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5 June 2012

Should you bother watching the Transit of Venus?

Yes, unless you believe Kurzweil...

By Michael Brooks

Of course you don’t need to get up to watch the Transit of Venus tomorrow. Didn’t you see those keyboards on the Jubilee Concert stage? Ray Kurzweil, the man whose name was writ large on millions of TV screens for hours (or did it just seem like hours?) last night, knows what he’s doing. You don’t get that kind of product placement without having a bit of nous.

Kurzweil used to be a developer of reading machines for the blind; it turned out that his technology was also useful for synthesising the sounds of musical instruments. The rest is Jubilee history.

But, while Kurzweil’s got to be pleased with the TV presence, he is no doubt fuming at today’s papers, with all these science writers saying that tomorrow marks our last chance to see the Transit of Venus. Haven’t they heard? Science has made it clear that our generation will still be around in December 2117, when Venus next passes between the Earth and the sun.

Kurzweil, now working as a futurologist, announced this via The Sun (the newspaper, not the burning ball of gas).

“I and many other scientists now believe that in around 20 years we will have the means to reprogramme our bodies’ stone-age software so we can halt, then reverse, ageing. Then nanotechnology will let us live for ever.”

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Even better news: that was September 2009, which means that we’re only 17 or so years from reversing ageing and living forever. So what’s the point of getting up at 5 am tomorrow morning? I’m sure the 2117 viewing will be at a much more convenient time. Plus, by then, Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting technology will have matured to give us an unobstructed view.

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It might be worth pointing out that the views of Kurzweil and his “many other scientists” are not uncontested in scientific spheres. If you’re thinking about staying in bed during the Transit, you might consider reading Leonard Hayflick’s take on the success of research into fighting the ageing process. The fact that it’s called “No Truth to the Fountain of Youth” and signed by 50 real, named scientists probably tells you all you need to know.  You’re not going to live forever. Just set the alarm.