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Ray Kurzweil: The h+ Interview

Photo credit: Guru KhalsaA 3-way conversation with the brilliant and controversial inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil needs little or no introduction to most h+ readers. Principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition, Ray has been described as “the restless genius” by the Wall Street Journal, and “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes. Inc. The magazine ranked him #8 among entrepreneurs in the United States and called him the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison.” His Kurzweil Technologies, Inc. is an umbrella company for at least eight separate enterprises.

Ray‘s writing career rivals his inventions and entrepreneurship. His seminal book, The Singularity is Near, presents the Singularity as an overall exponential (doubling) growth trend in technological development, “a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.” With his upcoming films, Transcendent Man and The Singularity is Near: A True Story about the Future, he is becoming an actor, screenplay writer, and director as well.

Sponsored by the Singularity Institute, the first Singularity Summit was held at Stanford University in 2006 to further understanding and discussion about the Singularity concept and the future of technological progress. Founded by Ray, Tyler Emerson, and Peter Thiel, it is a venue for leading thinkers to explore the idea of the Singularity — whether scientist, enthusiast, or skeptic. Ray also founded Singularity University in 2009 with funding from Google and NASA Ames Research Center. Singularity University offers intensive 10-week, 10-day, or 3-day programs examining sets of technologies and disciplines including future studies and forecasting; biotechnology and bioinformatics; nanotechnology; AI, robotics, and cognitive computing; and finance and entrepreneurship.

Ray headlined the recent Singularity Summit 2009 in New York City with talks on “The Ubiquity and Predictability of the Exponential Growth of Information Technology” and “Critics of the Singularity.” He was able to take a little time out after the Summit for two separate interview sessions with h+ Editor-in-Chief R.U. Sirius and Surfdaddy Orca on a variety of topics including consciousness and quantum computing, purposeful complexity, reverse engineering the brain, AI and AGI, GNR technologies and global warming, utopianism and happiness, his upcoming movies, and science fiction.


RAY KURZWEIL: One area I commented on was the question of a possible link between quantum computing and the brain. Do we need quantum computing to create human level AI? My conclusion is no, mainly because we don‘t see any quantum computing in the brain. Roger Penrose‘s conjecture that there was quantum computing in tubules does not seem to have been verified by any experimental evidence.

Quantum computing is a specialized form of computing where you examine in parallel every possible combination of qubits. So it‘s very good at certain kinds of problems, the classical one being cracking encryption codes by factoring large numbers. But the types of problems that would be vastly accelerated by quantum computing are not things that the human brain is very good at. When it comes to the kinds of problems I just mentioned, the human brain isn‘t even as good as classical computing. So in terms of what we can do with our brains there‘s no indication that it involves quantum computing. Do we need quantum computing for consciousness? The only justification for that conjecture from Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff is that consciousness is mysterious and quantum mechanics is mysterious, so there must be a link between the two.

I get very excited about discussions about the true nature of consciousness, because I‘ve been thinking about this issue for literally 50 years, going back to junior high school. And it‘s a very difficult subject. When some article purports to present the neurological basis of consciousness… I read it. And the articles usually start out, “Well, we think that consciousness is caused by…” You know, fill in the blank. And then it goes on with a big extensive examination of that phenomenon. And at the end of the article, I inevitably find myself thinking… where is the link to consciousness? Where is any justification for believing that this phenomenon should cause consciousness? Why would it cause consciousness?

In his presentation, Hameroff said consciousness comes from gamma coherence, basically a certain synchrony between neurons that create gamma waves that are in a certain frequency, something like around 10 cycles per second. And the evidence is, indeed, that gamma coherence goes away with anesthesia.

Photo credit: Guru KhalsaAnesthesia is an interesting laboratory for consciousness because it extinguishes consciousness. However, there‘s a lot of other things that anesthesia also does away with. Most of the activity of the neocortex stops with anesthesia, but there‘s a little bit going on still in the neocortex. It brings up an interesting issue. How do we even know that we‘re not conscious under anesthesia? We don‘t remember anything, but memory is not the same thing as consciousness. Consciousness seems to be an emergent property of what goes on in the neocortex, which is where we do our thinking. And you could build a neocortex. In fact, they are being built in the Blue Brain project, and Numenta also has some neocortex models. In terms of hierarchies and number of units in the human brain, these projects are much smaller. But they certainly do interesting things. There are no tubules in there, there‘s no quantum computing, and there doesn‘t seem to be a need for it.

