The simulation argument is continuing to attract a great deal of attention. I regret that I cannot usually respond to individual queries about the argument.
ABSTRACT. This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.
Neurorobotics engineers from the Human Brain Project (HBP) have recently taken the first steps towards building a “virtual mouse” by placing a simplified computer model of the mouse brain into a virtual mouse body. This new kind of tool will be made available to scientists, both HBP and worldwide. Read more:https://www.humanbrainproject.eu/-/a-…
Rapid advances in technology are paving the way for new ideas about the future, including those of the communities we live in. I had a chance to catch up with transhumanist, Zero State founder, andcognitive scientist Dr. Amon Twyman, who is a leader of one such community that is exloring new directions for the betterment of humanity.
Q. Dr. Twyman, What is Zero State?
A.Zero State(link is external) (ZS) is a community that grew out of the transhumanist movement back in 2011. It’s now part of a broad coalition of groups and movements that we call WAVE(link is external), referring to a coming wave of radical technological and social change. The basic ZS idea is to create networks of people and resources which could evolve into a distributed, virtual State. Right now there are only a few thousand ZSers (albeit well connected to much larger networks), but in a hypothetical full-blown Zero State there would be tens of millions or more, all supporting each other and being part of a single nation no matter where they live in the world. Our motto is “positive social change through technology.”
A. Our core principles and ideas are deliberately compatible with transhumanism. That comes naturally, as ZS grew out of transhumanism and our most active “citizens” tend to self-identify as Transhumanists. That said, it’s important to stress that people don’t have to be transhumanists to join ZS. More generally, we consider ourselves to be a “Social Futurist” community, which is to say that we believe technological breakthroughs don’t happen in a social vacuum. There are social, economic, and political issues which not only stubbornly continue to exist in the face of techno-optimism, but which are sometimes greatly exacerbated by technological change. In short, we believe that technology should be applied to improving the human condition on both physiological and societal levels.
Zero State logo
Source: Dr. Amon Twyman
Q. How can ZS help the world?
A. In the first instance, we are focused on helping ZS’ citizens, or more accurately, helping them to help each other. An increasing number of people are finding themselves in need of help of one type or another these days, and we would like to demonstrate that mutual support is made more achievable than ever before thanks to the power of cutting-edge technologies. We tend to focus on bringing together people and ways to access current technologies such as meshnets, cryptocurrency, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence, while exploring ideas such as longevity, super-intelligence & wellbeing, accelerating change, and direct democratic action to circumvent obsolete political institutions. Beyond working to help our own people, we actively work to support the wider network of like-minded groups and believe that compassionately, intelligently applied technology has the potential to improve the lives of everybody in the world.
Q. How did you come to be the founder of ZS?
A. My background is in a combination of psychological research (consciousness anddecision making, Artificial Intelligence) and digital & performing arts. Although I’d read my fair share of science fiction as a kid, I decided I was a transhumanist while studying at university, after reading “Mind Children” by Hans Moravec. Over time, my various interests in art, science, transhumanism, and contemporary social/political issues coalesced into a coherent worldview, and I eventually decided to form an organization to pursue these ideas. The result, Zero State, was heavily informed by my experience as a co-founder of the UK Transhumanist Association, which has since evolved into Humanity+ UK. I started building WAVE, the broader network ZS is part of, two years later. That was once we’d had time to realize that there was a bigger picture emerging; a large number of like-minded groups forming to address a vast array of specific issues with a common outlook. That common outlook is characterized by technological savvy, distaste for old thinking and limits, and a keen awareness of social issues.
A. What does the future hold for ZS?
Q. ZS-affiliated project groups continue to work on developing tools for our members. A lot of these projects are collaborative and many have a distinctly transhumanist flavor, such as experimentation with Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (using electrical charge to help concentration—work being done in collaboration with Dirk Bruere and Andrew Vladimirov). Some of the projects seem more like simple fun than serious experimentation at first glance—such as the ZSers building Minecraft environments in which to test their AI software—but that’s half the point; For people to do something useful and have fun at the same time. Our most vigorous efforts are currently going into WAVE, expanding the wider, networked context in which ZS operates, doing what we can to help out like-minded groups. We’ve been establishing connections with large networks, such as The Zeitgeist Movement and an emerging coalition of online transhumanist organizations. We live in extremely exciting times, with lots of rapid change both good and bad, and it looks like Zero State will soon get its chance to help people help each other in that brave new world. If you believe in the promise of technology, the importance of social justice, and the power of community building then feel free to jump in and join the fun!
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, journalist, and author of the novel The Transhumanist Wager. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.
The internet is rife with chatter about the transhumanist age we are entering, where radical science and technology are already changing the way we live. Everything fromrobotic hearts to personal drones to mind-reading headsets are here. The new tech coming in just a few years will touch nearly every aspect of our lives, including one of the most personal ones: sex.
Mammals use sex as a means to generate offspring, to experience pleasure, and for bonding with partners. Throughout the last few centuries, humans have embraced tools, drugs, and even surgical operations in an attempt to improve sex.
To date, the list of transhumanist-themed tools and apparatuses our species has created for sex is practically endless. Perhaps the best known one is the condom, where descriptions of their use and composition begin to appear in 16th century writings. The writings of 16th century physician Gabriele Falloppio includes one of the first documented references to condoms, and describes them as linen sheaths soaked in a chemical solution. Today, the condom is one of the leading life extension tools in the world, due to the protection it offers from disease, such as HIV.
