If technology gives us a fountain of youth, we'll wish we had stayed healthy

Les Lester
Les Lester: Recent research on radical life extension may persuade more of us to hold onto our diet pledges.
Courtesy of Les Lester

Les Lester is a freelance journalist and author of the novel "The Awakening of Khufu."

Now that the New Year is in full stride, New Year's resolutions like weight loss are beginning to fall by the wayside. But recent research on radical life extension may persuade more of us to hold onto our diet pledges.

For one, calorie restriction has been found to increase life spans by 30 percent. And with the prevalence of diabetes and its accompanying ailments, eating a healthy, low-calorie diet can be worth our while.

Meanwhile, recent research by Ray Kurzweil, a noted inventor and futurist, is raising eyebrows. Kurzweil believes life spans can be extended indefinitely.

Kurzweil, the inventor of the text-to-speech synthesizer, omni-font optical character recognition, a print to speech reading machine and the first music synthesizer that could reproduce the sounds of orchestra instruments, has predicted numerous innovations with surprising accuracy.

He says that halfway through the Human Genome Project, scientists began to panic because it had taken them seven years to sequence just 1 percent of the human genome — thus, they lamented, it would take 700 years to complete the project. Kurzweil believed that, due to exponential growth, the project would be completed much sooner, and it was — just seven years later.

Remember 30 years ago, when mobile phones consisted of a cumbersome power base located in the trunk of one's car? Phones themselves were the size of toasters. Back in those days, futurists envisioned that the phones of today would be about the size of a cigarette package, and I vowed to put in my order for what we now know as smart phones. The results are better than we imagined; the Internet had not come into the picture yet.

Kurzweil's current prognosis is that the computers in the next 20 to 30 years will be the size of blood cells and will be downloaded into the bloodstream to work like the good bacteria that already inhabit the body, cleaning arteries and repairing tissues in the heart and other organs as needed. He and other futurists are grappling for another word besides computers to describe this coming nanotechnology. It will be made of organically based, natural substances, not the plastics and metal-based computers of today.

Kurzweil says that with replacement organs derived from our own cells and other scientific advancements, we may well experience the proverbial fountain of youth.

Perhaps Kurzweil's ideas are a bit farfetched. But his predictions are enough for me to keep my New Year's resolution this year: "Plenty of vegetables and fruit, no more high fat foods, and plenty of exercise." Whether he's right or wrong, a good diet minus processed foods may allow us to live relatively long and healthy lives, nonetheless.

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