by Ray Kurzweil
For the most part, we engage in sexual activity for intimate communication and sensual pleasure, not reproduction. Conversely, we have multiple methodologies for creating babies without physical sex, albeit most reproduction still does derive from the sex act.
Although not condoned by all sectors of society, this
disentanglement of sex from its biological function has been
readily, even eagerly, adopted by the mainstream.
We have crude ways of doing this today.
Starch blockers, such as Bayer's Precose, partially prevent absorption of complex carbohydrates; fat blockers, such as Chitosan, bind to fat molecules, causing them to pass through the digestive tract; and sugar substitutes, such as Sucralose and Stevia, provide sweetness without calories.
There are limitations and problems with
each of these contemporary technologies, but a more effective
generation of drugs is being developed that will block excess
caloric absorption on the cellular level.
These nutrients include caloric (energy-bearing) substances such as glucose (from carbohydrates), proteins, fats, and a myriad of trace molecules, such as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, that provide building blocks and facilitating enzymes for diverse metabolic processes.
On the one hand, digestion, like any other major human biological system, is astonishing in its intricacy and cleverness.
Our bodies manage to extract the complex resources
needed to survive, despite sharply varying conditions, while at the
same time, filtering out a multiplicity of toxins.
For most of our biological heritage, there was a high likelihood that the next foraging or hunting season (and for a brief, relatively recent period, the next planting season) might be catastrophically lean. So it made sense for our bodies to hold on to every possible calorie.
Today, this biological strategy is extremely counterproductive. Our
outdated metabolic programming underlies our contemporary epidemic
of obesity and fuels pathological processes of degenerative disease
such as coronary artery disease, and type II diabetes.
a short life span - life expectancy was 37 years only two centuries
ago - so these restricted reserves could be devoted to the young,
those caring for them, and those strong enough to perform intense
A century ago, 30 percent of the U.S. work force worked on farms, with another 30 percent deployed in factories. Both of these figures are now under 3 percent. The significant majority of today's job categories, ranging from airline flight attendant to web designer, simply didn't exist a century ago.
Circa 2003, we have the opportunity to continue to
contribute to our civilization's exponentially growing knowledge
base - incidentally, a unique attribute of our species - well past our
We already have devices to replace our,
Systems to replace more complex organs (for example, our hearts) are beginning to work.
learning the principles of operation of the human body and the
brain, we will soon be in a position to design vastly superior
systems that will be more enjoyable, last longer, and perform
better, without susceptibility to breakdown, disease, and aging.
innovations such as a metabrain for global-net connection with
prosthetic neo-neocortex of AI interwoven with nanobots; smart skin
that is solar protected with biosensors for tone and texture
changeability, and high-acuity senses.
It will be an incremental process, one already well under way. Although version 2.0 is a grand project, ultimately resulting in the radical upgrading of all our physical and mental systems, we will implement it one benign step at a time.
Based on our current knowledge, we can
already touch and feel the means for accomplishing each aspect of
We already have
the means to survive without eating, using intravenous nutrition
(for people who are unable to eat), although this is clearly not a
pleasant process, given the current limitations in our technologies
for getting substances in and out of the blood stream.
We already have the knowledge to prevent most instances of degenerative disease, such as heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, and cancer, through comprehensive programs of nutrition and supplementation, something which I personally do, and will describe in an upcoming book (A Short Guide to a Long Life, coauthored with Terry Grossman, M.D.).
I view our current knowledge as a bridge to the full flowering of the biotechnology revolution, which in turn will be a bridge to the nanotechnology revolution.
Today, that word might be "software," or "biotechnology," but in another couple of decades, the word is likely to be "nanobots."
Nanobots - blood-cell-sized
robots - will provide the means to radically redesign our digestive
systems, and, incidentally, just about everything else.
There are dozens of projects underway to create blood-stream-based "biological microelectromechanical systems" (bio-MEMS) with a wide range of diagnostic and therapeutic applications.
BioMEMS devices are being
designed to intelligently scout out pathogens and deliver
medications in very precise ways.
These nanoengineered devices have cured rats with type I diabetes, and there is no reason that the same methodology would fail to work in humans. Similar systems could precisely deliver dopamine to the brain for Parkinson's patients, provide blood-clotting factors for patients with hemophilia, and deliver cancer drugs directly to tumor sites.
A new design provides up to 20
substance-containing reservoirs that can release their cargo at
programmed times and locations in the body.
Kazushi Ishiyama at Tohoku
University in Japan has developed micromachines that use
microscopic-sized spinning screws to deliver drugs to small cancer
There are already at least four major scientific
conferences on bio-MEMS and other approaches to developing micro- and
nano-scale machines to go into the body and bloodstream.
