Beyond Biology: Ray Kurzweil


Following the session on appropriate technology, Ray Kurzweil author, inventor and leading futurist is speaking on the end of biology, by which he means that biology can be improved. He describes his background as an inventor and his passion for ideas.

I suspect the Rob May, BusinessPundit, is in this large room blogging as well.

The rate of technical progress is itself accelerating. We now  understand biology as an information process. The information in our genes hasn't changed in thousands of years, but by adjusting the value, the software of the genes can turn off some diseases.

This contrasts with the old method of discovery. Not knowing why, drugs would be used and medicine practiced. Information knowledge allows us find patterns faster, to make predictions.

He demonstrates what he means by exponential technology growth.

He demonstrates a camera for the blind that can provide precise oral information about the immediate field of view. He talks about how embedded artificial intelligence (AI) is in everyday life. It's a narrow AI, but AI nonetheless. It doesn't possess the sophistication of human intelligence, yet.

He describes the laws of "accelerating returns."

The singularity is an evolutionary process that follows a double logarithmic passage. There is only a few tens of thousand of bytes of information that differentiates us from our ancestors.

Three differences he mentions: we have a larger skull, we can conduct "what if?" experiments, and we have opposable thumbs. 

I am struck by how utterly, calmly, confident he is in making these predictions.

His description of nanotechnology is likewise calmly confident. He lists several current projects underway that uses the technology inside the body in a therapeutic function.

Red blood cells have also been completely reverse engineered. Robotic red blood cells, respirocytes(?), are exponentially more effective than their biological cousins. It might enable us, for example, to rest at the bottom of a swimming pool for 20-30 minutes at a time, lending new meaning, he jokes, to the sentence, "honey, I'm in the pool."

He raises the question of what technologies might be banned, but does not dwell there.

We will soon have enough speed and computational power to mimic the human brain. The question he raises: will the software will be available? Is the mind is complex enough to understand its own complexity? He believes that it is, in part, because the design of the brain in the human genome is simpler, consisting of instructions (which he describes in part) that can be understood and replicated.

In a massive understatement, he concludes that we're the only species that can go beyond its limitations.


Photo: Geoff Oliver Bugbee,