Futurist Ray Kurzweil has some outrageous predictions about how humanity will have entirely merged with machines by 2099
According to the outrageous predictions of futurist Ray Kurzweil, humanity will have completely merged with machines by the end of the century. According to Kurzweil’s theories, 2099 will see the human race experiencing a state of “singularity.” Consequently, unsurprisingly, there are many scientists, experts, and fellow futurists who beg to differ with his outlook.
Kurzweil has authored many books about futurism, exploring topics such as artificial intelligence (AI), health, technological singularity, and transhumanism. Even as a child, he dreamed of being an inventor. Indeed, futurist Kurzweil created innovations that radically changed the lives of many, and propelled them into the future. He developed the first document scanner, and the Kurzweil keyboard was the first synthesizer capable of accurately mimicking a piano.
Individuals who are blind can thank Kurzweil for creating a machine that enables them to read books. Stevie Wonder became a lifelong friend of Kurzweil after being the first customer to purchase this technology.
There is much that Kurzweil has successfully predicted. Predictions that he made during the 80s included unthinkable technologies for that time. He told the world that one day there would be widespread internet use, that the internet would become wireless and that we would wear computer technology. Indeed, those things are commonplace in our 2017 world. Kurzweil even predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union, which no one dreamed as possible during that era.
Many other futurists have made predictions about how things will be in the future. Prophets have always come forward since ancient times to warn people of what they predict will come to past in the future. Some of the most famous futurists at the turn of the 20th century were Nikola Tesla and John Elfreth Walkins Jr. In fact, both of them predicted wireless communications technology decades before Kurzweil was born. Tesla also predicted things like self-driving cars.
So what makes Kurzweil’s predictions any more special? Kurzweil bases his predictions on exponential returns or Moore’s law. Moore’s law has been able to accurately predicted the growth of computer technology for many decades now. Kurzweil extrapolates from Moores law what sort of technology could potentially be available with the increase in processing power.
YouTuber Joe Scott gave a pretty clear breakdown of how Kurzweil sees the future of the human race:
By 2019, futurist Kurzweil believes that autonomous cars will be commonplace. Indeed, autonomous car technology is being rapidly expanded all the time. However, is it really in the reach of all humans on earth? Scott gives the example of George Hotz. George Hotz was initially most famous for his work as a hacker and was able to successfully unlock the iPhone from the clutches of Apple. In 2015, he created a DIY self-driving car with components bought at a local computer store.
Kurzweil also believes that in only around a year, AI will reach the level of general purpose (AGI). Currently, the AI we are familiar with is incapable of thinking. It merely learns potential outcomes and responds literally and robotically. Such technology is in our smartphones, for example.
However, skeptics suggest that AGI is nowhere near being ready for consumer use. Computer Science Professor Michael Littman believes that most AGI technology remains in the realm of theory. Nevertheless, Scott described the example of AlphaGo. Google DeepMind developed the AlphaGo technology in order to compete in the complex boardgame called Go.
Unlike the limited strategies available to win Chess, Go players can utilize an infinite amount of strategies. This means that the AI needs to think about what it wants to choose from infinite options, rather than follow a literal or logical process. AlphaGo was created as an artificial neural network, which essentially is AGI.
By 2029, Kurzweil believes that for only $1000, an amount the average consumer can feasibly afford, computers will be manufactured which are more powerful than the human mind. Scott argues the reasonable potentiality of this prediction due to the existence of such computers already, albeit them being obscenely large and expensive, and inaccessible to all but a few people. The example Scott gives is the Tianhe-2 from China.
Kurzweil also suggests that by this year, human-driven cars will be made illegal. Considering that governments always demand upgrades on cars, this too is a feasible prediction.
However, by 2030, Kurzweil’s theories about the future begin to become unrealistic. By this year, Kurzweil suggests that human consciousness will be able to be uploaded to the cloud. Clearly, this prediction is naive and unrealistic, considering scientists, philosophers, and even spiritual believers still have no idea what consciousness even is.
