home #SXSW, 100.000 miles Ray Kurzweil: we can reprogram DNA

Ray Kurzweil: we can reprogram DNA

I can remember it as if it was yesterday. My first interview as a young journalist with a real international celebrity. I can still picture myself on the train to London, nervous as hell, on my way to interview Ray Kurzweil for Meridien News Services.

Trying to think down at my level

I can remember his soothing voice, his haltering way of phrasing his ideas. To me, it looked like he put tremendous energy in trying to slow down his brain just enough, so that I could catch up. I suspected him very much to try to think down at my level.

Singularity Man

I am a big fan of Ray Kurzweil. Always was. The ideas he describes in his books are mind-blowing. I still do not understand how you can be in the tech industry, and never have read The Age of Intelligent Machines or The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. I can guarantee that a small army of  wannabee guru’s I saw on stage in recent years would have been better way better off, if they had.

The celebrated tech thinker, Google AI architect, and founder of the Singularity University fascinates me now for years with his projections-extraordinaire of a society where humans and machines become more and more interdependent, interconnected… and eventually quietly merge.  Singularity.  The world, the very entity of man and potent thinking machines becomes one. Mankind transcends biology.  Kurzweil thinks Singularity is just around the corner. Somewhere between 2045 and 2060.

Laughing stock

I always wonder if people thinking that Kurzweil is an idiot, a fraud, or a has-been, realize what the man has achieved. His peers see him as one of the world’s leading inventors, thinkers, and futurists. He has a verified thirty-year track record of  very often quite accurate predictions. Called “the restless genius” by The Wall Street Journal and “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes magazine, Kurzweil was selected as one of the top entrepreneurs by Inc. magazine, which described him as the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison.”  PBS induced him in the hall of fame of the “sixteen revolutionaries who made America.

The Inventor

Kurzweil was the principal inventor of the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. He received the 2015 Technical Grammy Award for outstanding achievements in the field of music technology; got the National Medal of Technology, and holds twenty-one honorary Doctorates.

Internet of everything

We’re getting highly connected, anywhere, anytime. For some this is a scary thought, for some everyday reality. As miniaturization enables computing and transmitting devices do get smaller and smaller, we can make more little things smarter, creating de facto an internet of things. Machine to machine data enables you to use your credit cards, helps road side assistance, combats shop lifting and enhances home automation and security (to name a few). Connected sensor devices are playing an increasingly dominant role in fast moving areas such as home care, patient follow-up and healthcare in general.

Kurzweil points out that health care just became an information technology.   Small armies of sensors, analysers and detectors connect our bodies to the internet. We become a connected part of the internet of everything. “These sensors”, Kurzweil says, “can easily travel through your body, or be added to a single cell. Machine/man merge is just a step on the steep ladder of achieving Singularity.

Passing the Turing Test in 2029

This feeds the web and its connected servers a vast amount of crunchable data. And our artificial brothers are getting better and better in smartly analysing and dealing with whatever is thrown their way. Artificial Intelligence,  for some it is a dirty word… but machines start to think our way, using our probability based thinking. “I think that by 2029, our AI units will finally blast through the Turing Test, the test that was setup to detect intelligent artificial units”, said Kurzweil at SXSW.

Evolving as a species

But let’s face the facts: intelligent, interconnected machines help us evolve faster as a species. Much like the control of fire and the inventions of the wheel, steel, writing, electricity and social security the connected computer power propels humanity to a next level.

Ray Kurzweil sees in his “fifth Epoch” a merger of technology and Human Intelligence, a moment where the methods of biology will be integrated into the human technology base.

Reprogramming DNA

Clinical applications of biotechnology will profoundly transform health, and enhance our vision of medicine with small bio-bots. He thinks we will soon be improving one of the building blocks of our bodies, DNA.

Biotechnology is not just another type of medicine, it’s a whole profound methodology for reprogramming the outdate software in our bodies,” Kurzweil said. “We have software in the form of our DNA. They’re actually linear forms of data and they control our lives. But they evolved in a period when it wasn’t in the interested of the human species to live past the age of 25 because there was limited food and resources. But now that we do, that very same DNA in its current form is sub-optimal.

Improvement of DNA will soon become commonplace in hospitals through techniques like immunotherapy. “Immunotherapy has proven in various trials to be able to reverse advanced, stage four cancer with rodents. It’s a reality and it’s coming very soon.”

For Kurzweil, the human body is a highly advanced computer, running on DNA. Healing and medicine can be enhanced by reprogramming the faulty code in our DNA strings.   Reprogramming the human-body’s ability to combat disease and ageing is just one of the first steps towards fully enhance the body with technology.

Studies show Kurzweil was mostly right on 87 percent of his written predictions till now. So you’ll excuse me for giving him the benefit of the doubt.

For now.

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