“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.” – Woody Allen
Ray Kurzweil is going to live forever. And, if you can stay healthy for another 25 years, you might, too.
In his latest book, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, Kurzweil lays out how the acceleration of developments in biotechnology and nanotechnology will push human life spans toward virtual immortality by the 2030s. “The killer app for nanotechnology, about twenty years away, is nanobots,” he says. “Inside our bodies and brains, nanobots will provide radical life extension by destroying pathogens and cancer cells, repairing DNA errors, destroying toxins and otherwise reversing aging processes.”
In case you missed the original Fantastic Voyage, the 1966 sci-fi movie is the story of Raquel Welch on a submarine shrunken to microscopic size (except for her breasts) whose mission is to save a diplomat who has nearly been assassinated. The microscopic submarine and crew is injected into the diplomat’s bloodstream to remove a life threatening blood clot. There’s also a lot of stuff about the CIA and the Iron Curtain and white blood cells more terrifying than Godzilla, but the important thing which Kurzweil is trying to tell anyone old enough to remember Fantastic Voyage is this: It’s all going to become true! In the not-too-distant future we’re all going to have these miniature submarines zipping around our bodies, searching out all the old Communists, and bad cholesterol, and B-movie actors, making us healthier than we’ve ever been.
Kurzweil, now 56, could be a poster child for the baby-boom generation. He’s been a fantastically successful inventor and entrepreneur, responsible for the creation of such wonders as the flatbed computer scanner, the first text-to-speech reading machine for the blind, OCR (optical character recognition) technology and music synthesizers. Now, as the result of his latest scientific insights, he’s trying to become the healthiest man on the planet. He believes he’s already given himself the body of a 40-year- old. “I’ve been reprogramming the biochemistry of my own body for 20 years. I take about 250 supplements each day and weekly intravenous therapies.” His daily routine includes drinking eight to ten glasses of alkaline water, ten cups of green tea, and peeing almost as constantly as the famous Manneken Pis boy fountain. Periodically, he tracks and “fine tunes his programming” using 40 to 50 fitness indicators, down to his “tactile sensitivity.” He’s also very careful not to tailgate, jaywalk, or eat potato salad that’s been left sitting out at a picnic. A man who plans to live forever doesn’t take a lot of chances.
But is he the prime candidate to become the world’s first death-defying immortal or is he a death-phobic hypochondriac? Throughout history men have attempted to live forever. Seventeen hundred years ago, Chinese alchemist Ko Hung believed that men could become immortal by strictly limiting their food intake. Famous 13th century English philosopher Roger Bacon believed immortality could be achieved by adopting the “Secret Arts of the Past.” Explorer Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in his quest for the Fountain of Youth. What do all these ancient purveyors of immortality have in common? They are all dead.
Kurzweil argues that all these great men were right, they just were born too soon. But those of us alive today may want to cash out our life insurance policies and postpone buying cemetery plots, because, according to Aubrey de Grey, a geneticist at Cambridge University, “life expectancy will be in the region of 5,000 years by the year 2100.”
I’m trying to imagine what the world of 7005 will look like if these guys are right. My generation, the baby boomers, have never really accepted that we’re going to get old. Maybe it’s because we won’t! We’ll still be listening to “In-A-Gada-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly on the Classic Rock station, and smoking dope out behind the garage. We’ll be skateboarding or rollerblading or hula-hooping or frisbeeing on the boardwalk, and shopping for groovy second hand clothes at the thrift stores. Wait; will clothes last 5,000 years, too? Will I just throw a handful of nanobots into the laundry to fix the holes in my tie-dyes?
How about Social Security? President Bush is worried the trust fund is going to start going broke in 20 years when the baby boomers are all retired; how’s it going to look in another 200, or 2,000 years when we’re still around, blowing our Social Security checks on more self-improvement tapes and psychic hotline calls? Can you imagine what Thanksgiving dinner is going to be like when you have to invite not just your children and grandchildren, but their children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren and Oh my God! The alimony payments could go on, literally forever!
I’m not sure most of us are really prepared to live so long. As Susan Ertz once said,”Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” If you believe in Karma and re-incarnation, you will realize that in this life on Earth you may have only achieved a level of universal enlightenment equivalent to that of a fly. Maybe in the next life you will reach the level of a butterfly. Or possibly even an Iron Butterfly.
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, baby. Don’t ya know that I love you-oo-oooo.
Baby Boomers Rock! Baby Boomers, forever! Baby Boomers, be careful what you wish for.