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Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever
By Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman
Rodale Books
HC, 400 pages, US$24.95
ISBN: 1-5795-4954-3

How to retire by age 4500

By Steven Martinovich
web posted December 6, 2004

Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live ForeverWoody Allen once joked that he didn't want to achieve immortality through his work; he wanted to achieve it through not dying. According to futurist/inventor Ray Kurzweil and Dr. Terry Grossman, in the unlikely event Allen stays alive for a few decades more, technology will progress to the point where he'll get his wish -- or at least a few thousand more years of life. Today's baby boomers, the oldest of whom are getting ready for retirement, have the potential to live decades -- if not centuries -- more.

That's the message that Kurzweil and Grossman proclaim in Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. It's an ambitious and all encompassing program designed to allow the reader to live for the day when new technologies are available that could extend your life span by inconceivable amounts. Thanks to progress in several key areas, we may soon attain the ability to change our bodies in fundamental ways. The key, and the raison d'être for Fantastic Voyage, is making sure you're around to take advantage of these advances.

Kurzweil and Grossman argue that this radical extension of longevity will come in three phases and so have divided their program into three bridges. The first bridge is their guide to remaining healthy enough to be alive when the second bridge -- essentially biotechnology -- gives us the ability to make changes to our body, such as eliminating disease and halting aging. The third bridge will be a nanotechnology/artificial intelligence revolution that will enable us to rebuild our bodies and brains on the molecular level.

Fantastic Voyage concentrates much of its attention on the first bridge. Kurzweil and Grossman explore the latest science on everything from diet and nutrition, exercise to alternative and mainstream medicine with an eye to maintaining your health and thereby increasing your longevity. Much of this science is fairly cutting edge and unproven, they occasionally admit that their conclusions may need to be revised, but a great deal of it is common sense. Most of us don't need to be told that we eat poorly, smoke and drink too much and don't get enough exercise. The cost to our bodies, however, is far worse then most of us appreciate. Our bad habits can shave decades off our longevity. By taking a healthy and comprehensive approach to life we can extend our life spans by remarkable amounts.

All of this, however, comes at quite a cost -- both in terms of money and time. At one point Kurzweil documents some of the extensive measures he takes to keep his body operating at what he believes is optimal. "I take about 250 pills of nutritionals a day. Once a week I go to WholeHealth New England, a complementary medicine health clinic run by Dr. Glenn Rothfeld .... where I spend the day. I am provided with an office with high-speed wireless Internet access and a phone, so I work from there. At this clinic, I have a half-dozen intravenous therapies -- basically nutritionals delivered directly into my bloodstream, thereby passing my [gastrointestinal] tract. I also have acupuncture treatment from Dr. Rothfeld, a master acupuncturist who helped introduce this therapy to this country 30 years ago."

That passage reveals the difficulty the average person will have instituting Kurzweil and Grossman's elaborate plan for extending your life. It's hard to believe that anyone but the very wealthy would have the time and money to actually pursue anything but the basics of the program. And if you have the time and money, be prepared for a potentially soul-sucking existence seemingly limited to drinking green tea, filtered alkaline water and eating food designed more for meeting the nutritional requirements of the program than pleasure. Of course, if you live long enough, technology will eventually enable you to eat and drink anything you want without cost to your body.

Despite its limitations when it comes to practical advice, Fantastic Voyage is still an interesting resource for the more realistic recommendations it makes. As Kurzweil and Grossman point out, little changes like cutting down on the amount of salt and sugar in your diet or a moderate exercise program can do wonders for your health and longevity. Just as importantly they also evangelize the reader to take a proactive approach to their health -- such as utilizing preventative medicine -- important for avoiding the permanent damage that illness can wreak on your body.

Whether or not you make to 5000 years of age depends largely on whether the promise of new future technologies is fulfilled. In that sense Fantastic Voyage is an optimistic work, dreaming of a soon to be realized future where we will be able to rebuild our bodies and minds at will, enjoying the advantages of powerful young bodies mated with wise mature minds. In the meantime we can start living healthier lives in the hopes we live long enough to see that day.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

Buy Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever at Amazon.com for only $14.97 (40% off)


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