Ray Kurzweil: Lex Fridman Podcast Episode #321

It was a sunny afternoon when Ray Kurzweil arrived at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on the Charles River in Cambridge, just a few blocks from MIT, to be interviewed by Lex Fridman. They were both dressed in their signature looks, Ray in his button down shirt and hand-painted suspenders and Lex in his black suit, black tie, and white shirt. Different looks. Similar minds. The interview was four years in the making; a continuation of a guest-lecture that Ray gave in 2018 for Lex’s popular MIT course 6.S099: Artificial General Intelligence.

Known for his long-form interviews, Lex guided the conversation from the science and technology of today to their profound philosophical, cultural, and sociological implications of tomorrow. Sitting on either side of a desk with microphones hovering in between, they began the two-hour interview by discussing Ray’s prediction that AI will reach human-level intelligence by 2029 and expanded from there; covering the ethics and implications of replicants, beaming our intelligence into the universe, alien civilizations, living in a simulation, the existence of God, immortality, and the meaning of life. These were mighty topics discussed in matter-of-fact tones, punctuated with quiet laughter over some of the most mind-bending ideas.

In one segment, Ray explained why it is hard to talk about immortality, why we need to tinker with our bodies to keep them going, and why you can’t make a case against living forever:

LEX: Do you think of your own mortality? Are you afraid of it?

RAY: Yes, but I keep going back to my idea of being able to expand human life quickly enough in advance of our getting there -- Longevity Escape Velocity. Which we’re not quite at yet. But I think we’re actually pretty close particularly, for example, doing simulated biology. I think we can probably get there by the end of the decade and that’s my goal. 

LEX:  Do you hope to achieve immortality?

RAY: Well, immortality is hard to say. I can’t come on your program and say, “I’ve done it! I’ve achieved immortality!” Because it’s never, forever. But we’d like to advance human life expectancy, advance my life expectancy, more than a year every year. And I think we can get there by the end of this decade. 

LEX: How do you think we’ll do it? There are practical things in TRANSCEND: Nine Steps To Living Well Forever. You describe things like health and exercise. 

RAY: Yes, we live in a body that doesn’t last forever. There’s no reason why it can’t though. And we’re discovering things that will extend it. But you do have to deal with… I mean I’ve got various issues. I went to Mexico 40 years ago and developed salmonella that created pancreatitis which gave me a strange form of diabetes. It’s not Type I Diabetes, because that’s an autoimmune disorder that destroys your pancreas. I don’t have that. But it’s also not Type II Diabetes, because with that your pancreas works fine but your cells don’t absorb the insulin well. I don’t have that either. The pancreatitis I had, partially damaged my pancreas, but it was a one-time thing and it didn’t continue and I’ve learned now how to control it. So that is just something I had to do in order to continue to exist. 

LEX: So, it’s your particular biological system and you had to figure out a few hacks and the idea is that science will be able to do that much better. 

RAY: Yes. So I do spend a lot of time tinkering with my own body to keep it going. So, I do think I’ll last until the end of this decade. And I do think we’ll achieve Longevity Escape Velocity. I think that will start with people who are very diligent about this. Eventually, it will become routine. So, if you’re talking about kids today or even people in the 20s and 30s, it’s not a very serious problem. I have had some discussions with relatives who are almost one hundred, and I say we’re working on it as quickly as possible, but I don’t know if it's going to work for them.

LEX: Is there a case to be made against living forever? That mortality is a feature, not a bug. Dying makes ice cream taste delicious and makes life intensely beautiful, more than it otherwise might be?

RAY: Most people think that way except if you present a death of anyone that they care about or love. They find that extremely depressing. And I know people who feel that way, 20, 30, 40 years later. They still want them back. Death is not something to celebrate. But we’ve lived in a world where people just accept this. You see it all the time on TV... “Oh, life’s short! You have to take advantage of it!” (throws hands in the air). Nobody accepts the fact that we could go beyond normal lifetimes. But, any time we talk about death or death of a person, even one death, it's a terrible tragedy. If you have somebody who lives to one hundred years old, we still love them in return. There’s no limitation to that. In fact, these kinds of trends are going to provide greater and greater opportunity for everybody, even if we have more people. 


Ray Kurzweil: Singularity Superintelligence, and Immortality | Lex Fridman Podcast #321 

Watch the full interview linked above or click on these short clips:

Ray Kurzweil explains the singularity
Are aliens rare
Will humans become immortal
When will AI become sentient
Does God exist
AI will pass the Turing Test by 2029
Will we upload our brains to the cloud
Will humans merge with AI in 10 years
Will robots take human jobs
Will Ray Kurzweil live forever
Are we living in a simulation
How the universe gave birth to humans + AI
People are wrong about the collapse of human civilization
Will AI replace humans
Ray Kurzweil on the metaverse
Will human civilization destroy itself
Nanobots crawling inside human brains

Next article Q&A with Ray: Have your thoughts on life extension changed?