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What Did Ray Kurzweil Predict?

What Did Ray Kurzweil Predict?

Technology

Deep Learning God Yann LeCun. Facebook / Meta’s Director of Artificial Intelligence & Courant Professor

Living in Perpetuity: A Story Beyond Imagination

Communicating with someone across the world by smartphones, lighting the house with electric light bulbs, and even traveling outside the earth with spaceships are all things, which human beings could have never ever imagined before and which have come into the reality in the past hundreds of years. Human beings have conquered countless difficulties and crossed technology thresholds, and that leads to a question: when the next breakthrough will happen and what it will be like. Historian Yuval Harari points out that human immortality is possible in the future, and humans change it from the imagination to a technical problem. This idea is approached by Michio Kaku, a physicist, in two ways: one is to create brains that have consciousness and processing functions exactly like real human beings, and the other one is to model a real brain in a biological way. 

More specifically, Ray Kurzweil, a futurist, speculates these goals can be realized from three fields: nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and genetic biology. Assuming that technological breakthroughs will finally help humans reach immortality, how human society will become afterward brings forth questions: whether it will be beneficial to the whole society, or it will be destructive to enlarge the problems. As technology is developing faster and faster, Harari shows that some unexpected moral problems will inevitably show up through this process, and they will accumulate in the future. At that time, if immortality is accomplished, the moral and humanitarian problems will explicitly influence the whole human race and bring some unchangeable ramifications, which will include losing the meaning of being a human being and creating a huge wealth gap between the rich and the poor.

Three authors mentioned above obtain several ideas about immortality. Harari obtains a negative view that although it is hard to predict the future based on what we have in the present, by using the reference of the past, when the technological barrier has been broken through, AI could still create a larger wealth gap between the poor and the rich, and even moral problems. In “Death Is Optional” posted on the edge.org discussed by Kahneman and Harari, they argue about what will happen in the future towards all human beings and societies. Harari states that if immortality is brought to reality, this dramatic change could “open the possibility of creating huge gaps between the rich and the poor”, and human beings could become to be superabundant and superfluous (Harari 3).

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More importantly, “If a country, if a people, today are left behind, they will never get a second chance, especially because cheap labor will count for nothing” (Harari 11). In other words, if you don’t try to catch up, you will then never catch up. Wealth gap could be more and more severe and finally develop into an under controlled condition. Unlike Harari, Kurzweil and Kaku obtain relatively neutral attitudes. They both speculate immortality from scientific prospects. In Ray Kurzweil’s essay “Reinventing Humanity”, he emphasizes “three overlapping revolutions—in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics” are the keys to the technology breakthrough (Kurzweil 40). He also states that “few people take into consideration the fact that human scientific progress is exponential” (Kurzweil 40).

In other words, although living in perpetuity seems to be nowhere in sight right now, if one field’s problems are overcome, three fields will interact quickly, and suddenly the technology bottleneck will be broken through. The breakthroughs in three key fields of subjects could help each other to promote true AI faster and faster. Similarly, In Michio Kaku’s book “The Future of Humanity”, he suspects two scientific ways to digitize the minds and reach immortality: one is to “create a computer program that can simulate all of the brain’s basic features using transistors instead of neurons” (Kaku 201); another one is to “unravel the neutral structure of the brain itself, cell by cell, and ultimately to map the pathways of every neuron in the brain” (Kaku 202).

Although achieving the success in these technologies requires “several more decades of hard work”, they could help humans figure out how the brain works in human body, where consciousness comes from, and stimulate these features in computer algorithms, which could make humans live in perpetuity in the digital forms in the future. What’s more, he also conjectures several benefits brought by digital immortality. He asserts that “one day, we might have a library of souls” (Kaku 201). In his opinion, human communications, as well as transmission of knowledge, could process beyond time and space, which could function like computers. Maybe, it will be an effective and productive way of living in the future.

Living in perpetuity could be like a coin with two sides: it could either bring human civilization into another level, or it could lead humans to a long and bumpy road at the same time. Extending Kurzweil’s view, with more advanced technology, humans could know about the problems of our advanced technology more clearly and know how to fix and avoid them. In addition, the development of technology is unavoidable, and the outcomes of advanced technology could bring us more benefits than disadvantages. He points out that “the only viable and responsible path is to set a careful course that can realize the benefits while managing the dangers” (Kurzweil 44).

Humans could be able to set “defensive technologies” when new advanced technologies are invented (Kurzweil 45). Hence, the drawbacks of advanced technologies could not be the troubles, and humans could enjoy more benefits than disadvantages. However, his optimistic thoughts were broken by the “CRISPR” baby in real life. In the article “A Chinese scientist created the world’s first babies genetically edited with CRISPR: a set of twin girls, with a third CRISPR baby on the way” (Belluz).

