Scientist Ray Kurzweil (Google‘s Director of Engineering) reckons man could become immortal in just a few years’ time. The 61-year-old American – dubbed the smartest futurist on Earth by Microsoft founder Bill Gates – has consistently predicted new technologies many years before they arrived. Here, Ray explains why he believes today’s 60-year-olds could go on to live forever. We are living through the most exciting period of human history. Computer technology and our understanding of genes — our body’s software programs — are accelerating at an incredible rate. He and many other scientists now believe that in around 20 years we will have the means to reprogramme our bodies’ stone-age software so we can halt, then reverse, ageing. Then nano-technology will let us live for ever.
Already, blood cell-sized submarines called nanobots are being tested in animals. These will soon be used to destroy tumours, unblock clots and perform operations without scars.
Ultimately, nanobots will replace blood cells and do their work thousands of times more effectively. Within 25 years we will be able to do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath, or go scuba-diving for four hours without oxygen. Heart-attack victims — who haven’t taken advantage of widely available bionic hearts — will calmly drive to the doctors for a minor operation as their blood bots keep them alive. Nanotechnology will extend our mental capacities to such an extent we will be able to write books within minutes. If we want to go into virtual-reality mode, nanobots will shut down brain signals and take us wherever we want to go. Virtual sex will become commonplace. And in our daily lives, hologram-like figures will pop up in our brain to explain what is happening.
These technologies should not seem at all fanciful. Our phones now perform tasks we wouldn’t have dreamed possible 20 years ago. In 1965, an university’s only computer cost £7million and was huge. Today your mobile phone is a million times less expensive and a thousand times more powerful. That’s a billion times more capable for the same price.
According to Kurrzweil’s theory — the Law of Accelerating Returns — we will experience another billion-fold increase in technological capability for the same cost in the next 25 years. So we can look forward to a world where humans become cyborgs, with artificial limbs and organs. This might sound far-fetched, but remember, diabetics already have artificial pancreases and Parkinson’s patients have neural implants. As we approach the 21st Century’s second decade, stunning medical breakthroughs are a regular occurrence.
In 2008 we discovered skin cells can be transformed into the equivalent of embryonic cells. So organs will soon be repaired and eventually grown. In a few years most people will have their entire genetic sequences mapped. Before long, we will all know the diseases we are susceptible to and gene therapies will mean virtually no genetic problems that can’t be erased. It’s important to ensure we get to take advantage of the upcoming technologies by living well and not getting hit by a bus.
By the middle of this century we will have back-up copies of the information in our bodies and brains that make us who we are. Then we really will be immortal.