This is really intriguing stuff — in ten years we will not stare at glowing screens on our computers or iPods or whatever Â because special glasses will beam the information/screen/images directly onto our retinas. It’ll be just like Star Trek where you see holographic worlds and it feels like you’re really living it. Â In just ten years! And then by 2030 they’ll be able to reprogram our genes like we reprogram our computers! No more fat cells, even cancer cells might be on their way out. — +Katia
TOP FUTURIST, RAY KURZWEIL, PREDICTS HOW TECHNOLOGY WILL CHANGE HUMANITY BY 2020
By Ray Kurzweil
New York Daily News
December 13, 2009
As we approach the end of the first decade of the new millennium, letâ€™s consider what life will be like a decade hence. Changes in our lives from technology are moving faster and faster. The telephone took 50 years to reach a quarter of the U.S. population. Search engines, social networks and blogs have done that in just a few years time. Consider that Facebook started as a way for Harvard students to meet each other just six years ago; it now has 350 million users and counting.
Between now and 2020, the trend will continue, spreading cutting-edge technologies to every corner of the country and beginning to make innovations once consigned to the realm of science fiction real for millions of Americans. Specifically what can we expect? Solar power on steroids, longer lives, the chance to get rid of obesity once and for all, and portable computing devices that start becoming part of your body rather than being held in your hand.
What will drive all this accelerating change is precisely what has driven itÂ this past half-century: the exponential growth in the power of informationÂ technology, which approximately doubles for the same cost every year. When IÂ was an MIT undergraduate in 1965, we all shared a computer that took up halfÂ a building and cost tens of millions of dollars. The computer in my pocketÂ today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful. Thatâ€™sÂ a billion-fold increase in the amount of computation per dollar since I wasÂ a student.
That incredible force — information technology that moves faster, thenÂ faster, then faster still — will power changes in every imaginable realmÂ over the next decade.
Start with the basics. Youâ€™ve no doubt noticed that electronic gadgets areÂ getting smaller and smaller; the iPod Shuffle holds 1,000 songs and weighsÂ 0.38 ounces. Your phone is smaller than it was a few years ago and can doÂ much more. By 2020, memory devices will be integrated into our clothing. AndÂ the very idea of a â€œsmart phoneâ€ will begin to change. Rather than lookingÂ at a tiny screen, our glasses will beam images directly to our retinas,Â creating a high resolution virtual display that hovers in air.
That virtual display will be able to take over our entire visual field ofÂ view, putting us in a three-dimensional full immersion virtual realityÂ environment. Weâ€™ll watch movies virtually and read virtual books. A lot ofÂ our personal and business meetings will take place in these 3D virtualÂ worlds. The design of new virtual environments will be an art form. Weâ€™llÂ even have ways to touch one another virtually.
There are already beginning to be apps available for your iPhone or AndroidÂ phone that allow you to look at a building and have the display superimposeÂ what stores are inside it; Google Goggles, released last week, is the firstÂ free, widely-available version of such software. By 2020 weâ€™ll routinelyÂ have pop ups in our visual field of view that give us background about theÂ people and places that weâ€™re looking at.
In other words, your memory will be constantly, instantaneously aided by theÂ information available on the Internet. The two will begin to becomeÂ indistinguishable.
How about energy? That doesnâ€™t sound like an information technology. FossilÂ fuels, after all, are an early first industrial revolution, 19th centuryÂ technology. But we are now applying nanotechnology — the science ofÂ essentially reprogramming matter at the level of molecules to create newÂ materials and devices — to the design of renewable energy technologies suchÂ as solar energy. As a result, the cost per watt of solar energy is comingÂ down rapidly and the total amount of solar energy is growing exponentially.
It has in fact been doubling every two years for the pastÂ 20 years and isÂ now only eight doublings away from meeting all of the worldâ€™s energy needs.
When I shared this fact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a fewÂ weeks ago, he asked, â€œbut is there enough sunlight to double solar energyÂ eight more times?â€ I responded that we have 10,000 times more sunlight thanÂ we need to do this. The prime minister announced an Israeli energyÂ initiative the next day at the Israeli Presidential Conference based on ourÂ conversation, setting a 10-year goal to create the technologies toÂ completely replace fossil fuels.
Itâ€™s not just the gadgets we carry around and the power we use to fuel ourÂ lives that are subject to what I call â€œthe law of accelerating returns.â€
Health and medicine, which used to be a hit or miss process, has now becomeÂ an information technology.
We now have the software of life (our genes) and the means of upgrading thatÂ software. How long do you go without updating the software on your cellÂ phone? Not long: it does it itself every few days or weeks. Yet we areÂ walking around with obsolete software in our bodies that evolved thousandsÂ of years ago. Within 10 years, that will change.
Already today, there are over a thousand projects to change our genes awayÂ from disease and toward health, not just in newborns but in matureÂ individuals. The Human Genome Project, which has catalogued our geneticÂ material, was itself a very good example of the law of accelerating returns;Â the amount of genetic data that is sequenced has doubled every year and theÂ cost has come down by half every year. We can now design healthÂ interventions on computers and test them out on biological simulators. TheseÂ technologies are doubling in power every year and will be a thousand timesÂ more powerful in a decade.
By 2020, we will have the means to program our biology away from disease andÂ aging, and toward significant advances in our ability to treat majorÂ diseases such as heart disease and cancer — an approach that will be fullyÂ mature by 2030.
We wonâ€™t just be able to lengthen our lives; weâ€™ll be able to improve ourÂ lifestyles. By 2020, we will be testing drugs that will turn off the fatÂ insulin receptor gene that tells our fat cells to hold on to every calorie.
Holding on to every calorie was a good idea thousands of years ago when ourÂ genes evolved in the first place. Today it underlies an epidemic of obesity.
By 2030, we will have made major strides in our ability to remain alive andÂ healthy — and young — for very long periods of time. At that time, weâ€™llÂ be adding more than a year every year to our remaining life expectancy, soÂ the sands of time will start running in instead of running out.
No, itâ€™s not going to be an entirely brave new world. Some things will lookÂ pretty similar in 2020. Weâ€™ll still drive cars — although they will haveÂ the intelligence to avoid many accidents and self-driving cars will at leastÂ be experimented with. All-electric cars will be popular. And in cities,Â donâ€™t expect subways or buses to go away.
But in more and more ways big and small, hang in there and weâ€™ll all get toÂ see the remarkable century ahead.
Kurzweil is former recipient of the MIT-Lemelson prize, the worldâ€™s largestÂ for innovation, and in 1999 was awarded the National Medal of Technology. HeÂ is the author of the books â€œThe Singularity is Nearâ€ and â€œThe Age ofÂ Spiritual Machines.â€
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