columnfor | CNNThis is your future.

by Ray Kurzweil
February 1, 2024


— contents —

~ summary
~ column

broadcast: CNN
story title: This is your future.
author: by Ray Kurzweil
date: December 2013

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summary |

The acclaimed futurist + inventor Ray Kurzweil shares his predictions for our future. Here’s a summary, he said:

:: health

+ we’ll overcome disease + aging.
+ medicine is an info-tech.
+ so it follows his law of accelerating returns.
+ meaning it can progress rapidly + exponentially.
+ it can double in capability each year.

:: energy

+ all our energy can be solar power by 2030.
+ it’s the golden era of 3D printing.
+ we’ll 3D print goods we use + wear
+ and even replacement body parts.

:: web

+ Google’s system reads all material  on the web.
+ it will soon read every book for meaning.
+ this will make a rich search experience.
+ it will be based-on human language understanding.

:: virtual + augmented reality

+ we’ll augment real reality.
+ people will seem close, even from far away.
+ life activities will be virtual + immersive by the 2030s.

source: CNN

column |

1. |

:: prediction

By the early 2020s, we will have the means to program our biology away from disease + aging.

:: discussion

Up until recently, health + medicine was basically a hit or miss affair. We would discover interventions such as drugs that had benefits, but also many side effects. Until recently, we didn’t have the means to actually design interventions on computers.

All of that has changed, and will dramatically change clinical practice by the early 2020s. We now have the information code of the genome — and we’re making exponential gains in modeling + simulating the information processes they give rise to.

We also have new tools that let us actually re-program our biology — in the same way that we re-program our computers. RNA interference, for example, can turn genes off that promote disease + aging. New forms of gene therapy, especially in-vitro models that don’t trigger the immune system, have the ability to add new genes.

Stem cell therapies, including the recently developed method to create ‘induced pluripotent cells’ (IPCs) — by adding 4 genes to your own skin cells to create the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell — but without use of an embryo, are being developed to rejuvenate organs. And even grow them from scratch.

There are now 100s of drugs + processes in the pipeline using these methods to modify the course of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases + aging processes. As one of many examples, we can now fix a broken heart — not (yet) from romance — but from a heart attack, by rejuvenating the heart with re-programmed stem cells.

Health and medicine is now an information tech. So it’s subject to what I call the law of accelerating returns — which is a doubling of capability (for the same cost) about each year, that applies to any info-tech.

As a result, technologies to re-program the “software” that underlie human biology are already a thousand times more powerful than they were when the human genome project was completed in 2003. And will again be a thousand times more powerful than they are today in a decade. And a million times more powerful in 2 decades.

Clinical applications are now at the cutting-edge and will be routine in the early 2020s.

2. |

:: prediction

By 2030 solar energy will have the capacity to meet all of our energy needs. The production of food + clean water will also be revolutionized.

:: discussion

If we could capture one part in ten thousand of the sunlight that falls on the Earth — we could meet 100% of our energy needs, using this renewable + environmentally friendly source.

As we apply new molecular-scale tech to solar panels, the cost per watt is coming down rapidly. Already Deutsche Bank wrote in a recent report: ‘The cost of unsubsidized solar power is about the same as the cost of electricity from the grid in India + Italy. By 2014 even more countries will achieve solar grid parity.’

The total number of watts of electricity produced by solar energy is growing exponentially, doubling every 2 years. It’s now less than 7 doublings from 100%.

Similar approaches will address other resource needs. Once we have inexpensive energy — we can readily, cheaply convert the vast amount of dirty + salinated water we have on the planet to usable water.

We’re also 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 + vegetables, and in-vitro cloning of muscle tissue for meat. That’s meat without animals, thereby ending animal suffering.

3. |

:: prediction

By the early 2020s we’ll print-out a significant fraction of the products we use. Including clothing as well as replacement organs.

:: discussion

3D printing is getting a lot of attention. There are niche applications such as printing our replacement parts for machinery. But the opportunity to begin replacing significant portions of manufacturing is still about 5 years away.

Looking at the life-cycle of technologies, we see an early period of over-enthusiasm, then a bust when disillusionment sets in, followed by the real revolution. Remember the internet boom of the 1990s — followed by the internet bust around the year 2000?

That was around the time Google was getting started, and now we have multi-hundred billion dollar internet companies. We’re in the early boom phase of 3D printing enthusiasm. Hopefully we’ve learned enough to avoid a period of undue disillusionment, but I do see the early 2020s as the golden era of 3D printing.

For example, in the early 2020s you’ll have a choice of many thousands of cool clothing designs that are open-source and that can be printed-out for pennies a pound. But that will not mean the end of the fashion industry. Look at other industries that have already been transformed from physical products to digital ones: such as books, movies, and music.

Despite enormous changes in business models (and the availability of many free open-source products) the overall revenues for proprietary forms of these products remains strong.

We can already experimentally print-out organs by printing a bio-degradable scaffolding — and then populating it with a patient’s own stem cells. All with a 3D printer. By the early 2020s, this will reach clinical practice.

— 4. —

:: prediction

Within 5 years search engines will be based-on an understanding of natural language.

:: discussion

Consider that IBM’s Watson —- a complex computer AI software system —- got a higher score on the American television game show Jeopardy! than the best 2 human players combined. Jeopardy! is a broad task involving complicated natural language queries — including puns, riddles, jokes, and metaphors.

For example, Watson got this query correct in the rhyme category: ‘A long tiresome speech delivered by a frothy pie topping.’ It correctly responded: ‘What is a meringue harangue.’

What is not widely appreciated is that Watson got its knowledge by reading Wikipedia and several other encyclopedias — a total of 200 million pages of natural language documents. It does not read each page as well as you or I. It might read one page and conclude there’s a 56% chance that Barack Obama is President of the United States.

You could read that page, and if you didn’t happen to know that ahead of time, conclude that there’s a 98% chance. So you did a better job than Watson at reading that page. But Watson makes-up for this relatively weak reading by reading more pages. A lot more — and it can combine its inferences across everything it has read and conclude that there’s a 99.9% chance that Obama is president.

At Google, we’re creating a system that will read every document on the web — and every book for meaning. And provide a rich search + question answering experience based-on the true meaning of natural language. For example, it will engage you in dialogue to clarify questions. And discuss answers that are ambiguous or complex.

— 5. —

predictionBy the early 2020s we’ll be routinely working + playing with each other in full-immersion visual-auditory virtual environments. By the 2030s, we’ll add the tactile sense to full-immersion virtual reality.

The telephone is virtual reality in that you can meet with someone as if you’re together, at least for the auditory sense. We’ve now added the visual sense with video conferencing — although not yet 3D or full-immersion.

The visual sense will become full-immersion over the next decade. We’ll also be able to augment real reality so that I could see you sitting on the coach in my living room — and you could see me sitting on your back porch, even though we’re hundreds of miles apart.

Your augmented reality glasses will also be able to make suggestions to you — for an interesting joke or anecdote that you could slip into a conversation you’re having. There will be limited ways of adding the tactile sense to virtual + augmented reality by the early 2020s. But full-immersion virtual tactile experiences will require tapping directly into the nervous system.

We’ll be able to do that in the 2030s with nano-bots traveling non-invasively into the brain through the capillaries and augmenting the signals coming from our real senses.

— end —

— notes —

bros. = brothers

AI = artificial intelligence
3D = 3-dimensional
VR = virtual reality
AR = augmented reality

RNA = ribonucleic acid
IPCs = induced pluripotent cells

IT = information technology
info-tech = information technology

CNN = Cable News Network
WBD = Warner Bros. + Discovery