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28 January 2009

Raymond Kurzweil and Aging

"Kurzweil expects that, once the human/machine race has converted all of the matter in the universe into a giant, sentient supercomputer it will have created a supremely powerful and intelligent being which will be Godlike in itself." - Wikipedia article on Raymond Kurzweil

At first glance that sentence is ridiculous and hilarious. Then it dawned on me that he kind of had a point. Anyways, his wiki is worth reading. It is a bit long however.

I first became aware of him when watching a show on research done to slow down and even reversing the aging process. It interested me because I had just read an article on MIT's Technology Review about (this is my non-pHD interpretation) the first insights as to exactly what causes aging. Bare with me; the only organism for which aging is understood is yeast. In yeast, aging occurs because as DNA duplicates itself mistakes are sometimes made. These mistakes are passed on from one generation of cells to the next and over time begin to account for an increasing share of the DNA sequence. Then there is a protein that gets involved and starts expressing dormant traits (I'm a bit shaky on that part) to fill in the gaps left by mistakes. Researchers have discovered a similar pattern in mice, but are quick to caution that aging is a very complex and haphazard thing... so this may not be the whole story. The point is that aging is not necessarily "natural", but rather just a screw up in our genes.

Long story short, Kurzweil proposes that aging will soon become a thing of the past. In a series of steps (or "bridge to a bridge to a bridge" as he calls it) humans will learn to slow down, stop, and eventually reverse aging. All supposedly within the next few decades. It would be easy to dismiss if he weren't so damned credible. He invented the flatbed scanner, text to speech synthesizer, text recognition software, and he sold his first software company at the age of 20. While he was a sophomore at MIT none the less. So at the very least he's a talented inventor, business man, and prediction maker.

There's a lot to write about on this guy. I guess I'm mostly fascinated by his research topics, ideas on increasing rates of change (in terms of technology), and his predictions. They're much further looking than mine and much more sci-fi. The odd thing is that as outlandish as they seem, if current computer advances continue I don't see how they will not become true.

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