Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Talking Brains and Immortality With Ray Kurzweil and Juan Enriquez (Video)

Sometimes, when you work in this business long enough, you get to do some cool things. For me, one of those days came yesterday, when I sat between Ray Kurzweil and Juan Enriquez and took a wild stab at trying to moderate a discussion between them.

The occasion was the TEDx Silicon Alley conference held here in New York, and for various reasons, I was asked at the last minute to stand in as moderator.

Kurzweil’s talk, which took place before our “Fireside Chat” that was announced as a surprise final event of the day’s proceedings, amounted to his first public appearance in connection with the publication of his new book, “How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.” Naturally, it builds a bit on his previous book, “The Singularity Is Near,” in which he argues that in time — about the year 2030 or so — the exponential increase in computing power will lead humanity to enhance itself with machines. In the new book, he talks about the latest thinking in how the brain works and how it’s organized, and where its limitations are. Eventually, he argues, we’ll be enhancing our brains with computing power in some way as well.

Juan Enriquez is an investor and a founder of the Life Sciences Project at Harvard University’s Business School, and in 2008 he wrote a book called “Homo Evolutis,” in which he explored the nature of human evolution and the question of whether or not humanity is finished evolving. Short answer: Probably not. His talk yesterday had more to do with tying together tattoos, social media and the idea of immortality.

Anyway, my job yesterday was to sit between them for an hour and to mostly stay out of the way while at the same time gently steering a conversation between them and relaying questions from Twitter.

The video below is long because it includes first Enriquez’s talk and then Kurzweil’s and then our fireside chat. But if you’ve got an hour and change to spare, the conversation sure was interesting. It was one of those moments in life when one feels dumb compared to the people with whom you’re sharing a stage, and yet you know you’re walking away smarter. If that doesn’t make sense, just watch and you’ll understand what I mean.

(A few people have since asked me where I got the reference to “three deaths” that I referred to in my first question. It was in the second segment of this episode of Radiolab, the documentary program on Public Radio, and yes, I remembered it a little bit wrong.)

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