Over 300,000 Americans underwent breast augmentation via plastic surgery, which typically aims to enhance sex appeal, in 2011. In the last century, one of the most sensationalized applications for sex is Viagra, whose name is almost as recognizableas Coca-Cola or Rolls Royce. Along with other options like Levitra and Cialis, erection drugs have helped return sexual health to millions of men (and their partners) around the world.
Today, sex—and technology for sex—is all around us, 24/7. The internet provides a continual stream of pornography, for better or worse, to millions of users everyday. A Forbes article citing neuroscientist Ogi Ogas says that between July 2009 and July 2010, 13 percent of web searches were for erotic content. It’s not just computers, though. Many people routinely use their cell phones for sexting. And the sex toy industry is a multi-billion dollar business, with thousands of workers and engineers dedicated to it.
Yet, whatever has happened so far in the history of sex is not going to be nearly as exciting or bizarre as what’s coming next. Whether by drugs, technology, or surgery, the future of sex is set to explode. Look for virtual sex and foreplay to become commonplace, where partners are linked into brain wave headsets and virtual reality goggles.
Some will take it further, and use full body haptic suits—a friend of mine called it the future hump suit—to experience full sexual immersion. Virtual worlds and Second Lives will keep people experiencing sexual acts they might not feel comfortable doing in real life—all without the risk of pregnancy or STDs.
I recently was asked by my wife what I wanted for Christmas. I replied: I want an exoskeleton suit. They’re going to be all the rage soon.
Indeed, exoskeleton technology is significantly improving every year. Panasonic is getting ready to sell the first mass-produced robotic exoskeleton for just under $5,000. They are still crude, but in 5-10 years time, they are likely to make us faster runners, stronger climbers, and better athletes. I surmise an entire sporting and recreational culture will develop around them, similar to motorcycles and ATVs. Can you imagine the growing discipline of Parkour in one? Eventually, exoskeleton suits will look like the ones in the blockbuster movie Elysiumstarring Matt Damon.
But what about sex? Will they help? Yes! Potentially, a lot. Especially for disabled, obese, or unfit persons. Harvard is working on a soft exoskeleton suit. Someday soon, we will strap on exoskeleton suits and put ourselves in sexual positions once only possible for Bikram yoga experts—and then go at it. And we won’t be tiring very easily, either, not with the suits doing much of the work.
Almost as strange is the new internal skeletal stuff being developed, which combines structures inside your body to external artificial limbs. In a recent article forExtremeTech, engineer and neuroscientist John Hewitt writes:
In order to wield any artificial limb with full strength and confidence we are going to need to plug it in properly, so that it becomes a real part of our musculoskeletal system. Researchers at the Royal National Orthopedic hospital have now created an implant that does just that by interfacing a leg prosthesis directly to your endoskeleton.
We’ve already seen penile implants and surgical modifications of sexual organs. But this new musculosketelal technology is much more revolutionary. If scientists can connect internal human parts to external bionic parts, (and they’re already connecting robotic arms to the nervous system) then the age of the cyborg is truly here. Surely biohackers will remove body parts and limbs in an attempt to become a stronger, more agile entity.
If scientists can replicate that feeling through firing signals from an implanted chip or a brain wave headset, then it might even be the end of sex altogether.
With those acquisitions will come cyborg sex—something that is sure to be an upgrade to the usual romp. Don’t forget, those robotic fingers on those artificial limbs will soon have sensors that can detect some things, like heat and sweat, far more specifically than biological fingers. In time, every sense of ours will be improved and updated with technology that simply outmatches our biology.
How will this and all the other technologies affect sex for over seven billion people in the future? Probably dramatically—especially when it is combined with microchip implants. Erogenous zones and orgasms are simply the product of chemicals firing in the brain. If scientists can replicate that feeling by firing signals from an implanted chip or a brain wave headset, then it might even be the end of sex altogether. We’d turn on and off endless orgasms with our cell phone (or buzz our partners at will if they’ll allow us).
Hopefully it will be better than this.
Implants are becoming more commonplace. Recently, Dr. Theodore Schwartz and a New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center team put a cranial implant into an epileptic sufferer to help stop attacks. Other brain implant surgeries are now occurring to fight Alzheimer’s, a disease which affects over five million Americans. It’s not that big of a leap to imagine someone figuring out how to stimulate the sexual pleasure areas in the brain with an implant.
If all this seems crazy, then check out this WiFi-enabled vibrator called Vibease which will become available next month, according to its website. People can leave them in all day long, and enjoy for up to three hours of use whenever they want to. That might make you wonder about a lot of things in the future. Did your date really enjoy the spaghetti you made, or was something else going on?
The human species has come a long way in developing its sexual mores. Thankfully, many societies are philosophically and psychologically freer than ever to enjoy all that sex can be. But technologically, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg for all for all that is coming, regardless of tastes and desires. Transhumanism has long centered on technologies that grant better health and extended longevity to people, but we shouldn’t forget that it will also make some of our most cherished experiences—like sex—a lot more fun in the future.
This week’s Quantified Self roundup features a filmmaker’s perception of the Quantified Self revolution, a platform that tracks everything in your life, and a design-savvy fitness tracker.
Renowned filmmaker Jason Silva recently released a new video in his YouTube channel Shots of Awe wherein he talks about how amazing the Quantified Self revolution is. Silva talks about how sensors obtaining all these data from millions of people can be used to better analyze a person and could well be the beginning of Human 2.0.
It’s certainly an interesting concept to ponder, and that’s what Silva does best. The filmmaker’s been on a guest on theCUBE on at least one occasion, and we revisit his most recent appearance here, where he discusses Big Data and its impact on the consumer.