Just as we routinely
engage in sex today for its relational and sensual gratification, we
will gain the opportunity to disconnect the eating of food from the
function of delivering nutrients into the bloodstream.
will be introduced directly into the bloodstream by special
metabolic nanobots. Sensors in our bloodstream and body, using
wireless communication, will provide dynamic information on the
nutrients needed at each point in time.
A significant benefit of nanobot technology is that unlike mere drugs and nutritional supplements, nanobots have a measure of intelligence. They can keep track of their own inventories, and intelligently slip in and out of our bodies in clever ways. One scenario is that we would wear a special "nutrient garment" such as a belt or undershirt.
garment would be loaded with nutrient bearing nanobots, which would
make their way in and out of our bodies through the skin or other
At the same time, we will provide an optimal flow of nutrients to our bloodstream, using a completely separate process.
One possibility would be that all the
food we eat would pass through a digestive tract that is now
disconnected from any possible absorption into the bloodstream.
Periodically, we would replace the nutrition garment for a fresh
one. One might comment that we do obtain some pleasure from the
elimination function, but I suspect that most people would be happy
to do without it.
Our version 1.0 bodies do this to only a very limited extent, for example, storing a few minutes of oxygen in our blood, and a few days of caloric energy in glycogen and other reserves.
Version 2.0 will provide substantially greater reserves, enabling us to be separated from metabolic resources for greatly extended periods of time. Once perfected, we will no longer need version 1.0 of our digestive system at all.
I pointed out above that our adoption of these technologies will be cautious and incremental, so we will not dispense with the old-fashioned digestive process when these technologies are first introduced.
Most of us will wait for digestive system version 2.1 or even 2.2 before being willing to do dispense with version 1.0.
After all, people didn't throw away their
typewriters when the first generation of word processors was
introduced. People held onto their vinyl record collections for many
years after CDs came out (I still have mine). People are still
holding onto their film cameras, although the tide is rapidly
turning in favor of digital cameras.
Once we've worked out the inevitable complications that will arise with a radically reengineered gastrointestinal system, we will begin to rely on it more and more.
One pervasive system
that has already been the subject of a comprehensive conceptual
redesign is our blood.
Freitas' ambitious manuscript is a comprehensive road map to rearchitecting our biological heritage. One of Freitas' designs is to replace (or augment) our red blood cells with artificial "respirocytes" that would enable us to hold our breath for four hours or do a top-speed sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath.
Like most of our
biological systems, our red blood cells perform their oxygenating
function very inefficiently, and Freitas has redesigned them for
optimal performance. He has worked out many of the physical and
chemical requirements in impressive detail.
Presumably, the use of respirocytes and similar
systems will be prohibited from Olympic contests, but then we will
have the specter of teenagers in junior high school gymnasiums
routinely outperforming Olympic athletes.
Freitas describes nanorobotic microbivores
(white blood cell replacements) that will download software to
destroy specific infections hundreds of times faster than
antibiotics, and that will be effective against all bacterial, viral
and fungal infections, with no limitations of drug resistance.
Although replacing our blood with billions of nanorobotic devices will require a lengthy process of development, refinement, and regulatory approval, we already have the conceptual knowledge to engineer substantial improvements over the remarkable but very inefficient methods used in our biological bodies.
It is subject to a
myriad of failure modes, and represents a fundamental weakness in
our potential longevity. The heart usually breaks down long before
the rest of the body, and often very prematurely.
Among Freitas' designs are nanorobotic blood cell replacements that provide their own mobility. If the blood system moves with its own movement, the engineering issues of the extreme pressures required for centralized pumping can be eliminated.
As we perfect the means of transferring nanobots to and from the blood supply, we can also continuously
replace the nanobots comprising our blood supply.
Their first-generation design provides tens of thousands of
fuel cells on an integrated circuit and is intended to power
As with all of these redesigns, we will certainly go through intermediate stages where these technologies augment our natural systems, so we can have the best of both worlds.
Eventually, however, there will be no reason to continue with the
complications of actual breathing and the requirement of having
breathable air everywhere we go. If we really find breathing that
pleasurable, we will develop virtual ways of having this sensual
These substances (to the extent that we still need them) will be delivered via nanobots, controlled by intelligent biofeedback systems to maintain and balance required levels, just as our "natural" systems do today (for example, the control of insulin levels by the pancreatic Islet cells).
Since we are eliminating most of our
biological organs, many of these substances may no longer be needed,
and will be replaced by other resources that are required by the nanorobotic systems.
Nonetheless, we are clearly headed towards a fundamental and radical redesign of the extremely inefficient and limited functionality of human body version 1.0.
We've eliminated the,
What we have left at this point is the,
The skeleton is a stable structure, and we already have a reasonable understanding of how it works.
We replace parts of it today, although our current technology for doing this has severe limitations. Interlinking nanobots will provide the ability to augment and ultimately replace the skeleton.
