Futurist Ray Kurzweil Says He Can Bring His Dead Father Back to Life Through a Computer Avatar

PHOTO: Ray Kurzweil, a prominent inventor and futurist who has long predicted that mind and machine will one day merge, has been making arrangements to talk to his dead father through the help of a computer.
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Ray Kurzweil, a prominent inventor and "futurist" who has long predicted that mind and machine will one day merge, has been making arrangements to talk to his dead father through the help of a computer.

"I will be able to talk to this re-creation," he explained. "Ultimately, it will be so realistic it will be like talking to my father."

Kurzweil's father, an orchestra conductor, has been gone for more than 40 years.

However, the 63-year-old inventor has been gathering boxes of letters, documents and photos in his Newton, Mass., home with the hopes of one day being able to create an avatar, or a virtual computer replica, of his late father. The avatar will be programmed to know everything about Kurzweil's father's past, and will think like his father used to, if all goes according to plan.

"You can certainly argue that, philosophically, that is not your father," Kurzweil said. "That is a replica, but I can actually make a strong case that it would be more like my father than my father would be, were he to live."

Said to look and sound like Woody Allen's nerdier younger brother, Kurzweil has been working on predicting the future for decades. At age 17, he was invited to appear on the CBS show "I've Got a Secret" to demonstrate how a computer program he invented could compose music.

Kurzweil went on to invent optical scanners, machines that read for the blind and synthesizers. Still inventing today, Kurzweil has developed a reputation for himself from just making predictions, mostly about how fast our technology is advancing.

While holding a smart phone he said, "This is a billion times more powerful than the computer I used as a student."

To Kurzweil, the implications of the advancement of smart phone technology are beyond epic. He believes it will one day help him talk to his dead father and eventually eliminate death all together.

"I think all human beings are and should be fearful [of death], but realizing that death is a real tragedy," he said.

Does the inventor think he can beat death? "I believe I can," he said. "It is not a certainty."

One example he gives of how technology can overcome death is by taking computers and putting them inside our bodies -- microscopic robots that can fight viruses from inside our blood stream.

Again, referring to the smart phone, Kurzweil explained, "this will become the size of blood cells and we will be able to put intelligence inside of our bodies and brains to keep ourselves healthier."

Kurzweil predicts this will become a reality within a few decades. To be sure he lives long enough to see it, the inventor exercises extreme measures to stay healthy -- taking 200 vitamins a day and undergoing monthly blood transfusions.

His eccentricities are the subject of the hit documentary, "Transcendant Man." It celebrates his role as a prophet of the Singularity movement, the idea that technological advancement is so fast that soon humans and computers will merge. However, some skeptics see a doomsday scenario where the computers become so smart they won't need or want humans anymore -- think "The Terminator."

"'The Terminator' is not an impossibility," Kurzweil said. "I think that symbolizes the downside of artificial intelligence ... but technology has a big downside in general. There is a bigger downside to not pursuing it."

As for bringing his own father back to life through a computer avatar, Kurzweil didn't seem to mind the lack of intimate human contact.

"Creating an avatar of this sort is one way of embodying that information in a way that human beings can interact with," he explained. "It is inherently human to transcend limitations."

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