The biggest challenge right now in the Quantified Self revolution may be app fatigue, so it certainly doesn’t help that there are so many apps and gadgets available today. To keep you get focused and on task, there’s a new platform that will help you keep track of all the tracking that matters.
Tictrac allows you to sync all the apps and gadgets you are currently using so everything you need is in one place. It tracks anything from your email, blood pressure, supermarket foods, food intake, your baby, and even the calories you burned during your workout. And if you have just started with the quantified self revolution and your fitness tracker or app doesn’t offer other tracker, you can use Tictrac to track anything you please.
It is available in both mobile and web platform so you can check your progress anytime.
If you’re still looking for a fashionable fitness tracker, you might want to check out the Via Heartbeat Bracelet. The Via Heartbeat is still a Kickstarter project and has a long way to go to achieve its $300,000 funding goal.
What makes this fitness tracker different is that it looks simple but elegant and if people aren’t familiar with it, no one would guess that it’s a fitness tracker. It is designed to fit comfortably and stay in place no matter how rigorous your workout routine is. Via it’s web app, you can set your goals. This will automatically sync with your bracelet and will glow various colors depending on which of your goals is being achieved.
If you are interested with this project, make sure to check out the project and help fund it.
“We will measure everything… and feed that information back into the system.”
The Quantified Self Revolution. You’ve heard the buzz term, but it’s the idea that as we extend computation into everything, and as we extend sensors into everything, we’re increasingly extending those sensors into ourselves – creating a data rich, always on stream of information about our biological functioning.
Join Jason Silva every week as he freestyles his way into the complex systems of society, technology and human existence and discusses the truth and beauty of science in a form of existential jazz. New episodes every Tuesday.
Tictrac is a Lifestyle Design Platform that empowers people through their own data. Users can connect with health and fitness apps and devices they may already use, from blood pressure monitors, wireless weight scales, sleep/stress trackers, diet and activity monitors to email, calendar, weather and much more. We currently sync with over 50 services/devices from fitness (MyFitnessPal, Runkeeper, Endomondo) medical (Withings, VitaDock) personal (Fitbit, BodyMedia, Garmin) even social (Facebook, Twitter, Klout) adding new API integrations every week.
Users can visualise their data about themselves in personal dashboards that give them insights into how to improve their lifestyle. Users can also cross reference disparate sets of data to see how one aspect of their lives may affect another. They can then share their dashboards with professionals like their physician, personal trainer or coach who can interpret that data and tailor their programmes accordingly.
Transhumanism is the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations by means of science and technology. The more we explored this subject, the more we got fascinated to see how people are riding on the current era technologies to surpass the capabilities of human body. If the current explorations in transhumanism are anything to go by, then, we believe the future will be very exciting!
In this report we explore the various technologies, people involved and the advancements made in the field of Transhumanism. We would love to hear your feedback, comments and suggestions. Please mail us at email@example.com
A transhumanist president in 2016? As much as I would like to see a technologically aware president in the near future, I highly doubt 2016 will be the year (2020 will almost certainly be a different story, though). Still, what better way to bring awareness to the public than having a singularitarian run for president? I’ve read up on Zoltan Istvan a little, but I’ll have to dig in a bit more before I decide if I’m going to cast my vote his way. Although, if it’s between him and a religious conservative, you know who I’m going to choose!
An interview with Zoltan Istvan, leader of the Transhumanist Party and 2016 presidential contender
ExtremeTech has never been particularly interested in politics. That being said, as the focus of politics and politicians inexorably shifts towards technology, we might just jump in the water for a dip.
Many might imagine that concerns of a more socio-political nature — like who is able to accrue what particular powers or possessions, and from whom — would persist independently of technological influence. Others, like the Transhumanist Party founder Zoltan Istvan, might offer that socio-political issues already are, at heart, technological issues. Now seizing the day, and a rapidly expanding number of like-minded transhumanists, Istvan has announced that he will be a contender in the 2016 US presidential race.
If you haven’t heard of transhumanism, or you’re not quite sure what it means, I suggest you readour introductory story about transhumanismbefore diving into the rest of this story. In short, though, transhumanism (sometimes referred to as H+) is about improving or transforming the human condition through technology. Brain implants, genetic engineering, bionic limbs, indefinite life extension — these are all examples of the topics (and elective surgeries) that a transhumanist would be interested in.
The Transhumanist Wager
In his recent book The Tranhumanist Wager Istvan outlines three laws:
A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.
A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible — so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First Law.
A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe — so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.
If energetically adopted, these deceptively simple maxims ultimately compel the individual to pursue a technologically enhanced and extended life. Zoltan and other supporters of transhumanism have come to see the choice to accept or reject these principles as something far more fundamental than the choice between liberal or conservative principles. In other words, it is a more compact predictor, a simpler explanation of your worldview, motivations, and actions than any current party provides.
It is for these reasons that Zoltan has founded the Transhumanist Party and is now taking this first major step to grow it. At this point in the game, the next major step — getting access to all the state ballots — could prove challenging. With these ideas in mind, we present an interview with (possibly) the next US president: Zoltan Istvan.
Why did you decide to run for the US presidency?
Zoltan Istvan – The most important goal of the Transhumanist Party and my 2016 presidential campaign is to spread awareness of transhumanism and to address the issue that society will be greatly changed by radical science and technology in the next 5-15 years. Most people are unaware how significant these changes could be. For example, we might all be getting brain implants soon, or using driverless cars, or having personal drones follow us around and do our shopping for us. Things like anonymity in the social media age, gender roles, exoskeleton suits for unfit people, ectogenesis, and the promise of immersive virtual reality could significantly change the way society views itself. Transhumanism seeks to address these issues with forward-thinking ideas, safeguards, and policies. It aims to be a bridge to a scientific and tech-dominated future, regardless what the species may eventually become.
