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Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Ray's at it Again

According to Ray Kurzweil's latest party piece, to be delivered at Time's The Future of Life Conference to be held on Feb 21st, in the coming decades, a radical upgrading of our body's physical and mental systems will use nanobots to augment and ultimately replace our organs.Since we apparently already know in principle how to prevent most degenerative disease through nutrition and supplementation we can use this knowledge as a bridge to the emerging biotechnology revolution, which in turn will be a bridge to the nanotechnology revolution. Final sell-by date: 2030, by which time reverse-engineering of the human brain will have been completed and nonbiological intelligence will have merged with our biological brains. Visionary or madman, you can't help admiring the guy's persistence and imagination.

Sex has already been largely separated from its biological function. 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.

So why don't we provide the same extrication of purpose from biology for another activity that also provides both social intimacy and sensual pleasure, namely eating? 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.

Let us consider, however, a more fundamental reengineering of the digestive process to disconnect the sensual aspects of eating from its original biological purpose: to provide nutrients into the bloodstream that are then delivered to each of our trillions of cells. 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.............

Up until recently (on an evolutionary time scale), it was not in the interest of the species for old people like myself (I was born in 1948) to use up the limited resources of the clan. Evolution favored 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 physical work.

We now live in an era of great material abundance. Most work requires mental effort rather than physical exertion. 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 child-rearing days............

In a famous scene from the movie, The Graduate, Benjamin's mentor gives him career advice in a single word: "plastics." 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.
Source: Kurzweil AI Net

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