These sweeping statements were a little much for "In the Pipeline" blogger Derek Lowe, a 20-year drug industry veteran. "Kurzweil really seemed to be living in 1997" when he wrote that, Lowe says. "There's a lot more to figuring out how diseases progress than knowing the human genome." For instance, "there are a huge number of diseases with no genetic correlation at all, or some like schizophrenia with a list of genes as long as your leg that are sort of associated with schizophrenia sometimes in some populations."
Kurzweil's optimism was also a bit much for the data: Torcetrapib recently failed in one of the most expensive debacles in pharmaceutical history. "Two to three hundred years from now people may look at this guy and think he was a prophet," Lowe says. "But there's going to be a tremendous amount of money, blood and sweat spent in that intervening time for these prophecies to come true. I don't necessarily disagree with him. I think his timeline is off."
WHAT HE'S DOING NOW: That's not to say technological change can't be swift. For instance, Kurzweil's new reading machine—co-developed with the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) as the KNFB Reader Mobile—fits into a cell phone. Blind or dyslexic users simply take a picture of the text in question and the phone reads it to them. The software sells for around $1500). "It reads magazines on airplanes, restaurant menus, coffee pouches in hotel rooms, currency in any location, the signs on hotel walls, and sometimes the bottles or cans in the cupboard or the boxes in the freezer," says Marc Maurer, NFB's president. "It can identify the bills, read the mail, disclose the contents of books, and sometimes read the visual displays on automatic teller machines or other devices. Furthermore, it will do this at any time of day or night, and is polite about it." The technology behind the machine helped Kurzweil win the $500,000 Lemelson–M.I.T. Prize in 2001.
In addition to inventing, predicting and running his supplement company, these days Kurzweil also runs a hedge fund called FatKat and is writing a book on how a machine can imitate the brain. The subject of a forthcoming documentary called Transcendent Man, Kurzweil says he still gets the same magical sensation he felt as a five-year-old when he sees people using his products. "You can change people's lives with technology," he marvels. "That's the goal of being an inventor."