A PDF version of a recent Futurist piece by Ray Kurzweil and others on the coming technological singularity - and the associated prospects for radical life extension through a variety of means - can be found online:
We are in the early stages of the genetics revolution today. By understanding the information processes underlying life, we are learning to reprogram our biology to achieve the virtual elimination of disease, dramatic expansion of human potential, and radical life extension.
Genetic and molecular science will extend biology and correct its obvious flaws (such as our vulnerability to disease). By the year 2020, the full effects of the genetic revolution will be felt across society. We are rapidly gaining the knowledge and the tools to drastically extend the usability of the "house" each of us calls his body and brain. Nanomedicine researcher Robert Freitas estimates that eliminating 50% of medically preventable conditions would extend human life expectancy to 150 years. If we were able to prevent 99% of naturally occurring medical problems, we'd live to be more than 1,000 years old.
Billions of nanobots will travel through the bloodstream in our bodies and brains. In our bodies, they will destroy pathogens, correct DNA errors, eliminate toxins, and perform many other tasks to enhance our physical well-being. As a result, we will be able to live indefinitely without aging.
As before, I think the Kurzweilian timescale is aggressive for reasons relating to our ability to successfully manage complexity. There's nothing wrong with the basic concepts, however - these classes of technological capabilities will come to pass, quite possibly within our lifetimes. If this is the case - if we work today to ensure that it is the case - then our healthy life spans could become long indeed.
Kurzweil's message to luddites, conservatives and others who whitewash and romanticize the past is one to listen to here, I think. It's very much to the point:
We don't have to look past today to see the intertwined promise and peril of technological advancement. Imagine describing the dangers (atomic and hydrogen bombs, for one thing) that exist today to people who lived a couple of hundred years ago. They would think it mad to take such risks. But how many people in 2006 would really want to go back to the short, brutish, disease-filled, poverty-stricken, disaster-prone lives that 99% of the human race struggled through two centuries ago? We may romanticize the past, but up until fairly recently most of humanity lived extremely fragile lives in which one all-too-common misfortune could spell disaster. Two hundred years ago, life expectancy for females in the record-holding country (Sweden) was roughly 35 years - very brief compared with the longest life expectancy today, almost 85 years for Japanese women. Life expectancy for males was roughly 33 years, compared with the current 79 years. Half a day was often required to prepare an evening meal, and hard labor characterized most human activity. There were no social safety nets. Substantial portions of our species still live in this precarious way, which is at least one reason to continue technological progress and the economic improvement that accompanies it. Only technology, with its ability to provide orders of magnitude of advances in capability and affordability, has the scale to confront problems such as poverty, disease, pollution, and the other overriding concerns of society today. The benefits of applying ourselves to these challenges cannot be overstated.
In the present day we live in a world in which hundreds of millions suffer daily from age-related disease, and a hundred thousand die every day. We are within a few decades of eliminating this suffering, but each day of delay carries a huge toll in lives and pain.
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