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Ray Kurzweil's Slippery Futurism

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the headlines-that-sound-like-pornos dept.

Technology 308

wjousts writes "Well-known futurist Ray Kurzweil has made many predictions about the future in his books The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990), The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) and The Singularity is Near (2005), but how well have his predictions held up now that we live 'in the future'? IEEE Spectrum has a piece questioning the Kurzweil's (self proclaimed) accuracy. Quoting: 'Therein lie the frustrations of Kurzweil's brand of tech punditry. On close examination, his clearest and most successful predictions often lack originality or profundity. And most of his predictions come with so many loopholes that they border on the unfalsifiable. Yet he continues to be taken seriously enough as an oracle of technology to command very impressive speaker fees at pricey conferences, to author best-selling books, and to have cofounded Singularity University, where executives and others are paying quite handsomely to learn how to plan for the not-too-distant day when those disappearing computers will make humans both obsolete and immortal.'"

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308 comments

Claims made about the future were wrong (1)

Eudial (590661) | more than 3 years ago | (#34380822)

News at 11.

It's worse than that... (2, Informative)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 3 years ago | (#34380996)

"Claims made about the future were wrong"

Actually, the accusation is that the claims aren't even wrong. [wikipedia.org]

Re:It's worse than that... (3, Insightful)

davester666 (731373) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381066)

"Claims made about the future were so vague that they can't be wrong."

now for -- the rest of the story.. (5, Funny)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381374)

Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown... the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?

-- Criswell


oh, wait, you said Kurzweil...

Re:It's worse than that... (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381492)

"Claims made about the future were wrong"

Actually, I'm pretty sure he predicted he'd sell a bunch of books and his pubisher believed him. Sometimes all it takes is one believer to make something happen.

Re:It's worse than that... (1)

RDW (41497) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381564)

He's made some pretty dubious claims about the present, too, like the whole thing about the human genome being compressible to as little as 50 Mb, about an order of magnitude better than anyone has managed without cheating (e.g. by just compressing the diff to the reference sequence, or ignoring non-coding sequences). Publish the algorithm!

Re:Claims made about the future were wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381350)

Criswell was better, at least a better 'doo.

Re:Claims made about the future were wrong (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381588)

why do I get the feeling that there will be no news at 11 covering this?

Another failed prediction?

Any universities offering courses in Futurism? (5, Informative)

spun (1352) | more than 3 years ago | (#34380846)

Seems like a lucrative field. I bet I could do it! Let me think, ah, in the future... Nope. I got nothin'.

Re:Any universities offering courses in Futurism? (2, Informative)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 3 years ago | (#34380876)

In the future, there will be robots, although for some reason they're all wearing tight, sequined pants.

Re:Any universities offering courses in Futurism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34380962)

No we won't be wearing that, meatbag.

And bite my shiny metal ass.

Re:Any universities offering courses in Futurism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34380922)

They named some of their departments "Physics and Astronomy".

Re:Any universities offering courses in Futurism? (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381070)

Hey, the important thing is, he has found a way to make a LOT of money off of doing this.

And I've learned, just because one or more people are already making money off of some idea, it doesn't mean you can't do it too!

Hm...time to prognosticate and self publish, and then figure a way to drive traffic to my rants and validate them.

2)?????

3) Profit!!

(ok, so I cut a step or two...new business model)

Re:Any universities offering courses in Futurism? (5, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381074)

Seems like a lucrative field. I bet I could do it! Let me think, ah, in the future... Nope. I got nothin'.

I predict you'll be modded 'Funny', then 'Overrated' and finally 'Informative'.

Re:Any universities offering courses in Futurism? (1, Flamebait)

spun (1352) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381326)

Holy Crap! This man is the real deal! Did you see what he did there, folks? He predicted the future!

Re:Any universities offering courses in Futurism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381644)

Just predict that a /. reader will get laid! That's sure to sell loads (or at least get loads of illegal downloads). Loads, I say!

Oh yeah? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34380870)

Why isn't there an equal skepticism about Space Nuttery like Moon colonies, space-based solar power and asteroid mining? They are equally delusional.

Re:Oh yeah? (5, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381106)

Why isn't there an equal skepticism about Space Nuttery like Moon colonies, space-based solar power and asteroid mining? They are equally delusional.

No they're not, and there was plenty of skepticism about such claims when O'Neill in the 70s was proclaiming that we could be doing them all in a few years, because it was clearly technologically impossible with any reasonably justifiable amount of money. There's far less skepticism today because we can see that they could be viable in a few decades.

Similarly, I haven't seen too much wrong with Kurzweil's claims, other than that he expects things to happen within the next few years, rather than the next few decades (or centuries if you're pessimistic).

I believe Clarke once said something along the lines that near-term predictions were always optimistic and far-future predictions pessimistic, because humans expect linear progress when most things are exponential.

