Ray Kurzweil is an amazing guy. He is one of the proponent of the modern techno evangelicals. His talks are full of promise and optimism, full of new amazing possiblilities, new frontiers. He has done some incredible things like discover that Moore’s law has been true continuously even before the first computers. You may feel already that this introduction is preparing for a great reversal of praise..
This is not Ray Kurzweil
It is not really. The people that tell you Moore’s law of doubling of the number of transistors that fit on a chip or the amount of memory stored on a hard disk is true, are happy with progress. Aren’t we all. The question is : What does this progress mean. What can we read into it. How can you tell an audience that has been smothered in positive buzz about all kinds of technology to cool it a bit. To step back and see what real progress is achieved. If one looks at it that way, the answer may disappoint.
We like to lose control, but only in a safe environment. Raveling in promising technology provides the mix, we can think ‘we don’t know what will happen’ and at the same time ‘but it must be good’ because it is ‘more’, almost literally. Moore’s law, we all want more, and it is more, because it means doubling! No clue what is said or implied or meant, no clue wether we have any control over the moral side of change, we are on a happy ride to the future.
The ideas about the brain he explains above where in 1990 textbooks. Otherwise he’s completely wrong about the way he interprets information on the brain. It is a series of annecdotes strung together in a serious confident voice. This is what his audience needs, it doesn’t like to distrust him for his boldness in presenting all these unkowns. Muck like a preacher teaching about the promised land. A sentence like “You will connect the modules in the Neocortex to the cloud” as kind of extention is such bullshit. “You will expand your neocortex without limit”. Please. Ray does not know that neocortical regions all inhibit each other, so once we have external corex additions, our mind will be effectively shut down.
A younger prodigy of Kurzweil is Salim Ismail. He can run down a number of new amazing technologies that turns our living world into a morphable feast. Fosforescent cats, tricoders, transformational technologies in the field of medical science. And “Solar energy is double in its price performance and has been every 2-5 years”. His talk below is really confusing in it’s mixing of quantities. Google car video material : “O my god, It’s driving itself! AAAAAArg”. Out of control but amazed. Exactly the same formula.
Really to disect these stories is easy for someone like me who was actually a neuroscientist and actually understands most technologies mentioned. Ismael says : That’s his amygdala freaking out. The maygdala mediates fear responses, like a flinch when something hits your eyes. “Every regulatory mechanism is now going to break down”. Switching to the digital media business showing a revenue drop. As if this has any bearing on any topic? What happened to digital media? They went digital! Next a new doubling mantra about 3d printing. Predictions where wrong, it was exponential. Next AirBnB has its turn. Its growth also shows an exponential curve. This is the message of Salim Ismail. Be aware that growth is not linear anymore, but probably exponential.
Wonder : What problem are we trying to fix here? Because confusion is a problem.
Salims talk is realy a whirlwind of facts and details about new technology. It’s mumbo jumbo to most of the audience, and so what can the audience pick up? the words double, millions, you don’t need, dissruption, disappearance. The mind holds on to the parts of what is said it can. “Three billion new minds will come online” omg. It is really impossible to keep up with his rapid fire of technology examples. Even the trained mind will be exhausted by such a useless summation. It’s actually a well know hypnotic technique, a confusion trategy. Here it is used to take a new view of the world, to sell the necessity to choose a new ‘business perspective’.
Growth and adoptation of technology has to do with many factors. One is cost. The above graph shows the growth of Paypal. I was looking for the growth of faxes, but this is pretty much the same thing. Why? Because one faxmachine is useless, one paypal account (that allows you to pay digitally between email type adresses) as well. Once a number of people have faxes they become more valuable and the pressure to have one grows. With Paypal the owner Elon Musk didn’t wait, but just paid people to open an account. Once the growth of Paypal caught on people thought they needed it and opened accounts for free.
Paypal’s growth curve was payed for, just like Ubers
Interesting enough Paypal grew in the era of sucky phones and a budding internet. Yet it grew quite like the Fax machine and some other inventions found later. The answer why is simple : They where technologies that where an improvement for everybody, so the growth had a lot to do with simply knowing about it. This is a function of human networks, and as those multiply knowledge by an exponential factor (5 people have 5 close friends who have 5 more friends) with cost friction and other losses along the way, you get an exponential curve. The lessen to be learned here is that people usually only adopt something if they see it in their enviroment, and maybe that if you want to strike this well of customers you need to make something small that most people find so usefull they will prioritize to buy it over what they would otherwise have bought.
Uber down $600 Million, about 1/3 an average Wallstreet bonus
Uber, also used as an example by Salem and Yuri van der Geest (in Holland) is no accident. They are not making profit, so how can it operate? Simple : Wall street money. Just like Starbucks, Mc Donalds etc. etc. If you can make huge losses you will always succeed in pushing out the competition. That is no miracle of exponential adaption, unless you ignore the cost, then you offer a better option where one wasn’t before, and you get exponential growth. Any product with marginal inprovement that has money backing it’s initial losses will show this pattern. Of course most people don’t know Wallstreet will never run out of cash, even though we all do know the US prints its own money at zero interest rates. The miracle is that we still accept it.
Yuri van der Geest is a dutch writer who create the book Exponential Organizations in which he combines books about innovation and opinions of famous opinionators like Bloomberg and Arianne Huffington. Ceo’s validated the methodology (whatever that means). This guy is not the first to take a lot of fantastic examples and claims and cross relationships (which may or may not exist) to dazzle the reader into disorientation. The final advice is to embrace technology. But we where already doing that.
Yuri’s final conclusion echo’s my view of the future that I call the Roboeconomy, that I have been blogging about for a while now. The question the Roboeconomy answers is how to make the adoption of technology benign. The key is to remove the pressure to grow an ‘economy’ by using only renewables. This makes ‘funding’ for change always local, always proportional. In the interview above Yuri is correctly called out about his interpretation of low tech growth like Ubers as an expression of high technology, it is not, it is a marketing exercise.
A good example of a multi million marketing exercise against solar is Solyndra. This solar company was run into the ground to serve as a negative example to discourage solar for the Republicans.
As someone that knows more about the arduous path of Tesla it is hard to accept Yuri’s nonchalant expectation that this approach can be adopted by others. The key to Tesla’s succes is that everything about it was terribly hard (even though an initial investment of 60 million could be made by Elon Musk). Several times, even quite recently Tesla came close to bankruptcy, it did not have the luxury of running a $600 million deficit like Uber, because it was truely disruptive, and true disruption is fought tooth and nail by the market.
Yuri sounds like what I think he is, a techno evangalist, techno optimist, who triggers people to be amazed. He is an entertainer of sorts, who offers no leadership, nor does Salem, nor Kurzweil. The key to these ‘thinkers’ is simple : Economism. Of course there are limitless funds and accolades for anyone good at that.