While the Transhumanist Party has almost no chance of winning this election, its goal is to get on as many state ballots as possible, so people will see its promise and recognize what it stands for. By doing so, we’ll let citizens know an exciting political movement is afoot that focuses on using technology and science to enhance the human species. And maybe sometime in the future, many people will want to join it. Furthermore, I’m hopeful other political parties will take notice of transhumanism and incorporate its ideas into their own philosophies.
On a final note, it’s my hope that others will start to run for various political offices, both locally and nationally, under the Transhumanist Party banner. This way we can show the country that future politics should be far more science and technology inspired. This would be a great step for the direction of the America.
The best thing about being transhuman is what the word really means: beyond human. In this way, transhumanism aims to leave behind the problems and bickering the human race has undergone for millennia, especially ethnic, racial, gender, and cultural divisions. The language of transhumanism is science — and that language and cultural framework is universal. That’s the brilliance of transhumanism. It seeks not to divide, but to improve the lives of all people. It doesn’t judge one’s race, sex, class, culture, or ethnicity. It transcends them with its scientific aims. For example, designer babies — a classic transhumanist field — are literally just years away.
The idea that a child will belong genetically to one race when that same child has been significantly genetically modified is no longer valid. Transhumanism will overcome this hurdle and many others that have sadly embroiled many countries and communities into longstanding enmity.
If, as you observed, “Morality is often defined by the amount of time we have left,” can transhumanists run on a morality platform without being labelled as some kind of a religion life-extension as their God?
This is a challenging question. I admit there are some aspects of transhumanism that seem almost religious in nature, such as the idea of the Singularity or the all-important goal of trying to stop biological aging and conquer human death. But what many people forget is that transhumanism is also engaged in discussing and exploring the mysteries of the universe — that many transhumanist scientists are in love with that mystery. They spend their lives dedicated to unraveling the puzzles of our existence. However, transhumanists pursue all this mystery from the point of view of the Scientific Method, which is a tool designed to ensure a healthy amount of skepticism to all endeavors. That is the critical difference between transhumanists and many fundamentalist religious people; it’s the difference between transhumanism and religion. We are encouraged to question and ask “why?” in our pursuit to make a better life for ourselves. We are encouraged to find the best path forward, regardless of preconceived notions or historical precedent. There are no guarantees except that which we create for ourselves.
Transhumanists are techno-optimistic people who believe they have the power and the universal right to improve their lives. Some will say this type of attitude is religious or spiritual in nature, and maybe it is from a certain point of view. But mostly it’s just a healthy scientific attitude about creating the best life for oneself, one’s loved ones, and one’s planet.
The fact that the deaf can hear via transhumanist implants, war amputees now have feeling robotic limbs, and the paralyzed can walk via exoskeleton technology reminds religious people of their own texts of faith and its parables. I find this a good thing, and hope that religious people may come to embrace transhumanism due to some of the similarities. While I remain an atheist, I see no reason that religions can’t eventually see many of their hopes and ideas fulfilled via the promise of transhumanism.
While the hope exists that improved societies promptly lead to improved individuals, historically it has always been the richest and most powerful people who — often exclusively — received the improvements. How might transhumanism best proceed in the current political climate to rectify our near universal dreams for equality and opportunity and universal improvements to the human condition?
The history of scientific and technological advancement — which is really the history of transhumanism — has always pushed our species forward in a positive way. Transhumanism has made all people live longer, better, and with more opportunity. A recent report out of the United Nations says the poverty level around the world is the lowest it’s ever been. This is largely due to science and technology. While it’s true that a small minority — often the so-called elite — are usually first to get new technologies and advancements, those products have a long history of trickling down to all levels of society. That’s why you can find cellphones in mud hut villages in some of the poorest parts of Africa. And now those villages can communicate with family members far away or call a doctor to come visit a sick person. Such advancement is truly wonderful.
The world is evolving positively due to transhumanism tech and science. I believe it will continue to evolve into a place where living standards and the happiness of all people sharply rise as a result. In the future, I think there will be more interconnectedness than ever before. While I’m a big fan of the individual and their rights, such interconnectedness due to a digital culture will bring us all closer, possibly in ways we couldn’t imagine. Eventually, advancements in technology — such as widespread chip implants, virtual currencies, and brain wave reading devices (which already exist) — will force issues of equality and universality across all communities and borders. Globalization will not just be a slow jog, but become a full sprint.
In the future, it may not be about the individual versus the collective, but about how much one wants to participate in a thriving global digital community versus not participating. Everyone will have the chance to engage and participate if they want. Virtual worlds, free online education, and 24/7 social media usage will become the playgrounds of society and social interaction. Such a life may seem strange to many people — especially older, more conservative people — but observe how the youth have already taken to such things. They are our future, and they are already leading the way, delving further into transhumanist perspectives as each year passes.
This is a video of a physically disabled boy playing the piano with his vision via an ‘eye tracking head mount display’ developed by FOVE. The title of the video is Eye Play the Piano. Pretty amazing!
Eye Play the Piano is a universal piano system that allows one to play the piano without the use of the hands or arms but simply through the use of sight using the eye tracking head mount device, FOVE.
The Eye Play the Piano project started from the willingness to spread the possibility of each and every student child’s freedom of expression along side the medical possibilities, which could be applied in the field of special needs education through the use of the eye tracking head mount device. The project was made possible in accordance with the University of Tsukuba’s Special Needs Education School for the Physically Challenged.
