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Fw: [TSE-Chat] The Age of Ray Kurzweil.

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  • Linette Sukup
    Message It would be interesting to meet this guy in person. Also, I wonder if he needs product testers. Peace. Linette ... From: mickey To:
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 27, 2005
      Message

      It would be interesting to meet this guy in person. Also, I wonder if he needs product testers.

      Peace.
      Linette


      ----- Original Message -----
      From: mickey
      To: "Undisclosed-Recipient:;"@...
      Sent: Monday, September 26, 2005 1:26 AM
      Subject: Fw: [TSE-Chat] The Age of Ray Kurzweil.



      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Sarai
      To: Kurzweil
      Sent: Sunday, September 25, 2005 11:02 PM
      Subject: FW: [TSE-Chat] The Age of Ray Kurzweil.



      -----Original Message-----
      From: TSE-Chat@yahoogroups.com [mailto:TSE-Chat@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Michael Townsend
      Sent: Sunday, September 25, 2005 8:20 PM
      To: tse-chat@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [TSE-Chat] The Age of Ray Kurzweil.
      Sensitivity: Personal


      The age of Ray Kurzweil

      By Drake Bennett
      The Boston Globe, September 25, 2005

      CAPTION: Ray Kurzwell takes hundreds of nutritional supplement pills every
      day. As he puts it, he is "reprogramming my biochemistry." (Photo by Rick
      Friedman for The New York Times)

      What will happen when technology outstrips human intelligence? Renowned --
      and controversial -- techno-visionary Ray Kurzweil says we won't have to
      wait long to find out. And he, for one, is looking forward to it.

      KURZWEIL TECHNOLOGIES takes up two floors of a low office building in
      Wellesley Hills, near where the Charles River crosses and then recrosses
      Route 128. In the reception area are a vintage Thomas Edison dictation
      machine and a large flat-screen monitor on which a computer program draws
      angular, cartoon-like portraits. Across from the entrance sits an alarmingly
      lifelike man made of wax, bearded and brandishing a pipe as if in
      conversation.

      Ray Kurzweil, the company's founder, is an inventor, and has been one for as
      long as he can remember. ''When I was 7 or 8 my inventions actually began to
      work," Kurzweil told me recently in his large, cluttered office. ''I'd build
      these robotic devices, like a theater that would move scenery and props and
      characters in and out of view by elaborate mechanical linkages."

      He was still a high school student when, in 1964, he created a computer that
      composed music in the style of Chopin, Mozart, and other great composers. In
      the early 1970s he invented the first flatbed scanner and the first
      practical character-recognition software, paving the way for everything from
      digital photography and graphic design to online newspaper archiving.
      Combining those two technologies with a text-to-speech synthesizer (another
      of his inventions), he made the Kurzweil Reading Machine. He sold the very
      first one to Stevie Wonder--for whom he then developed the first music
      synthesizer able to fool professional musicians into thinking they were
      listening to real instruments. In 1987 his company Kurzweil Applied
      Intelligence was the first to market large-vocabulary speech-recognition
      software.

      By any measure, Kurzweil has had an exceptional career. Now, however, he has
      a new project: to be a god. And not just because he thinks he can live
      forever. Within decades, he predicts, he will be billions of times more
      intelligent than he is today, able to read minds, assume different forms,
      and reshape his physical environment at will. So will everyone. Today's
      human beings, mere quintessences of dust, will be as outmoded as Homo
      Erectus.

      All this, Kurzweil believes, will come about through something called The
      Singularity. Popularized more than a decade ago by the mathematician,
      computer scientist, and science fiction novelist Vernor Vinge, who borrowed
      the term from mathematics and astrophysics, it refers to the future point at
      which technological change, propelled by the explosive growth of artificial
      intelligence, will accelerate past the point of current human comprehension.
      In Vinge's prevision, once artificial intelligence surpasses human
      intelligence there will be no turning back, as ever more intelligent
      computers create ever more superintelligent offspring.

      Among the programmers, scientists, and philosophers concerned with the
      larger contours of technological evolution, the term quickly caught on. The
      Singularity became an axis around which debates on technology, human nature,
      genetic enhancement, and the future of consciousness all turned. Figures
      like Marvin Minsky and Hans Moravec, the artificial intelligence pioneers,
      and K. Eric Drexler, the father of nanotechnology, took it up.

      Today Ray Kurzweil is the most radical and most visible prophet of The
      Singularity. In talks, public debates, articles, postings on his website,
      and in a series of increasingly provocative books--''The Age of Intelligent
      Machines" (1990), ''The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed
      Human Intelligence" (1999), ''Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live
      Forever" (2005)--he has done more than any other thinker to make the case
      for both the desirability and the imminence of The Singularity. According to
      Doug Lenat, a leading expert on artificial intelligence, ''Ray is one of the
      few people who can step back and see the big picture for what it means for
      our species and for the planet."

