Ray Kurzweil, Google and NASA have launched the Singularity University. (Photo by null0)
The February issue of Rolling Stone magazine has an interesting interview with Ray Kurzweil (read it here), a techno-progressive and avid supporter of the Singularity – a theoretical future point in time where technological progress far surpasses anything we've experienced before.
If you don't know who he is but the name sounds vaguely familiar, it's probably because of the famous Kurzweil synthesizer, which he invented in the 80's. The 61-year-old inventor has also worked with pattern recognition and artificial intelligence, but he's most famous for his predictions on where technology is headed. More precisely, he's famous for his correct predictions, which include the fall of the Soviet Union, the Internet, and the ubiquity of wireless networks.
Kurzweil's latest – and most controversial – prediction is that the Singularity will occur by 2045. If he's correct, what it will mean in practice is that we'll have the technology to use intelligent nanorobots operating on a molecular scale to repair and prevent damage from happening inside our bodies, among other things. When these machines become intelligent enough to repair all the damage, they will inevitably allow humans to dramatically increase their lifespans.
Many have criticized Kurzweil's theory of accelerated change for being too simple. His theory is based on the observation that the rate of technological progress is constantly increasing. A famous example is microprocessors: not only do they keep getting more powerful, but they keep getting more powerful faster than before. Effectively, a doubling in their processing power takes fewer and fewer years as time goes by.
Even though Kurzweil has been correct more times than many other people claiming to know the future, some say his estimate is not based on actual facts but on hope that he himself might live to see the Singularity. If he predicted the Singularity to occur in a hundred years, he might not be around to experience it.
I think this criticism is valid, and the year 2045 if probably too precise a guess based on too imprecise data to be true. However, the fact that Kurzweil has decided to come up with an exact year that is not too far away has very likely been one reason for his popularity and the excitement around his predicitions. It's good marketing, and I don't see anything wrong with it if it gets the masses thinking about the possibility of technology helping us to live longer and healthier lives.
Besides, even if the date is wrong, his vision of the future probably isn't far off from the truth. As I've mentioned in my other posts about current inventions in the world of anti-aging, we already have some very promising things going on, and it does seem like the rate of progress is indeed increasing. Smart nanorobots in the bloodstream fixing diseases are not really a question of "if" but "when".
And who knows, they might even be closer than Kurzweil predicts.
For more information on anti-aging and technology, see these posts:
Taking Life Sciences to an Extreme: From Homo Sapiens to Homo Evolutis
Anti-Aging in the Media: The Globe and Mail on Telomerase
End Aging to End Anxiety: Filmmaker Jason Silva Talks about Immortality
Growing New Body Parts: Breakthroughs in Regenerative Medicine