To count our days: the scientific and ethical dimensions of radical life extension

August 6, 2013

Some experts believe aging ultimately will be conquered by engineers and computer scientists rather than biomedical researchers.

Ray Kurzweil, an American computer scientist and inventor whose work has led to the development of everything from checkout scanners at supermarkets to text-reading machines for the blind, says that what might seem outlandish today eventually will become possible because technological change is exponential rather than linear, meaning that technology is becoming more capable and more powerful at an ever-faster rate.

“The reason information technology grows exponentially is that we use the latest technology to create the next,” he said in Transcendent Man, a 2009 documentary film about his life and ideas. “So each new generation of technology grows exponentially in capability and the speed of that process accelerates over time.”

According to Kurzweil, who is now the director of engineering for Google, this accelerating pace of technical change is already producing computers and other machines that give biomedical researchers much greater capabilities. For instance, “it took us 15 years to sequence HIV; we sequenced SARS in 31 days,” he said during a 2005 interview, referring to efforts to sequence the genomes of HIV in the 1980s and ’90s and of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003. […]