Replacing portions of the skeleton today requires painful surgery, but replacing it through nanobots from within can be a gradual and noninvasive process.
The brain is at least as complex as all the other organs put together, with approximately half of our genetic code devoted to its design.
a misconception to regard the brain as a single organ. It is
actually an intricate collection of information-processing organs,
interconnected in an elaborate hierarchy, as is the accident of our
We already have
detailed mathematical models of a couple dozen of the several
hundred regions that comprise the human brain.
A friend of mine who became deaf while an adult can now engage in telephone conversations again because of his cochlear implant, a device that interfaces directly with the auditory nervous system.
He plans to replace it with a new model with a thousand levels of frequency discrimination, which will enable him to hear music once again. He laments that he has had the same melodies playing in his head for the past 15 years and is looking forward to hearing some new tunes.
A future generation of cochlear implants now
on the drawing board will provide levels of frequency discrimination
that go significantly beyond that of "normal" hearing.
There are brain implants for Parkinson's patients that communicate directly with the ventral posterior nucleus and subthalmic nucleus regions of the brain to reverse the most devastating symptoms of this disease.
An implant for people with cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis communicates with the ventral lateral thalamus and has been effective in controlling tremors.
A variety of techniques are being developed to provide the communications bridge between the wet analog world of biological information processing and digital electronics.
Researchers at Germany's Max Planck Institute have developed noninvasive devices that can communicate with neurons in both directions.
They demonstrated their "neuron transistor" by controlling the movements of a living leech from a personal computer. Similar technology has been used to reconnect leech neurons and to coax them to perform simple logical and arithmetic problems.
Scientists are now
experimenting with a new design called "quantum dots," which uses
tiny crystals of semiconductor material to connect electronic
devices with neurons.
A recent discovery, however, shows the feasibility of a neuroprosthetic system for patients with long-standing spinal cord injuries.
Researchers at the University of Utah asked a group of long-term quadriplegic patients to move their limbs in a variety of ways and then observed the response of their brains, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Although the neural
pathways to their limbs had been inactive for many years, the
pattern of their brain activity when attempting to move their limbs
was very close to that observed in non-disabled persons.
For those patients whose muscles no longer function, there are already designs for "nanoelectromechanical" systems (NEMS) that can expand and contract to replace damaged muscles and that can be activated by either real or artificial nerves.
Computers started out as large remote machines in air-conditioned rooms tended by white-coated technicians. Subsequently they moved onto our desks, then under our arms, and now in our pockets. Soon, we'll routinely put them inside our bodies and brains.
Ultimately we will become
more non-biological than biological.
The power of computation has grown at a double exponential rate for all of the past century, and will continue to do so well into this century through the power of three-dimensional computing.
Communication bandwidths and the pace of brain reverse-engineering
are also quickening. Meanwhile, according to my models, the size of
technology is shrinking at a rate of 5.6 per linear dimension per
decade, which will make nanotechnology ubiquitous during the 2020s.
We'll have very-high-speed wireless connection to the Internet at all times. The electronics for all of this will be embedded in our clothing.
Circa 2010, these very personal computers will enable us
to meet with each other in full-immersion, visual-auditory,
virtual-reality environments as well as augment our vision with
location- and time-specific information at all times.
It will be routine to have billions of nanobots (nano-scale robots) coursing through the capillaries of our brains, communicating with each other (over a wireless local area network), as well as with our biological neurons and with the Internet. One application will be to provide full-immersion virtual reality that encompasses all of our senses.
When we want to enter a
virtual-reality environment, the nanobots will replace the signals
from our real senses with the signals that our brain would receive
if we were actually in the virtual environment.
We will be able to go to these virtual places and have any kind of interaction with other real (as well as simulated) people, ranging from business negotiations to sensual encounters.
In virtual reality, we won't be restricted to a single personality, since we will be able to change our appearance and become other people.
A popular pastime will be to plug in to someone else's sensory-emotional beam and experience what it's like to be someone else, à la the plot concept of the movie "Being John Malkovich."
There will also be a vast selection of
archived experiences to choose from. The design of virtual
environments and the creation of archived full-immersion experiences
will become new art forms.
provide us with the opportunity to vastly expand our pattern
recognition abilities, memories, and overall thinking capacity as
well as directly interface with powerful forms of non-biological
A one-inch cube of nanotube circuitry (which is already working at smaller scales in laboratories) will be at least a million times more powerful than the human brain. By 2040, the non-biological portion of our intelligence will be far more powerful than the biological portion.
It will, however, still be part of the human-machine civilization,
having been derived from human intelligence, i.e., created by humans
(or machines created by humans) and based at least in part on the
reverse-engineering of the human nervous system.
He advocated that we,
Hawking can take comfort that the development program he is recommending is well under way.
Human 2.0 is Almost Here