A Chinese scientist “created” two human babies by changing their internal genes without any restrictions. In this case, humans seemingly didn’t obtain any defensive technologies to face the problems. The idea of gene editing is dangerous because no one knows how this experiment will influence the human gene pool and cause problems. However, maybe in this Chinese scientist’s point of view, there must be a sacrifice on the path of technology breakthrough. From this example of genetics, the closer humans try to approach the technology threshold, the more dangers and uncertainties there will be. 

In addition, when humans live in the digital forms in the future, they could get huge amounts of benefits and costs at the same time. On one hand, human beings living in the digital form actually become more powerful than living in the physical form that is restricted by the limited physical body. As Kaku mentions in his essay, “I would personally enjoy having a conversation with Albert Einstein” (Kaku 201).

Advanced technology even enables people to have a meeting with predecessors, who are in the digital form. Due to the advantages of the system of computers and the Internet all over the world, human beings can learn and interact with each other easier than humans in real physical form because digital humans can reach anywhere in the world and process unimaginable information in a limited period of time. On the other hand, losing the essence of being human beings will be a possible severe problem when humans live in the digital form. Kaku also discusses another possibility of living in the digital form by mentioning a scientific film Star Trek: “The aliens became immortal, but one of these aliens longed to have a body once again, to be able to feel real sensations and passions” (Kaku 203).

From his words, it may be meaningless to live like in the digital form because since a human being is restricted in the machine, he or she could lose their feelings, powers, and senses to keep in touch with the real world. Although digital human beings might have consciousness to behave, function, and communicate like real human beings, it could still not be an appropriate way of living. It is because human beings need to connect with the real world and keep learning things through the process of that.

The way that makes us conscious and keeps our superiority among all life-forms is to keep learning from experience, failure, and ourselves. For example, people learn the feeling of an object by touching it and remember the smell of an odor by sniffing at it. Nevertheless, living in digital form prevents people from learning like a real human being, so that it could be meaningless to live in perpetuity like that.

More importantly, the disadvantages may overweigh the advantages because the problems accompanied by new technology are dangerous and uncertain. The problems may both exist during our path of developing new fields as well as when humans actually get there. Some may argue that immortality could give the poor a chance to chase after the wealth and narrow the wealth gap because one could have enough time to work so hard to accumulate the wealth, even though the income they earn each is low. However, indeed income could increase a lot in a long period for the poor, it is still hard for them to exceed the rich with abundant wealth which has been accumulated for hundreds of years.

When new technology is invented, wealthy people could be the greatest beneficiaries every time. With the latest technology, they could suddenly and unstoppably generate huge gaps with the poor. It could be like a vicious circle that wealthy people could use the latest technology to form into a better version of themselves. These problems could jump out of people’s imagination, and they could be too dramatic when the technology crosses the threshold sometime in the future. The result could be that humans have no time to respond to the problems because humans have never experienced the situation before. Imagine that: in the future, the rich could not be restricted by their physical body. Instead, they could store all of their information in the digital form, such as a chip that is connected with the Internet.

Even though their physical bodies are damaged, they could still live as long as they want by changing their physical body. Even worse, they could insert their chips, their souls, into any physical body they like. In consequence, just from biological appearance, it could be hard to tell who the person is, which could lead to serious problems such as violating the law without punishment due to lack of identity. They could gain too much power to get rid of the restriction of moral laws, which are the fundamental components of the civilized human society.

On the contrary

For the poor, the technology of immortality could make their physical bodies valueless because humans could reproduce physical bodies themselves, and they could become redundant because tons of simple work can be accomplished by machines. Harari points out the problems of it: “Once you are superfluous, you don’t have power” (15). The poor could hardly do anything to make their own decisions or change the order of society, although they obtain a huge amount of people. In the end, the power between the poor and the rich will be off the balance, which will crush the whole civilization.

All in all, immortality, the dream, is wonderful and fascinating when humans just think about the advantages of it, just like Kurzweil and Kaku’s ideas that breakthroughs in technology can change the well being of human kinds in the present. Nevertheless, under its beautiful veil, the problems as Harari states, generated during the way of exploring new technology as well as after immortality has been accomplished, are dangerous, unpredictable, and under controlled. Breaking through the threshold of technology is not wrong because it shows the progress of human civilization, but humans have to be more careful with the side effects of it when experiencing rapid development.

Written by Gechen Shen

What Did Ray Kurzweil Predict?

Works Cited

Belluz, Julia. “Is the CRISPR Baby Controversy the Start of a Terrifying New Chapter in Gene Editing?” Vox.com, Vox Media, 22 Jan. 2019, www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/11/30/18119589/crispr-gene-editing-he-jiankui.

Harari, Yuval. “Death Is Optional–A Conversation: Yuval Harari and Daniel Kahneman” https://www.edge.org/conversation/yuval_noah_harari-daniel_kahneman-death-is-optional.

Kaku, Michio. The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth, (200-203) 2018 Doubleday, NY.

Kurzweil, Ray. “Reinventing Humanity: The Future of Machine-Human Intelligence”, Future Survey, Apr2006, Vol. 28 Issue 4, p15.

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