If Ray Kurzweil Is Right (Again), You’ll Meet His Immortal Soul in the Cloud

You put a stake in the ground with your book The Singularity Is Near. This one is called The Singularity Is Nearer. How do you define the singularity?

To me it’s when a human will not only be able to do everything that other people can do, but also create something new, like curing certain forms of cancer. AI is integral to doing that, because you can actually try out every single possible combination of things that might cure cancer. And instead of asking which one of those billions of possible cures are we going to try, we can try them all, and we can simulate them in a few days. The singularity is when we can actually combine that kind of thinking with our normal thinking, and we will then become superhuman.

If we get to that point where we’re all merged with superintelligent systems, will there still be huge personal fortunes, or will income inequality be mitigated at that point?

What’s the difference between, say, us and billionaires? They can sell companies and so on. But in terms of our ability to enjoy the fruits of life, it’s pretty much the same.

More than half the people in the United States can’t come up with $500 for an emergency. Are you confident that the social safety net, and universal basic income and programs like that, will equally share this promised abundance?

The safety net has expanded enormously. It’s hundreds of programs. And it’s going to keep doing that. Is that guaranteed? No. It depends on decisions that we make, and what kind of political systems we deploy. Once we get to AGI, computers will be able to do anything, including cleaning the dishes and coming up with poetry—anything you say, these machines can do.

Your views strike me as Panglossian. Do you feel that humans are essentially good?

Yes. Out of all of this turmoil, we’ve gotten technology, which never would have happened without brains combined with opposable thumbs. Good things happen.

You could argue that we’re destroying the planet.

Well, no. Within 10 years we’ll come up with renewable energy that doesn’t produce carbon dioxide. Look, we’re going through a very big change. People—not just scientists and philosophers—are asking, “How are we going to handle this?” I think those changes will continue to be positive. We don’t have to worry about it.

Vernor Vinge, who first fleshed out the singularity concept, also died recently. Were you in touch with him?

I was in touch with him along the way. I think the last time was probably 10 years ago. How old was he?

I think he was in his eighties. [Kurzweil reaches for his phone.] Yeah, check that part of your brain.

[Looking at the screen] OK, he was born in ’44. just died in ’24. Seventy-nine. It’s fairly young.


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