Monday, February 23, 2009

Ray Kurzweil - It's All About Exponentials

Ray Kurzweil, an inventor, entrepreneur, and a former speaker at TED (click here for his talk) is a provocative big thinker. He believes technology will change our lives more than we believe possible, with astounding consequences.

Kurzweil is all about exponential curves; he points out that we can underestimate progress when we're dealing with exponentials. For isntance, during the first decade of the human genome project, only 2% of the genome had been sequenced, but the remaining 98% was solved in five years. We tend to focus on having solved only 2% of problems and get discouraged. Yet once the breakthroughs take place, they accelerate the process and apply in addressing future problems. It took 15 years to sequence HIV, but only 15 days to sequence SARS.

He's published two mind-blowing books: The Singularity is Near, When Humans Transcend Biology and Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. In the first book, Kurzweil explains that exponential improvements in technology will bring dazzling advances that help address the climate change, poverty, famine and disease. In the second, he advances the startling proposition that we are so close to perfecting life-prolonging technologies that we baby-boomers just have to hang on a little while, and these technologies will be sufficiently advanced to offer us technological immortality. Kurzweil's extreme personal health regimen is designed to ensure he reaches that point of possibility. Kurzweil is never boring!

At TED University, he announced the formation of the Singularity University. According to Kurzweil, "One of the objectives of the university is to really dive in depth into these exponentially growing technologies, to create connections between them, and to apply these ideas to the great challenges [facing the world]." NASA has contributed space and Google money for the university, which will accept its first students this summer. Watch for some interesting results.

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