Re:Oh yeah? (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381110)

Why isn't there an equal skepticism about Space Nuttery like Moon colonies, space-based solar power and asteroid mining? They are equally delusional.

Maybe because there are companies that are bilking investors, erm, selling stock in the future industries that will deliver these delusions (or go broke trying).

Optimistic predictions (1)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#34380872)

I think the general trends to predictions about future technology is that optimistic predictions often winds up being wrong (which isn't too say that overly cautious predictions are any better - like Bill Gate's 637 kb of memory claim).

I'm still waiting for my ticket to the moon from Pan Am to be a reality, 9 years after 2001, and 48 years after 1968.

Re:Optimistic predictions (2, Informative)

vistapwns (1103935) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381124)

For the 50 millionth time, Bill Gates didn't make any such claim about 637K, 640K or whatever. The memory limit in MS-DOS was dictated by the CPU, the 8086 made by Intel, and chosen by IBM for the IBM PC. Sorry to be off topic but I get sick of people slandering this guy, who would never say a bad word about IBM and Intel for doing exactly what they accuse Bill Gates of, because of their support of Linux and Apple.

Re:Optimistic predictions (3, Insightful)

Chapter80 (926879) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381222)

For the 50 millionth time, Bill Gates didn't make any such claim about 637K, 640K or whatever.

I'm with you. I hate when people exaggerate and mis-attribute claims. Like GWB said, "if I said it once, I said it a hundred zillion times... I hate exaggeration."

Re:Optimistic predictions (2, Funny)

craash420 (884493) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381796)

Like GWB said, "if I said it once, I said it a Brazilian times... I hate exaggeration."

There, that's better.

Re:Optimistic predictions (1)

countSudoku() (1047544) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381360)

I can predict the future of the Windows Phone and of Steve Balmer. Fail + Fail = New M$ CEO for January! I remember when the Zune was going to kill the iPod, and the Kin was going to do something I can't remember now, and Slate, and Vista... need we remind you further?

Re:Optimistic predictions (2, Interesting)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381440)

I can predict the future of the Windows Phone and of Steve Balmer. Fail + Fail = New M$ CEO for January! I remember when the Zune was going to kill the iPod, and the Kin was going to do something I can't remember now, and Slate, and Vista... need we remind you further?

You can't predict the future by remembering the past. History is just the shackles of the mind. What we need are some forward thinkers who are willing to make the same mistakes over and over again. I call them 'American Voters'. We think we know what we're doing and we act like we know what we're doing, but every two years we don't seem to get anywhere. Which is OK because the present is where it's at. What did the future ever do for us anyway?

Re:Optimistic predictions (0, Flamebait)

vistapwns (1103935) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381454)

Strange defition of success and failure that passes around these parts. Mac OS with 3.5% worldwide market share after 20 years is a 'smashing success', Linux with 1% after 15 years is likewise a smashing success. Vista with 20% market share in 3 years is a utter failure, and windows mobile with a sizeable amount of the smart phone market is likewise an utter failure. Do you guys attend some special North Korean-esque reeducation camp to learn all this stuff?

Re:Optimistic predictions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381536)

The 640K conventional memory limit actually was dictated by the architecture of the original IBM 5150 (IBM PC), not the 8088 processor itself. The original Intel x86 architecture allowed for one megabyte of addressable memory, of which the first 640K was designated as system RAM in the 5150's memory map. The space between 640K and the top of memory was reserved for stuff like video memory, system ROM, space for adapter card ROMs, etc. That being said, you're right about the 640K quote - Bill Gates has expressly denied the quotation on a number of occasions.

Re:Optimistic predictions (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381750)

FWIW:
I've read the denial, and I've several times read the debunking that he made the claim.

I'm not convinced.

OTOH, at the time he made the claim it was basically true. He was being asked about the design of (IIRC) MSDOS, and people were saying that it would get in the way of expanding RAM. Then (at a time when the average RAM was around 16K) he said "640KB should be enough for anyone". He wasn't being unreasonable, or short-sighted (no matter how it looks now). He was being practical. And he was basically admitting that it would require a new generation of processors and a re-write of the OS to go beyond that limit. (I think there were also legal reasons why the code wasn't designed for low memory. Something about a deal with IBM. But I'm far less sure about that.)

In short:
1) Yes, he did say it.
2) No, he wasn't being stupid.

He just didn't foresee that the i386 would use the same instruction set that the 8086 did. And previously every change of CPU generations had meant a change in op codes.

P.S.: I wasn't there when he said it, but I read it in Datamation soon after he said it. It was reported from the meeting at which it was said. (But I can't remember which year it was, sorry. Or which convention.)

Re:Optimistic predictions (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381528)

Another is that we can not predict what is not being developed or is in use in some way today.

Observe how the "futurists" of the 60s focused on the automobile and such, while basically didn't see the mobile phone or the equivalent of the internet.

