13 June 2008

Ray Kurzweil

Futurist and Inventor Ray Kurzweil was interviewed on NPR program Science Friday last week. (He was on the SciAm podcast and the CBC's program Ideas recently as well). He's an interesting guy, with a surprisingly good track record for predicting technological changes. He also invented the first convincing sampling synthesizer to come close to duplicating the sound of a real piano... in the late 1970s. Anyway, he claims that machine intelligence will soon overtake human intelligence and the distinction between life and machine will gradually blur, as we evolve into something greater than either, at an amazingly rapid pace, in the fairly near future.

Hmmm. I would be convinced, if I could tell my computer, "Hey, slowpoke, you seem to be getting bogged down lately. What up with that?" and it could reply, "Oh, yes, I do feel a bit dyspeptic. Let me revise my registries and eliminate all the gunk you didn't authorize from google and what not... mmm... there... much better... and, oh, I thought of some ways to improve my communication with all these other devices you have hooked up to me, and here's a list of interesting ideas you might want to think about, based on what you're looking at.... brzzzt brzzt brzzt! " and so on. Instead, computers remain dumb. Fast, cleverly designed, and they work well as long as they're tended by humans who understand them, but about as dumb as a cricket, I'd say. Comments, commentariat?


  1. Well, according to conservative estimates the next iteration or so of operating platforms will allow you to do much of what you suggest.

    If you're interested in Ray Kurzweil's ideas there a couple of films being made on them. One is, The Singularity is Near: A true story about the future. The other is: Transcendent Man, One man's quest to reveal our destiny.

    I found this info on Kurzweil's wiki page.

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

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

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


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