This video captures a second year high school student, Kota Numajiri taking part at their Christmas concert by playing the piano using the Eye Play the Piano system.
About the system:
1. FOVE perceives the users eye movement through the mounted eye tracking technology
2. The preferred note can be triggered by looking at the panel within the interface, which has been developed to be played by sight.
3. The user blinks on the preferred panels within the interface to trigger the selected note, which is then conveyed to the connected piano via MIDI signal.
. Furthermore, tilting down of the head plays the role of the piano pedal which lengthens the selected note.
In my new book BOLD, one of the interviews that I’m most excited about is with my good friend Ray Kurzweil.
Bill Gates calls Ray, “the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence.” Ray is also amazing at predicting a lot more beyond just AI.
This post looks at his very incredible predictions for the next 20+ years.
So who is Ray Kurzweil?
He has received 20 honorary doctorates, has been awarded honors from three U.S. presidents, and has authored 7 books (5 of which have been national bestsellers).
He is the principal inventor of many technologies ranging from the first CCD flatbed scanner to the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind. He is also the chancellor and co-founder of Singularity University, and the guy tagged by Larry Page to direct artificial intelligence development at Google.
In short, Ray’s pretty smart… and his predictions are amazing, mind-boggling, and important reminders that we are living in the most exciting time in human history.
But, first let’s look back at some of the predictions Ray got right.
Predictions Ray has gotten right over the last 25 years
In 1990 (twenty-five years ago), he predicted…
…that a computer would defeat a world chess champion by 1998. Then in 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov.
… that PCs would be capable of answering queries by accessing information wirelessly via the Internet by 2010. He was right, to say the least.
… that by the early 2000s, exoskeletal limbs would let the disabled walk. Companies like Ekso Bionics and others now have technology that does just this, and much more.
In 1999, he predicted…
… that people would be able talk to their computer to give commands by 2009. While still in the early days in 2009, natural language interfaces like Apple’s Siri and Google Now have come a long way. I rarely use my keyboard anymore; instead I dictate texts and emails.
… that computer displays would be built into eyeglasses for augmented reality by 2009. Labs and teams were building head mounted displays well before 2009, but Google started experimenting with Google Glass prototypes in 2011. Now, we are seeing an explosion of augmented and virtual reality solutions and HMDs. Microsoft just released the Hololens, and Magic Leap is working on some amazing technology, to name two.
In 2005, he predicted…
… that by the 2010s, virtual solutions would be able to do real-time language translation in which words spoken in a foreign language would be translated into text that would appear as subtitles to a user wearing the glasses. Well, Microsoft (via Skype Translate), Google (Translate), and others have done this and beyond. One app called Word Lens actually uses your camera to find and translate text imagery in real time.
Ray’s predictions for the next 25 years
The above represent only a few of the predictions Ray has made.
While he hasn’t been precisely right, to the exact year, his track record is stunningly good.
Here are some of my favorite of Ray’s predictions for the next 25+ years.
If you are an entrepreneur, you need to be thinking about these. Specifically, how are you going to capitalize on them when they happen? How will they affect your business?
By the late 2010s, glasses will beam images directly onto the retina. Ten terabytes of computing power (roughly the same as the human brain) will cost about $1,000.
By the 2020s, most diseases will go away as nanobots become smarter than current medical technology. Normal human eating can be replaced by nanosystems. The Turing test begins to be passable. Self-driving cars begin to take over the roads, and people won’t be allowed to drive on highways.
By the 2030s, virtual reality will begin to feel 100% real. We will be able to upload our mind/consciousness by the end of the decade.
By the 2040s, non-biological intelligence will be a billion times more capable than biological intelligence (a.k.a. us). Nanotech foglets will be able to make food out of thin air and create any object in physical world at a whim.
By 2045, we will multiply our intelligence a billionfold by linking wirelessly from our neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud.
I want to make an important point.
It’s not about the predictions.
It’s about what the predictions represent.
Ray’s predictions are a byproduct of his (and my) understanding of the power of Moore’s Law, more specifically Ray’s “Law of Accelerating Returns” and of exponential technologies.
These technologies follow an exponential growth curve based on the principle that the computing power that enables them doubles every two years.
As humans, we are biased to think linearly.
As entrepreneurs, we need to think exponentially.
I often talk about the 6D’s of exponential thinking
Most of us can’t see the things Ray sees because the initial growth stages of exponential, DIGITIZED technologies are DECEPTIVE.
Before we know it, they are DISRUPTIVE—just look at the massive companies that have been disrupted by technological advances in AI, virtual reality, robotics, internet technology, mobile phones, OCR, translation software, and voice control technology.
Each of these technologies DEMATERIALIZED, DEMONETIZED, and DEMOCRATIZED access to services and products that used to be linear and non-scalable.
Now, these technologies power multibillion-dollar companies and affect billions of lives.
This is an excellent article from the Guardian entitled, “Are the robots about to rise? Google’s new director of engineering thinks so…” If you’re just getting familiar with the concepts of the sigularity and machine learning and transhumanism… then this is an excellent article to read. I think the Guardian did a great job of presenting Ray Kurzweil’s ideas open-mindedly and without bias while, at the same time, keeping a critical eye to the facts. The following is a quote from this article which I found compelling, “…the Google knowledge graph, which consists of 800m (million) concepts and the billions of relationships between them. This is already a neural network, a massive, distributed global “brain”. Can it learn? Can it think? It’s what some of the smartest people on the planet are working on…” Wow!