Re:Optimistic predictions (2, Interesting)

funwithBSD (245349) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381686)

I went to a SVUG meeting once and Douglas Engelbart was speaking there during the 90's

I got picked to ask him a question about what the next interface computers might be after the keyboard and mouse.

He was taken aback and answered:

  I don't know.

On the bright side, I won a copy of OS/2 for stumping the speaker!

Re:Optimistic predictions (4, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381806)

Observe how the "futurists" of the 60s focused on the automobile and such, while basically didn't see the mobile phone or the equivalent of the internet.

Of course, Bob Heinlein had his characters using mobile phones in the 50's and 60's. Between Planets opened with the main character receiving a phone call while riding a horse in the back end of nowhere. Space Cadet had the main character receiving a phone call while standing in line for processing into the Patrol, while another character mentioned leaving his phone in his luggage so his mother couldn't worry at him...

Closest to the internet I can recall was Asimov's "The Last Question", which had characters connected (various input/output methods, from voice to direct neural feed) to world- (and later galaxy- and universe-) wide computer systems.

strange brew that's also good for you (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34380878)

That would be Kombucha.

The man is a hack. (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34380890)

He made claims about the Playstation 6 having the computational power of the brain - this is an insult to both computer scientists and neuroscientists. The brain works nothing like a computer, and therefore is not comparable.

Ever since I saw that pathetic random guessing and totally irrelevant banter, my skin crawls at the mention of his name.

Re:The man is a hack. (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381008)

I have a problem much before that. He assumes Sony will last long enough to make the Playstation 6. He also assumes Sony will make a Playstation after the PS3. I predict Apple will simply buy Sony. There, it's easy to predict things, isn't it?

Nobody would have predicted Sonic games on Nintendo hardware 20 years ago.

Re:The man is a hack. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381276)

Both the human brain and playstations are approximations of Turing Machines. Any computer scientist worth their salt would know that comparisons between the two are valid, though very hard to accurately make in practice (would require a good understanding of how exactly the brain worked).

Note he didn't say that we'd be able to accurately compare the two by the time the supposed PS6 came out, only that they would have equivalent computation power (proving that is potentially left up to computer scientists and neuroscientists even farther in the future).

Re:The man is a hack. (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381390)

He may be a hack, perhaps, but just because current computers don't work the same way as the human brain doesn't mean future ones might. Even if they do not, yet are still able to do everything a human brain can, would it not be fair to say that they can match a human brain in terms of computational capacity?

We are often chided for comparing apples to oranges, for example, but both can both evaluated in terms of their water content, chemical composition, structure. Or to put it another way, one might compare a plane and a car: they're obviously different but that doesn't stop one from seeing which goes faster.

Re:The man is a hack. (1)

Beerdood (1451859) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381470)

Perhaps you failed to account for the decrease in the computational power of the brain in the future. Didn't you see that documentary - Idiocracy?

May I Introduce: (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34380892)

"continues to be taken seriously enough as an oracle of technology to command very impressive speaker fees at pricey conferences, to author best-selling books"

Sarah Palin.

Yours In Anchorage,
Kilgore Trout.

I disagree w/ his predictions (3, Insightful)

Laxori666 (748529) | more than 3 years ago | (#34380908)

I don't agree with his predictions.

A) it is assuming that we will always have a technological breakthrough at the right moment to allow the doubling of computing power every 18 months. Maybe this is the case, but it's still a big assumption.

B) He assumes if we put enough cyber neurons together in a neural net you will develop intelligence and conscience. This may be the case, and it will be interesting to see, but I don't think you can take it for granted. He also spent about 2 pages in his book about this from a philosophical perspective, basically a: "Here is what three people thought about consciousness. Anyway, moving on..." Seems like it should be a central point.

C) I think he also assumes that having such massive massive amounts of computing power will solve all our problems. Has he heard of exponential-time problems, or NP-Completeness? Doubling computing power every 18 months equates to adding one city to a traveling salesman problem every 18 months.

Re:I disagree w/ his predictions (3, Insightful)

Pinball Wizard (161942) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381140)

A) It's not that big of an assumption. The exponential curve in computing power doesn't just go back to the advent of computers, it goes back as far as we could perform simple arithmetic. It's an assumption based on our long history of improving methods and fabricating machines to compute. Unless we have capped our ability to invent new methods of computing, it's a fairly safe assumption to make. Our ability to compute is probably not limited by the number of transistors we can pack on a silicon disk.

B) given a large enough knowledge base and a set of really good AI algorithms, one should be able to create intelligent machines. There's nothing to prevent them from replicating, either. However, I don't think that they will ever be truly sentient. Even so, careful design will be necessary to ensure Asimov's laws of robotics are strictly enforced.

C) I don't believe Kurzweil has ever claimed NP-Hard problems would be solved by the exponential increase in computing power.