Another theory is the idea of purposeful complexity. If you achieve a certain level of complexity, then that is conscious. I actually like that theory the most. I wrote about that extensively in The Singularity is Near. There have been attempts to measure complexity. You have Claude Shannon‘s information theory, which basically involves the smallest algorithm that can generate a string of information. But that doesn‘t deal with random information. Random information is not compressible, and would represent a lot of Shannon information, but it‘s not really purposeful complexity. So you have to factor out randomness. Then you get the concept of arbitrary lists of information. Like, say, the New York telephone book is not random. It‘s only compressible to a limited extent, but it‘s not a high level of complexity. It‘s largely an arbitrary list.

I describe a more meaningful concept of Purposeful Complexity in the book. I propose that there are ways of measuring purposeful complexity. In this theory, humans are more conscious than cats, but cats are conscious, but not quite as much because they‘re not quite as complex. A worm is conscious, but much less so. The sun is conscious. It actually has a fair amount of structure and complexity, but probably less than a cat, so…

SO: How do you go about proving something like that?

RK: Well, that‘s the problem. My thesis is that there‘s really no way to measure consciousness. There‘s no “Consciousness Detector” that you could imagine where the green light comes on and you can so, “OK, this one‘s conscious!” Or, “No, this one isn‘t conscious.”

Even among humans, there‘s no clear consensus as to who‘s conscious and who is not. We‘re discovering now that people who are considered minimally conscious, or even in a vegetative state, actually have quite a bit going on in their neocortex and we‘ve been able to communicate with some of them using either real-time brain scanning or other methods.

Today, nobody worries too much about causing pain and suffering to their computer software. But we will get to a point where the emotional reactions of virtual beings will be convincing, unlike the characters in the computer games today. And that will become a real issue. That‘s the whole thesis of my movie, The Singularity is Near. But it really comes down to the fact that it‘s not a scientific issue, which is to say there‘s still a role for philosophy.

How do we even know that we‘re not conscious under anesthesia? We don‘t remember anything, but memory is not the same thing as consciousness.

Some scientists say, “Well, it‘s not a scientific issue, therefore it‘s not a real issue. Therefore consciousness is just an illusion and we should not waste time on it.” But we shouldn‘t be too quick to throw it overboard because our whole moral system and ethical system is based on consciousness. If I cause suffering to some other conscious human, that‘s considered immoral and probably a crime. On the other hand, if I destroy some property, it‘s probably okay if it‘s my property. If it‘s your property, it‘s probably not okay. But that‘s not because I‘m causing pain and suffering to the property. I‘m causing pain and suffering to the owner of the property.

And there‘s recognition that animals are probably conscious and that animal cruelty is not okay. But it‘s okay to cause pain and suffering to the avatar in your computer, at least today. That may not be the case 20 years from now.


RK: I‘m working on a book called How the Mind Works and How to Build One. It‘s mostly about the brain, but the reason I call it the mind rather than the brain is to bring in these issues of consciousness. A brain becomes a mind as it melds with its own body, and in fact, our sort of circle of identity goes beyond our body. We certainly interact with our environment. It‘s not a clear distinction between who we are and what we are not.

My concept of the value of reverse engineering the human brain is not that you just simulate a brain in a sort of mechanistic way, without trying to understand what is going on. David Chalmers says he doesn‘t think this is a fruitful direction. And I would agree that just simulating a brain… mindlessly, so to speak… that‘s not going to get you far enough. The purpose of reverse engineering the human brain is to understand the basic principles of intelligence.

Once you have a simulation working, you can start modifying things. Certain things may not matter. Some things may be very critical. So you learn what‘s important. You learn the basic principles by which the human brain handles hierarchies and variance, properties of patterns, high-level features and so on. And it appears that the neocortex has this very uniform structure. If we learn those principles, we can then engineer them and amplify them and focus on them. That‘s engineering.

Now, a big evolutionary innovation with homo sapiens is that we have a bigger forehead so that we could fit a larger cortex. But it‘s still quite limited. And it‘s running on the substrate that transmits information from one part of the brain to another at a few hundred feet per second, which is a million times slower than electronics. The intra-neural connections compute at about 100 or 200 calculations per second, which is somewhere between 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 times slower than electronics. So if we can get past the substrates, we don‘t have to settle for a billion of these recognizers. We could have a trillion of them, or a thousand trillion. We could have many more hierarchal levels. We can design it to solve more difficult problems.