Are the robots about to rise? Google’s new director of engineering thinks so…
Ray Kurzweil popularised the Teminator-like moment he called the ‘singularity’, when artificial intelligence overtakes human thinking. But now the man who hopes to be immortal is involved in the very same quest – on behalf of the tech behemothSee our gallery of cinematic killer robots
It’s hard to know where to start with Ray Kurzweil. With the fact that he takes 150 pills a day and is intravenously injected on a weekly basis with a dizzying list of vitamins, dietary supplements, and substances that sound about as scientifically effective as face cream: coenzyme Q10, phosphatidycholine, glutathione?
With the fact that he believes that he has a good chance of living for ever? He just has to stay alive “long enough” to be around for when the great life-extending technologies kick in (he’s 66 and he believes that “some of the baby-boomers will make it through”). Or with the fact that he’s predicted that in 15 years’ time, computers are going to trump people. That they will be smarter than we are. Not just better at doing sums than us and knowing what the best route is to Basildon. They already do that. But that they will be able to understand what we say, learn from experience, crack jokes, tell stories, flirt. Ray Kurzweil believes that, by 2029, computers will be able to do all the things that humans do. Only better.
But then everyone’s allowed their theories. It’s just that Kurzweil’s theories have a habit of coming true. And, while he’s been a successful technologist and entrepreneur and invented devices that have changed our world – the first flatbed scanner, the first computer program that could recognise a typeface, the first text-to-speech synthesizer and dozens more – and has been an important and influential advocate of artificial intelligence and what it will mean, he has also always been a lone voice in, if not quite a wilderness, then in something other than the mainstream.
And now? Now, he works at Google. Ray Kurzweil who believes that we can live for ever and that computers will gain what looks like a lot like consciousness in a little over a decade is now Google’s director of engineering. The announcement of this, last year, was extraordinary enough. To people who work with tech or who are interested in tech and who are familiar with the idea that Kurzweil has popularised of “the singularity” – the moment in the future when men and machines will supposedly converge – and know him as either a brilliant maverick and visionary futurist, or a narcissistic crackpot obsessed with longevity, this was headline news in itself.
But it’s what came next that puts this into context. It’s since been revealed that Google has gone on an unprecedented shopping spree and is in the throes of assembling what looks like the greatest artificial intelligence laboratory on Earth; a laboratory designed to feast upon a resource of a kind that the world has never seen before: truly massive data. Our data. From the minutiae of our lives.
Google has bought almost every machine-learning and robotics company it can find, or at least, rates. It made headlines two months ago, when it bought Boston Dynamics, the firm that produces spectacular, terrifyingly life-like military robots, for an “undisclosed” but undoubtedly massive sum. It spent $3.2bn (£1.9bn) on smart thermostat maker Nest Labs. And this month, it bought the secretive and cutting-edge British artificial intelligence startup DeepMind for £242m.
And those are just the big deals. It also bought Bot & Dolly, Meka Robotics, Holomni, Redwood Robotics and Schaft, and another AI startup, DNNresearch. It hired Geoff Hinton, a British computer scientist who’s probably the world’s leading expert on neural networks. And it has embarked upon what one DeepMind investor told the technology publication Re/code two weeks ago was “a Manhattan project of AI”. If artificial intelligence was really possible, and if anybody could do it, he said, “this will be the team”. The future, in ways we can’t even begin to imagine, will be Google’s.
There are no “ifs” in Ray Kurzweil’s vocabulary, however, when I meet him in his new home – a high-rise luxury apartment block in downtown San Francisco that’s become an emblem for the city in this, its latest incarnation, the Age of Google. Kurzweil does not do ifs, or doubt, and he most especially doesn’t do self-doubt. Though he’s bemused about the fact that “for the first time in my life I have a job” and has moved from the east coast where his wife, Sonya, still lives, to take it.
Bill Gates calls him “the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence”. He’s received 19 honorary doctorates, and he’s been widely recognised as a genius. But he’s the sort of genius, it turns out, who’s not very good at boiling a kettle. He offers me a cup of coffee and when I accept he heads into the kitchen to make it, filling a kettle with water, putting a teaspoon of instant coffee into a cup, and then moments later, pouring the unboiled water on top of it. He stirs the undissolving lumps and I wonder whether to say anything but instead let him add almond milk – not eating dairy is just one of his multiple dietary rules – and politely say thank you as he hands it to me. It is, by quite some way, the worst cup of coffee I have ever tasted.
But then, he has other things on his mind. The future, for starters. And what it will look like. He’s been making predictions about the future for years, ever since he realised that one of the key things about inventing successful new products was inventing them at the right moment, and “so, as an engineer, I collected a lot of data”. In 1990, he predicted that a computer would defeat a world chess champion by 1998. In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov. He predicted the explosion of the world wide web at a time it was only being used by a few academics and he predicted dozens and dozens of other things that have largely come true, or that will soon, such as that by the year 2000, robotic leg prostheses would allow paraplegics to walk (the US military is currently trialling an “Iron Man” suit) and “cybernetic chauffeurs” would be able to drive cars (which Google has more or less cracked).
His critics point out that not all his predictions have exactly panned out (no US company has reached a market capitalisation of more than $1 trillion; “bioengineered treatments” have yet to cure cancer). But in any case, the predictions aren’t the meat of his work, just a byproduct. They’re based on his belief that technology progresses exponentially (as is also the case in Moore’s law, which sees computers’ performance doubling every two years). But then you just have to dig out an old mobile phone to understand that. The problem, he says, is that humans don’t think about the future that way. “Our intuition is linear.”
