Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ray Kurzweil Predicts The Future

He first came to national attention in 1965 when as a teen he was a guest on Steve Allen's I've Got a Secret. For most of those watching he was just as quickly forgotten, though the piano playing computer really was a remarkable achievement.

Over the last two decades I have heard his name in various contexts, occasionally as a tech investment. The name Kurzweil was always spoken with a measure of respect. Words like visionary and genius, and Time magazine has devoted at least two recent articles to presenting his ideas of what tomorrow may look like for the human race.

What's coming is a concept Kurzweil calls Singularity. It is the merging of human intelligence with computer intelligence. The result is something new, totally different than anything that ever existed before.

The case is made that computers will become exponentially smarter in the coming decades, and at that the rate of change will accelerate ever faster. At a certain point, and he predicts 2045, a singularity will occur in which "technological change becomes so rapid and so profound, it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history."

What this will look like is anyone's guess, but Vernon Vinge, in The Coming Technological Singularity, writes, "Within 30 years, we will have the means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."

The Time piece tells readers a little bit about The Singularity University which Kurzweil co-founded. And there is also a Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence which holds an annual conference called the Singularity Summit, which attracts not only neuroscientists and molecular biologists, but a portion of the UFO fringe.

The most talked about topic of the 2010 conference was life extension, a central concept in the film Vanilla Sky. Is old age just an illness to be cured like other diseases?

Like many who predict the future, believers point to past successes to give additional weight to their ideas about tomorrow. For example, Kurzweil once predicted a computer would be able to beat a man in chess, which did occur in 1997. (Deep Blue defeated chess champ Gary Kasparov in six games.) But to suggest the future is all roses because of Singularity feels more wishful than I am prepared to believe.

Questions that come immediately to mind begin with these:
Will supersmart be super wise?
Will superintelligence also produce super kindness? Super generosity? Selflessness? Good government?
Is immortality really good in a broken world?

Here's a link to the full article. If you have a few minutes, it's an interesting read. Feel free to comment.

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