Photo credit: Guru Khalsa

So that‘s really the purpose of reverse engineering the human brain. But there are other benefits. We‘ll get more insight into ourselves. We‘ll have better means for fixing the brain. Right now, we have vague psychiatric models as to what‘s going on in the brain of someone with bipolar disease or schizophrenia. We‘ll not only understand human function, we‘ll understand human dysfunction. We‘ll have better means of fixing those problems. And moreover we‘ll “fix” the limitation that we all have in thinking in a very small, slow, fairly-messily organized substrate. Of course, we have to be careful. What might seem like just a messy arbitrary complexity that evolution put in may in fact be part of some real principle that we don‘t understand at first.

I‘m not saying this is simple. But on the other hand, I had this debate with John Horgan, who wrote a critical article about my views in IEEE Spectrum. Horgan says that we would need trillions of lines of code to emulate the brain and that‘s far beyond the complexity that we‘ve shown we can handle in our software. The most sophisticated software programs are only tens of millions of lines of code. But that‘s complete nonsense. Because, first of all, there‘s no way the brain could be that complicated. The design of the brain is in the genome. The genome — well… it‘s 800 million bytes. Well, back up and take a look at that. It‘s 3 billion base pairs, 6 billion bits, 800 million bytes before compression — but it‘s replete with redundancies. Lengthy sequences like ALU are repeated hundreds of thousands of times. In The Singularity is Near, I show that if you apply lossless compression, you get down to about 50 million bytes. About half of that is the brain, so that‘s about 25 million bytes. That‘s about a million lines of code. That‘s one derivation. You could also look at the amount of complexity that appears to be necessary to perform functional simulations of different brain regions. You actually get about the same answer, about a million lines of code. So with two very different methods, you come up with a similar order of magnitude. There just isn‘t trillions of lines of code — of complexity — in the design of the brain. There is trillions, or even thousands of trillions of bytes of information, but that‘s not complexity because there‘s massive redundancy.

Just simulating a brain… mindlessly, so to speak… that‘s not going to get you far enough.

For instance, the cerebellum, which comprises half the neurons in the brain and does some of our skill formation, has one module repeated 10 billion times with some random variation with each repetition within certain constraints. And there are only a few genes that describe the wiring of the cerebellum that comprise a few tens of thousands of bytes of design information. As we learn skills like catching a fly ball — then it gets filled up with trillions of bytes of information. But just like we don‘t need trillions of bytes of design information to design a trillion-byte memory system, there are massive redundancies and repetition and a certain amount of randomness in the implementation of the brain. It‘s a probabilistic fractal. If you look at the Mandelbrot set, it is an exquisitely complex design.

SO: So you‘re saying the initial intelligence that passes the Turing test is likely to be a reverse-engineered brain, as opposed to a software architecture that‘s based on weighted probabilistic analysis, genetic algorithms, and so forth?

RK: I would put it differently. We have a toolkit of AI techniques now. I actually don‘t draw that sharp a distinction between narrow AI techniques and AGI techniques. I mean, you can list them — Markov models, different forms of neural nets and genetic algorithms, logic systems, search algorithms, learning algorithms. These are techniques. Now, they go by the label AGI. We‘re going to add to that tool kit as we learn how the human brain does it. And then, with more and more powerful hardware, we‘ll be able to put together very powerful systems.

My vision is that all the different avenues — studying individual neurons, studying brain wiring, studying brain performance, simulating the brain either by doing neuron-by-neuron simulations or functional simulations — and then, all the AI work that has nothing to do with direct emulation of the brain — it‘s all helping. And we get from here to there through thousands of little steps like that, not through one grand leap.


SO: James Lovelock, the ecologist behind the Gaia hypothesis, came out a couple of years ago with a prediction that more than 6 billion people are going to perish by the end of this century, mostly because of climate change. Do you see the GNR technologies coming on line to mitigate that kind of a catastrophe?

Photo credit: transcendentman.comRK: Absolutely. Those projections are based on linear thinking, as if nothing‘s going to happen over the next 50 or 100 years. It‘s ridiculous. For example, we‘re applying nanotechnology to solar panels. The cost per watt of solar energy is coming down dramatically. As a result, the amount of solar energy is growing exponentially. It‘s doubling every two years, reliably, for the last 20 years. People ask, “Is there really enough solar energy to meet all of our energy needs?” It‘s actually 10,000 times more than we need. And yes you lose some with cloud cover and so forth, but we only have to capture one part in 10,000. If you put efficient solar collection panels on a small percentage of the deserts in the world, you would meet 100% of our energy needs. And there‘s also the same kind of progress being made on energy storage to deal with the intermittency of solar. There are only eight doublings to go before solar meets100% of our energy needs. We‘re awash in sunlight and these new technologies will enable us to capture that in a clean and renewable fashion. And then, geothermal — you have the potential for incredible amounts of energy.

