Raymond Kurzweil is an inventor, scientist, and futurist who says that in the next 25 years, mankind will have the technology to keep bodies alive virtually indefinitely. Many hearing this claim will remember the claims made of flying cars (which won’t be coming out until 2011), and moon bases (which we are still waiting for), but Dr. Kurzweil is one of the rare futurists that has been surprisingly accurate with his predictions thus far. In 1990 he started quite a fuss when he correctly forecast the fall of the Soviet Union partially due to superior communications technology such as cell-phones, fax machines, and personal computers removing the power over information from the authoritarian government. He also correctly predicted that, based on the increased capabilities of computer programs in playing chess, that they would soon be able to beat the best human chess players. This later prediction he found coming true one year before even he had predicted, when in 1997 Deep Blue defeated then chess World Champion Gary Kasparov in one of the most well-publicized chess matches of all time. Kurzweil also foresaw the internet becoming the informational superpower it is today, when many futurists were still considering it a “fad.”
In 1999, Kurzweil wrote another book, entitled “Spiritual Machines,” in which he predicts that by the year 2010, computers will be so advanced that they will actually be able to ‘think’ on the same level as a small rodent. That may not be very impressive, but if computers were capable of thinking on this level, they may already be beginning to achieve self-awareness. His prediction for the year 2025, however, is far more impressive, when he says a computer will have the processing power of one human brain, performing 10 to the fifteenth power calculations per second per $1,000 spent on the computer. The logarithmic plot then predicts that by the year 2060, a computer would be created that could process information equivalent to all human beings on earth focusing on a task in concert. This is quite a claim indeed. Even more amazingly, this computer would be affordable to any standard family for no more than a laptop computer goes for today.
Most impressive, however, is still his prediction that mankind will be immortal in the next 25 years with the advent of nano-technology. Nanotechnology is generally defined as the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. It is this concept that Kurzweil predicts is the key to unlocking the fountain of youth. And he’s not alone. “I and many other scientists now believe that in around 20 years, we will have the means to reprogram our bodies’ stone-age software so we can halt, then reverse, ageing. Then nanotechnology will let us live forever.” He writes that within 25 years, a man of no more than standard health (health of course will become a relative term) will be able to do an olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a single breath, or ‘go scuba-diving for four hours without oxygen.’ Such claims most certainly deserve a second look coming from a man who predicted the internet when rotary phones were still in fashion. “Nanotechnology will extend our mental capacities to such an extent, that we will be able to write books within minutes… nanobots will replace blood cells and do their work thousands of times more effectively… So we can look forward to a world where humans become cyborgs with artificial limbs and organs.” Perhaps most incredible is the prediction that such technology will reverse the ageing process, “So we can live forever.” Is this sixty-something prognosticator onto something as he was thirty years ago? Or is he beginning to lose his touch? Only time will tell. But consider this; neural implants and artificial organs are already on the market, and becoming more common every day.