Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ray Kurzweil

Writing about the sort of things I do, Ray Kurzweil keeps appearing in my life. Indeed, at one point I started receiving his private emails. I had been in touch with his office and his computer had spontaneously decided to copy me in on his correspondence. The incident is a comical foreshadowing of what Kurzweil calls The Singularity - the day our technology takes over. This is due to happen in the 2040s and, Al Gore-like, Kurzweil is going on the road with a movie about the idea. Having read and talked about The Singularity while researching my masterwork on immortality, I remain puzzled as to why Kurzweil and others welcome the prospect. Obviously once the machines are in charge they can do what they like and enslaving or disposing of us would certainly be high on their to-do list. The bizarre Eliezer Yudkovsky of The Singularity Institute assured me that we could ensure that such a machine would be nice to us. Just as it would be unthinkable to me to kill a baby, so it would be unthinkable to the machine to kill me. He didn't react convincingly to my point that lots of humans kill babies and a machine, being of a different species, would be considerably less inhibited about slaughtering humans.  But this is all, in a sense, beside the point. Belief in The Singularity is a form of technological determinism. It is a very linear way of thinking that depends on the illusion that every scientific development fits into the same story, a story that climaxes some time in the 2040s. The future is the metaphysic that supports this illusion. The future is good, open, wonderful, amazing. You're either for the future or against it. Mulling this over, I glanced at Kurzweil's web site. Plainly the future is going to be horribly badly designed. But the site reminded me of something... And then it came to me. Kurzweil is the American Dawkins.


  1. Futurists give me the hump. It will be a singularity if one of them actually gets something right.

  2. Quite obviously the future cannot be predicted as it is all completely random. Well only random things happen to me..

  3. These clever fools with their optimism. i haven't read his wikipedia entry but i guess he's lived a fairly privileged life and never seen human ugliness, never had to take his action down to the street, wielding a human thigh bone and a hatchet, one man against the mob, one man defending decency against the chav hordes, defending his homicides with passages of Dante and animal growls. What can he know about the future, if he doesn't know the present? And what is the present but unmitigated savagery?

    War is mother of all things, and every child is war. War is all. If the machines ever get conscious, it will merely continue war in another guise.

  4. "American Dawkins". Now there's a Bret Easton Ellis novel waiting to be written.

  5. It won't be this OR that, it will be this AND that. Doubtless the future will be like the kids' show, now adult movie, "Transformers": Some machines will want to protect us, others will want to annihilate us.

    Anyway, the garden of forking paths is continually dividing, backtracking, recrossing. No one can predict the future as long as there are so many possibilities struggling to become realities, all slouching towards Bethlehem to be born.

  6. I probably won't be alive to witness the coming of singularity (or the second coming of whatever), so I don't plan to spend to much time worrying about it, or what happens when it doesn't happen. Which it probably won't. These things just never do.

    As for "slouching towards Bethlehem," I can't help but think of Alan Coren's story about that, smile, and get on with life in the here and now.

  7. Well, they'd better be 64-bit machines else they won't be working after 2038 (a close run thing eh?) due to the Year 2038 Problem.

  8. Many futurists seem to commit the inductive fallacy, assuming that current rates of growth or development will continue into the future. So, if something is currently increasing exponentially, they assume that it will continue to do so. Past evidence seems to indicate, on the contrary, that many things increase exponentially in their early stages, then level off into linear growth, and finally reach logarithmic growth when the law of decreasing returns kicks in, much like this.

  9. Being against the future in some way sounds a bit silly, though it could probably form the basis of a very enjoyable demo in Paris - anti-prophets of the world unite; prophets out out out, etc. I can't see we have a choice about it. All we have is the present moment anyway.

    Imagine always knowing, every split second of your life, what will happen next. That would be knowing the future in some sense and it sounds like hell on earth. There would be no rest, no peace, no happiness and the awful endless boredom of always being right.

    As for tech prophecies, well when have they ever been right. They're usually proved wrong by several orders of magnitude within just a few years. The future pays little or no attention to what we think of it.

  10. Something that people who predict the future often forget:

    Sometimes the point of predicting the future is so that you can change it, guide it, direct it away from the future you see coming.

    In other words, preventive psychohistory rather than merely deterministic psychohistory.

  11. I read Fantastic Voyage, The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, and they changed my life. I even found some of his lectures on Itunes and I find myself impatiently awaiting his next book.

    Recently read another incredible book that I can't recommend highly enough, especially to all of you who also love Ray Kurzweil's work. The book is ""My Stroke of Insight"" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I had heard Dr Taylor's talk on the TED dot com site and I have to say, it changed my world. It's spreading virally all over the internet and the book is now a NYTimes Bestseller, so I'm not the only one, but it is the most amazing talk, and the most impactful book I've read in years. (Dr T also was named to Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People and Oprah had her on her Soul Series last month and I hear they're making a movie about her story so you may already have heard of her)
    If you haven't heard Dr Taylor's TEDTalk, that's an absolute must. The book is more and deeper and better, but start with the video (it's 18 minutes). Basically, her story is that she was a 37 yr old Harvard brain scientist who had a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, and thanks to her amazingly loving and kind mother, she eventually fully recovered (and that part of the book detailing how she did it is inspirational).

    There's a lot of learning and magic in the book, but the reason I so highly recommend My Stroke of Insight to this discussion, is because we have powerfully intelligent left brains that are rational, logical, sequential and grounded in detail and time, and then we have our kinesthetic right brains, where we experience intuition and peace and euphoria. Now that Kurzweil has got us taking all those vitamins and living our best ""Fantastic Voyage"" , the absolute necessity is that we read My Stroke of Insight and learn from Dr Taylor how to achieve balance between our right and left brains. Enjoy!

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