When Kurzweil first started talking about the “singularity”, a conceit he borrowed from the science-fiction writer Vernor Vinge, he was dismissed as a fantasist. He has been saying for years that he believes that the Turing test – the moment at which a computer will exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human – will be passed in 2029. The difference is that when he began saying it, the fax machine hadn’t been invented. But now, well… it’s another story.
“My book The Age of Spiritual Machines came out in 1999 and that we had a conference of AI experts at Stanford and we took a poll by hand about when you think the Turing test would be passed. The consensus was hundreds of years. And a pretty good contingent thought that it would never be done.
“And today, I’m pretty much at the median of what AI experts think and the public is kind of with them. Because the public has seen things like Siri [the iPhone’s voice-recognition technology] where you talk to a computer, they’ve seen the Google self-driving cars. My views are not radical any more. I’ve actually stayed consistent. It’s the rest of the world that’s changing its view.”
And yet, we still haven’t quite managed to get to grips with what that means. The Spike Jonze film, Her, which is set in the near future and has Joaquin Phoenix falling in love with a computer operating system, is not so much fantasy, according to Kurzweil, as a slightly underambitious rendering of the brave new world we are about to enter. “A lot of the dramatic tension is provided by the fact that Theodore’s love interest does not have a body,” Kurzweil writes in a recent review of it. “But this is an unrealistic notion. It would be technically trivial in the future to provide her with a virtual visual presence to match her virtual auditory presence.”
But then he predicts that by 2045 computers will be a billion times more powerful than all of the human brains on Earth. And the characters’ creation of an avatar of a dead person based on their writings, in Jonze’s film, is an idea that he’s been banging on about for years. He’s gathered all of his father’s writings and ephemera in an archive and believes it will be possible to retro-engineer him at some point in the future.
So far, so sci-fi. Except that Kurzweil’s new home isn’t some futuristic MegaCorp intent on world domination. It’s not Skynet. Or, maybe it is, but we largely still think of it as that helpful search engine with the cool design. Kurzweil has worked with Google’s co-founder Larry Page on special projects over several years. “And I’d been having ongoing conversations with him about artificial intelligence and what Google is doing and what I was trying to do. And basically he said, ‘Do it here. We’ll give you the independence you’ve had with your own company, but you’ll have these Google-scale resources.'”
And it’s the Google-scale resources that are beyond anything the world has seen before. Such as the huge data sets that result from 1 billion people using Google ever single day. And the Google knowledge graph, which consists of 800m concepts and the billions of relationships between them. This is already a neural network, a massive, distributed global “brain”. Can it learn? Can it think? It’s what some of the smartest people on the planet are working on next.
Peter Norvig, Google’s research director, said recently that the company employs “less than 50% but certainly more than 5%” of the world’s leading experts on machine learning. And that was before it bought DeepMind which, it should be noted, agreed to the deal with the proviso that Google set up an ethics board to look at the question of what machine learning will actually mean when it’s in the hands of what has become the most powerful company on the planet. Of what machine learning might look like when the machines have learned to make their own decisions. Or gained, what we humans call, “consciousness”.
I first saw Boston Dynamics’ robots in action at a presentation at the Singularity University, the university that Ray Kurzweil co-founded and that Google helped fund and which is devoted to exploring exponential technologies. And it was the Singularity University’s own robotics faculty member Dan Barry who sounded a note of alarm about what the technology might mean: “I don’t see any end point here,” he said when talking about the use of military robots. “At some point humans aren’t going to be fast enough. So what you do is that you make them autonomous. And where does that end? Terminator?”
Kurzweil’s job description consists of a one-line brief. “I don’t have a 20-page packet of instructions,” he says. “I have a one-sentence spec. Which is to help bring natural language understanding to Google. And how they do that is up to me.”
Language, he believes, is the key to everything. “And my project is ultimately to base search on really understanding what the language means. When you write an article you’re not creating an interesting collection of words. You have something to say and Google is devoted to intelligently organising and processing the world’s information. The message in your article is information, and the computers are not picking up on that. So we would like to actually have the computers read. We want them to read everything on the web and every page of every book, then be able to engage an intelligent dialogue with the user to be able to answer their questions.”
Google will know the answer to your question before you have asked it, he says. It will have read every email you’ve ever written, every document, every idle thought you’ve ever tapped into a search-engine box. It will know you better than your intimate partner does. Better, perhaps, than even yourself.
The most successful example of natural-language processing so far is IBM’s computer Watson, which in 2011 went on the US quiz show Jeopardy and won. “And Jeopardy is a pretty broad task. It involves similes and jokes and riddles. For example, it was given “a long tiresome speech delivered by a frothy pie topping” in the rhyme category and quickly responded: “A meringue harangue.” Which is pretty clever: the humans didn’t get it. And what’s not generally appreciated is that Watson’s knowledge was not hand-coded by engineers. Watson got it by reading. Wikipedia – all of it.
Kurzweil says: “Computers are on the threshold of reading and understanding the semantic content of a language, but not quite at human levels. But since they can read a million times more material than humans they can make up for that with quantity. So IBM’s Watson is a pretty weak reader on each page, but it read the 200m pages of Wikipedia. And basically what I’m doing at Google is to try to go beyond what Watson could do. To do it at Google scale. Which is to say to have the computer read tens of billions of pages. Watson doesn’t understand the implications of what it’s reading. It’s doing a sort of pattern matching. It doesn’t understand that if John sold his red Volvo to Mary that involves a transaction or possession and ownership being transferred. It doesn’t understand that kind of information and so we are going to actually encode that, really try to teach it to understand the meaning of what these documents are saying.”
