But most prognostications about the future on not based on any methodical approach to analyzing the future. People just pull predictions kind of out of their hats based on some intuition. But the intuition is usually based on this linear view of technological progress, rather than an exponential view. They fail to take in account that there’s lots of things changing at the same time. So you have science fiction movies where they’ll take one or two changes, and put it on today’s world, as if nothing else is going to change. Virtually every science fiction movie is like that.
When the novel 2001 was written, and the movie was made, I don’t think there was any serious thought as to whether that was the right date or not, that was based on any kind of methodical analysis of technological trends. In fact, Arthur C. Clarke is not a technologist. So it’s important to realize that you have all these different changes going on at the same time, all these different revolutions occurring simultaneously, that are interacting and supporting each other. And it takes time to think it all through. I think there’s actually been little serious study of technological trends, and applying those to making future predictions. So there’s certainly lots of examples of predictions that are inaccurate.
But I do have a good track record with the methodology that I’ve been using. While we can’t be certain about anything in the future, I think one thing we can conclude is that the future will be more remarkable than anything we can anticipate today. I can predict basic future capabilities of computation and communication, and then we can use our imagination to put together scenarios that use these basic powers. But what’s actually going to happen is we’re going to have millions of creative people, who are going to be coming up with many other scenarios for applying these resources. So, if anything, the future will be even more remarkable than anything we can anticipate today.
David: Are your projections of the future based purely on logical extrapolations of present technologies and current trends, or do you utilize any aspect of your mind that you would describe as intuitive?
Ray: The predictions of basic capabilities of computation and communication, the sizes of technology, and other types of resources, are based on modeling the underlying forces of how technology develops. I wouldn’t call them extrapolations because if you just extrapolate exponential trends you’re likely to ignore the fact that any specific paradigm will run out of resources. But one of the phenomena that I’ve observed is that when one paradigm runs out of steam another paradigm picks up. And then each paradigm is a S-curve. It starts off slowly. It builds exponentially, and then it asintotes to a threshold.
We’ve seen that five times with computational technologies, and three-dimensional molecular computing will be the sixth paradigm to provide exponential growth to computers. There are actual forces that come into play as a particular paradigm approaches its asintote. It actually creates economic pressure to provide research development resources to create the next paradigm. So these are not just extrapolations. This is based on the theory of how technology evolves, and that is an analytic analysis of technology trends.
The next stage occurs when we understand that we’ll have computers that are of a certain level of power and of communication. There are certain sizes of technology, and a certain level of understanding of biology, and of the human brain, at certain points in the future. How do we then put that together into scenarios? What impact is that going to have on human life? What sort of inventions will be feasible? That’s a more intuitive or creative type of task. And that’s, of course, a task that’s necessarily incomplete. As I’ve mentioned, there’s no way that I could imagine all of the creative ideas that everyone’s going to come up with between now and say thirty years from now. I can anticipate some of them, but they’ll be many many more. So that’s why I say that the future will be even more interesting than what we can contemplate today–although what we can contemplate today is quite interesting.
David: What do you think happens to human consciousness after biological death?
Ray: That’s a question that really is beyond our current understanding. I do talk about some dilemmas in our understanding of consciousness. For example, is there a continuity of consciousness even in biological human life that continues? Am I the same consciousness that Ray Kurzweil was a year ago? And you say, well Ray, you’re the same stuff. It’s the same arm and the same face. But actually, no, I’m completely different particles than I was a year ago. Virtually all of my cells have been replaced. Now you say, well, okay, but Ray most of your neurons haven’t been replaced. Some of them have, but neurons tend to last longer than most of the other cells, which get turned over. But even those neurons that existed a year ago actually were made of different particles. The actual physical atoms and molecules making them up have been replaced, so nothing is the same as it was a year ago. Actually the only thing that’s the same is the pattern.
There’s a certain continuity of pattern, of how all these atoms and molecules are put together, that does have a continuity between myself today and myself a year ago. So that means what we are is a pattern, and the pattern persists. I draw an analogy to the pattern that water makes in a stream, as it say darts around some rocks. If you look at a stream going around some rocks, you see a certain pattern, and that pattern can look very stable. It can stay the same for hours, or even years. But the actual water molecules making up the pattern changes in a fraction of a second, because water’s flowing by. So it’s completely different stuff every fraction of a second. But the pattern stays the same. And we’re really pretty much like that pattern of water, because this stuff is flowing through us, and we’re not the same particles at all. So if you hold your arm and say, well this is me, it’s not.
We’re just a pattern. And what is a pattern? A pattern is information. It’s knowledge. I think that there’s a great loss of pattern in death, a great loss of knowledge and information. I think death is a tragedy. And I think that, because we’ve had no alternative up until now, people have gone to great lengths to rationalize death–saying, oh well, death really isn’t such a bad thing, and death’s really a wonderful thing. It’s really elevating and we transcend. We’ve gone to tremendous efforts to rationalize what’s obviously a terrible thing, and a profound loss, so that we think it’s really a good thing. Well, I don’t think it’s a good thing. I think death is a tragedy. I think it’s a tragedy at the age of ninety just as much as if it’s at the age of ten or twenty. And I think we’re now reaching a point where we can do something about it. We don’t have the technologies in hand at this moment, to say just do X, Y, and Z, and you can live indefinitely, but we do have technologies in health understanding that can keep us healthy until we get the next bridge, which is the full flowering of the biotechnology revolution. This will not allow us to live forever, but will be a bridge to the next revolution, which is the full flowering of the nanotechnology revolution, and that will allow us to live indefinitely by being able to really rebuild our bodies and brains using much more durable technologies.
So we actually do have a path, which I call a bridge to a bridge to a bridge, that can give us virtual immortality. My children’s generation actually doesn’t have to do a lot to take advantage of that, barring an unusual premature death. But by the time kids today who are twenty become forty these technologies will be at a fairly mature level. This is a message though for the Baby Boomer Generation. I’m 55, and my contemporaries, if they really go to the edge of what’s known today in terms of health and medical knowledge, can stay alive and healthy until the full flowering of the biotechnology revolution, which will then keep them going longer til the flowering of the nanotechnology revolution. But I would say that 99.99% of my contemporaries are completely oblivious to this fact, and are planning to just live and die the old-fashioned way. And they will be essentially the last generation to die in the normal course. Radical life extension is another one of the profound transformations that lies ahead.
David What are you