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The future of longevity

By David S. Martin
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(CNN) -- Futurist and author Ray Kurzweil pops a couple hundred supplements a day, eats an extremely healthy diet and exercises. Kurzweil says he plans to live long enough to live forever.

Kurzweil's strategy for immortality is based on the premise that science moves forward exponentially, with breakthroughs building on each other and coming at a faster and faster rate. As a result, he thinks life expectancy will start extending to the point where he can live indefinitely.

Kurzweil is dead serious about this.

"It's going to be very different situation 10 or 15 years from now," says Kurzweil, author of "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology."

"We have very sharply designed interventions that can stop disease. So for baby boomers, we'd like to be in good shape 10 or 15 years from now when we have the sort of full flowering of the biotechnology revolution."

Kurzweil's quest for immortality is nothing new. The search for eternal youth has been around for thousands of years. Scientists, explorers, doctors and dreamers have tried potions, special diets, "magical" waters and some more unusual recipes for immortality.

More than 2,000 years ago, Chinese emperors sent maritime expeditions for the Isles of the Eastern Sea, where immortals were said to possess a drug that prevented death.

Some in China ate very long-lived plants or animals, believing their longevity would be passed on, making crane's eggs and tortoise soup desirable foods.

In ancient Greece, a common belief held that Hyperboreans, a people free of all natural ills with a lifespan of 1,000 years, lived in a remote part of the world.

Juan Ponce de Leon set out looking for the fountain of youth but discovered Florida instead, by accident, in 1513. Ancient Hebrew and Hindu tales also told of bodies of water capable of conferring eternal life.

Several more recent strategies are even more bizarre: Dog testicles, a stag's heart, the breath of a virgin, according to "The Quest for Immortality" by S. Jay Olshansky and Bruce A. Carnes.

History is filled with exotic elixirs offering the false promise of eternal youth, and the allure does not seem to get old.

Kurzweil sees the modern quest as different from the failed attempts of the past because it is based on science. In the next 15 or 20 years, he says, human biology will be so well understood we'll be able to repair the human body in the same way we make repairs to a house or car.

"There will be no sort of natural limit. I mean, how long does a house last?" Kurzweil asks.

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