Ray Kurzweil On 'The Singularity' Future - InformationWeek

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Ray Kurzweil On 'The Singularity' Future

The noted futurist has released a movie, The Singularity is Near, exploring how technology may reshape the fabric of our physical reality and life experiences.

The story's B-line traces Kurzweil's virtual creation, Ramona, through a predicament where she has to pass the Turing Test and fool a panel into thinking she is a real human being. For most of us, the question of when machines will be able to emulate the complexity marking human intelligence is an engaging philosophical pursuit (Ray has a $20,000 bet with Mitch Kapor, creator of Lotus 1-2-3 on this topic), but for Ramona this is a matter of survival, as she will be terminated if she fails.

Despite being in mortal danger, the heroine is able to multi-task, studying for her upcoming exam while combating an insidious planetary threat that several big, bad, and bald "apparatchiks" from homeland security seem all too ready ignore as they obsess on restricting technological and political access to her and other artificially intelligent beings.

Like the character Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ramona's computationally based intellect is vastly superior to that of her human counterparts, but she still struggles with the subtleties involved in a complex emotional response. Some of the film's constructs chronicling her evolution work well, some are a bit over the top, but the scene of Ramona on a virtual tropical island being coached to get in touch with her inner feelings by Tony Robbins, her own personal Yoda, has my vote as the scene most likely to morph into a classic campy YouTube meme.

The A and B story lines intersect around the nature of the new intelligence we are spawning. Kurzweil considers this phenomenon within a more significant process he has coined as "the law of accelerating returns." He asserts that as quickly as things seem to be moving now, the actual rate of change in our technology is exponentially accelerating as well.

Furthermore, not only are all of our current information-based technologies expanding at an exponential rate, but perhaps even more significantly, a similar revolution has begun in three other critical disciplines; genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. Kurzweil explains that these technologies are essentially another manifestation of the manipulation of information and, as they progress, they will synergistically overlap, thereby increasing the impact of their intertwined realms.

What Is Singularity?

The Singularity in the film's title refers to a point in time when the planet's non-biological intelligence will be one billion times more powerful than the sum of all human intelligence existing today. At that point, the non-biological intelligence will have begun to analyze and improve itself in increasingly rapid redesign cycles. Technical progress will be so fast that un-enhanced humans would be unable to follow it. Kurzweil posits that this will occur in 2045 and concedes the extreme difficulty in making predictions past that point.

However, that doesn't stop him from doing so, including surmising on harnessing the computational power available in simple matter (such as a rock) and humanity's eventual destiny to spread intelligence throughout the universe.

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