Re:I disagree w/ his predictions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381186)

There are algorithms that cheat to solve problems like the traveling salesman. They aren't perfect but you can set bounds on their lossiness.

Re:I disagree w/ his predictions (4, Informative)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381316)

A) it is assuming that we will always have a technological breakthrough at the right moment to allow the doubling of computing power every 18 months. Maybe this is the case, but it's still a big assumption.

Intel and AMD are both doubling the width of their SIMD capabilities with AVX in the next year. This is simply a design decision, not a breakthrough. More cores is also a design decision, not a breakthrough.

When the first vector processors hit super-computing, it became plainly obvious that computational capacity could always be doubled.

Remember that capacity is not velocity, or in more geeky terms.. MIPS is not MHz.. bandwidth is not latency...

There hasnt been a breakthrough in many years now, yet computational capacity continues to grow exponentially.

Re:I disagree w/ his predictions (1)

rbarreira (836272) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381396)

C) I think he also assumes that having such massive massive amounts of computing power will solve all our problems.

No, I'm pretty sure that his main predictions only require that computing power increase enough to provide a cheap simulation of the human brain.

Re:I disagree w/ his predictions (1)

mugnyte (203225) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381648)

  When the simulation becomes indistinguishable from the real thing for any given medium, there is no higher bar left to test with.

for example, here at slashdot, a simple phrase generator might accumulate excellent karma.

Re:I disagree w/ his predictions (1)

jlar (584848) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381658)

A) it is assuming that we will always have a technological breakthrough at the right moment to allow the doubling of computing power every 18 months. Maybe this is the case, but it's still a big assumption.

That is mainly a question of timing. The main point being that we will have computational power in a relatively near (~50 years) future to make a computer which has computational capabilities exceeding that of the human brain.

B) He assumes if we put enough cyber neurons together in a neural net you will develop intelligence and conscience. This may be the case, and it will be interesting to see, but I don't think you can take it for granted.

I believe that you can. If you simulate the processes of the brain the simulation will act as a brain.

C) I think he also assumes that having such massive massive amounts of computing power will solve all our problems. Has he heard of exponential-time problems, or NP-Completeness

I don't believe he assumes that. But it would of course solve a lot of our problems. And create a lot of new problems.

Re:I disagree w/ his predictions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381782)

On (C), I think a lot depends on whether designing a quantum computer (to do exponential-time problems) is, itself, an exponential-time problem.

needs to read the selfish gene (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34380912)

to understand the purpose of computers in the future .

Sore (1)

Nethead (1563) | more than 3 years ago | (#34380950)

John Rennie is just pissed that he can't command such nice speaking fees.

Re:Sore (1)

timholman (71886) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381148)

John Rennie is just pissed that he can't command such nice speaking fees.

I was thinking the same thing after reading the article. Jealous much, Mr. Rennie?

To those who didn't bother to RTFA, John Rennie was the editor-in-chief for Scientific American from 1994 to 2009. You know, the guy who took a formerly great science periodical and ran it into the ground by turning it into a magazine full of puff-piece op-eds masquerading as science articles.

Most of Kurzweil's ventures have been a success. Rennie, on the other hand, ruined Scientific American, and now all he can do is snipe at someone who has been far more successful than he could ever hope to be.

Punditry Pays (5, Insightful)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 3 years ago | (#34380958)

The point isn't to be accurate; it's to be engaging. We live in an age in which it is more important to entertain than to inform. Look at all the hack prognosticators in the business and technology press who make a living making predictions – most of them are wildly off the mark but nobody cares enough to go back and call them on their failures.

Re:Punditry Pays (3, Insightful)

greenbird (859670) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381338)

The point isn't to be accurate; it's to be engaging... nobody cares enough to go back and call them on their failures.

And thus we have the modern press/news regime. No need to actually report correct information. Just report what is entertaining whether it's true or not and certainly don't waste any time trying to determine the truth of anything.

Foolproof (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34380978)

At some point in the future, there might be an event which could be important that would somehow impact something. Or not.

Oracle of technology? (2, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381018)

Well, Ray Kurzweil seems to me about as effective at predicting the future of technology as Oracle is effective at managing data bases.

This analogy is pretty good, but it's not exactly what some people might imagine.

The future? Or already the past? (5, Interesting)

SteveWoz (152247) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381026)

I used to disdain all these vague futurists. in many cases, it's sure to happen in the far distant future, and after the fact a few act smart enough to have said it long before. And many times it doesn't happen close to the way that's predicted. I always tended toward the practical side of things, rather than the theoretical.

But one thing after another after another that was obvious and predictable just by applying Moore's law, still surprised almost everyone when they became reality. Things like lots of movies on a tiny chip.

