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'Highlander's Gathering approaches: Futurist predicts human immortality by 2030
Maybe there can be more than one.
In 1985, New Yorkers at the famed Madison Square Garden were enjoying a thrilling professional wrestling battle. Characters larger than life faced off, hoping to become the reigning champion, the last man standing. While the crowds were roaring and the sweat pumping, the real show was happening in a nearby parking garage, where old enemies Connor MacLeod and Iman Fasil fought for the only title that really matters: the one that lets them live.
MacLeod and Fasil engage in a sword fight, because that’s what you do in New York City parking garages, and MacLeod cuts Fasil’s head off. That might seem like an overreaction, but these dudes have history. Someone was going to lose a head. In response to his decapitation, Iman violently releases a few gallons of blood alongside bizarre lightning cracks of energy which wash MacLeod in a furious and destructive light.
Through flashbacks, we see that MacLeod has been alive for centuries. He, alongside a smattering of others, are immortals doomed to battle one another throughout time. Their seemingly endless battle is all in the hope of earning The Prize, the collective power of all immortals. The only way to get it, however, is to kill all the rest. After all, there can be only one.
You can catch Highlander streaming now on Peacock, but you needn’t retreat to fiction to find tales of immortality. Those are floating around in our real-world headlines. The futurist, inventor, and former Google engineer Ray Kurzweil is back in the news for a prediction he made about the expected lifespan of people living today. According to Kurzweil, if you can stay alive for the next seven years, you might get to live forever, and you won’t have to behead a single person to do it.
Kurzweil has made a career of making predictions about the future of technology that turn out to come true a good percentage of the time. By some estimates, his accuracy is somewhere around 86%, with most of those predictions having fully come true and a small number having mostly come true. In the ‘90s, Kurzweil predicted that most people would use portable computers by 2009, digital media would largely replace physical media, wireless technologies would become common, and virtual eLearning. All of those things happened, at least to a degree, but one could argue that anyone paying close enough attention in the ‘90s might have made the same predictions.
He's also had some significant misses. Kurzweil predicted that telephones would be able to translate conversations between languages in real time and that self-driving cars would be ubiquitous. Whether that last prediction has come true or not is really a matter of opinion. Self-driving cars certainly exist, but you can’t exactly say they are commonly used. Some proportion of his allegedly accurate predictions require you to do a little bit of mental gymnastics in order to give him credit.
Even still, Kurzweil has a record of being able to see what’s coming down the chute a little more clearly than most, which has led some to grant his words an almost mystical quality. From Kurzweil’s lips to the universe’s ears, as it were. Which, when applied to some of his predictions, might trigger a mixture of excitement and incredulity.
By the year 2030, humans will have merged themselves with swarms of thousands of nanobots which will hunt down diseases and repair our bodies at the cellular level. That’s the world we have to look forward to seven years from now, according to Kurzweil. That particular prediction is getting some extra attention recently, thanks to a two-part YouTube series by user ADAGIO. The two videos, which feature Kurzweil’s predictions, have been viewed a collective 150,000 times, as of this writing.
The predictions actually came from Kurzweil’s 2005 book The Singularity is Near. At the time, he predicted that advancing technology, particularly nanobots, would allow for eternal life by 2030. In fairness to Kurzweil, he had 25 years of buffer when he made those predictions and may give you a different date if asked today. That said, he has been asked more recently than 2005 and stuck to that date. Furthermore, Kurzweil predicts that AI will reach human levels of intelligence by 2029 and we will achieve a full-blown technological singularity by 2045.
The technological singularity, for the curious, is the idea that technology will reach a point where it becomes self-advancing and extends beyond what humans are innately capable of. When and if that happens, the nature of our reality could be so fundamentally changed that it’s impossible to know what it might look like on the other side. Futurists commonly imagine scenarios in which humans and our technology merge to create something wholly new.
The truth about Kurzweil’s prediction isn’t quite as dramatic as “immortality in seven years” makes it sound. Which isn’t to say it isn’t a bold claim. It is. But Kurzweil isn’t suggesting that seven years from now you’ll be able to pick up a magic pill from the pharmacy that makes you immortal. One day you’re dying, the next day you’re not. Instead, he predicts an increase in life expectancy that outpaces aging. In essence, advancing medical technology will add more than a year of life expectancy for every year you live.
It's less that you’re going to live forever and more like you’re racing toward death, but death is running away faster. It’s the YouTube video buffering model of living forever. Everything is fine as long as you don’t hit a bad patch of lag. In reference to living forever, Kurzweil said in a 2013 interview with The New York Times, “My plan is to stick around. We’ll get to a point about 15 years from now where we’re adding more than a year every year to your life expectancy.”
This line of thinking makes a certain amount of sense. Life expectancy does tend to go up over time, though there is some wiggle room depending on demographic. Importantly, life expectancy has always increased significantly slower than a person ages. For that to change would require a fundamental change in the nature of our reality, indeed.
Maybe 2030 will bring immortality, but you should probably exercise and take your vitamins in the meantime. And make time to watch great movies, like Highlander, streaming right now on Peacock!