Inventor Ray Kurzweil takes 250 nutritional supplements a day in his quest to live long enough to reap the benefits he expects from biotechnology. He says he's trying to reprogram his body, as he would his computer.
"I really do believe it is feasible to slow down the aging process," Kurzweil told Technology Review magazine's Emerging Technologies Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology here last week. "We call that a bridge to a bridge to a bridge -- to the full flowering of the biotechnology revolution."
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Kurzweil, a well-regarded scientist who invented the flatbed scanner and a reading machine for the blind, claimed his pills appear to be helping: Biological tests conducted at a clinic in Denver found his body resembles that of a man in his early forties, he claimed, rather than his true age of 56.
The claim startled many in the audience because there is no medically accepted way to measure aging. Most biological markers simply measure health.
And health is a theme Kurzweil returned to repeatedly; it is the subject of his latest book, "Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever," co-authored with medical doctor Terry Grossman. But it was his broader vision of how biology, nanotechnology and information science are merging that set the backdrop for the conference, which brought together nearly 1,000 scientists and executives from various disciplines to peer into the future.
Kurzweil has long contended technology is advancing exponentially, as each new breakthrough -- fire, the printing press, computers, the Internet -- is used to speed up development of the next. Debate at the two-day event ranged widely about just what is on the horizon.
Presentations ranged across the frontiers of science, including robotics, nanotechnology, biometrics and geographical positioning systems. World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee described the second big phase of the global computer network, a "Semantic Web" project involving tagging or defining online content in a special language. The idea is to let computers accomplish work humans now do by making it possible for machines to read the Web. "Isn't that a bit old-fashioned, having a human being browse the Web?" mused Berners-Lee.
DuPont's research chief, Uma Chowdhry, said her company is working on a long-range project for the Department of Energy involving a bio-refinery to create renewable energy resources. General Motors Corp. chief executive G. Richard Wagoner Jr. described the automaker's plans to expand the safety and security services it offers through its OnStar subsidiary.
Yet no one got the crowd talking like Kurzweil, winner of the National Medal of Technology and author of "The Age of Spiritual Machines." He's known for making accurate predictions, including one about the emergence of a global network resembling the World Wide Web and another about when computers would beat humans at chess.