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Ray Kurzweil’s Tech Trance

Ray Kurzweil is a popular futurist that talks about the paradigm shift created by information technology.His theme is the exponential growth in capabilities and downsizing of electronic components that make up our modern computers. He points out the changes have been highly predictable. He envisions a world in which a human brain can be modelled because there will be incredible computational power. Not a wierd guess considering we do it with a system that barely draws 50 Watts and fits in a lunchbox. This guy is deep.

Not to spoil the party, he’s simply an optimist that chose a thing to be optimistic about that never went wrong. Scientifically he is a verificationalist, he looks for confirming evidence.


Big deal, as long as there are cookies in a jar you can tell the world the jar holds an infinite amount of cookies. A bit like we do with bluefin tuna and fish in general at the moment.

Ray’s method is the opposite of what leads to correct beliefs, namely collecting empirical evidence and testing falsifyability (is there evidence to the contrary). Kurzwiel is a rationalist : "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification", because he extrapolates his findings in one field to other fields soley on the basis of it’s succes. That is of course wrong. He says it himself at the end of this video "I got it from my family, to any problem there is a solution…". It’s another way to say "Dead people don’t complain".

Information

The topic of Kurzweils optimism is a very fundamental one, one could say the most fundamental possible. Information is our reality. The most advanced theories of our universe define it as a multidimensional space with constant information. They even go so far as to state that things happen because any space can only hold so much data, so if a star explodes somewhere else, the stuff around here might become unstable and less well defined. Quantum theory is all about information, so as long as we don’t use quantum computers and have voluntarily transferred to avatars on a quantum dot memory bank we will not really run into any obstacles.

Solar energy

He applies his exponential optimism to solar energy :

"Today,
solar is still more expensive than fossil fuels, and in most situations
it still needs subsidies or special circumstances, but the costs are
coming down rapidly we are only a few years away from parity. And then it’s going to keep
coming down, and people will be gravitating towards solar, even if they
don’t care at all about the
environment, because of the economics" (source)

I support any suggestion people will gravitate like pianos from a plane towards solar energy, it’s all optimism though, and not really thought through because making panels requires electricity (at least 30 kWh/Kg) and we have yet to see wide spread use of solar powered solar panel plants (although the do exist).

FYI there is a solar method to refine the silicon for PV panels, developed by the university of Mongolia, I can’t find the paper online anymore though, so his assertion

"As the cost per watt of solar falls significantly below coal and oil, people are going to go to that for economic reasons. It won’t be a political issue."(source)

Is hereby disproven. It is a political issue. He also misunderstands the question of the Guardian interviewer that talks about the irreversible nature of increasing CO2 concentrations. Kurzweil thinks it only depends on energy sources.

"Even if those timelines were correct, there will be quite a
transformation within 10 years and certainly within 15 or 20 years. The
bulk of our energy will be coming from these renewable sources. So, I
think we have plenty of time."
(source)

We don’t. A recent model of future CO2 concetrations showed that if we stopped emitting CO2 100% by 2100 the levels of CO2 would remain the same for 3000 years. That would also mean the oceans would be acidic, anoxic and dead for the forseable future. Kurzweil is like a nerd that thinks everything is related to his world, a world that is an attractive fantasy to his audience.

Trance Induction

There is another aspect of his ideas. He is a trance artist. It just means he puts people in a mindset that has little or no reference to their actual lives, thus is trance inducing (open learning state). What is the difference between talking about "Infinite increases in computational power, 1, 2, 4, 8 times as fast as 20 years ago and everything will be fantastic" and the average hypnotic induction: "you will relax and go deeper and deeper as I count back from 4 to 1 4,3,2, twice as deep 1..". You follow the words until they are the only thing you are aware of..

In a trance you can be made to feel anything that is suggested to you, you lost reference and cling onto things handed to you as you try to generate them yourself. This is the natural learning state and it is how people understand things that are hard to grasp, because they construct them out of knowledge they already have. That is the most efficient way to ‘internalize’ reality (disclosure:I studied neuroscience).

The lessons learned however are uttely useless in understanding the facts on the ground. Ray does not care about that obviously, he only needs to care about the veracity of his core belief, that computational power doubles every 18 months or so (Moore’s law).

If you meet someone that references Ray Kurzweil when talking about the climate, snap your fingers in front of his eyes and shout "WAKE UP! WIDE AWAKE NOW!".

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