Global warming — regardless of what you think of the models and whether or not it‘s been human-caused —it‘s only been one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years. There just isn‘t a dramatic global warming so far. I think there are lots of reasons we want to move away from fossil fuels, but I would not put greenhouse gasses at the top of the list.

These new energy technologies are decentralized. They‘re relatively safe. Solar energy, unlike say nuclear power plants and other centralized facilities, are safe from disaster and sabotage and are non-polluting. So I believe that‘s the future of energy, and of resource utilization in general.


R.U. SIRIUS: Have any critics of your ideas offered a social critique that gives you pause?

RK: I still think Bill Joy articulated the concerns best in his Wired cover story of some years ago. My vision is not a utopian one. For example, I‘m working with the U.S. Army on developing a rapid response system for biological viruses, and that‘s actually the approach that I advocate — that we need to put resources and attention to the downsides. But I think we do have the scientific tools to create a rapid response system in case of a biological viral attack. It took us five years to sequence HIV; we can sequence a virus now in one day. And we could, in a matter of days, create an RNA interference medication based on sequencing a new biological virus. This is something we created to contend with software viruses. And we have a technological immune system that works quite well.

And we also need ethical standards for responsible practitioners of AI, similar to the Asilomar Guidelines for biotech, or the Forsyth Institute Guidelines for nanotech, which are based on the Asilomar Guidelines. So it‘s a complicated issue. We can‘t just come up with a simple solution and then just cross it off our worry list. On the other hand, these technologies can vastly expand our creativity. They‘ve already democratized the tools of creativity. And they are overcoming human suffering, extending our longevity and can provide not only radical life extension but radical life expansion.

There‘s a lot of talk about existential risks. I worry that painful episodes are even more likely. You know, 60 million people were killed in WWII. That was certainly exacerbated by the powerful destructive tools that we had then. I‘m fairly optimistic that we will make it through. I‘m less optimistic that we can avoid painful episodes. I do think decentralized communication actually helps reduce violence in the world. It may not seem that way because you just turn on CNN and you‘ve got lots of violence right in your living room. But that kind of visibility actually helps us to solve problems.

Photo credit: Guru Khalsa

RUS: You‘ve probably heard the phrase from critics of the Singularity — they call it the “Rapture of the Nerds.” And a lot of people who are into this idea do seem to envision the Singularity as a sort of magical place where pretty much anything can happen and all your dreams come true. How do you separate your view of the Singularity from a utopian view?

RK: I don‘t necessarily think they are utopian. I mean, the whole thing is difficult to imagine. We have a certain level of intelligence and it‘s difficult to imagine what it would mean and what would happen when we vastly expand that. It would be like asking cavemen and women, “Well, gee, what would you like to have?” And they‘d say, “Well, we‘d like a bigger rock to keep the animals out of our cave and we‘d like to keep this fire from burning out?” And you‘d say, “Well, don‘t you want a good web site? What about your Second Life habitat?” They couldn‘t imagine these things. And those are just technological innovations.

So the future does seem magical. But that gets back to that Arthur C. Clark quote that any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic. That‘s the nature of technology — it transcends limitations that exist without that technology. Television and radio seem magical — you have these waves going through the air, and they‘re invisible, and they go at the speed of light and they carry pictures and sounds. So think of a substrate that‘s a million times faster. We‘ll be overcoming problems at a very rapid rate, and that will seem magical. But that doesn‘t mean it‘s not rooted in science and technology.

I say it‘s not utopian because it also introduces new problems. Artificial Intelligence is the most difficult to contend with, because whereas we can articulate technical solutions to the dangers of biotech, there‘s no purely technical solution to a so-called unfriendly AI. We can‘t just say, “We‘ll just put this little software code sub-routine in our AIs, and that‘ll keep them safe.” I mean, it really comes down to what the goals and intentions of that artificial intelligence are. We face daunting challenges.

RUS: I think when most people think of utopia, they probably just think about everybody being happy and feeling good.

