By 2035, life insurance products will be substantially cheaper than they are today because of a rise in life expectancy. And a future iteration of Google Glass will give you access to an artificial human brain on the cloud, substantially boosting your powers of persuasion with clients.
These forecasts, among other futuristic scenarios, were topics of discussion during a general session at the annual meeting of the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting (AALU), held in Washington, D.C., May 4-6. The session’s speaker: author and futurist Ray Kurzweil, who today serves as director of engineering at Google.
Underpinning the information technology revolution that is transforming economies, said Kurzweil, is the rate at which the price-performance of information technologies is advancing. The trajectory of this key IT benchmark has, for more than a hundred years, followed a predictable path: a doubling of computing power at a given price point from one generation of technology to the next.
The implications of this are huge. Consider: A doubling of power — 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and so on — translates to a one billion fold increase in the price-performance of technology over just 30 generations. Examples of such accelerating IT advances are legion, changes in consumer electronics offering a textbook case.
An exponential growth curve has governed each successive generation of components used to power television sets and computers, from the earliest products integrating large vacuum tubes, to the transistors of the 1960s to today’s silicon chips. The next computing “paradigm,” which Kurzweil expects to take hold within the next 15 years, will be based on three-dimension and self-organizing molecular circuits.
Consider also today’s smart phones, which are several billion times more powerful per dollar than the computers Kurzweil used as an undergraduate student 40-plus years ago. Given this rate of change, he said, the power packed into these mobile devices will reduce to the size of red blood cells within the next 25 years.
This miniaturization, combined with advances in biotechnology, will prove transformative to medicine. Today, scientists are using gene therapy — replacing a patient’s mutated gene with a functional, therapeutic one — to attack a host of inherited diseases. “There are now hundreds of conditions that are being preliminarily treated through the regulatory pipeline using, in effect, reprogrammed biology,” says Kurzweil. “Like other information technologies, biotechnologies have been doubling in ability every year and are a thousand times more powerful than they were 10 years ago.”
According to Kurzweil, within the next 10 to 20 years we’ll see a “profound transformation” of health and medicine, as disease-attacking gene therapies become commercially available. The pace of medical advances will also quicken in tandem with gains in biotechnologies.
Upshot: significant increases in life expectancy one to two decades out. That has major implications for the life insurance industry. As life insurance premiums decline because the products are less expensive to provide, agents and brokers can look forward to sales gains.
Tapping into the cloud
The logarithmic gains in information technology will touch life insurance professionals in another, more powerful way. According to Kurzweil, IT advances by the 2030s will provide access to artificial intelligence (AI) residing on remote servers that emulate the functioning of the human brain.
At Google, Kurzweil is now working on an initiative to create a non-biological neocortex that, like its biological counterpart, can replicate the higher cerebral functions that distinguish the mental capacity of humans from that of other mammals. Examples: the ability to invent language, art, science, technology — and life insurance.
Imagine this: You’re in a meeting with a prospect and you need to think of something appropriate to say to help build rapport. Armed with a fourth generation of Google Glass, you connect to a computer in the cloud that — a billion or 10 billion times more powerful than your own brain — suggests an ironic, funny or clever comment just right for the moment.
Now that’s a scenario worth pondering — no artificial intelligence needed.