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Science Technology

Interviews: Ask Ray Kurzweil About the Future of Mankind and Technology 244

The recipient of nineteen honorary doctorates, and honors from three U.S. presidents, Ray Kurzweil's accolades are almost too many to list. A prolific inventor, Kurzweil created the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, and the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments. His book, The Singularity Is Near, was a New York Times best seller. and is considered one of the best books about futurism and transhumanism ever written. Mr. Kurzweil was hired by Google in December as Director of Engineering to "work on new projects involving machine learning and language processing." He has agreed to take a short break from creating and predicting the future in order to answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.
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Interviews: Ask Ray Kurzweil About the Future of Mankind and Technology

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  • Your Predictions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Monday January 28, 2013 @12:47PM (#42716299) Journal
    Editors of Wikipedia have taken enough care to meticulously log your predictions []. Are there any that you regret making? Are there any that you think people overlook because now it's painfully obvious but wasn't at the time?
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Monday January 28, 2013 @12:50PM (#42716325) Journal
    I have seen the graphic showing your countdown to the singularity [] and something I've always wondered is how you picked these events and what makes the significant? For example, your list seems to be made of things that would prolong our existence but entries like "Human ancestors walk upright" and "art, early cities" are confusing in that I don't understand how they can be marked as epic achievements. Are you saying that if we had never learned to walk upright we would not have developed intelligence? Are you saying that early cities were somehow superior to ant colonies? Didn't they help spread disease and cause sanitation problems? Can you convince me that this list isn't just arbitrary things that fit into a line?
  • by javilon ( 99157 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @12:55PM (#42716373) Homepage

    What do you think will come first, immortality through repair technology like SENS [], or immortality through mind uploading?

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Monday January 28, 2013 @12:55PM (#42716379) Journal
    I assume that the occurrence of Human Enhancement Technologies (HETs) needs to accelerate for us to hit the singularity in 2045 as you predict. While we cover a lot of them on Slashdot, they either feel like vaporware or just a small improvement on an existing HET. Of the existing technologies [] in actual use they all seem a decade or more old. So where is the acceleration of HETs and their proliferation? Why am I not seeing more normal humans using HETs or at least more original HET options arising? Can you explain what I'm missing?
  • by pkbarbiedoll ( 851110 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @01:00PM (#42716457)

    As technology advances particularly with regard to robotics and AI, we're going to find that a large segment of the human population simply is not needed anymore. In today's political environment I'm simply not seeing the global community embracing strict population control as well as socialism in providing for those who no longer have jobs and are simply using up resources without providing anything in return.

    What do you recommend be done with these billions of people in the coming decades?

  • On patents (Score:5, Interesting)

    by godrik ( 1287354 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @01:05PM (#42716503)

    You invented lots of things that proved to be very useful to a wide range of people and industries. While the patent war is going stronger than ever, do you believe that you could have succesfully develop so many ideas in the current legal context?

  • P = NP? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Karganeth ( 1017580 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @01:08PM (#42716535)
    I am certain that the algorithms being used today will never result with human level AI. If we want to design strong AI we need to first prove P = NP. This is the missing key to solving our AI problems - it's why there's a huge difference between expectations and the reality of AI. I will spend much of my life trying to prove P = NP, no matter how many tell me it's completely futile. Do you think P = NP?
  • Immortality (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Amorymeltzer ( 1213818 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @01:09PM (#42716551)

    It's been said that the first person to live forever has already been born. In what sense is this conceivably true? How would such a medical/technological advance affect society, and how on earth could we avoid something catastrophic from occurring? (If you've ever read the Red Mars trilogy, I think of what happened when the longevity treatment was introduced)

  • by ewg ( 158266 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @01:16PM (#42716635)

    What's the furthest future entry in your personal calendar?

  • Something that bothers me about the singularity is the complete removal of conflict. Okay, we've cheated death eternally, we are merged with machines, nationality is a distant memory and Earth is completely terraformed to be computing space for our vast artificial intelligences. There will no longer be man vs man or man vs environment. Where is the conflict? What causes us to strive for anything? It sounds like a veritable utopia and I should just kick back and let it happen. How will progress be made without conflict?
  • Why progress? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @01:44PM (#42717023)

    Progress... why? You express it as a function of time. Why not a function of "energy controlled"? So when the EROEI of crude oil and/or coal drops below critical value then progress stops and regress begins, right?

  • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @01:52PM (#42717115) Homepage
    As mentioned on Slashdot before [], Bob Gordon argues [] that there have been three Industrial Revolutions, the Steam Revolution in the late 18th century, the Electrical and Car Revolution at the turn of the 20th century and the Data Revolution since the 1950ies. Differently than the first two, which yielded immense productivity and wealth increases, the Data Revolution is not living up to its promises yet, though we have many of its aspects already in place, data processing power is at everyone's[*] disposal, a world wide communication network lets you reach a big part of the world population[*] for nearly zero cost, a tremendous source of information is readily available to everyone[*].
    [*] everyone either living in the Northwestern hemisphere or being wealthy and influencial enough.
    1) Do you agree with Bob Gordon's notion?
    2a) If yes, why is that, and will it change in the near future?
    2b) If no, where do you see the great increase in productivity and wealth, Bob Gordon is missing?

God made machine language; all the rest is the work of man.