on a virtual screen hovering in the air; —Scientists will be able to rejuvenate all of someone's body tissues and organs by transforming their skin cells into youthful versions of other cell types; —Need a little boost? Kurzweil says scientists will be able to regrow our own cells, tissues, and even whole organs, and then introduce them into our bodies, all without surgery. As part of what he calls the "emerging field of rejuvenation medicine," new tissue and organs will be built out of cells that have been made younger; —Got heart trouble? No problem, says Kurzweil. "We'll be able to create new heart cells from your skin cells and introduce them into your system through the bloodstream. Over time, your heart cells get replaced with these new cells, and the result is a rejuvenated, young heart with your own DNA"; —One trick we'll have to master is staying ahead of the game. Kurzweil warns that terrorists could, obviously, use this same technology against us. For example, they could build and spread a bioengineered biological virus that's highly powerful and stealthy. According to Kurzweil, we're not that far away from solving a medical problem that has plagued scientists and doctors for quite some time now: the common cold. He notes that while nanotechnology could go into our bloodstreams and knock it out, before we even get to that stage, biotechnology should be able to cure the cold in just 10 years.



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