"It's not so hard to predict the future, but it's sometimes hard to connect the dots." In the opening of his lecture to the Global Futures 2045 Congress, famed geneticist Dr. George Church neatly summed up what being a futurist is all about, though he was reminding the audience rather than the other speakers assembled at Alice Tully Hall in New York City this past weekend. Gathered there by a young Russian tech tycoon on a mission to do nothing less than achieve immortality through technology, a who's-who of renowned technologists, scientists, futurists, and entrepreneurs painted a sometimes terrifying, sometimes electrifying picture of what the world is going to look like in the decades to come, describing how technology is going to drastically alter economies, biologies, and perhaps even consciousness itself.
Global Futures 2045 is organized annually (this was the second) by the 2045 Initiative and its founder, Russian tech entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov, who at 32 years of age has turned his vast financial resources and dogged determination toward understanding and conquering some of the 21st century's most challenging and exciting frontiers, including human consciousness, brain-machine interfaces, and the integration of biology and technology. The ultimate goal of Itskov's Avatar Project (part of the 2045 Initiative) is to free humankind from the limitations imposed on it by the body, first by figuring out how to remove the brain (and the conscious self) from the body and keep it alive in a robotic surrogate, and ultimately how to upload the mind -- consciousness and all -- to a computer. The deadline for delivering this kind of digital immortality: 2045.
If all that sounds like a fantasy, consider Itskov's colleagues: Speakers at Global Futures 2045 included Church (who pioneered the first truly effective gene sequencing techniques and helped initiate the Human Genome Project), inventor-futurist Ray Kurzweil (now engineering chief at Google), X-PRIZE Foundation founder and far-out tech entrepreneur Dr. Peter H. Diamandis (current project: asteroid mining), and legendary computer technologist Dr. James Martin, who shares a name with the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University (and not by happenstance). And while speaking doesn't imply blanket endorsement of the Avatar Project and its lofty aims, this roll call of renowned speakers certainly lends Global Futures 2045 some intellectual heft.
But while immortality is the overarching goal of the 2045 Initiative, the Global Futures congress is more of a conversation between two dozen or so individuals at the top of their fields, many with established track records of seeing what's coming before it gets here. In other words, these are the people who successfully connect the dots between where we are now, where we're going, and how technology is going to get us there. Below: Six prognostications on just how drastically technology -- and life as we know it -- will change in the over the next three decades.
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