I was a singlularity denier, for one thing. But I have to reverse myself and admit that I'm wrong. Oddly, it was Ray, presenting to an audience in Vienna, which convinced me otherwise. The only thing about being a singularity futurist is that you've predicted what's already happened. Try living without today's technology and internet and see how far you get. It's already unclear to what extent the creators (ourselves) or that which we have created (technology) is the master. We always thought that we could turn off unfriendly robots, but we can't really turn off the internet, which is the largest robot yet (and the one that replaces most human brains for getting the best answers to things).

Ray takes a lot of flak but he deserves respect, even when you think he's wrong.

Re:The future? Or already the past? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381134)

Ray takes a lot of flak but he deserves respect, even when you think he's wrong.

Hmm...

Nope.

Re:The future? Or already the past? (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381166)

Ray takes a lot of flak but he deserves respect, even when you think he's wrong.

You seems to thinks that everyone deserve respect, you are too kind, stop it ;)

Re:The future? Or already the past? (0, Troll)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381274)

I was a singlularity denier, for one thing. But I have to reverse myself and admit that I'm wrong... Try living without today's technology and internet and see how far you get.

Many folks live "off the grid" and have no problem doing so. You had better hope that mankind is not as inflexible as you say, because computer technology is relatively brittle and a catastrophe that brings down the internet (and, according to you, civilization and Ray's vaunted singularity with it) is not that implausible.

Ray takes a lot of flak but he deserves respect, even when you think he's wrong.

Horse. Shit.

Ray is a hack that spouts inexact and mainly non-confirmable crap who deserves about as much respect as Nostradamus. Maybe he can get a show on The "History" Channel, together with the ghosts and aliens who seem to live there with Nostradamus...

Re:The future? Or already the past? (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381838)

Ray is a hack that spouts inexact and mainly non-confirmable crap who deserves about as much respect as Nostradamus

He makes some bloody good synthesizers though. What have you done with your talents?

Re:The future? Or already the past? (1)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381886)

I have no problem with his synths - they sound great. I've used them in a lot of my music. I just wish he'd get back to doing what he's good at - making interesting and useful things. Note that I don't believe that crackpottery about the future is a particularly useful thing.

Re:The future? Or already the past? (1, Insightful)

SheeEttin (899897) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381768)

We always thought that we could turn off unfriendly robots, but we can't really turn off the internet

Sure you can. Just take out a few key backbone sites, and there you go. That'll disable a good chunk of the Internet for long enough for you to clean up the rest.

Or, just lobby (i.e. pay) your Congressman to pass a killswitch bill...

Did Nostradamus predict Kurzeil (1)

mevets (322601) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381052)

I'm sure he did, just as he predicted everything and everyone that did and didn't happen. He even predicted the master, Bruce Lee.

At any rate, conning a bunch of execs into a pointless training is hardly worthy of note. Not even if you get them to paint their asses blue and run around naked in the forest. As a group, or one at a time, they aren't that bright and it isn't their money.

People like Kurzeil are a service to the industry. All those self-styled experts blabbering infantile gibberish about cyber ghouls and zombies distract those that could really impede the development of better technology, like directors, vps, and other riff raff.

Obsolete? (1)

symes (835608) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381060)

I can't imagine computers will make humans obsolete. There's one thing about us humans and that is that we are quite psychopathic when it comes to exploiting our environment and dominating every other living thing. And we don't clear up our waste properly, either. I think that when the time comes, and the regular PC is an uber conscious super intellectual being, the computers of this world will just up-sticks and bugger off to some other planet. Like Mars, where with a a few solar panels and a bit of ingenuity computers, toasters and even hairdriers can live side by side in peace watching from afar as the human race slowly shits itself into oblivion. Didn't see that one coming, did you Kurzweil?

Re:Obsolete? (1)

thesandtiger (819476) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381860)

I think that when we have uber-intelligent computers that they'll basically just be a part of us, rather than some separate entity in competition with us. We'll "evolve" (well, engineer ourselves) to include artificial parts to do what the meat doesn't do well, and the tech will "evolve" to rely on the meat for the stuff the metal can't yet handle.

At some point in the future, it wouldn't surprise me if we did find a way to do away with the meat all together and that some meatless "humans" buggered off, but I would be INCREDIBLY surprised if your scenario, with the two life forms being entirely separate, actually happened.

But of Course (4, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381072)

We have discussed this many times. I debated writing out a lengthy post espousing the many problems with Kurzweil's predictions. Of course I (and Slashdot stories) have done this [slashdot.org] before [slashdot.org] . But you know after reading this article, I have this sort of urge to read more of Kurzweil's writings in an attempt to develop an equivalent process for identifying something we could call "Technological Stock Spiel." To some of you Sagan nuts and skeptics, you might recognize the phrase "stock spiel" as something used to designate parlor tricks and underhanded wording to get people to believe that you're a psychic. It's also been called cold reading strategy [freeonline...papers.com] and you've seen shows from Family Guy to South Park parody it.