RK: I really don‘t think that‘s the goal. I think the goal has been demonstrated by the multi-billion-year history of biological evolution and the multi-thousand-year history of technological evolution. The goal is to be creative and create entities of beauty, of insight, that solve problems. I mean, for myself as an inventor, that‘s what makes me happy. But it‘s not a state that you would seek to be in at all times, because it‘s fleeting. It‘s momentary.

To sit around being happy all the time is not the goal. In fact, that‘s kind of a downside. Because if we were to just stimulate our pleasure centers and sit around in a morphine high at all times — that‘s been recognized as a downside and it ultimately leads to a profound unhappiness. We can identify things that make us unhappy. If we have diseases that rob our faculties or cause physical or emotional pain — that makes us unhappy and prevents us from having these moments of connection with another person, or a connection with an idea, then we should solve that. But happiness is not the right goal. I think it represents the cutting edge of the evolutionary condition to seek greater horizons and to always want to transcend whatever our limitations are at the time. And so it‘s not our nature just to sit back and be happy.


RUS: You‘ve got two films coming out, Transcendent Man and The Singularity is Near. What do you think the impact will be of having those two films out in the world?

I think there are anti-technology movements that continue to spread among the intelligentsia that are actually pretty ignorant.

RK: Well, Transcendent Man has already premiered at the Tribeca film festival and it will have an international premier at the Amsterdam documentary film festival next month. There‘s quite a lot of interest in that, and there are discussions with distributors. So it‘s expected to have a theatrical release both in this country and internationally early next year. And The Singularity is Near will follow.

Movies are a really different venue. They cover less content than a book but they have more emotional impact. It‘s a big world out there. No matter how many times I speak — and even with all the press coverage of all these ideas, whether it‘s featuring me or others — I‘m impressed by how many otherwise thoughtful people still haven‘t heard of these ideas.

I think it‘s important that people not just understand the Singularity, which is some decades away, but the impact right now, and in the fairly near future, of the exponential growth of information technology. It‘s not an obscure part of the economy and the social scene. Every new period is going to bring new opportunities and new challenges. These are the issues that people should be focusing on. It‘s not just the engineers who should be worrying about the downsides of biotechnology or nanotechnology, for example. And people should also understand the opportunities. And I think there are anti-technology movements that continue to spread among the intelligentsia that are actually pretty ignorant.

RUS: Do you read science fiction novels and watch science fiction television, or science fiction movies?

RK: I have seen most of the popular science fiction movies.

RUS: Any that you find particularly interesting or enjoyable?

RK: Well, one problem with a lot of science fiction — and this is particularly true of movies — is they take one change, like the human-level cyborgs in the movie AI, and they put it in a world that is otherwise unchanged. So in AI, the coffee maker is the same and the cars are the same. There‘s no virtual reality, but you had human-level cyborgs. Part of the reason for that is the limitation of the form. To try to present a world in which everything is quite different would take the whole movie, and people wouldn‘t be able to follow it very easily. It‘s certainly a challenge to do that. I am in touch with some movie makers who want to try to do that.

I thought The Matrix was pretty good in its presentation of virtual reality. And they also had sort of AI-based people in that movie, so it did present a number of ideas. Some of the concepts were arbitrary as to how things work in the matrix, but it was pretty interesting.


  1. Ray comments only about the quantum brain dinamical view ( that really has lab huge evidences) of Hameroff and Penrose, forgoting the vastness of the quantum-holographic stream of consciousness developed by Karl Pribram , Yasue and Jibu, that is distributed and founded in holographic non-locality.
    SEE my paper in Quantum Biosystem Vol. 1 – n. 3 – 2008-2009. AND SEND IT TO RAY

    Francisco Di Biase (2009) A Holoinformational Model of Consciousness. Quantum Biosystems. 1(3) 207-220

  2. Always thought-provoking!

  3. I take Kurzweil in high consideration but he should review his opinions concerning the energetic problem and climate change. I find his conclusions definitely too simplistic considering the solar energy as solution of the whole energetic problem. It’s clear that it could be only in theory.

