October 1, 2005

MY REVIEW OF RAY KURZWEIL’S The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology is out in today’s Wall Street Journal. The link is free to non-subscribers.

UPDATE: Reader Joe Ciccoro emails:

An interesting review of an interesting book.

“Mr. Kurzweil himself, thinking exponentially, imagines a plausible future, not so far away, with extended life-spans (living to 300 will not be unusual). . .”

Do we want that? Can we afford that?

Let us assume that those who will live to 300 will be active and productive, not demented for 200 of those years. Isn’t it likely that it will take a rather vigorous application of medical technology to keep them that way? We will simply not have the money, medical resources, or the physical space to accommodate that many more people. We count on disease, physical deterioration, and death to keep the population down, just like a herd of wildebeeste counts on lions to do the same.

If, in the future, we are able to expand lifespans to 300 years, it will necessarily be only for a few select individuals, not for the population as a whole. And it does not take much thought to consider how those few will be selected.

Actually, I don’t think that’s true. I’ve written on that very topic here and here. And Kurzweil argues that costs for life-extension technologies will decline just like costs for other technologies. At first, like cellphones, it will be very expensive and basically only for the rich. Not long afterward it will be ubiquitous.

Andrew Roth, meanwhile, has a post on the review that manages to work in Sandra Bullock.

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