An Interview With Ray Kurzweil

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Techland: You have a unique approach to personal health that’s covered in your book Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever. Can you explain a little about how you take care of yourself and offer some basic advice to people looking to live healthier lifestyles?

Kurzweil: Dr. Terry Grossman and I have written two books. The first one is Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever and then recently, Transcend. In those books we talk about three bridges to radical life extension. Bridge One is what you can do right now, and that’s the bulk of both books. But we do also talk about Bridges Two and Three.

Bridge Two is the full blossoming of the biotechnology revolution. There’s a revolution going on right now in that health and medicine, which did not used to be an information technology, have now become an information technology. We didn’t have the software of life, which is our genes.

We now have that software and we now have the means of changing that software. I mean, how long do you go without updating the software in your cell phone? It’s probably updating itself right now as we speak. But we’re walking around with outdated software in our bodies and brains that’s thousands—in some cases, millions–of years old. It’s due for a revision.

And we have new technologies that can change our genes, not just in a newborn but in a mature individual. Our innate appearance can turn genes off, new forms of gene therapy can add new genes, and we can model, design, and simulate these processes on computers.

All of these technologies are in an early stage now. They will be a thousand times more powerful in 10 years and a million times more powerful in 20 years because the power of these technologies is doubling every year.

The full flowering of this biotechnology revolution is about 15 to 20 years away, and that’s the second bridge. It’ll bring us to the third bridge, which is the nanotechnology revolution. Even if we reprogram the information processes underlying biology, we ultimately can go beyond the limitations of biology with nanotechnology.

For example, nanobots in the bloodstream keeping us healthy from the inside. That sounds very futuristic, but I point out that there’s already 50 experiments doing that with the first generation of nano-engineered devices in animals. Some scientists cured type-1 diabetes in rats with a blood cell size device that lets insulin out in a controlled fashion through 7-nanometer pores. And there are many other examples.

The Golden Era of nanotechnology as applied to health is probably about 25 years away, so that’s the third bridge that ultimately can extend our lives indefinitely. We ultimately will be able to back up our bodies and brains just as we back up our computers. Our bodies and brains are, fundamentally, information. We don’t have a means of backing it up yet but that’s the ultimate goal. And that’s a few decades away.

So in order to get to these future bridges we need to take care of ourselves the old-fashioned way, and there’s actually a lot more that we can do than people realize to dramatically slow down aging processes right now.

It’s not a simple silver bullet. It’s not just “lower your carbs, lower your fat, eat a grapefruit every morning.” Our biology is complicated and there are many different systems and issues. We talk about a personalized program for each one of these.

I’ll give you one simple example. Aging is not one thing, it’s about a dozen different processes. One of those processes is the depletion of phosphatidylcholine—are you recording this, by the way?– from the cell membrane. Every one of our 10 trillion cells has phosphatidylcholine and that’s actually about 90% of the cell membrane when we’re a 10-year-old, and typically down to 10% when we’re a 90-year-old.

It gradually depletes and the cell membrane gets filled in with hard fats and cholesterol and other inert substances that don’t work very well–that are not elastic. That’s why the skin in an elderly person is not soft and supple and the organs don’t work as well. So that’s an aging process, and that’s actually a simple one to reverse by simply supplementing with that substance. If you really want to do it effectively, you can take it intravenously like I do every week or two at a health clinic.

Another aging process which also happens to be a disease process is the filling up of your arteries with plaque–both vulnerable plaque and calcified plaque–that’s called atherosclerosis. It underlies almost all heart attacks and strokes but also, as an aging process, it leads to complications with the limbs, impotence in men, and all kinds of other conditions. Basically your arteries don’t transmit blood effectively if they fill up with plaque.

And that can be slowed down, stopped, and even reversed. Dean Ornish has shown in a number of experiments that you can actually reverse it. But this is really more complicated than taking one supplement. It’s a multifaceted issue that really requires a comprehensive lifestyle program. In some instances, medications like statin drugs, but you have to eat the right diet and exercise.

Stress management is important and there are supplements that will deal with the various issues of atherosclerosis. So we talk about this in quite some detail because it’s a very important issue since it underlies the biggest killers. It’s also a major aging issue that you can stop it if you’re aggressive enough.

The public health recommendations come pre-compromised. I’ve had these debates with, for example, the committee that sets the American Heart Association guidelines. They agree that the guidelines that we set are optimal but they say that they have enough trouble trying to get people to follow the watered-down recommendations, and ask how are they going to get people to follow our more aggressive recommendations?

Our response is that one of the reasons they have trouble getting people to follow their recommendations is that they don’t work very well. In any event, people should be told what’s optimal and if they want to compromise they can decide their own compromises. People assume these public health recommendations are optimal, so then they figure they are not going to be perfect and they go compromise them even more. So now they’re doubly compromised.

To summarize some of the recommendations, for example, in nutrition, it’s not a matter of eating low carb and low fat but to eat healthy carbs and healthy fats. Healthy carbs are vegetables and legumes, unhealthy carbs are sweets and starchy foods. Healthy fats are anti-inflammatory fats. These disease processes are inflammatory diseases. They result from an overactivation of the immune system. So pro-inflammatory fats like saturated fats and trans fatty acids are unhealthy. Anti-inflammatory fats like fish oil, extra virgin olive oil, the mono unsaturated fat found in nuts, and avocado are anti-inflammatory and are healthy.

A whole other area is supplements in that it’s not good enough just to be natural because it’s natural to start aging by 20 and be dead in your 20s. Human life expectancy was 23 a thousand years ago, and that was in the best interest of the human species because there weren’t enough resources for people to live very long. So in order to slow down aging processes, you need to, sort of, change the natural order of things through supplements.

That’s very much a personalized issue and it depends on your own health conditions. A healthy 25-year-old might just take some basic comprehensive vitamins and minerals. If you are 50 years old with type II diabetes and a heart condition, then you would be much more aggressive.

So these are some of the highlights of how you can slow down the aging process so that you can be in good shape when the second bridge comes around in about 15 years.

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