Are you interested in living forever? Most people would be content with a living at least a few extra years past the current average life expectancy – provided they were ‘good’ years with good health, enough money to live comfortably and friends and relatives to spend that extra time with. But to live forever? That’s the stuff of science fiction, horror fiction, religion and Silicon Valley billionaires (many of whom might now just be happy to live long enough to get their money back from the bank). Recently, a well known futurist has laid out his forecast that humans will be able to achieve immortality by the year 2030. That futurist is Ray Kurzweil – a computer scientist and the author of a number of books on health, artificial intelligence (AI), transhumanism, technological singularity and futurism. What does Kurzweil see happening in 2030 that will provide immortality to humans? Does he have any ideas on how we can survive until then?
“In his book "The Singularity Is Near", futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil argues that we are rapidly approaching a point in time known as the singularity. This refers to the moment when artificial intelligence and other technologies will become so advanced that they surpass human intelligence and change the course of human evolution forever. Kurzweil predicts that by 2030, we will reach a crucial milestone in our technological progress: immortality.”
Kurzweil’s immortality reveal came in the form of a YouTube interview on the ADAGIO channel. For those not familiar with him, his books, his ideas on singularity and other topics, Ray Kurzweil graduated from MIT in 1979 with a B.S. in computer science and literature. He founded one of the first companies to match students to colleges using a computer program, founded Kurzweil Computer Products which developed the first omni-font optical character recognition system, and marketed a commercial version of it which he sold to Xerox. He later moved into the fields of speech recognition, pattern recognition, machine learning, language processing and artificial intelligence. His books often delve into the history of computing, but Kurzweil is perhaps best known for his works on futurism and singularity, such as “The Age of Spiritual Machines” and “The Singularity Is Near.” In those books and other writings, Kurzweil has made predictions which he often brags have had a high percentage of coming true – that is debatable, but at least his bold forecasts are not psychic but based on technology. That is why he was on the ADAGIO channel talking about the science of achieving immortality by the year 2030.
“He bases this prediction on his observation of exponential growth in various fields such as genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics, which he believes will culminate in the creation of what he calls "nanobots".”
The general public already knows quite a bit about robotics, genetics and nanotechnology, so it is Kurzweil’s ideas on the upcoming “exponential growth” in those fields that is of interest … particularly how fast humans reach the point of singularity when AI surpasses human intelligence and begins to rapidly transform society. Some might suggest that the recent so-called ‘achievements’ of OpenAI's GPT-3 (and as of this writing, GPT-4) family of large language models – the latest evolution of the technology Kurzweil worked on in the 1970s – are approaching singularity. That remains to be seen and is not the technology which Kurzweil predicts will provide immortality … it’s the nanobots.
“These tiny robots, according to Kurzweil, will be capable of repairing and enhancing our bodies at the cellular level, effectively making us immune to disease, aging, and death. Additionally, he believes that advances in brain-computer interfaces will allow us to upload our consciousness into digital form, effectively achieving immortality.”
Kurzweil sees medical nanobots being used to make our vessels – our bodies – immortal, and then he joins with Elon Musk and others in promoting brain-computer interfaces to make our brains immortal. Those are valid and believable predictions which have been made by others. Why does Kurzweil see them happening by 2030? He explains:
“2029 is the consistent date I have predicted for when an AI will pass a valid Turing test and therefore achieve human levels of intelligence."
The Turing test is the concept developed by Alan Turing in 1950 to test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior indistinguishable from human intelligence. This is a tough standard which, despite what you read on social media, has not been achieved by ChatGPT or any other modern chatbots. Moore’s Law – which predicted that the number of transistors that can be fit on a computer chip will double every 18 months – showed that technology can and does advance rapidly and consistently. However, many say this progress is slowing down, not speeding up. The same could be said of human life expectancy – while medical advances seem to occur more rapidly, life expectancy in the U.S. is dropping. Can nanobots really change that? And by 2030? Kurzweil also puts the forecast of brain-computer interfaces on the plate of those nanobots – predicting that they will link to the ’cloud’ to both upload our brains and download the artificial intelligence they need to keep our bodies functioning forever.
“I have set the date 2045 for the 'Singularity' which is when we will multiply our effective intelligence a billion fold by merging with the intelligence we have created."
OK, Kurzweil hedges his predictions by separating immortality from singularity – a debatable strategy since nanobots needs such a high level of AI and cloud connectivity to repair human bodies and keep them running forever. It almost seems like he’s predicting that the ‘immortality thru nanobots’ project will begin in 2030, "advance human life expectancy" by "more than a year every year" and achieve both true immortality and singularity 15 years later in 2045. That sounds more plausible … and more Kurzweilian, since he has recalibrated various past predictions that didn’t hit on the dates he forecast. That is a fair option for futurists and one that separates them from psychics – futurists are allowed to take advantage of the “sh-t happens” aspect of human nature and the world in general.
As expected, Kurzweil does not have any advice for surviving until immortality is available. He himself is 75 and has been known to take hundreds of supplements per day, washed down with alkaline water, green tea and red wine to "reprogram" his biochemistry. Will that help him reach 2030? 2045? Immortality? With the wine, at least he’ll feel good getting there.