The future according to Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil covered a wide range of topics from the technological to the philosophical in his books.
The writer with Ray Kurzweil
The writer with Ray Kurzweil

BENGALURU: I met inventor-futurist Ray Kurzweil on the day his book The Singularity is Nearer was released at Kepler’s Bookstore (California). Wearing his trademark hand-painted suspenders, 76-year-old Ray was gentle and thoughtful. In conversation with his daughter Amy Kurzweil (New Yorker cartoonist and author of Artificial), Ray covered a wide range of topics from the technological to the philosophical. I have tried to understand what his ideas mean to the world and share his six key predictions for the future. 

Singularity by 2045: The term ‘singularity’ is borrowed from mathematics (where it refers to an undefined point in a function, like when dividing by zero) and physics (where it refers to the infinitely dense point at the centre of a black hole, where the normal laws of physics break down). Ray uses ‘singularity’ as a metaphor.

His predictions of technological singularity do not suggest that rates of change will become infinite but will come to a point where AI surpasses human intelligence. As the transition happens, we will enhance our cognition quickly enough to adapt. In his 2005 bestseller book The Singularity is Near, Ray had already suggested that we will achieve singularity by 2045.  When we do, humanity will be a million times more intelligent than today!

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): AGI refers to a type of artificial intelligence that possesses the ability to understand, learn, and apply knowledge across a wide range of tasks at a level comparable to that of a human being. AGI aims to handle any intellectual task that a human can. Ray had predicted in early 2000 that we would achieve AGI by 2029, while scientists said it would take around 100 years. Today, his predictions are coming true, and some like Elon Musk believe we can achieve AGI even earlier!

Longevity Escape Velocity: By 2029 scientific progress will reach a point where for every year we live, we will regain 12 months, hence reaching longevity escape velocity. Currently, for every year we gain around 4 months in longevity, and beyond 2029 we will regain over a year. People may perhaps not live forever but our average life span will be unimaginably longer.

All energy will be renewable: Advancements in nanotechnology and material science will lead to the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources (sun and wind). Solar power, in particular, will become more efficient and cost-effective, leading to a significant reduction in reliance on fossil fuels. By 2035, all our energy needs will be fulfilled by renewable energy (and by using just 1 per cent of the sun’s energy). No other form of energy including nuclear power would be needed!

Human-machine integration: Ray foresees a future where humans and machines merge through brain-computer interfaces and nanotechnology. By the 2030s, humans will be able to connect their brains to the cloud, enhancing cognitive abilities, memory, and learning capacity. We would be able to back up our normal biological bodies, just as we back up our devices! Ray believes AI will have less bias than humans.

Universal Basic Income (UBI): We will have UBI in developed countries by the early 2030s and in most countries by the late 2030s. People will be able to live well by today’s standards on that income. This would entail regular payments to all adults, or the provision of free goods and services, likely funded by some combination of taxes on automation-driven profits and government investments in emerging technologies. Related programs might provide financial support to people caring for families or building healthy communities.

Ray’s predictions are shocking, hopeful, scary, disruptive, personal, and ultimately indisputable. We are going to experience life in a whole new way, but progress must align with values. Ray believes that the best way to keep AI safe is to protect and improve our governance, social institutions, and ethical ideals.

(The writer’s views are personal)

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