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Ray Kurzweil

Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence

We see very powerful trends, and we see that, for example, computer power has been growing exponentially, and people say, "Okay, but Moore's Law's going to come to an end." But in fact, what I've seen is that every time one paradigm comes to an end, we replace it with another one. We've done that already five times in computation. So we can, I think, anticipate enormous power in all of these technologies. What they'll be applied for? We can't imagine all of the innovation that will occur. But I see it as fundamentally a spiritual process. The word God is really an ideal of -- and has been described as -- infinite intelligence, creativity, beauty, love, all-knowing. And what we see in evolution is that intelligence, beauty, creativity grows at an exponential rate and gets greater and greater -- never becomes infinite but becomes enormously more powerful growing exponentially, therefore becoming closer or more God-like, but never really reaching that ideal. So it's moving in that spiritual direction. I see evolution as a spiritual process, and I see technology as the cutting edge of that process. It is the human species which is different from any other species in that other species use tools, but they don't evolve over generations the way ours do, taking the next step in evolution by merging with our technology and continuing to grow in this sort of exponentially accelerating condition.
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Ray Kurzweil

Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil: At age 12 I discovered the computer, which was not as ubiquitous as it is today, but I had opportunity through my uncle to get access to a computer affiliated with New York University, and then discovered the ability of computers to kind of model reality. That was very exciting. You could create the world in a computer, admittedly crudely back then, but I think I sensed the potential to do that, and really re-create any aspect of reality. That has been a theme of my thinking, and I think we'll see that emerge in the 21st century, where it really can re-create our experiences and re-create the world through virtual reality and that'll be the nature of the Web in the 21st century. But I kind of had a hint of that at age 12 and got involved in computer programming, actually did some statistical programming that was distributed sort of as shareware, built a computer back then that was able to do some calculations. Got really interested in pattern recognition, the power of that -- because that's really the heart of human thinking, is how really to recognize patterns -- in high school.
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Eric Lander

Founding Director, Broad Institute

One summer I was finishing up a book, coming out of my thesis on a very abstract subject -- algebraic combinatorics for goodness sakes! -- and I didn't know what to do, so I spoke to my brother. My brother was a development neurobiologist and was going through graduate school, and Arthur suggested to me, "You're a mathematician. You know all about information theory. You should learn about the brain. The brain is a really great place to apply it." So being hopelessly naive, I said, "Okay, I'll learn neurobiology this summer." I got a couple of books and papers and things on mathematical aspects of neurobiology. They were interesting, but they didn't ring very true, and I, in any case, decided I had to learn more neurobiology. So I started learning about neurobiology, wet lab neurobiology. I decided in order to do that I needed to know more biology, so I decided, okay, next semester I'd learn biology.
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Eric Lander

Founding Director, Broad Institute

Eric Lander: Genes code for all the protein components of the body. Basically, genes are the information storage of heredity. The human being has a total of 100,000 genes, give or take, and that sum total of all the genetic information is called the "genome." If we can completely understand the structure of the human genome, then we have a complete component list of all of the proteins that the body makes. In a sense, that goal, the Human Genome Project, is very much akin to the revolution in chemistry that happened in the period of about 1869 to 1889, when all of matter was described in terms of a finite list, a finite chart that captured its properties. That changed the face of chemistry, because it meant that matter was predictable, through only a finite number of elements. Biology now is getting its own periodic table. In the 21st Century, we will know that the human body is composed of some set of 100,000 proteins, and all biological programs will start from that list. If you want to understand any particular thing, you've got to understand it in terms of those components. There aren't any more components to go look for, at least at the level of proteins. So the effect on biology in the next century will be much like the effect on chemistry in this century. For chemists, the predictability of matter gave rise to industries, the chemical industry. The mysteries of the periodic table, and why there were rows and columns of elements, gave rise to some of the deepest theories of this century, quantum mechanics. I think so, too, understanding the component list of the human body, the human genome, will give rise to both very practical consequences and very theoretical consequences. The students looking back, 20 years from now, will not be able to imagine what it was like to practice biology without these tools. Indeed, they'll assume they were always there. They will look back to this earlier period with a romantic notion, like 19th Century African explorers going off into the jungle with their machetes, searching for a gene and sometimes coming back triumphant with a gene in hand, and sometimes never being heard from again. But that romantic picture of exploring the deepest, darkest continent of biology will be replaced by a Landsat image with accuracy down to the single DNA letter. It will be a very different world, and it will be hard to imagine what anything was like before it.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

A couple of years ago, the National Cancer Institute put out a grant or request for proposals in the area of nanotechnology and cancer, and so some of my colleagues asked if I would help put something like that together. So we got a group of really wonderful biologists at MIT, and I asked a group of engineers, and we got probably about 15 of us together. And we came up with these ideas about targeting nanoparticles to tumors, new materials for ultra-rapid diagnostics, new materials for imaging, so that you might detect the cancer earlier. So those are all really, to me, interesting examples of how you can take, on the one hand, engineering and material science, and on the other hand, biology and medicine, put them together and try to create new things that can maybe someday improve cancer therapy and diagnosis. Actually, we were fortunate enough to get that grant, and continue to get it, and I think it's doing a lot of good.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