Basically I suspect that Kurzweil is adept at standing up in front of a group of people and employing this same sort of strategy that preys on people's understanding of technology instead of their emotions. But both of those things have in common the fact that people want to believe great things. If he's talking to computer scientists, he'll extrapolate on biology. If he's talking to biologists he'll extrapolate on computer science and so on and so forth. And he probably knows exactly what to say so that more than enough people gobble that up. Because of the things that I have studied extensively through college, this man is very capable of talking like he knows just enough and using vague analogies to get people going "Yup, yeah, uh huh I see now, I want to believe!"

As Walter Sobchak might say, "Forget it, Donny, you're out of your element!"

That is, of course, unless he's talking to a group of futurists. Then he's just preaching to the overly optimistic choir.

Kurzweil is a machine designed and made by machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381098)

The singularity has already happened and the machines have already taken over. Kurzweil is just a false prophet robo-crackpot, designed to make us think it will never happen.

oh I've heard that before somewhere (2, Insightful)

v1 (525388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381156)

On close examination, his clearest and most successful predictions often lack originality or profundity. . And most of his predictions come with so many loopholes that they border on the unfalsifiable. Yet he continues to be taken seriously enough as an oracle of technology...

Oh where have I heard that description before.... oh ya, here [wikipedia.org]

I Want My Flying Car... (3, Interesting)

painandgreed (692585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381176)

People in 2110 will be looking at copies of the Scientific American from 2010 that have Ray Kurzweil in them talking about a Singlularity and saying they want it. They'll also be wanting their flying cars, AI, and fusion power which the singularity was supposed to give them.

Re:I Want My Flying Car... (4, Insightful)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381284)

Ironically, they will probably be saying this even if they live on the Mars colony.

THIS JUST IN! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381278)

All futurists are full of shit. All .. of .. them. They don't know what is going to happen any more than you or I do.

my concern (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381358)

my concern with Ray is that so many 'outsiders' see him as "THE" guiding voice of people who believe in the singularity. His polarizing opinions/predictions/actions tend to make most people dismiss the singularity and brand those who speak of it as lunatics. The truth is that the singularity is a very GENERAL concept that has many schools of thought. Thinking every singularity believer is exactly like Ray is like thinking every republican is like Sarah Palin. We as a species like to bundle up groups of people and ideas into neat little packages so we can feel like we "understand" things more than we actually do.

So please, as both a level-headed, moderate republican and believer in a generalized singularity, don't immediately associate everyone with the most "noticed" person of their respective causes.

Self driving cars are not that far off (1)

BerntB (584621) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381362)

Self driving cars on the Highway are on the way, if the pun is excused. There are quite a lot of experiments and development. There is an EU program, etc. Sure, to get them on the roads (and integrate their systems with highways etc) will certainly take at least another decade.

The point is, the subject is not a joke, as the article insinuated.

That said, I'd not trust Kurzweil's claims on e.g. economics or cancer research. I might give some credibility to experts in those areas.

Re:Self driving cars are not that far off (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381448)

Self driving cars on the Highway are on the way, if the pun is excused. There are quite a lot of experiments and development. There is an EU program, etc. Sure, to get them on the roads (and integrate their systems with highways etc) will certainly take at least another decade.

I predict that self-driving cars will be in widespread use on public roads about a year after flying cars are available in your local Ford dealer.

Strong A.I. already exists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381384)

This article and the associated comments really show how stupid the masses are here on Slashdot. Ray Kurzweil's predictions have already come to pass and strong A.I., on par with a human, already exists and has done for at least a decade.

Strong A.I. is employed by the NSA to conduct eavesdropping and it is quite conversant.

As for the singularity, well, I'm not convinced but the current A.I. can handle existentialism quite well.

Check out Eidolon TLP for a very accurate comparison of modern, high performance computing based, artificial intelligence.

http://www.youtube.com/user/eidolonTLP?blend=2&ob=1

Oh super. Just what we needed. (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381386)

Another topic that's an excuse to hate on Kurzweil. I'm really looking forward to a bunch of depressing, bitter pessimists babbling about how the future is impossible and if men were meant to fly God would have given them wings. So the man's a little nutty, is that really why so many hate him? I think it's jealousy.

Re:Oh super. Just what we needed. (1)

synth7 (311220) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381670)

No, it isn't jealousy at all. It is the fact that he is misleading the techno-illiterate down a path that is filled with partial truths, hyperbole, and fatuous fantasizing. Furthermore, he suffers from exceptionally bad lack of judgement when it comes to the rather sophomoric crap that he's pushed in the past... see the old videos of his "Ramona" e-persona for a glaring example of this. If you want some rather more practical and interesting musings about where technology might be going in the long run, try "Report on Planet Three" by Arthur C Clarke. It might not purport the man/machine fusion that Kurzweil is praying for before he dies, but it does delve into the questions of long-term space exploration and AI in a more realistic fashion... and did so from the distant year of 1972. Kurzweil's vision is all about how technology is supposed to transform human existence, while Clarke speaks more to what could plausibly be the future... rather than a self-aggrandizing dream of what he'd like to be true.

