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Kurzweil and Kin Preach “Singularity”

14 Jun

I read with great interest the recent New York Times story “Merely Human? So Yesterday.” The reporter attended a nine-day course in California called Singularity University, taught by a coterie of executives and scientists who believe in the Singularity, or as the reporter puts it, a time “when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state.” Believers in this movement have their own Fountain of Youth: They expect that humans can live for hundreds of years, using a hodgepodge of life-extending medicines and technologies, some of which have yet to be invented.

When I was researching my book, I interviewed the chief prosthelytizer of the Singularity, Ray Kurzweil. He’s somewhat of a hero in the anti-aging movement, not only because he believes humans can live forever, but because he embraces some amount of hormone replacement. He doesn’t endorse all the remedies anti-aging types embrace–he loathes human growth hormone, for example–but he does believe some supplements are useful for extending life. He’s a fan of the healthy fats and vitamin D, and he tests his hormone levels every three months to decide if he needs to supplement, say, with testosterone.

“People say ‘do you really think taking Vitamin D is going to help you live 100 years?'” Kurzweil told me last year. “The answer is no. The goal is to live healthfully for another 15 years or so to get through this future point where we will have this maturing of the biotechnology revolution.”

What he was referring to is the idea that people should take supplements and hormones as a “bridge” to a time when technological advances such as biotech and nanotechnology will help us extend our lifespans for real. Kurzweil is a low-key guy, but he got pretty excited talking about research into nano-devices that can travel through the body detecting cancer cells and killing them, or pea-sized gizmos that can be implanted in the brain to treat Parkinson’s Disease. All of that is early research–it’s decades away from reality–which is why Kurzweil is big on the idea of using whatever tools are out there now to extend life.

Kurzweil was 61 when he met, but he claimed his biological age was 40. He walks and works out nearly every day. And he’s constantly tweaking his supplement regimen, which includes one I had never heard of before: phosphatidylcholine. “Ninety percent of the cell membrane in a child is phosphatidylcholine,” he said. “It’s a very useful substance. It gives the cell membrane suppleness, and it also helps everything to work well, to take in nutrients and let out the toxins.” But like most supplements, it’s very lightly regulated by the FDA, which means no one is testing it for either safety or effectiveness. Naturally, then, I’m a skeptic.

Kurzweil, a lifelong inventor, wrote the book The Singularity is Near, which suggests that humans will someday use technology to trump biology, allowing them to live forever. For now, though, Kurzweil is traversing the only bridge he can find to eternal life–one that’s built on supplements and exercise.

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