[Paleopsych] WP: Kurzweil's Quest For Eternal Youth Sets Group Abuzz
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Fri Oct 8 14:12:05 UTC 2004
Kurzweil's Quest For Eternal Youth Sets Group Abuzz
By Leslie Walker
Thursday, October 7, 2004; Page E01
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
"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."
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
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
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
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.
At MIT last week, Kurzweil described a future in which he's convinced
immortality -- or a drastically longer life span -- will be possible
thanks to emerging technologies. His new book, which will hit stores
in a few weeks, outlines a special "longevity program" of diet,
exercise and nutritional supplements aimed at slowing the aging
He and Grossman recommend simple starches and foods low in sugar and
high in anti-inflammatory agents such as fish and nuts. They advise
taking all sorts of substances such as phosphatidylcholine, a
cell-membrane component that people tend to lose as they age, making
their skin sag.
In an interview, Kurzweil said he and Grossman also have developed
their own line of products and will launch a Web site to sell them,
including shake mixes and other meal-replacement products .
Such dietary supplements tend to be controversial in the medical
community. David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the nonprofit Center
for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said the only
regimen that has shown real potential to slow aging to date is
drastically reducing calorie intake.
"We tell people to take these claims with a grain of salt because in
many instances there is no evidence -- or the evidence is far from
conclusive -- that these supplements will do anything," Schardt said.
Kurzweil acknowledged that science today can't halt aging, but he said
he believes science will develop age-defying or even age-reversing
techniques within 10 to 20 years, thanks to advances in biotechnology
He described three stages or "bridges" on the purported road to
immortality. First is his healthy living program designed to correct
"metabolic imbalances" and keep people alive long enough to benefit
from the second stage. In stage two, a decade or so away, he contends
biotechnology advances will block diseases and slow aging, because the
decoding of our genome is already leading to tissue-engineering
techniques for regrowing cells and organs, and to the creation of
genetically targeted drugs and gene therapies.
These techniques, he said, should help some people reach the third
stage -- about 30 years away -- when nanotechnology will allow humans
to radically rebuild and extend their bodies with help from
"nanobots," itsy-bitsy robots smaller than human blood cells that will
slip into our bloodstreams to fix DNA errors, fight pathogens and
At that point, he declared, humans may be able to live forever.
Some are skeptical. S. Jay Olshansky, an epidemiology professor at the
University of Illinois School of Public Health, called Kurzweil's
vision "science fiction" in a phone interview. He said life expectancy
isn't likely to change much even after the expected medical advances.
"Life expectancy is inching up. It's not jumping up."
At the MIT conference, not everyone seemed enamored with this idea.
During lunch the next day, Daniel McCurdy, chief executive of
consulting company ThinkFire Services USA Ltd., said immortality
didn't strike him as all that appealing:
"I'm already periodically bored, and I'm only 48. Why would you want
to live forever?"
Kurzweil later conceded that radically extending human life could lead
to a "deep ennui" if nothing else changed, but he believes we will
grow smarter and vastly improve our quality of life. Nanobots, if we
let them swim around our brain capillaries, will boost our brainpower,
he said, as they chatter with our biological neurons over a wireless
local network and the Internet, creating a hybrid form of
"This scenario will enable us to expand our mental faculties through
these massively distributed neural implants with no surgery required,"
Kurzweil said he doesn't think such changes will detract from our
humanity. "The emergence of artificial intelligence is not an alien
invasion of intelligent machines coming from over the horizon to
compete with us," he declared. "Rather, it is emerging from our human
For baby boomers, though, it's a safe bet many will resist the idea of
tinkering with Mother Nature. That's the thinking of McCurdy, who
believes part of what makes life a great adventure is knowing it will
"I would rather continue the adventure by dying and going into a
different plane," he said, "instead of having nanobots running around
Leslie Walker's e-mail address is walkerl at washpost.com.
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