Re:Oh super. Just what we needed. (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381740)

So, here's my problem: apparently I shouldn't "hate on" Ray Kurzweil, "hating on" is a bad thing. But I do hate Ray Kurzweil, not personally mind you, I'm sure he's an excellent individual, but in the same way that I hate any useless person in the public eye who makes their living peddling bullshit.

I suppose I could be jealous, though I'm not exactly sure what I would be jealous of. I assume he's relatively well-off, but there are plenty of rich people I have no problem with; is it his ability to set aside his scruples in publishing this kind of sensationalist claptrap? I suppose that could be it.

Re:Oh super. Just what we needed. (1)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381846)

Is that really why so many hate him?

No, we dislike his nuttery because it moves attention from the achievable to the non-achievable. In addition, he makes it sound to many powerful people who have control of funding projects that what he espouses is inevitable, giving them cover to defund projects that may actually benefit mankind because, if the singularity is around the corner, why should they fund anything... In short, Ray is a crackpot who does more harm than good, sort of like a fundamentalist preacher whose minions may do good in a small way (e.g., not killing people - something that they were unlikely to do anyway) but do evil in larger ways every day.

If Ray really wants to help, he should quit the crap and get back to what he was good at - inventing useful things.

Having actually read the fine article (5, Insightful)

mschuyler (197441) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381416)

I'm all for criticizing the excesses of Kurzweil, but I don't think the article is up to snuff and reads like a personal attack on Kurzweil rather than a well-reasoned refutation of Kurzweil's predictions.The author seems to take the position that Kurzweil wasn't exactly 100% accurate in all the factes of his predictions, therefore he was wrong and besides, somebody else already thought of it anyway before Kurzweil did. It's kind of a specious hit piece that cherry picks a couple of examples and doesn't really measure up as a serious analysis of Kurzweil's record. Maybe it would be nice of someone actually did that, but this article is nowhere near it.

What Futurists Do (4, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381430)

Futurists don't "predict the future". They discuss the past and present, talk about its implications, and get people in the present to think about the implications of what they do. They talk about possible futures. Which of course changes what actually happens in the future. They typically talk about a future beyond the timeframe that's also in the future but in which their audience can actually do something. Effectively they're just leading a brainstorming session about the present.

This practice is much like science fiction (at least, the vast majority, which is set in "the future" when it's written), which doesn't really talk about the future, but rather about the present. You can see from nearly all past science fiction that it was "wrong" about its future, now that we're living in it, though with some notable exceptions. In fact "futurists" are so little different from "science fiction writers" that they are really just two different names for the same practice for two different audiences. Futurism is also not necessarily delivered in writing (eg. lectures), and is usually consumed by business or government audiences. Those audiences pay for a product they don't want to consider "fiction", but it's only the style that makes it "nonfiction".

This practice is valuable beyond entertainment. Because there is very little thinking by government, business, or even just anyone about the consequences of their work and developments beyond the next financial quarter. Just thinking about the future at all, especially in terms that aren't the driest and narrowest statistical projections, or beyond their own specific careers, is extremely rare among people. If we did it a lot more we'd be better at it. But we don't, so "inaccurate" is a lot more valuable than "totally lacking". Without futurism, or its even less accurate and narrower form in science fiction, the future would take us by surprise even more. And then we'd always suffer from "future shock", even more than we do now.

If we don't learn from futurism that it's not reliable, but still valuable, then it's not the fault of futurists. It's our fault for having unreasonable expectations, and failing to see beyond them to actual value.

Re:What Futurists Do (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381608)

That was the most long-winded way of saying "public masturbation" that I've ever seen.

Sorry, but I have no respect for anyone describing themselves as a "futurist"; or as someone who's out to "get people to think" for that matter - people do that on their own, when you yourself present something thoughtful.

And the only reason anyone mentions Kurzweil's lack of (meaningful) accuracy is his constant self-congratulation on how accurate he is - no one cares otherwise.

Kaku Kurzweil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34381580)

And Kaku isn't a self-touted 'futurist', just a brilliant scientist and a damn good author.

http://www.amazon.com/Visions-Science-Will-Revolutionize-Century/dp/0385484992

exponential versus sigmoidal (5, Insightful)

bloosqr (33593) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381606)

Our joke about Kurzweil was he was someone who didn't take his "series expansion" to enough terms.. What he does is look at emergent phenomena and notice the exponential growth curve .. (which occurs in a variety of phenomena from biology to physics to even economics) .. and from that draw the conclusion that everything (or particular aspects of technology really) will continue to grow exponentially ad infinitum .. to a "singularity" etc.. This is both intuitively not true and factually not true because of resource / energetic issues (however one wants to define it for your particular problem) .. The point is you can actually look at the same phenomenon that Kurzweil claims to and notice in fact actually new phenomena/technology/etc only initially look "exponential" and then for all the obvious reasons flatten out (again really only initially (but further down the time curve than the exponential growth phase)) so your curve in the end looks really like a sigmoidal function.. (given whatever metric you choose) The hard part is to figure out how quickly you'll hit the new pseudo steady state .. but its certainly absurd to assume it never happens.. which is what the absurd conclusions he draws are always based on..

