Renowned Futurist Ray Kurzweil mesmerised the audience with his views about how far information technology (IT) has progressed and how far biotechnology will progress. Kurzweil spoke about how he reversed his Diabetes and eliminated his genetic predisposition to heart disease. Kushan Mitra interviewed him after his address.
Q. You predicted the rise of information technology decades ago. But does the advent of new personal electronic devices amaze you?
A. I am continually amazed when these things happen, the fact that I predicted them does not take away from that. The fact that we have access to all the world's knowledge at our fingertips, nobody would have believed that 30 years ago, but I had predicted that.
Q. Are you disappointed that mankind has not returned to the moon since 1974?
A. Well, I do not work in that field. I work in the area of information technology. And it is not just computers, but also communications, biological technology and the world of turning information into physical things with three-dimensional printing technology. These different areas of information technology are predictable and what is predictable is that they grow exponentially.
Q. Do you believe that the progress of information technology has also made our lives more complicated?
A. Well, the technologies that succeed are the technologies that meet human needs. For every product or technology that succeeds there are a hundred that do not succeed. The phone succeeded because it met our basic human need of communicating. Complicated, yes, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It might make things more complicated but it also provides more opportunities.
VIDEO:The future of technology with Ray Kurzweil
Q. You said that the human brain is wired to think in a linear fashion. So, do you believe that the progress of technology can make people, particularly politicians, scared?
A. Embryonic stem cells are kind of a special case that ran into a religious and ethical issue. The other thing wrong with embryonic stem cells is that there are not very many of them. You want your own DNA, not DNA from an embryo. That particular controversy, science has worked its way around. You can now take your skin cells, add four genes and produce something equivalent to an embryonic stem cell but with your DNA in it. Those opposed to embryonic stem cells are not opposed to this because there is no destruction of an embryo. That was a very specific issue.
That said, there are disadvantages to technology. In biotechnology we are programming our way away from disease but it could also be used by a bioterrorist to take a virus and change it to be more deadly. That is feasible and we need to be mindful of these dangers. There are things we can do about it - we can have ethical standards, we can have rapid response systems that can detect when a terrorist tries to do this. I have actually worked on this with the US Army. It's complicated, but technology has always been a double-edged sword.