Oh, Boy
Published on December 14, 2007

I always thought I would miss immortality by about 50 years – which really pissed me off

I always thought I would miss immortality by about 50 years – which really pissed me off.   I know, lots of people say they wouldn’t WANT to live forever, but I sure would, if only because it will take that long to successfully cancel my Norton Anti-Virus subscription.

 

It’s just immensely frustrating to think that after a 13 billion-year evolutionary run-up, all leading to this, I would miss it by, like, 15 minutes.

 

My conception has long been that technology is on such an astonishing exponential trajectory – we've begun mapping the human genome, for crying out loud!  Oh, look, we’ve finished! – that one day soon we’d be able to download our consciousnesses into a brain bank, basically, where we’d be able to do almost all the things we do now . . . email our friends, watch Seinfeld reruns, order movies on demand, play web boggle, go for virtual treks to Machu Pichu . . . a world in which the big addiction would be not cocaine or meth but the orgasm button.

 

(In a brain bank, you wouldn’t literally press buttons.  But how far are we now from being able to send electrical impulses from our brains?  Not very far.)

 

Class warfare would be primarily between the virtual humans, like me, with 500 years of compound interest enhancing my vast fortune, and the physical humans, like some 25-year-old with an actual screw driver.  I’d have $50 trillion (a good chunk of it in Borealis stock); but he would have the ability to disconnect me.

 

Well, now comes great, life-changing news.

 

Not news in the sense that “it just happened today.”  News in the sense that most of us just don’t yet fully grasp where we’re headed and how close we are to getting there.

 

Some of you are long-time Ray Kurzweil fans and could have written this same column a year ago (or ten).

 

But most of you, like me, have probably only heard of Kurzweil, admired his accomplishments . . .

 

(Thirty-one years ago, he made a machine that could read text to the blind – Stevie Wonder bought the first one, which was almost as large as he was.  Today, Kurzweil’s latest version fits in your pocket and is 1,000 times more capable.)

 

. . . seen his books on a friend’s shelf . . . but never really took the time to plunge in.

 

Well, here is a three-hour audio of Ray Kurzweil on C-SPAN last year that will cost you $1.95 to download and will – here I am searching for an adequate incentive – well, reveal the future of everything.

 

And while I’m obviously exaggerating a bit, Kurzweil’s track record of predictions is so long and sharp – and derive from the kinds of common sense observations that make them so completely understandable – I am not exaggerating very much.

 

Here are two of the things I learned, and then I will shut up and leave you to spend Saturday afternoon with Dr. Kurzweil:

 

First, just to whet your appetite:  as stunning as the pace of change and technological advance was these past 50 years (think, for example, how far computers and telephones have advanced), the progress will be about 32 times greater over the next 50.  We are at the very beginning of an explosion in technological advance.  (The thing about 32, of course, is not that it’s meant to be more precise than a round number, like 30 or 35; but that Dr. Kurzweil inhabits the world of doublings, quadruplings, octuplings, 16-tuplings, 32-tuplings, and so on, so that 32 is a round number, well suited to ballpark estimates.)

 

Second, and here is the main event:  in about 15 years, we will have advanced to the point that adult life expectancy is increasing by more than one full year per year.  So if you can hang on for the next 15 years, your life expectancy at that point would begin to increase.  And your physical and mental capabilities may actually begin to improve.

 

I like this idea very much.

 

Needless to say, there are a hundred, “but . . . but . . . buts” forming on your lips.  Most of them are addressed by Dr. Kurzweil and will leave you, at the least, I think, intrigued.

 

My apologies to those of you to whom all this is old hat.  To me, who have always been quite serious about “just missing” a future where our consciousnesses basically live on forever, this was as exciting a three hours as I’ve ever spent.

 

Watch – now I’ll get hit by a bus.



© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 Andrew Tobias