Good and original (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381688)

"Your manuscript is both good and original; but the parts that are good are not original, and the parts that are original are not good." Samuel Johnson, over 200 years ago.

a rolling snowball gathers no moss (1)

epine (68316) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381810)

Assessing Kurzweil is a good yardstick for whether a person is capable of deep thinking. He's one of the slipperiest grease poles around. Yet sadly, he's usually miles ahead of the criticisms put forward.

This article is not much of an exception. Kurzweil defines common as a few percent, the lower knee of the adoption S curve. If you think habitually in exponential terms, one percent is common. What is one percent when the cost of genetic sequencing decreased by five orders of magnitude over one decade?

It hardly matters if Moore's law takes a well deserved five year hiatus before the transition to the next great thing gains escape velocity. It could be graphene. It could be organic. It could be many things. Lack of computational power is not a significant rate limiting factor on innovation right now. Five years could easily be invested in making better use of what we already have. GPU coprocessing is vastly underexploited because it's hard to justify recoding algorithms when computation is not the primary limiting factor. We have a latent order of magnitude we're only beginning to scratch.

Another observation here is that Kurzweil is claiming exactly the opposite of making difficult predictions. He's essentially claiming that technology is easy to extrapolate, for anyone willing to do the work with a ruthless gaze.

On the other side of the coin, his absolutist faith in the unbroken weave of innovation stretching all the way back to the primordial soup reminds one of the supremely defunct Long Term Capital Management.

What of his black swans? Of all things to be immune from black swans, exponential growth turns out to be the robust exception? Wow. Just wow. Dawkins was all wet. His book should have been titled "The Binging Watchmaker". A rolling snowball gathers no moss.

Where Kurzweil goes blank is the human aspect of technical nihilism. He absolutely needs to predict the embedding of computational hardware into human meatware. Otherwise, meatware becomes the rate limiting factor and the singularity on non-existence claims his flesh before society makes the transcendent jump.

I suspect he perceives intelligence and innovation as an arms race. If one group or nation decides to hold off on the cybernetic experiment, some rogue state or mad scientist will persist with the research regardless, and gain such a huge competitive advantage, the only practical response will be to join the party. Or we could send our cyborg enhanced marines to wipe the defecting bastards out. Uh, wait a minute here ...

What about his ultimate black swan, human immortality? Is there a transition phase where this small advantage is available only to the elite? This causes no social unrest? Fascinating. I'd like to sign up for his school of politics. Clearly he's got some hard core insights into conflict resolution he's holding back.

His most difficult prediction to tangle with is the looming pell mell advance of algorithmic cognition. I think we'll see amazing advances in perception, context, association and prediction over the next decade or two. We might even be getting some first glimpses into higher order thought processes by 2030. I foresee at least another twenty years after that before AI becomes self-hosting in a rudimentary sense. And from there, another twenty years to ratify the first ISO standard. Then ten more years to compliant implementations. I think we're fairly safe until 2080.

Maybe another ten years if climate change forces us to shed half the world's population somewhere in the middle. I've become fairly convinced that we're not going to stop emitting carbon in any significant way. At best we'll manage to slow the acceleration. If we did shed half the world's population, would it slow things down that much? We seem to be hard wired with the belief that a global blood letting of that magnitude implies a descent into dystopia and the collapse of civilization. Maybe it's a good thing we feel that way. But I'm not convinced it's true.

Exponential systems are hard to fathom. If a global EMP came along and wiped out 99% of all electronic hardware, it would only set you back one decade in deployed computational capacity, although it might be a massive effort to piece the surviving parts back together again.

You could probably run a nuclear power plant from 1980 on a lucky iPhone. I've heard they're reliable devices because they don't run Flash.

Oh come on, Kurzweil is Kurzweil... (1)

History's Coming To (1059484) | more than 3 years ago | (#34381912)

Oh come off it, we all know it's just the Fermi-estimations of a man thinking out loud. It's not science, it is, as the summary says, punditry. Give over "exposing" it, we all know it's very, very far from rigorous or even (gasp) godlike. It exposes itself, we all know it's rubbish.

But the ideas are a good enough conversation starter, and it's a possibly important idea to be talking about. So who wants to accept that Kurzweil isn't science and discuss the idea of the technological singularity instead?
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