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GDC08 Keynote: Ray Kurzweil On Our Technological Future, Immortality by 2023

GDC08 Keynote: Ray Kurzweil On Our Technological Future, Immortality by 2023

Ray Kurzweil

By Evan Ackerman

Ray Kurzweil, an inventor (of such things as the flatbed scanner and optical character recognition) and futurist gave the keynote at GDC on Thursday. Although the title of the talk was entitled The Next 20 Years of Gaming, Kurzweil spent the majority of the keynote explaining how information technology is advancing exponentially at a steady and predictable rate, which allows us to see where our future lies as a species. The idea that was really hammered home to me is that technologies and advances which may sound like science fiction are actually predictable, and thanks to the magic of exponential progression, much closer than we think.

Here’s a little taste of what I mean… Currently, thanks to medical and biotech advances, we are adding approximately 3 months to human life expectancy every year. With the advent of applied information technology (such as the ability to turn genes on and off, something we’ve recently figured out how to do), Kurzweil predicts that that rate is going to increase significantly:

“15 years from now, we’ll be adding more than a year every year, not just to infant life expectancy, but to your remaining life expectancy, so as you go forward a year, your remaining life expectancy will move away from you… The sands of time will be running in, not out.”

Let me restate what he’s saying: if you can make it to 2023, you won’t ever die of old age. This isn’t just speculation: it’s based on a mathematical model which has been, if anything, conservative. I’m sure there’s an asterisk in there somewhere, but even so, there’s no denying that it’s exciting to think about. More stuff like this, after the jump.

RespirocyteHere’s another example… Blood cell sized devices are currently in their first generation, able to cure type-1 diabetes in rats. MIT has developed a nanobot able to scout out cancer cells in the blood, and destroy them. Not too far off are robotic red blood cells called respirocytes, which work just like your normal red blood cells, except they’re a thousand times more capable. “If you replace a portion of your red blood cells with these robotic ones, these respirocytes, you could do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath, or sit at the bottom of your pool for four hours.”

What else is in store? These two slides show some of Kurzweil’s mathematical predictions for 2010 and 2029:

Kurzweil Predictions

Again, these aren’t just idle predictions, they’re based on trends information technology that have remained essentially stable for decades. Kurzweil actually demoed a few language technology devices, including an optical text reader integrated into a cellphone that instantly translates written text into spoken words (it’s designed for the blind) and a vocal translator, which reproduces what you say in the language of your choice using voice recognition, real-time automatic translation, and an almost but not quite convincingly human speech generator.

Kurzweil Predictions

All this makes me want to reread Snow Crash. And The Diamond Age. And Foundation, for that matter. You can see more of Kurzweil’s predictions over on Wikipedia, or check out his website here.

[ GDC Keynotes ]