      This week Kurzweil has a new book out, with the self-consciously millennial
      title ''The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology" (Viking). It
      is the most detailed brief he has yet written for the nearness of the
      unimaginably strange future, and it arrives with approving blurbs from
      Minsky and Bill Gates (''Ray Kurzweil is the best person I know at
      predicting the future of artificial intelligence," writes the Microsoft
      founder.) At a time when political debates over the ethics of stem cell
      research, genetic modification, cloning and even nanotechnology are growing
      at once more fervent and more complicated, Kurzweil offers a vision of
      technology as destiny, of transformative change that has slipped the bonds
      of politics, culture, and--for many--credulity.

      That his predictions make moot most of the cultural norms and physical
      limits of today's world is, he believes, only a testament to the power of
      the forces he describes. To his many critics, however, Kurzweil is simply
      spinning fairy tales, preaching transcendence but propagating ignorance.

      Arrayed around Kurzweil's office and in the hallways outside are a few of
      his inventions. When I asked, he readily showed them off. He had an old
      Kurzweil Reading Machine flatly declaim the opening of the Gettysburg
      Address. He played the first few measures of a Beethoven piano sonata on an
      early-model Kurzweil synthesizer, stumbled, started over, stumbled again,
      then switched to Gershwin. He arranged a demonstration of a pocket reading
      machine for the blind that he plans to roll out in January. He told me about
      FatKat, his artificial-intelligence investment program: Over the past two
      years, he claims, it has brought in stock market returns of 80 to 100
      percent.

      Kurzweil is compact and trim, with full cheeks, a small smile, and a
      knot-like nose drooping toward a broad chin. The tone of his voice, deep and
      deliberate, is somewhat at odds with his eyes, which narrow and furiously
      blink as he talks. He is 57 years old, nearly the age at which his father
      died of a heart attack. According to a battery of controversial tests
      administered by Terry Grossman, the anti-aging expert who co-wrote
      ''Fantastic Voyage," Kurzweil has not aged appreciably in the past 17 years.

      Every day, Kurzweil takes hundreds of nutritional supplement pills, and once
      a week he takes several others intravenously. He is, as he puts it,
      ''reprogramming my biochemistry" and claims in so doing to have conquered
      his Type 2 diabetes. More importantly, he insists, he is stretching his
      natural lifespan until either genetic therapies, microscopic ''nanobots"
      (hypothetical robots on the scale of single atoms and molecules that
      Kurzweil believes will be able, among many other things, to take over some
      of the vital functions of the human body), or simply the ability to download
      one's mind onto a computer make immortality a reality.

      What links all of Kurzweil's creations is the concept of pattern
      recognition: recreating the human ability to distinguish signal from noise.
      As he sees it, the predictions he's making are simply pattern recognition
      applied to history.

      The pattern he sees is a simple one: He calls it the law of accelerating
      returns. To explain, Kurzweil uses the example of Moore's Law, the storied
      1965 prediction by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore that the power of computer
      chips would double roughly every two years. In 1972 there were 2500
      transistors in an Intel chip, in 1974, 4500, and by 2004 there were 592
      million.

      For Kurzweil, however, the explosive power of exponential growth goes far
      beyond transistors: Human technological advancement, the billions of years
      of terrestrial evolution, the entire history of the universe, all, he
      argues, follow the law of accelerating returns. He has put a team of
      researchers to work gathering technological, economic, historical, and
      paleontological data. All of it, he claims, graphs neatly onto an
      exponential plot, starting out slowly, then nosing sharply upward through
      the ''knee of the curve" into higher order and greater complexity, arcing
      toward infinity.

      ''Ultimately," he promises in ''The Singularity Is Near," ''the entire
      universe will become saturated with our intelligence. This is the destiny of
      the universe. We will determine our own fate rather than have it determined
      by the current 'dumb,' simple machinelike forces that rule celestial
      mechanics." How he is not sure, but he trusts his math.

      At such moments, Kurzweil's predictions have the ring of eschatology, of
      half-cocked end-times rapture. For him, though, it's surreal to hear people
      talk about the size of the Social Security shortfall in 2042--by then, he
      believes, advances in nanotechnology will allow us to ward off disease and
      senescence and to manufacture all the goods we want for a pittance. By then,
      in other words, aging and poverty may hardly exist and people may not retire
      or even work in a way that's recognizable to us.

      For Kurzweil, stubbornly linear habits of mind explain why, for example, so
      few neuroscientists share his conviction that we will soon be able to
      reverse-engineer the brain. ''A lot of scientists," he told me, ''Nobel
      Prize-winners included, take a linear perspective. They just intuitively do
      the mental experiment of what will it take to achieve certain goals at
      today's rate of progress, with today's tools." Kurzweil points to the
      skepticism that greeted his forecast, in 1990, that in as few as nine years
      a computer would beat the world chess champion. He was too conservative, as
      it turned out: Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997.

