December 20, 2009 at 12:32 am #32832
TOP FUTURIST, RAY KURZWEIL, PREDICTS HOW TECHNOLOGY WILL CHANGE HUMANITY BY
By Ray Kurzweil
New York Daily News
Sunday, December 13, 2009
As we approach the end of the first decade of the new millennium, lets
consider what life will be like a decade hence. Changes in our lives from
technology are moving faster and faster. The telephone took 50 years to
reach a quarter of the U.S. population. Search engines, social networks and
blogs have done that in just a few years time. Consider that Facebook
started as a way for Harvard students to meet each other just six years ago;
it now has 350 million users and counting.
Between now and 2020, the trend will continue, spreading cutting-edge
technologies to every corner of the country and beginning to make
innovations once consigned to the realm of science fiction real for millions
of Americans. Specifically what can we expect? Solar power on steroids,
longer lives, the chance to get rid of obesity once and for all, and
portable computing devices that start becoming part of your body rather than
being held in your hand.
What will drive all this accelerating change is precisely what has driven it
this past half-century: the exponential growth in the power of information
technology, which approximately doubles for the same cost every year. When I
was an MIT undergraduate in 1965, we all shared a computer that took up half
a building and cost tens of millions of dollars. The computer in my pocket
today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful. Thats
a billion-fold increase in the amount of computation per dollar since I was
That incredible force — information technology that moves faster, then
faster, then faster still — will power changes in every imaginable realm
over the next decade.
Start with the basics. Youve no doubt noticed that electronic gadgets are
getting smaller and smaller; the iPod Shuffle holds 1,000 songs and weighs
0.38 ounces. Your phone is smaller than it was a few years ago and can do
much more. By 2020, memory devices will be integrated into our clothing. And
the very idea of a smart phone will begin to change. Rather than looking
at a tiny screen, our glasses will beam images directly to our retinas,
creating a high resolution virtual display that hovers in air.
That virtual display will be able to take over our entire visual field of
view, putting us in a three-dimensional full immersion virtual reality
environment. Well watch movies virtually and read virtual books. A lot of
our personal and business meetings will take place in these 3D virtual
worlds. The design of new virtual environments will be an art form. Well
even have ways to touch one another virtually.
There are already beginning to be apps available for your iPhone or Android
phone that allow you to look at a building and have the display superimpose
what stores are inside it; Google Goggles, released last week, is the first
free, widely-available version of such software. By 2020 well routinely
have pop ups in our visual field of view that give us background about the
people and places that were looking at.
In other words, your memory will be constantly, instantaneously aided by the
information available on the Internet. The two will begin to become
How about energy? That doesnt sound like an information technology. Fossil
fuels, after all, are an early first industrial revolution, 19th century
technology. But we are now applying nanotechnology — the science of
essentially reprogramming matter at the level of molecules to create new
materials and devices — to the design of renewable energy technologies such
as solar energy. As a result, the cost per watt of solar energy is coming
down rapidly and the total amount of solar energy is growing exponentially.
It has in fact been doubling every two years for the past 20 years and is
now only eight doublings away from meeting all of the worlds energy needs.
When I shared this fact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few
weeks ago, he asked, but is there enough sunlight to double solar energy
eight more times? I responded that we have 10,000 times more sunlight than
we need to do this. The prime minister announced an Israeli energy
initiative the next day at the Israeli Presidential Conference based on our
conversation, setting a 10-year goal to create the technologies to
completely replace fossil fuels.
Its not just the gadgets we carry around and the power we use to fuel our
lives that are subject to what I call the law of accelerating returns.
Health and medicine, which used to be a hit or miss process, has now become
an information technology.
We now have the software of life (our genes) and the means of upgrading that
software. How long do you go without updating the software on your cell
phone? Not long: it does it itself every few days or weeks. Yet we are
walking around with obsolete software in our bodies that evolved thousands
of years ago. Within 10 years, that will change.
Already today, there are over a thousand projects to change our genes away
from disease and toward health, not just in newborns but in mature
individuals. The Human Genome Project, which has catalogued our genetic
material, was itself a very good example of the law of accelerating returns;
the amount of genetic data that is sequenced has doubled every year and the
cost has come down by half every year. We can now design health
interventions on computers and test them out on biological simulators. These
technologies are doubling in power every year and will be a thousand times
more powerful in a decade.
By 2020, we will have the means to program our biology away from disease and
aging, and toward significant advances in our ability to treat major
diseases such as heart disease and cancer — an approach that will be fully
mature by 2030.
We wont just be able to lengthen our lives; well be able to improve our
lifestyles. By 2020, we will be testing drugs that will turn off the fat
insulin receptor gene that tells our fat cells to hold on to every calorie.
Holding on to every calorie was a good idea thousands of years ago when our
genes evolved in the first place. Today it underlies an epidemic of obesity.
By 2030, we will have made major strides in our ability to remain alive and
healthy — and young — for very long periods of time. At that time, well
be adding more than a year every year to our remaining life expectancy, so
the sands of time will start running in instead of running out.
No, its not going to be an entirely brave new world. Some things will look
pretty similar in 2020. Well still drive cars — although they will have
the intelligence to avoid many accidents and self-driving cars will at least
be experimented with. All-electric cars will be popular. And in cities,
dont expect subways or buses to go away.
But in more and more ways big and small, hang in there and well all get to
see the remarkable century ahead.December 20, 2009 at 11:46 am #32833
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