Skip to main content

The future according to Ray Kurzweil

By July 24, 2018March 7th, 2022technology

PRESENTER: The Wall Street Journal has called him “the restless genius” and holds twenty honorary doctorates, which is twenty more than most of us. With great pleasure and a warm welcome, please welcome Dr. Ray Kurzweil.

KURZWEIL: I would say the vast majority will— you all look pretty young— but I’m planning to myself, and I’m probably older than most of you— a lot of the predictions I see about health and medicine are based on looking at the trajectory that we’ve seen, how long it takes for developments to occur and be perfected and so on. But all of that was in an era where health and medicine and biology proceeded linearly because it was not an information technology. It was hit or miss. Of course we use computers to keep track of the information, but biology is fundamentally an information process. Genes are software programs, and that’s not a metaphor. They’re sequences of data, and they evolved a long time ago; and we now have the means not only of finding out what that object code is, but also reverse engineering it and reprogramming it. RNA interference can turn genes off. New forms of gene therapy can add new genes. And the power of these technologies now is progressing exponentially. Halfway through the genome project, critics dismissed it as a failure because only 1% had been sequenced in seven years. They said, “One percent, seven years, it’s going to take 700 years just like we said.” But in fact it was finished seven years later because 1% is only seven doublings from a 100%. That’s continued since the end of the genome project. That first genome was a billion dollars. We’re now down to a few thousand dollars. But we can also reprogram this outdated software. So these technologies are now a thousand times more powerful than they were a decade ago. That’s the implication of doubling every year in price performance and capacity. It was a decade ago that we finished the genome project, and we’re seeing the first fruits of this effort to getting through the regulatory pipeline. I’ve heard of at least a hundred very exciting projects in cancer and many other diseases as well that are really getting at the root software causes treating these diseases as information. And our ability to intervene is really doubling in power every year. So these technologies will be a thousand times more profit in ten years. They will be a million times more profit in twenty years. We’ll see dramatic changes over the next decade. Between ten and twenty years from now, it’s going to be a real revolution. I believe we will overcome disease and aging. So wear your seat belt. Avoid extreme sports. You can— I believe we’re ten, twelve, maybe fourteen years away from when we’ll be adding more than a year every year. Not just infant life expectancy, but to your remaining life expectancy; so that’s kind of a tipping point. Now, life expectancy is a statistical phenomenon so you could still be hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow. We’re working on that also with self-driving cars. So I think the perspective is changing, but it’s going to be very empowered ten year from now. Twenty years from now it’s going to be a whole different world.