Let’s start with this — 80 minutes with Ray Kurzweil, who told us 10 years ago that, on average, by 2022 — though you could still be hit by a bus — adult life expectancy would be increasing by more than one year per year. So we’d be getting a little further from the end, not closer to it. I liked that very much.
Friday, he told us he had been a little optimistic. “Longevity escape velocity,” he said, will be reached in 2029. But with autonomous vehicles, the chances of getting hit by a bus will nearly vanish.
It pays to heed Kurzweil. “Of the 147 predictions he’s made since the early 1990s, 115 have proved to be correct and another 12 essentially correct (off by only a year or two)” — so 86% right. This piece explains how.
Friday he said developed countries would all have adopted systems of Universal Basic Income by the early 2030s — and all countries would have it by the end of that decade — so that people’s main worry would not be finding jobs to meet their family’s basic needs, but finding meaning, to meet their psychic needs.
We will expand out intelligence a billionfold by 2045 — Google will essentially be in your brain. And by then or shortly after we’ll have multiple bodies, and backup bodies.
One thing Kurzweil’s Google team is working on that you can try right now is Talk To Books. Ask a question; TTB takes half a second (literally) to read 120,000 books and suggest answers, displaying the books they came from. It’s clunky: many of the searches you try will produce super dumb results. And they chose to read only 120,000 books instead of a million, because, Kurzweil told us, they knew people wouldn’t put up with waiting six seconds. But they’re just getting started. It will get better.
I may have a little of this wrong (as may Kurzweil), but this was the gist.
Half the talks we heard were unbelievably hopeful.
Not only will there by cyborgs — one of them joined us at TED.
> Vaccines produced in days rather than six months.
> “MRIs” that are small and cheap and emit no radiation. (The woman developing this shone red lights through her hands and then other light through a chicken breast to which she added a tumor — don’t ask me to explain, just hang in there for a decade until this stuff is widely available.)
> Flying cars, of course. (You’ll Lyft to the nearest vertical-car hub; hop over to a hub near your destination; then Lyft or Uber to your destination. Target cost: forty bucks.)
> And — per the woman running SpaceX for Elon Musk — rocket-based flights from New York to Shanghai in an hour. Within 10 years. Mars colonized not long afterward.
Stephen Pinker gave his wonderfully upbeat perspective. We only think things are awful, because if it’s not bad, it doesn’t make the news. Even deaths due to lightning strikes have fallen dramatically! (Page 189.)
Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project lunch was out of the ballpark (again). The impending disasters are real; but so is the progress, if we keep at it. Solar is rapidly becoming cheaper than coal. And there are so many other ways we can live smarter and save ourselves. (Eat less meat!) Here was his 2017 TED talk. We got a sobering (we still spew 110 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere everyday, using our atmosphere like a sewer) but inspiring update (China and others are beating their Paris Accord goals; wind power is blowing away past projections).
It was scary to think how badly all this could go.
For example: if even a few of the million “DNA printers” we saw that will eventually be installed by hospital bedsides are hijacked to print . . . oh, say, smallpox.
Or if, more prosaically, nuclear war.
After all, as Charles Mann noted, we are a “breakout species.” Which sounds good but “Here’s the thing about successful species: Eventually, they all wipe themselves out.” Imagine some bacterium put in the center of a petri dish filled with nutrient, instead of struggling to survive in topsoil. No predators; a sea of food. It multiplies like mad until it reaches the edge of the petri dish and then goes extinct, nothing left to eat, drowning in its own poop.
There are so many ways this could go wrong.
Exhibits A-F: Trump/Pruitt/Putin/McConnell/Nunez/ISIS . . . and on and on.
But what a time to be alive.
And what amazing people all over the planet looking for creative, just ways to solve our problems, large and small.
Not to mention the guy we met who can hold his breath for five minutes and ten seconds as he dives 100 feet under water. Or Alex Honnold, who climbed El Capitan with no rope or tools. Or Chetna Sinha, the poor-but-determined illiterate Indian woman who went on to found a bank that now has 90,000 account holders.
Here’s just one of the many talks I loved: The Bail Project: a plan to meaningfully increase justice while lowering taxpayer costs.
On any given night, more than 450,000 people in the US are locked up simply because they can’t make bail. The sums in question are often around $500: easy for some to pay, impossible for others.
Give this talk 14 minutes. You’ll never forget it.
Have a great week.