  4. First off for the poster who thinks clothing is far away, look at lumalive or . As you can see it’s old tech already P :). Also when you add EEG, EKG, ultrasound, or fMRI tech to it, you get fabric that can look into the human body. Say a head cap that gives you a 3D rendering of the brain firing real time, or a suite that renders internal organs and such. As to the eye glasses part , as you see 3D through corrective optics tech and the eye layers. And as ghost in the shell to a point predicted and got so close to they missed some important thing that already are, just like ray missed some of it. I also see very few that see the current imbalance of knowledge basses, that a techno mage like paradigm has actually happened already for some. And you add the social engineering aspect of it and things have been fun tinkering with, some even use the words like telekinetic like or magical already in social structures. It’s no different than the computer security types as they even try to keep up with what is. From cracking 56K single layer key encryption in less than 24 hours to hard cracks like this which they just found but was there for some time, and just miss perceived by most and rarely used till now. The Arthur C. Clark part is correct, but I think even he would be amazed with some of the current tech waves rippling threw societies. Social media like this and movies and books and even concerts and plays will help the majority of people in social structures evolve to certain levels, but a disparage will still exist for some to. As is I see how whole nations and military industrial complexes are missing some of the weirdness that already exists today. Oh and as to NASA they have been lost for a long time now, and are almost clueless to some of the ramifications already at play. Yes you’ll see industry and others look into powerful analytical A.I. systems like the greek immortals “The fates”, A analytical A.I. for analyzing the past in different perspectives, then a A.I. for using that on the present and to refine possible misperceived deviations, then to the future A.I. which tries to predict future events or convergences or even technology. Analytical A.I. will have huge impacts on humanity to come. And as borders and nationalities disappear and some reform and try to adapt, some people will fight useless battles as even they get further left behind from the present state of things. Like I’ve been trying to tell and show some people, a weird techno mage like paradigm is emerging, that to some degrees it lies right outside a persons current perception. Very cool to see first hand, but it has many many ramifications when pondered out as the human deviations show themselves as happening already.

    Now for the conundrum, or Irony that lies within. The problem with what ray said about needing laws or regulations governing some of the technology. Well that doesn’t matter if 1 you don’t know those rule sets, 2 you don’t care or abide by those rule sets, 3 if something is so far outside those rule sets due to some peoples lack of perceptive angles and for thought, 4 the self gain or social gain belittles or voids those rule sets, 5 the build it and they will come, without seeing a crossing of the rule sets, 6 not worrying about the rule sets as they are for social structures and the person might not relate to such structures as others perceive and they have their own rule sets that differ from most humans, ECT… Now you see why I see the laws and social rule sets prevoided and mute point to varying degrees, as they are for the social types or hierarchical structuralism types. Rule sets are for those that want to conform also, and that normally narrows perceptions to extents. As to the painful human deviations that occur, they will keep happening with more and more variants, and many more twists. The cosmic Irony will smack some in the face as they are running toward the cliff in the middle of a storm and don’t even see the side of the cliff coming, from being blinded by the surrounding storm. And last note to the trillions of lines of code, It’s more like 140+ terabytes of cross referenced and cross structured data with sentient architecture interwoven into it’s cross matrixes, and just billions of code lines that can rewrite themselves when better structures are found and tested by such A.I. . Oh well 2 cents for the kettle :)

  5. I posit that consciousness and perception are intimately tied together…that consciousness arises from our capacity to learn…whether it be us or a cat, — we learn therefore we are — if this is true, then technological singularity may indeed bring to life, albeit indirectly, a man made being. man-made only in the sense that certain technology originating technologies conceived and “made” by man allowed consciousness to be created, just as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and other elements, perhaps made by some other intelligent life form, gave the appropriate conditions necessary for life to take hold on earth. however, we should not be so arrogant to believe that we can create life. life is created by itself, by struggling to understand, from learning to survive. but then what sets us apart from trees… perhaps nothing… perhaps we are just too primitive to understand their pain…

    “we learn, therefore we are” -PwZ

  6. As I have mentioned before, in another thread on Kurzweil, I think he does quite well understanding how technology grows, but sometimes seems a little shortsighted on something fundamental, that being the uses to which people will put technologies.

    Because of this I think he’s overlooked something which I think will be critical. Before Genomics, Nanotech, or Robotics even has a chance to develop and begin influencing the world, VR will turn everything upside down.

    Ray does indeed mention VR, even talks about it considerably in TSIN, but I don’t think he’s really put 2 and 2 together about it. He talks about virtual conference, virtual laboratories, and other high level applications, but the real power of VR won’t be in business, board rooms, or universities.

    VR is a direct descendant of two things. The internet, and video games. For every quite logical, and quite useful, application of VR, for remote conferencing, education, research modeling, etc, it’s the illogical, weird, and all too human use which VR will be put to use for that will drive the revolution.

