Raymond Kurzweil: Genius, Wacko, Or Both?

ramonaNewsweek has published a fascinating profile of Raymond Kurzweil, looking at his inventions and his predictions for the future.

Kurzweil is best known to musicians for creating the Kurzweil keyboard – but he’s also a pioneer in the world of optical character recognition and text-to-speech software, and has created a new career for himself as a futurist:

Kurzweil believes computer intelligence is advancing so rapidly that in a couple of decades, machines will be as intelligent as humans. Soon after that they will surpass humans and start creating even smarter technology.

He also thinks we’ll be able to embed our consciousness into silicon, which means we can live on, inside machines, forever and ever, amen.

Kurzweil calls this moment “The Singularity,” and says it represents the next great leap in human evolution, when humans will transcend biology by merging with technology. Kurzweil truly believes this is going to happen—and he can’t wait to be part of it. All he has to do is stay alive until 2045, when he believes the necessary technologies will be available. So he lives on a strict diet, and every day he swallows 150 dietary supplements in order to “reprogram” his body’s biochemistry.

He also has a female virtual alter-ego, Ramona, above right, who’s the Barbie of futurism.

I’m smarter, I write and perform my own music, and I’m as real as you!”, claims Ramona.

Many think Kurweil’s predictions are wacky:

They include P. Z. Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, who has used his blog to poke fun at Kurzweil and other armchair futurists who, according to Myers, rely on junk science and don’t understand basic biology.

I am completely baffled by Kurzweil’s popularity, and in particular the respect he gets in some circles, since his claims simply do not hold up to even casually critical examination,” writes Myers. He says Kurzweil’s Singularity theories are closer to a deluded religious movement than they are to science.

“It’s a New Age spiritualism—that’s all it is,” Myers says. “Even geeks want to find God somewhere, and Kurzweil provides it for them.”

Kurzweil’s vision of a man-machine utopia, where you can expect to live forever and be rockstar Barbie, may be pretty far-fetched.

From my perspective, though, you have to give Kurzweil the benefit of the doubt. I’ve got a Kurzweil K2500, and every time I use it I appreciate that it was way ahead of its time.

Check out the full article and let me know what you think. Is it time to bust out the dietary supplements and live forever, or has Kurzweil strayed a little too far from his areas of expertise?

2 thoughts on “Raymond Kurzweil: Genius, Wacko, Or Both?

  1. If you go through his predictions from ten or twenty years ago, you'll find thee are no major mispredictions and a lot of uncanny correct predictions. That coupled with technical success in (seemingly) diverse fields, makes it very difficult to undermine his claims.

    Hold on to your butts, I say.

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