| Style over substance|
“”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|
Ray Kurzweil (born 1948) 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.
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). From a technological standpoint, Kurzweil is nearly as important to modern music as Les Paul (jazz musician, and pioneer of the solid-body electric guitar and multi-track tape recording) and Bob Moog (creator of the first commercial synthesizer), and he's also an important figure in handicap accessibility.
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 and computer science, therefore we will be able to simulate one on computers by 2030. 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. In the case of the human brain, it literally cannot physically develop correctly except in the presence of a human culture (e.g., see Feral child). This leads to a certain exasperation on the part of those who actually know what they're talking about.
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.
Any qualms you may have about the organisation will be put to rest by the faculty page: one actual non-honorary PhD, three medical doctors, several bloggers and some wealthy businessmen. No proper resumes listed. The list is nothing like the faculty page of a real university; it does look quite a lot like what a hype machine that didn't understand its own incompetence at being the thing it claims to be would look like.
In line with most misconceptions about nanotechnology, Kurzweil thinks nanobots of the "industrial robot scaled down a billion times" kind are achievable, rather than requiring violations of physics. He then actively propagates this misconception.
Kurzweil is well-known for numerous technological predictions, many of which have not come true in the timeframe he proposed. Here are some failed predictions made in his 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines for the subsequent 10 and 20 years:
- Most text will be created using speech recognition technology.
- People will use personal computers the size of rings and pins.
- Computer displays built into eyeglasses for augmented reality will be used.
- Artificial voices will sound fully human.
- High resolution audio-visual cybersex will be common.
- Personal artificial digital assistants will be in widespread use.
- The typical home will have over 100 computers in it, many of which are embedded in appliances.
- Many households will have one or more robots that perform some type of housekeeping.
- Audio-visual virtual reality will enter the mass market. Users will be able to digitally tour real locations or play in highly immersive fantasy worlds.
- "Telemedicine": devices will monitor and relay health-related data of many patients and send that information to doctors remotely.
- Computers will be embedded everywhere in the environment (inside of furniture, jewelry, walls, clothing, etc.)
- Household robots will be ubiquitous and reliable.
- People will experience 3D virtual reality through glasses and contact lenses that beam images directly to their retinas (retinal display).
- Most business transactions or information inquiries will involve dealing with a simulated person.
- Cables connecting computers and peripherals will have almost completely disappeared.
- Pinhead-sized cameras will be everywhere.
- Computers will have made paper books and documents almost completely obsolete.
- Most learning will be accomplished through intelligent, adaptive courseware presented by computer-simulated teachers.
- Deaf people will use special glasses that convert music into images or tactile sensations.
- Haptic technology, now fully matured and combined with virtual reality, will be the preferred sexual medium since it is safe and enhances the experience.
- Computers will do most of the vehicle driving and humans will be in fact prohibited from driving on highways unassisted.
- Humans will begin to have deep relationships with automated personalities, which hold some advantages over human partners.
- Most flying weapons will be bird-sized robots. Some will be as small as insects.
- Average life expectancy will be over 100. (Japanese women, the longest-living group by gender and nation, live an average of 87.1 years according to 2018 data. The world average for both genders was 70.5 years from 2010 to 2015).
Yet, Kurzweil claimed in his 2010 report How My Predictions Are Faring, in which he analyzes predictions in this and other two of his books, that most of them were correct. Of the 147 total predictions, Kurzweil claims that 115 were "entirely correct", 12 were "essentially correct", 17 were "partially correct", and only 3 were "wrong". Adding together the "entirely" and "essentially" correct, Kurzweil's claimed accuracy rate comes to 86%.
He is very fond of nutritional supplements (he takes 200 supplemental pills a day) and alkaline water 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.
According to the book Ray co-authored, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, there are some 70-something supplements he takes (including testosterone, if you can call that a supplement). However, some receive more emphasis by Kurzweil than others.
- Acidophilus bifodobacter
- Alpha-lipoic acid (see carnitine)
- Antioxidant skin creams
- Arginine (see amino acid)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Bilberry extract
- Carnosine (an amino acid mixture)
- Coenzyme Q10 — Also known as ubiquinone, this coenzyme resembles a vitamin and is fat-soluble. It takes part in the electron transport chain, participating in aerobic respiration. The reason why Ray Kurzweil takes supplements of it is because it is anti-oxidant.
- Comprehensive multivitamin
- Fish proteins
- Folic acid
- Gentian root
- Grapefruit powder
- Grapeseed extract
- Green tea extract
- Gymnema sylvestra
- Herbs (prescribed by Dr. Glenn Rothfeld)
- Linoleic acid
- Lipitor (a prescription drug for controlling cholesterol)
- Nettle (Urtica dioica)
- Oat bran
- Phosphatidylcholine - Kurzweil says that this phospholipid depletes with age, and its supplementation can slightly slow down aging. He's actually quite right, but this phospholipid has not been shown to be effective slowing down certain signs of aging such as dementia.
- Plant sterols
- Saw palmetto complex
- Testosterone (see bioidentical hormone replacement therapy)
Shorter Ray Kurzweil
Courtesy John Pavlus:
“”How to make a Singularity
Step 1: "I wonder if brains are just like computers?"
Step 4: SINGULARITY!!!11!one
- How to Build a Brain Wrong, John Rennie
- Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity: Visionary Genius or Pseudoscientific Crank, Massimo Pigliucci
- 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.
- Kurzweil, Ray. "Ray Kurzweil Responds to 'Ray Kurzweil does not understand the brain'." Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence blog, 2010-08-20.
- PZ Myers. "Ray Kurzweil does not understand the brain." Pharyngula, 2010-08-17.
- 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.
- 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 and the neurons in your language center atrophy. 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.
- PZ Myers. "Kurzweil still doesn't understand the brain." Pharyngula, 2010-08-21.
- 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."
- 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
- Kurzweil, Ray (1999). The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. New York, NY: Penguin. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-14-028202-3.
- Gary Wolf. "Futurist Ray Kurzweil Pulls Out All the Stops (and Pills) to Live to Witness the Singularity." Wired 16 4, April 2008.
- Archived December 11, 2007 at the Wayback Machine This reads like a parody of the concept of woo.
- It's not all about Ray: There's more to Singularity studies than Kurzweil (George Dvorsky, Sentient Developments blog, 2010-08-23)
- James Earl Adams III, Siddharth Singhal. "Which 150 supplements does Ray Kurzweil take daily?". Quora. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
- "Coenzyme Q10". Wikipedia. Retrieved 22 July 2016.
- "Ray Kurzweil: The Top 3 Supplements for Surviving the Singularity". YouTube. Big Think. 20 May 2011.
- "Ray Kurzweil: The Top 3 Supplements for Surviving the Singularity". YouTube. Big Think. 20 May 2011.
- "Phosphatidylcholine". Wikipedia. Retrieved 22 July 2016.
- How To Make A Singularity