Ray Kurzweil is an entrepreneur and futurist who sees the upward curve of technology continuing to physical immortality in the decades ahead, and the transformation of humanity into something greater. He has said comparatively little about SENS rejuvenation biotechnology over the years, however. One way to look at his thinking on the matter, I believe, is to consider him fairly uninterested in implementation details. They are just color painted atop fundamental capabilities such as computational power. He has amassed considerable data on and studied the shape of trends in these fundamental capabilities, and predicts based on those trends - "The Singularity is Near" is still the definitive form of his arguments.
I think this a defensible methodology over the average and in the long term, but one that doesn't allow you to say much about short-term futures or specifics. When he does put dates on the table, most of us believe they are too early. So I'll advance the argument that Kurzweil's writings, even Fantastic Voyage on actuarial escape velocity, don't really intersect strongly with the work of advocates and biotechnologists who are currently trying to raise funding and build the first rejuvenation therapies. We are very interested in short-term futures and specific implementation details, and much less interested in trends, since we're about to disrupt them. Kurzweil's visions form a part of the zeitgeist, the background of persuasion and aspiration against which this work takes place.
When people talk about the future of technology, especially artificial intelligence, they very often have the common dystopian Hollywood-movie model of us versus the machines. My view is that we will use these tools as we've used all other tools - to broaden our reach. And in this case, we'll be extending the most important attribute we have, which is our intelligence.
How will all this help us live longer? Let's start with genetics. It's beginning to revolutionize clinical practice and will completely transform medicine within one to two decades. We're starting to reprogram the outdated software of life - the 23,000 little programs we have in our bodies, called genes. We're programming them away from disease and away from aging. We can subtract genes. We can modify stem cells to have desirable effects such as rejuvenating the heart if it's been damaged in a heart attack, which is true of half of all heart attack survivors. The point is health care is now an information technology subject to the same laws of acceleration and progress we see with other technologies. We'll soon have the ability to rejuvenate all the body's tissues and organs and develop drugs targeted specifically at the underlying metabolic process of a disease rather than taking a hit-or-miss approach. But nanotechnology is where we really move beyond biology.
By the 2020s we'll start using nanobots to complete the job of the immune system. Our immune system is great, but it evolved thousands of years ago when conditions were different. It was not in the interest of the human species for individuals to live very long, so people typically died in their 20s. The life expectancy was 19. Your immune system, for example, does a poor job on cancer. It thinks cancer is you. It doesn't treat cancer as an enemy. It also doesn't work well on retroviruses. It doesn't work well on things that tend to affect us later in life, because it didn't select for longevity. We can finish the job nature started with a nonbiological T cell. T cells are, in fact, nanobots - natural ones. We could have one programmed to deal with all pathogens and could download new software from the internet if a new type of enemy such as a new biological virus emerged.
I believe we will reach a point around 2029 when medical technologies will add one additional year every year to your life expectancy. By that I don't mean life expectancy based on your birthdate but rather your remaining life expectancy. People say they don't want to live forever. Often their objection is that they don't want to live hundreds of years the way the quintessential 99-year-old is perceived to be living - frail or ill and on life support. First of all, that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about remaining healthy and young, actually reversing aging and being an ideal form of yourself for a long time. They also don't see how many incredible things they would witness over time - the changes, the innovations. Me, I'd like to stick around.
I regard death as the greatest tragedy. People talk about getting used to death and accepting it, but the end of each life is a terrible loss, like the Library of Alexandria burning down. All that information, all their skills, their personality, their memories are gone. The people who loved that person also suffer. A significant portion of their neocortex had evolved to understand the person and interact with them, and then suddenly that person is no longer there for them to use that part of their brain, which leads to the shock of mourning. But I think it's humanity's mission to transcend our limitations, and the most profound limitation we have is that of our life span. That's the hardest thing for people to accept, because birth and life and death have been with us since the beginning of recorded history. But I can see a path that's not far off where we can indefinitely extend our lives.