    VR will allow us to actually BE THERE during a history class… It will also allow us to go hang out with our buddies from a country around the world.
    VR will allow business men to meet for Virtual Conferences… then allow those same businessmen to wonder down to the virtual strip club for after work socializing, and the REAL negotiations.
    VR will help scientists the world over visualize there work and experiments in greater detail, as if they were watching atoms directly… and allow them to do so while they hang out in the Enterprise’s “Ten Forward” lounge.

    For every serious application for VR, there will be hundreds of thousands of non-serious uses. And it is those non-serious uses which will revolutionize our world. From a Google Earth that is a 100% accurate copy of the real world, to applications allowing the virtual to be overlayed over reality in our glasses/contacts/implants to full interactive virtual environments to the non-stop record of your personal reality needed to make all the others work, this next decade promises to be far more transformative than most anyone wants to believe.

    Ray’s right. GNR will change our world forever… I just think he’s failed to realize, VR will change it first.

  7. Great article, but must be a bit of an old interview since he talks about the release of his movie at the Amsterdam film festival “next month”, which was November — unfortunately, in the past. So, those of us in Amsterdam don’t actually get the full benefit of the article now, when we could still see the movie at the festival.

  8. I’ve shared this article with my friends…some of whom regard Kurzweil as a myopic hack. I think this interview demonstrates he’s much more balanced and sober than many people give him credit. He’s obviously aware of the dialectic of progress, and he seems totally comfortable viewing consciousness as something correlated with (rather than caused by) material organization across all scales of organization.

    “The Sun is conscious.” Beautiful! But I disagree that the Sun’s vastly intricate electromagnetic structure is LESS intricate than a human brain…

  9. I take Kurzweil in high consideration. As you can see it’s not any sort of exhalted geek but a rational person who can articulate his thesis in detail. Exalthed individuals can’t and they usually don’t go very far, you soon find out they’re a bluff. Differently, the more you read Kurzweil’s writings, the more you understand he’s vastly right (if not completely, depending on your insights on these issues) because that’s where our world is CURRENTLY going, even if the most of the people don’t recognize the trends, and they’re subsequently missing the opportunity to help in the process, not to mention that a part of the population is dumbly luddist: they don’t understand the advantages of living the present times, what improvements the future can bring, and keep fantasizing about the past that was never nice as in their memories. Listening to Kurzweil is, to me, the opposite of being utopian, it’s taking a grasp of reality, to know exactly where we came and where we’re going to. I once wrote to him saying that I shared most of his views, but even though he, I and many others were risking to be proved wrong as, for example, with communism or other past ideologies, I was sure the Singularity theory was more pragmatic and that was rooted in the solid reality of the undebatable fact (by looking at the whole history of the human kind) things keep improving at a progressively faster rate and that I felt despise for those who didn’t even realize that.

  10. VR is not that much without direct neural interface. It has some uses but it will not make revolution until you connect your brain directly. And by the time we have good neural interface suitable for general public, we will already have advanced nano/bio technologies and probably some capable AI as well. So VR will reach its full potential during the revolution caused by other technologies and not otherwise.

  11. One thing I will give RK credit for is he is quite good at forecasting TRENDS. It’s only in specifics that he runs into trouble. He’s better than anyone else at understanding the directions we are heading, but like any forecaster, he can’t see all the bumps in the road.

    In my opinion, Kurzweil’s biggest flaw is he’s got far less grasp of the realities of human nature than he has of technological development. The hardware and infoware has been kicking right along, but humans keep tossing wrenches in the works.

    Another thing I think he often overlooks is that many technologies he predicts have multiple factors involved. Take the Networked Body Lan.

    In order for the NBL to be practical it has to:

    A: be flexible, durable, and washable if it’s embedded in clothing.
    B: be cheap, disposable, and mix and matchable for fashion choice.
    C: be maintenance free, possess long battery life, and not require complicated recharging procedures.

    Fashion is not the same field as electronics… yet. In part because Xerox has only just recently perfected electronics printing capability. Until now, embedding electronics into clothing has been a matter of fitting small circuit boards in unobtrusive places in clothes, running wires through them, and almost none of it has been wash and wear.

    But that is going to change. Electronics can now be printed directly into cloth. Ultracapacitance batteries can be made from CNT’s mixed in ink. Quantum Dot solar cells are being developed. The first commercial FLEXIBLE display has just hit the market.

