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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Preview: Ray Kurzweil Optimistic on Averting Catastrophe

With less than one week until the debut of Architects of Tomorrow Volume 1, I thought I'd offer a piece from one of my favorite headliners in this collection. Ray Kurzweil was one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, but he sure hasn't slowed down in the 21st. As one of the most public voices in artificial intelligence and a pioneering inventor of many common computing technologies, he contributions to society can't be underestimated. My question, though, is whether the best is yet to come.

One of Kurzweil's favored research fields is human longevity...

WVW: As we see in your books, such as Transcend and The Singularity is Near, you believe we’re close to having the technology needed to radically extend human life. Even if similar technological feats allow us to solve issues such as energy shortages, there’s no getting around the problem of aging societies and overpopulation. Unless these longevity technologies come with a built-in zero population growth switch, how can we avoid this impending risk?

Kurzweil: The idea behind radically extending human life is to stop and reverse aging so we won’t be “aging.” As for overpopulation, the same technologies that will extend longevity will also vastly extend resources. We have 10,000 times more sunlight than we need to meet 100% of our energy needs. The total amount of solar energy we are producing is doubling every two years, and we are only eight doublings away from meeting all of our energy needs. The technology underlying this is the increasing application of advanced material technologies such as nanotech to solar panels. Once we have inexpensive energy, we can easily convert the vast amount of dirty and salinated water we have on the planet to usable water. We are headed towards another agriculture revolution, from horizontal agriculture to vertical agriculture where we grow very high quality food in AI-controlled buildings. These will recycle all nutrients and end the ecological disaster that constitutes contemporary factory farming. This will include hydroponic plants for fruits and vegetables and in vitro cloning of muscle tissue for meat—that is, meat without animals. Even PETA likes this idea.

Desktop nano factories will enable us to produce high quality modules to snap together high quality yet inexpensive housing. There is a Singularity University project devoted to this concept. Look at the cover of last week’s Economist magazine, it features a picture of a violin that was printed out using a contemporary three-dimensional printer. This spatial precision of this technology is improving exponentially. And there’s plenty of land available, just take a train trip anywhere in the world and you’ll see most of the land is not really used. We aggregate today in crowded cities because this was a good way to communicate, but the need to do this will dissipate as virtual reality becomes equal to real reality in resolution and realism.

1 comment:

  1. The photovoltaic panels are the most well known of the solar power systems available and consist of solar panels which inside contain a special semiconductor material that generates electricity when it comes into contact with sunlight, and so creates solar power.