Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, April 06, 2007

Building Bridges to Forever

Please read the following quotation:

Most of my Baby Boomer contemporaries are completely oblivious of this perspective. They just assume that aging is part of the cycle of human life, and at 65 or 70 you start slowing down. Then at eighty you’re dead. So they’re getting ready to retire, and are really unaware of this perspective that things are going to be very different ten or fifteen years from now. This insight really should motivate them to be aggressive about using today’s knowledge.

These words, spoken by Ray Kurzweil in a 2006 interview with David Jay Brown, provide a pointed and vivid picture of humanity's acceptance of the inevitablity of physical and mental decline, leading to death, after four-score or so years of life. The so-called baby boomers, of whom I am one of the youngest to make it in, are now approaching retirement-age, and are having to deal with the effects of aging. But how many of us have any idea whatsoever that the next 2 decades will bring radical life-extension into full flower, and that this reality makes it that much more important for us to "be aggressive about using today's knowledge" to see that we make it into that era?

Ray's metaphor of the bridge is an apt way to picture his point. Bridge One is the aggressive use of available (and emerging) medical knowledge to reprogram your biochemistry in order to "overcome your genetic predispositions." He speaks from a very personal perspective, having done exactly that to cure himself of type-2 diabetes and avoid the heart disease that took his father's life at age 58.

We’re not saying that taking lots of supplements and changing your diet is going enable you to live five hundred years. But it will enable Baby Boomers—like Dr. Grossman and myself, and our contemporaries—to be in good shape ten or fifteen years from now, when we really will have the full flowering of the biotechnology revolution, which is ‘Bridge Two.’

Bridge Two, appearing 10 to 15 years hence, involves the maturing of drug development from its historical "hit and miss" phase to a time of "rationally-designed drugs that can precisely reprogram our biochemistry."

Now, this gets into my whole theory of information technology. Biology has become an information technology. It didn’t used to be. Biology used to be hit or miss. We’d just find something that happened to work. We didn’t really understand why it worked, and, invariably, these tools, these drugs, had side-effects. They were very crude tools. Drug development was called drug discovery, because we really weren’t able to reprogram biology. That is now changing. Our understanding of biology, and the ability to manipulate it, is becoming an information technology. We’re understanding the information processes that underlie disease processes, like atherosclerosis, and we’re gaining the tools to reprogram those processes.

Drug development is now entering an era of rational drug design, rather than drug discovery. The important point to realize is that the progress is exponential, not linear. Invariably people—including sophisticated people—do not take that into consideration, and it makes all the difference in the world. The mainstream skeptics declared the fifteen year genome project a failure after seven and half years because only one percent of the project was done. The skeptics said, I told you this wasn’t going to work—here you are halfway through the project and you’ve hardly done anything. But the progress was exponential, doubling every year, and the last seven doublings go from one percent to a hundred percent. So the project was done on time. It took fifteen years to sequence HIV. We sequenced the SARS virus in thirty-one days.

This will lead to Bridge Three about 20 years from now, the nanotechnology revolution, "where we can go beyond the limitations of biology. We’ll have programmable nanobots that can keep us healthy from inside, and truly provide truly radical life extension."

The golden era will be in about twenty years from now. They’ll be some applications earlier, but the real Holy Grail of nanotechnology are nanobots, blood cell-size devices that can go inside the body and keep us healthy from inside. If that sounds very futuristic, I’d actually point out that we’re doing sophisticated tasks already with blood cell-size devices in animal experiments.

So these technologies will be a hundred thousand times smaller than they are today in twenty-five years, and a billion times more powerful. And look at what we can already do today experimentally. Twenty-five years from now these nanobots will be quite sophisticated. They’ll have computers in them. They’ll have communication devices. They’ll have small mechanical systems. They’ll really be little robots, and they be able to go inside the body and keep us healthy from inside. They will be able to augment the immune system by destroying pathogens. They will repair DNA errors, remove debris and reverse atherosclerosis. Whatever we don’t get around to finishing with biotechnology, we’ll be able to finish the job with these nano-engineered blood-cell sized robots or nanobots.

If you'd like to find out more about these topics, check out Ray Kurzweil's book, Fantastic Voyage, by clicking the link below.

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Spaceman Spiff said...

Yeah, sure maybe we've made some progress. But in the words of Lewis Black on the year 2000, "Where are the flying cars?? They told us there'd be flying cars!!"

Barry Mahfood said...

Flying cars were always a bad idea. The idea of today's incomptetent drivers having to deal with 3 dimensions instead of just 2 is insane.