And once the computers can read their own instructions, well… gaining domination over the rest of the universe will surely be easy pickings. Though Kurzweil, being a techno-optimist, doesn’t worry about the prospect of being enslaved by a master race of newly liberated iPhones with ideas above their station. He believes technology will augment us. Make us better, smarter, fitter. That just as we’ve already outsourced our ability to remember telephone numbers to their electronic embrace, so we will welcome nanotechnologies that thin our blood and boost our brain cells. His mind-reading search engine will be a “cybernetic friend”. He is unimpressed by Google Glass because he doesn’t want any technological filter between us and reality. He just wants reality to be that much better.
“I thought about if I had all the money in the world, what would I want to do?” he says. “And I would want to do this. This project. This is not a new interest for me. This idea goes back 50 years. I’ve been thinking about artificial intelligence and how the brain works for 50 years.”
The evidence of those 50 years is dotted all around the apartment. He shows me a cartoon he came up with in the 60s which shows a brain in a vat. And there’s a still from a TV quiz show that he entered aged 17 with his first invention: he’d programmed a computer to compose original music. On his walls are paintings that were produced by a computer programmed to create its own original artworks. And scrapbooks that detail the histories of various relatives, the aunts and uncles who escaped from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport, his great grandmother who set up what he says was Europe’s first school to provide higher education for girls.
His home is nothing if not eclectic. It’s a shiny apartment in a shiny apartment block with big glass windows and modern furnishings but it’s imbued with the sort of meaning and memories and resonances that, as yet, no machine can understand. His relatives escaped the Holocaust “because they used their minds. That’s actually the philosophy of my family. The power of human ideas. I remember my grandfather coming back from his first return visit to Europe. I was seven and he told me he’d been given the opportunity to handle – with his own hands – original documents by Leonardo da Vinci. He talked about it in very reverential terms, like these were sacred documents. But they weren’t handed down to us by God. They were created by a guy, a person. A single human had been very influential and had changed the world. The message was that human ideas changed the world. And that is the only thing that could change the world.”
On his fingers are two rings, one from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied, and another that was created by a 3D printer, and on his wrist is a 30-year-old Mickey Mouse watch. “It’s very important to hold on to our whimsy,” he says when I ask him about it. Why? “I think it’s the highest level of our neocortex. Whimsy, humour…”
Even more engagingly, tapping away on a computer in the study next door I find Amy, his daughter. She’s a writer and a teacher and warm and open, and while Kurzweil goes off to have his photo taken, she tells me that her childhood was like “growing up in the future”.
Is that what it felt like? “I do feel little bit like the ideas I grew up hearing about are now ubiquitous… Everything is changing so quickly and it’s not something that people realise. When we were kids people used to talk about what they going to do when they were older, and they didn’t necessarily consider how many changes would happen, and how the world would be different, but that was at the back of my head.”
And what about her father’s idea of living for ever? What did she make of that? “What I think is interesting is that all kids think they are going to live for ever so actually it wasn’t that much of a disconnect for me. I think it made perfect sense. Now it makes less sense.”
Well, yes. But there’s not a scintilla of doubt in Kurzweil’s mind about this. My arguments slide off what looks like his carefully moisturised skin. “My health regime is a wake-up call to my baby-boomer peers,” he says. “Most of whom are accepting the normal cycle of life and accepting they are getting to the end of their productive years. That’s not my view. Now that health and medicine is in information technology it is going to expand exponentially. We will see very dramatic changes ahead. According to my model it’s only 10-15 years away from where we’ll be adding more than a year every year to life expectancy because of progress. It’s kind of a tipping point in longevity.”
He does, at moments like these, have something of a mad glint in his eye. Or at least the profound certitude of a fundamentalist cleric. Newsweek, a few years back, quoted an anonymous colleague claiming that, “Ray is going through the single most public midlife crisis that any male has ever gone through.” His evangelism (and commercial endorsement) of a whole lot of dietary supplements has more than a touch of the “Dr Gillian McKeith (PhD)” to it. And it’s hard not to ascribe a psychological aspect to this. He lost his adored father, a brilliant man, he says, a composer who had been largely unsuccessful and unrecognised in his lifetime, at the age of 22 to a massive heart attack. And a diagnosis of diabetes at the age of 35 led him to overhaul his diet.
But isn’t he simply refusing to accept, on an emotional level, that everyone gets older, everybody dies?
“I think that’s a great rationalisation because our immediate reaction to hearing someone has died is that it’s not a good thing. We’re sad. We consider it a tragedy. So for thousands of years, we did the next best thing which is to rationalise. ‘Oh that tragic thing? That’s really a good thing.’ One of the major goals of religion is to come up with some story that says death is really a good thing. It’s not. It’s a tragedy. And people think we’re talking about a 95-year-old living for hundreds of years. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking radical life extension, radical life enhancement.
“We are talking about making ourselves millions of times more intelligent and being able to have virtually reality environments which are as fantastic as our imagination.”
Although possibly this is what Kurzweil’s critics, such as the biologist PZ Myers, mean when they say that the problem with Kurzweil’s theories is that “it’s a very bizarre mixture of ideas that are solid and good with ideas that are crazy. It’s as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can’t possibly figure out what’s good or bad.” Or Jaron Lanier, who calls him “a genius” but “a product of a narcissistic age”.
But then, it’s Kurzweil’s single-mindedness that’s been the foundation of his success, that made him his first fortune when he was still a teenager, and that shows no sign of letting up. Do you think he’ll live for ever, I ask Amy. “I hope so,” she says, which seems like a reasonable thing for an affectionate daughter to wish for. Still, I hope he does too. Because the future is almost here. And it looks like it’s going to be quite a ride.