A photo in Ray Kurzweil’s new book about humanity’s future shows the author wearing a sandwich board that reads “The Singularity Is Near.”

“The image pokes fun at the superficial similarity between what I’m saying and millennial predictions,” said Kurzweil.

The Singularity Is Near is also the title of Kurzweil’s book. In it, Kurzweil predicts that in the not-so-distant future technology and biology will converge to give rise to non-biological life.

Speaking last week at Technology Review’s Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT, Kurzweil sought to explain why he believes genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics, or GNR, will converge in the coming decades to extend life and improve society.

Kurzweil, an artificial-intelligence expert, inventor (think Kurzweil keyboards) and futurist, told an audience at the MIT Kresge Auditorium that technological evolution, marked by paradigm shifts, is moving at an exponential rate similar to that of human biological evolution.

Humanity will soon benefit from GNR advancements, Kurzweil said.

In fact, Kurzweil suggests that humans prepare for those advancements by “(taking ) care of yourselves for 15 years,” at which point technology will begin extending our lives to the end of the 21st century, perhaps forever.

If that sounds crazy, it might help to know that Kurzweil has a decent track record making predictions.

Twenty years ago, Kurzweil predicted the exponential progression of Arpanet, the predecessor to the internet. “We have seen this kind of exponential progression (before),” he said.

And we will see the same rapid rate of change in the biological sciences and communications, Kurzweil said.

“Eventually,” Kurzweil said, “we will merge with these technologies.” At that point, the Singularity, humans will become immortal and capable of changing their forms and environments at will, Kurzweil believes.

“There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine nor between physical and virtual reality,” Kurzweil writes in his book.

Kurzweil is unsure what the post-Singularity world will look like. But he said in an interview with Wired News he can “imagine being freed from the constraints of the body and brain. It’s conceivable that you will be able to instantly change physical form.”

Paradigm shifts, new discoveries that change our conventional wisdom, are central to Kurzweil’s Singularity theory.

Such dramatic changes are improving the science of drug discovery, for example.

“Many of the drugs on the market today are based on the old paradigm,” Kurzweil said. “We’d go through 10,000 compounds to find something that lowers blood pressure. And those drugs have all kinds of side effects.” But because biology is becoming information technology, also known as biotech, artificial intelligence will be able to create better drug therapies, Kurzweil said.

By Mark Baard

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