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04 Feb 2009 07:33
An American inventor who plans to live for ever has been appointed head of a new school for future entrepreneurs backed by Google and the US space agency, Nasa.
Ray Kurzweil, who worked as a computer scientist before turning to future-gazing in the late 1980s, will become chancellor of the Singularity University, based at Nasa’s Silicon Valley campus in California.
The institution gains its name from a controversial 2005 book by Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near. In it, he argues that the exponential advance of technology will transform society by giving rise to computers that are more intelligent than humans.
The leap in computing power will drive rapid advances in other fields, he claims, that together could solve the problems of climate change, poverty, famine and disease.
In an earlier book, Kurzweil predicts the creation of “nanobots” that will patrol our bloodstreams, repairing wear and tear as they go, and keeping our bodies perpetually young.
The new institute will offer courses on artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and biotechnology, and is due to open its doors to its first class of 30 students this summer. Class sizes are expected to grow to 120 in the future.
Kurzweil began discussing the concept for the school two years ago with Peter Diamandis, who chairs the X Prize Foundation, which offers multimillion-dollar prizes for technological breakthroughs. The school is backed by Diamandis and the Google co-founder Larry Page. Google has already contributed more than $1-million to the institution, and several other major companies were planning to contribute at least $250 000 Diamandis said.
“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 humanity, said Kurzweil.
Nasa has agreed that the school can use buildings at its Ames Research Centre in Moffett Field, close to the offices of the US technology giants Google, Yahoo!, Intel and Cisco Systems.
A nine-week course at Singularity University will cost $25 000. Details of the new institution, which despite its name is not an accredited university, were unveiled at the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in Long Beach, California, on Tuesday.
Kurzweil, who consumes more than 100 supplement pills a day and regularly checks about 50 health indicators, has been criticised by some experts who see his predictions as outlandish. In a 2007 interview, Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer prizewinning author and professor of cognitive science at Indiana University, compared his ideas to a blend of very good food and “the craziest sort of dog excrement”.
In an earlier book, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, Kurzweil and co-author Terry Grossman lay out their vision of humans living radically longer lives within the next three decades or so. The first step involves adopting a good enough diet and exercise regime to live long enough for biotechnology to unravel the ageing process and for nanotechnology to be capable of slowing it down and ultimately reversing it.
Kurzweil’s other predictions include a pill that lets you eat without getting fat, which he believes could be available in 10 years; a world where all energy comes from renewable sources within 20 years; and a life expectancy that increases faster than you age within 15 years. - guardian.co.uk
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