      . . .

      Yet even among those like Vinge, Minsky, Drexler, and Lenat, for whom The
      Singularity is less a matter of if than when, Kurzweil is a figure of rare
      certainty. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher and the director of the Future of
      Humanity Institute at Oxford University, isn't so sure the timing of The
      Singularity can be pinpointed. ''We should be thinking about it more as a
      probability distribution smeared out over a long period," he says.

      Then there are the many thinkers who find Kurzweil's case less than
      compelling. Since his theories take in the whole history of the universe,
      there is no shortage of points at which to contest them. Some skeptics
      dispute Kurzweil's computer science. They argue that even computers billions
      of times more powerful than today's wouldn't necessarily be meaningfully
      intelligent, much less spiritual. Any one of a number of hurdles--from the
      complexity of neural networks to the difficulty of recreating the brain's
      analog processing with a computer's digital circuitry to our continued
      inability to begin to articulate the essence of consciousness--might stand
      immovably in the way of human-level artificial intelligence.

      As John Searle, a philosopher of mind and language at the University of
      California, Berkeley, wrote in a public exchange of letters with Kurzweil,
      ''the existing technological advances that are supposed to provide evidence
      in support of these predictions, wonderful though they are, offer no support
      whatever for these spectacular conclusions."

      Others, like the Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, take issue with
      Kurzweil's teleological view of evolution. ''It's the old idea that the
      process of evolution is some push in the direction of greater complexity--in
      particular greater intellectual complexity," Pinker says. ''In one twig of
      the tree of life, namely ours, having a big brain happened to have
      advantages. But that's just what worked for a particular species of primate
      5 to 7 million years ago."

      Still others see something darker in Kurzweil's visions of transformation.
      Bill Joy, the founder of Sun Microsystems, was so horrified by a
      conversation with Kurzweil that he wrote a now-famous Wired magazine cover
      story in 2000 entitled ''The Future Doesn't Need Us," describing a
      technological apocalypse, the earth chewed to pieces by out-of-control
      nanobots. Thinkers like the political scientist Francis Fukuyama of Johns
      Hopkins University foresee a subtler corrosion: The pursuit of biological
      perfection, Fukuyama warns, deprives us of qualities like compassion and
      courage that spring from an awareness of our vulnerability.

      Jaron Lanier, a pioneer of virtual reality computing, and like Kurzweil and
      Joy somewhat of a tech-world guru, manages to combine the technological and
      the moral critiques of Kurzweil's thought. In a 2000 essay entitled ''One
      Half of a Manifesto," he argued that our ever-more-powerful computers were
      likely to be limited, for the foreseeable future, by the software running
      them. Lampooning Joy's nightmare scenario, he wrote, ''Just as some newborn
      race of superintelligent robots are about to consume all humanity, our dear
      old species will likely be saved by a Windows crash."

      Still, Lanier finds Kurzweil's ideas unsettling. ''Ray has incorporated in
      his little system of thought all of the elements of a religion that are
      selfish but none of the ones that are generous," Lanier told me. ''His thing
      is purely, 'Here's how to live forever, here's how to be uploaded into the
      machine.' There's no concern for other people since it's assumed that
      everyone will be infinitely rich and happy in his future." It's a philosophy
      based on narcissism, Lanier charges, a dream of ultimate individual
      fulfillment.

      The last chapter of Kurzweil's new book is entitled ''Response to Critics,"
      and it is nearly 60 pages long. Kurzweil's rejoinders are detailed and
      exhaustive, ranging across topics from software development and neural
      networks into quantum mechanics and the philosophy of consciousness.
      Nowhere, however, does he offer any apology for his promise of eternity or
      his focus on individual enhancement.

      This individualistic, mechanistic ethos, his critics argue, also blurs
      Kurzweil's predictive power, because it ignores all the ways in which
      technologies are bounded by social forces. As Harvard's Pinker points out,
      ''the track record of technological predictions is laughable. I remember a
      prediction in my childhood that by now we'd be living in domed cities and
      commuting by jet pack and eating protein pills instead of meals. On the
      other hand a lot of revolutions are predicted by no one. My favorite is that
      in the movie '2001,' you had space travel and human-level artificial
      intelligence, but people were still writing on clipboards. Arthur C. Clarke
      hadn't predicted the laptop."

      Drake Bennett is the staff writer for Ideas. E-mail drbennett@....


      http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2005/09/25/the_age_of_ray_ku
      rzweil?mode=PF


      Mike&Glore
      email: mrtownsend@...
      Jacksonville, Florida
      Home Phone: 904 727-6031
      Cellular Phone: 732 718-9480

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