    Give it five to six years, and I do think we will begin seeing the integration of our electronics with our clothes. The “Smartphone” will be the primary component, linked to cloth that is nothing BUT a flexible display, with an ultracap-battery that is the thin lining between the inner and outer layers, quantum dot solarcells to keep the whole thing constantly charged by any ambient light source, and connected to the SP via a bluetooth like wireless net. It’s even possible that smart muscle fibers might allow clothing with variable degrees of fit.

    But to get to that point, we had to develop ways to move displays from glass to flexible substrates, find ways to remove the fiberglass and discrete component electronics from the equation via electronics printing, and make it all cheap enough to sell for 10 bucks at the Walmart.

    We aren’t there yet, but we are well on our way.

    So basically, we could be said to be in the “very expensive/only kinda works” stage, but for many of the SPECIFIC technologies RK talks about until they actually reach the “Really Cheap/Works incredibly well” stage, they simply will not be adopted by the general public.

    And btw, those “video glasses” are going to be coming too. That’s another thing that won’t make a big splash until they reach “cheap/well” stage, at which point, they’re probably going to become the replacement for those Smartphones. They’ve figured out a means to make transparent VLSI chips now. Mate those with flexible cheap displays, and the continuing rise of AR apps for smartphones, I don’t think it will be terribly long before iGlasses hit the market as the iPhone replacement. Your “hands free” always active communications device/AR interface/VR device. Once Project Natal get out, we’re likely to see it’s motion capture technology migrating to Smartphones too. You’ll simply put on your glasses, tuck in your earphones, and control your SP via a “virtual console” suspended in space before you as the built in cameras not only provide AR overlays, but motion capture as well.

    We’ll be walking down the street, our iGlasses on, our iWear set to whatever display we want, fully immersed in the real world and the web at one and the same time.

    It’ll just take a few years longer than Ray thought it would.

  12. Ray did not invent the first instrument capable of recreating the piano as stated in this article. His invention followed the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument.

  13. I agree – VR could be huge. The vast majority of humanity will probably be in ‘the matrix’ playing some ‘ender’s game’ long before solar, nano etc get around to us in a profound way. Those are just kinks for the ‘bots to iron out.

    What I wonder about is whether we will manage to stay coherent as a species as new evolutionary/ technological options materialize for us. Thus far we’ve done a remarkably good job keeping all humans speaking more or less the same language… but what happens when one person decides to adopt ten rocket launchers and be a mech soldier, another decides to jack into the ‘net and forego physical existence, and another woman decides to upload her consciousness as the AI of martha stewart’s dreamhouse.. ? Will all these people still recognize each other as the same species?

  14. Precisely why equal rights are so important. We must come to realize that equality must be extended to any sentient. It doesn’t matter if it’s human, uplifted animal, AI, or Alien, it is imperative that we be willing to extend to all sentient beings the same freedoms we wish for ourselves.

    Fortunately, I don’t think we’re going to be able to deny that truism much longer. Once people get used to VR, and to being any one of an infinite number of possible forms, I think we’ll simply lose our ability to be xenophobic. You can’t maintain the myths of racism when skin color is matter of choice, or defend the enforcement of gender role stereotypes when people can change gender on a whim.

    To be honest, I think by the time AI and Uplifting comes around, we’re going to be so used to anthropomorphs and cyborgs that we may not even notice them joining in the endless variety of experience.

  15. I’ve always been a strong believer in the human potential. In the potential of any intelligence able to set it’s priorities, and the ability to alter it’s enviroment.

    RK basically gave people like us a very good model on which to theorise. Brilliant ideas!

    On topic of VR being a precursor to nanotech and AI etc.

    I strongly disagree with VR playing a major role before other revolutions take place. The examples given about scientists sharing views in VR and business going to a virtual stripclub already implies you have the tools to perfectly embody these scientists and businessmen and respectively their research items and their businesses.

    Why go trough the difficulty of doing your research in VR when you can simply hold a video conferrence? When you can just email pictures of statistics or a video, why would you try to represent it in a VR. I dont NEED VR to communicate with peers!

    The technologies proposed by RK would however change interractions trumendously;

    Holograms instead of VR (VR in a later stage perhaps when we do not longer need physical bodies? If already we dismiss a physical form)

    Immensely faster means to travel, allowing me to visit ppl on the other side of the world in an houre.

    Maybe you’re just overreacting a little with the whole VR thing. In todays world you DO need your body, and dwelling in a VR isn’t really healthy ;p If that’s insulting your current way of life, i’m sorry. But in our current day & age, we still need to take care of our physical selves ^^.

    Thanks for reading. Always happy to provide feedback concerning this post!

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