On the Road to Immortality

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Rick Friedman/Corbis
Ray Kurzweil, surrounded by some of the foods he recommends for living a longer life, November 2004

First published in 2009, and more recently in a paperback edition, Transcend presents “an easy-to-follow program”—“a comprehensive exercise program, sample menus and recipes, precise dosages for supplements, when and where to obtain blood tests, and many other helpful details.” The program’s initial goal is “to slow down and in many cases to stop the processes that lead to disease and aging” so that we can “live—well—for decades longer than what we now consider a long life.” But the promise that Kurzweil and Grossman’s manual holds out is not just more years of healthy life. The aim is not longevity, but immortality. “If you stay on the cutting edge of our rapidly expanding knowledge, you can indeed live long enough to live forever.”

An earlier book by Kurzweil and Grossman, Fantastic Voyage (2004), acknowledges that these are far-reaching claims: “We felt that fantastic claims required fantastic evidence, so we needed to offer rigorous support.” Fantastic Voyage contains around one thousand citations from scientific and medical literature, while Transcend is very largely composed of detailed advice on diet, exercise, and preventive medicine. A fuller statement of the ideas that underpin Transcend can be found in Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (2005), where he spelled out the argument that a sudden acceleration in the growth of knowledge is about to make immortality technologically feasible. He specified a time when this event would occur: “I set the date for the Singularity—representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability—as 2045.”

A part of the argument concerns the transformation the human body will undergo as a result of the explosive increase of knowledge he believes is imminent. Nanotechnology will enable the design of nanobots—tiny robots operating at the molecular level—that will “have myriad roles within the human body, including reversing human aging (to the extent that this task will not already have been completed through biotechnology, such as genetic engineering).” Reengineered and indefinitely renewable, our bodies will allow us to overcome the limitations that go with having any genetically preordained lifetime.

But this will still not be immortality, and perfecting the human body is a phase in a much larger transformation. The use of nanobots in the human brain will enable them to interact with biological neurons and

once nonbiological intelligence gets a foothold in the human brain (this has already started with computerized neural implants), the machine intelligence in our brains will grow exponentially (as it has been doing all along)…. Thus, the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will ultimately predominate.

Nanobots will have the ability “to vastly extend human experience by creating virtual reality from within the nervous system.” Rather than being confined in a single body, we will be able to construct multiple bodies for ourselves at will in virtual environments—a process that will continue “until nonbiological …

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