Ray Kurzweil

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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. It's an intimate mixture of rubbish and good ideas, and it's very hard to disentangle the two, because these are smart people; they're not stupid.
Douglas Hofstadter on Kurzweil[1]

Ray Kurzweil is a well-known futurist and advocate of the transhumanist belief cluster with a truly overwhelming fear of death. He makes predictions about what science and humanity will achieve in the next ten, twenty, or hundred years, and the press lap it up.

Contents

[edit] The good stuff

Kurzweil is, in fact, a genius with a track record of achievement. He was a major pioneer in the fields of optical character recognition and computer-assisted reading (Stevie Wonder is a personal friend of his) as well as digital music synthesis (his K250 keyboard was the first to use recorded samples for tone generation). [2] From a technological standpoint, Kurzweil is nearly as important to modern music as Les Paul (inventor of the solid-body electric guitar), and he's also an important figure in handicap accessibility.

[edit] Transferable expertise

Kurzweil has an unfortunate tendency to think that being brilliant at computer science means every other specialty can be treated as a special case of computer science. He thinks that the genome contains all the information needed to grow a brain, therefore it is a problem of Kolmogorov complexity[wp] and computer science, therefore we will be able to simulate one on computers by 2030.[3] Experts on the evolution of brains think Kurzweil does not understand biology and thinks the genome works like a blueprint, whereas most qualified biologists think the right analogy is a recipe that takes as a starting assumption the informational content of the rest of life on Earth.[4][5] In the case of the human brain, it literally cannot physically develop correctly except in the presence of a human culture.[6] This leads to a certain exasperation on the part of those who actually know what they're talking about.[7][8]

[edit] Singularity University

Kurzweil is keen to share his knowledge and insight. You, yes you the corporate executive, can spend $15,000 of company money on a 9-day Executive Training Session, or a 10-week graduate studies course for $25,000, to learn all about exponentially advancing technologies.[9]

[edit] Nanotechnology

In line with most misconceptions about nanotechnology, Kurzweil thinks nanobots of the "industrial robot scaled down a billion times" kind are achievable,[10] rather than requiring violations of physics.[11] He then actively propagates this misconception.

[edit] Nutritional woo

He is very fond of nutritional supplements (he takes 200 supplemental pills a day)[12] and alkaline water[13] and getting scientifically untested longevity treatments. When his followers start an argument with "look, Kurzweil's a smart guy, right?" see if they will acknowledge his propensity for untested alt-med woo as being prima facie evidence that his undoubted intelligence in no way means he isn't capable of being utterly wrong.

In his health books, he has also advocated the use of "bioidentical" hormone replacement therapy.

He also sells nutritional supplements for longevity[14] which are as good as any others, i.e. 0% solid verified science and 100% wishful thinking. So is he a charlatan or a fool?

Thankfully, even singularitarians are starting to show signs of embarrassment at Kurzweil's undeniable left turn into obvious pseudoscience and are trying to distance themselves from him.[15][16]

[edit] Shorter Ray Kurzweil

Courtesy John Pavlus:[17]

How to make a Singularity

Step 1: “I wonder if brains are just like computers?”
Step 2: Add peta-thingies/giga-whatzits; say “Moore’s Law!” a lot at conferences
Step 3: ??????


Step 4: SINGULARITY!!!11!one

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/douglas-r-hofstadter
  2. Kurzweil Music Systems, originally based in Massachusetts, was sold to a Korean company now owned by Hyundai in 1990; Kurzweil was brought back as chief strategist in 2007.
  3. Kurzweil, Ray. "Ray Kurzweil Responds to 'Ray Kurzweil does not understand the brain'." Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence blog, 2010-08-20.
  4. PZ Myers. "Ray Kurzweil does not understand the brain." Pharyngula, 2010-08-17.
  5. Chapter 8 of The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins is a tour de force on just how embryo development follows a "recipe" model and not a "blueprint" model at all. You will be smarter after reading it. Not conveniently online, but hey, books are good for you.
  6. Really: if you're not brought up by humans, bits of your brain don't grow right. e.g. if you're brought up by wolves, you'll never learn a language. Kurzweil may be technically, though not usefully, approximately correct about the genome containing almost all the information needed to grow a fresh newborn's brain.
  7. PZ Myers. "Kurzweil still doesn't understand the brain." Pharyngula, 2010-08-21.
  8. The Singularity Is Far (David J. Linden, BoingBoing, 2011-07-14). "The central problem here is that Kurzweil is conflating biological data collection with biological insight."
  9. http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/software/ray-kurzweils-slippery-futurism/0
  10. http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/news/2005/02/66585
  11. Rupturing The Nanotech Rapture: Biological nanobots could repair and improve the human body, but they'll be more bio than bot Richard A.L. Jones, IEEE Spectrum, June 2008
  12. Gary Wolf. "Futurist Ray Kurzweil Pulls Out All the Stops (and Pills) to Live to Witness the Singularity." Wired 16 4, April 2008.
  13. Archived December 11, 2007 at the Wayback Machine This reads like a parody of the concept of woo.
  14. http://www.rayandterry.com/index.asp
  15. It's not all about Ray: There's more to Singularity studies than Kurzweil (George Dvorsky, Sentient Developments blog, 2010-08-23)
  16. http://chronopause.com/index.php/2011/08/11/the-kurzwild-man-in-the-night/
  17. How To Make A Singularity
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