It’s at this point that most skeptics scoff at Kurzweil’s predictions. Psychologist Dr. John M. Grohol is the founder and CEO of PsychCentral. He also sits on the editorial board for the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Grohol states flatly that humans do not even know how their own brains work yet! He believes that Kurzweil’s belief that people can replicate brain functions technologically is naive. If we don’t know how the brain works, and we don’t know what, or even where consciousness is, then the idea of uploading consciousness to the cloud is pure science fiction.
One area that Kurzweil might be right about is that people will likely desire more involvment in virtual worlds than in the real physical one. Already, there are a lot of people who choose to spend their time immersed in computer games. Additionally, social media is, in essence, a virtual reality that people spend day and night absorbing themselves within.
By the time Kurzweil starts to predict life for humankind in 2045, he is really being no more creative than a science fiction author. By this year, Kurzweil believes that we will have achieved “The Singularity,” or technological singularity. What he means by this is that suddenly computers will be more powerful than the entire collective of human intelligence. For this to be the case, you would have to believe the science fiction he predicted from 2030 onward.
Additionally, Kurzweil believes that by this time machines will be conscious and self-aware. However, again, how could anyone define a machine as conscious and self-aware when our understanding of such concepts eludes even the greatest thinkers and geniuses of our time?
By 2045, Kurzweil suggests that nanotechnology will be so advanced, that it will create what he describes as utility fog, or “foglets.” These foglets, he suggests, will create anything you want out of seemingly thin air. Essentially, Kurzweil claims, by this year, humans will become what he describes as transhuman.
If the people of 2099 look back over Kurzweil’s predictions, will they laugh, as we laugh at a turn of the century futurist like Jean-Marc Cote? Cote believed that by 2000, machines capable of doing haircuts, beauty regimens and housework would replace humans. He also predicted that school teachers would be able to feed books into a machine and transmit the information to students brains via electrode caps. Also, he even imagined that we would harness whale power for underwater travel!
Or will there be transhumans at the end of the next century, that will concur with Kurzweil? Will they perceive him as some kind of technological Nostradamus? By 2099, Kurzweil believes that machines will be given legal status, as the gap between humanity and technology will have been blurred beyond definition.
If any organic humans have survived, Kurzweil says that they will be a small minority. In addition, Kurzweil claims that there will be planet-sized computers and that inanimate or dead material will be made conscious. He essentially sees the universe coming alive at this point. Indeed, only if we manage to work out what consciousness is by the end of the century.
Ultimately there are too many philosophical, biological, psychological, ethical and spiritual questions that prove futurist Kurzweil’s predictions beyond 2030 to be pure science fiction
What even is “consciousness”? What is “self”? We know nothing about who or what we really are. Our perceptions are severely limited: our eyes are blind, and our ears are deaf. Futurist Kurzweil suggests that we should enter an unknown realm like fools, into a place where angels fear to tread.
We don’t even know the limits of human capacity. Whatever we create is limited by our known and limited capacity. And there are always blind spots, there are always more questions, there are endless mysteries, and there are always infinitely unknown variables.
Humankind suffers from a collective blind spot that has kept us, for millennia, perpetually as slaves to the amygdala
The amygdala is the primitive brain stem. The amygdala feels compelled and motivated by lust, power, hunger, the desire to survive and urgency to avoid suffering. These primary root motivations are constantly in negotiation with the neocortex, and for most of human history, they have been the victor. And when they win, it can lead to bloodshed, suffering and all manner of horrors.
Humankind would need to master and dominate these primitive drives, so to create a sure and robust foundation, before it ever should dare explore, and conceptually build upon it, any kind of technological singularity. This fundamental foundation is essential before humankind should even set about attempting to make concepts such as singularity a tangible reality. And furthermore, considering humanity’s infinite perspectives about ethics, morals, and values, this task of foundation development would be endless. We should, therefore, abandon this naive keenness to create a technological singularity.