Robert Langer: I think probably there are certain things that are inherent -- maybe genetic -- about creativity. But I also think that there are probably several elements that can help in terms of creativity, too. One is probably just self-confidence. I remember when I was younger, sometimes I would like have an idea and probably immediately I would dismiss it. How could I come up with something? But as I got older, I got maybe more self-confident. I think another thing that helps -- and I think was incredibly valuable for me -- was stretching myself. Not necessarily intentionally, but the fact that say, I was a chemical engineer on the one hand, and then I would be exposed to medicine on the other hand. I would have these two different disciplines. What I would start to do, because they were so different, you would think, "Well, you could combine them," and that would give me ideas probably that nobody at that time had, because nobody else had that kind of background. Very, very few chemical engineers, and mostly they were doing oil, and I was doing medicine. So I thought, "Well, I could do something different," just because I had the skill set and I saw that whole other area. I think stretching yourself, intentionally or unintentionally, in new areas, seeing new things that people haven't seen before and yet knowing something else, I think that that probably helped me do it.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

I was curious, how do materials find their way into medicine? And I was a chemical engineer, I thought -- I was a young guy -- I thought it must be chemists or chemical engineers. But as I looked into this, I found that was almost never true. When I looked at this, I found -- pretty much in the 20th century, when I was doing work -- that almost every material that ever came into medicine was actually driven by a medical doctor. And what they pretty much always did is, whenever they wanted to solve a medical problem, they went to their house and they found some object in their house that kind of resembled the organ or tissue -- from a material standpoint -- that they wanted to fix. So for example, in 1967 some of the clinicians at the NIH wanted to make an artificial heart, and they said, "Well, what object has a good flex life, like a heart?" and they said, "A ladies girdle." So they took the material in that, and made the artificial heart out of it. That, of course, has led to some problems. When blood hits the surface, the artificial heart forms a clot. The clot can go to the patient's brain, they can get a stroke and they can die. Another example is one of the materials used in a woman's breast implant is actually a mattress stuffing, because it's squishy and it's a polyurethane. I was a chemical engineer. I didn't think that way. I thought, one of the things you learn in chemical engineering is design. So what I started saying is, rather than take it from your house, why don't you ask the question, "What do you really want in this material from an engineering standpoint, chemistry standpoint, biology standpoint?" You could put those on the board, write this out and say, "Well, these are the properties I want. I'm going to then synthesize it and make it from scratch."
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

One time I was watching this TV show, and they were showing how microchips were made in the computer industry. And I thought to myself, in an instant, "Boy, this would be a very neat way to do drug delivery implants." That you could actually have little chips with drugs in them, and maybe multiple drugs, so you could literally have a pharmacy in a chip. And you could do remote control drug delivery, maybe even some day have sensors on the chip. So I had this idea. It was sort of a broad idea. Of course then there are many, many stages to go, and get it to work, that take many, many years. So even though I had that idea, it probably took another four years of work from one of my students and colleagues to really prove that we could actually do it. Then maybe another ten years before we actually introduced it into patients. We just did the first clinical trial over the past year, and it's amazing. You can actually have a cell phone that can program, tell the chip how much to deliver, and I expect in another ten years, we'll see these kinds of ideas more widely used. Maybe in another 20 years you'll have sensors on the chips that will actually self-tell the chips what to do in different situations. That's just one of many examples, but I think in science there are places where you sort of get this idea, but then you have to go do it. I could give other examples like that too, but that's how it works for me.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

I just picked up the nearest magazine and it was LIFE magazine. They were talking about cars of the future, and they were saying that in the future, if a car gets in an accident and has a big dent in it, all you'll have to do is heat it up and the dent will snap back into place. So I saw that, and I thought to myself, "They're talking about materials that can actually change shape if you apply a certain type of stimulus, like heat." So then I thought of something totally different when I was thinking about that, because even though I was not a surgeon, I knew something about surgery. So there was this whole area that has evolved over the last 20 or 30 years called "minimally invasive surgery." And you might think, "What could that possibly have to do with cars?" Actually, it doesn't have anything. But what I thought about is, like 30 years ago, for example, if you had a gallbladder operation, they would make a big incision in you and they would pull the gallbladder out. Now what they do is they make a little incision in you, and the gallbladder, you would pull it out through these little scopes. But the difference to the patient is, in the first case with the big operation, you'll be in a hospital for many, many days, won't be back to work for many, many weeks or months. The second case, you're out of the hospital in a day or less, and you're back to work right away, because they made a tiny incision rather than a big incision. So I started thinking, "You know, there's all these medical devices that people implant, get implanted in patients, many of which are just made out of material." And I thought, "What if we could make a material that could change shape?" So we could start out with something that's like a string at room temperature, for example. And then you could actually put that string at room temperature through the little hole that you made. But when it gets to body temperature, which is a lot hotter, it could change into whatever shape you want. Like whatever medical device, like a stent to keep blood vessels open, or a sheet to prevent adhesions, or something else. So I thought we should be able to make materials that actually had the property that they were talking about in the car, but if we could do it, that maybe we could change a whole paradigm for medical device implantation.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

For me, as a scientist, the journey to here has been one of trying to dream big dreams. But one of the things that I realized, when you do this, is that a lot of times -- and this is not just true for scientists, probably true in any area -- that when you try to dream dreams that can help change the world, and help people, and think about things like this, that a lot of times people will tell you that your idea is impossible. Your invention is impossible, it could never work. But I think that's very rarely true. I think if you really believe in yourself, if you're persistent and work hard, that there's very little that's truly impossible.
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