A Conversation with Ray Kurzweil

Photo Credit: 92nd Street Y.

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About This Episode

Earlier this year, Neil deGrasse Tyson interviewed noted futurist and inventor, Ray Kurzweil, as part of the 92nd Street Y “7 Days of Genius” series. Now you can listen to that interview without having to travel back in time to the upper east side of New York City. But travel you will, into the future, thanks to a man the Wall Street Journal called a “restless genius.” Discover why Ray predicts that computers will reach the level of human intelligence by 2029, and what that really means. Explore the development of the human neocortex 2 million years ago, with its 300 million modules that enabled humanity to invent language, physics, art and music. And find out why, in the future, we may expand our neocortex again via nano-robots that will connect our brains seamlessly to the cloud, enabling a new leap forward in human intelligence. You’ll learn about the revolutions in biotechnology and nanotechnology that will eventually enable us to live longer, lose weight easier, and fight off pathogens like HIV and diseases like cancer. Neil and Ray also discuss immortality and the strain it would put on the planet’s resources like energy and water, Edward Snowden and concerns about the loss of privacy vs. the desire for security, the benefits of biotechnology vs. concerns about bioterrorism, and fictional depictions of dystopian artificial intelligence run amok.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here:  A Conversation with Ray Kurzweil

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  • Ray Hutchinson

    I loved this interview!!! I wish you guys could have kept chatting for hours!!!

  • Seth Bergstrom

    I am merely a fraction of the IQ of just one of the people speaking in this podcast let alone both speakers… and I’m sure there are a lot of debates on many of the subjects covered. But there was one moment that jumped out at me as weirdly ignorant. In the conversation about immortality Kurzweil says “if you take a train across america or any part of the world 99% of the land mass is not used…”. What’s the definition of used? Developed by humans? I’m pretty sure 100% of land mass is used by non human life… nature… plants, animals ect. and we’re not doing the most bang up job of managing the effects of our 1% usage over the other 99% plus oceans… I don’t trust someone that see’s nature as “unused” landmass

    • kidsthesedays

      The implications are obvious.

    • Juan Mendaro

      We will eventually need to do that.
      But im sorry to say, i care WAY more about the future of the humanity than i do care about wild species.

    • At the 36:50 mark, Kurzweil is referring to looking out of a train as an example of what you would see out your window as you traveled the railways of the world. And by “used”, I believe he means “developed” or “directly utilized by humans in some form”. So, yeah, sure, while “everything” is “used” by something out there in some way. But in this case, he’s just making a generalization, noting that, oh, yeah, we could build more farms here or more housing units there.

      Personally, I’m not all that worried about a “runaway train” of human population growth since there are many more factors involved rather than just a fairly linear equation of “people have x number of babies each year”. What Neil describes is actually (hold your breath!) what’s called in mathematics, a “singularity”. Basically, it’s just a point in an equation where some variable shoots off to infinity or even just something ridiculously large. You can watch an interesting little vid about it over at PBS on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/0pIRibivolA There is just no way we would ever realistically get even close to the point where humans would be standing shoulder to shoulder, front to back on the entire surface of the planet. There are just too many other variables that would kick in along the way WELL before that would happen. In fact, they actually talk about that in that PBS Infinite Series vid so, be sure to check that out! 😉

      BTW, never think for one moment that a question you have isn’t valid because you don’t think you’re “smart enough” or not “qualified” compared to whoever. IMHO, you approached your question from a position of humility and had a very good point. Yes, I think Kurzweil might come across as very cold when referring to things like “unused landmass”. But I believe that he is just presenting data and raw information for what it is. Technical people are very good at simply conveying this raw information untainted by twinges of emotion. However, having said that, it is still important to maintain a healthy respect for our environment, especially considering that at this point it’s the only one we have. But, I’m reasonably certain that if asked, Kurzweil would maintain that he respects the environment. After all, what would be the point of living forever if the world was just one giant housing development. (e.g. – The planet Coruscant in the Star Wars universe.)

      I also just want to briefly mention, too, that, yes, if you were to simply just “upload” your mind to a computer it would indeed simply be a true copy and thus, in and of itself, its “own” individual entity, much as if you were to suddenly create a twin of yourself. Kurzweil actually hints at the way to get around this little problem. In fact, he does so much in the same way that the “transporter problem” in Star Trek was rationalized. Remember how he referred to our budding smart phone/Cloud tech as actually being yet another layer on top of our cerebral cortex, much in the same way it was built on top of the neocortex? Basically, by eventually being able to “run” what I guess we could call a “Cloudcortex” in parallel along with our “meat mind”, we would end up with in a state where essentially our “being”, our “mental essence”, would blend between the two to the point where you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Now, if you were to sever the connection between the meat and the metal well, then, yes, you would again end up with two separate entities. However, let’s say you get that connection setup and running to the point of perfect synergy. And please keep in mind that we don’t really store our memories like data files in a computer drive where each thought or memory is in a physical location but instead is what is more than likely a kind of “holographic” or “fractal” format. You break a piece off and you essentially have a copy of the whole, just at a lower “resolution”. So, once you have this perfect meat/machine mind up and running with perfect synergy, let’s say you “shut off” (in other words, yep, your body dies) your meat brain…what you are left with? Essentially, at this point you would have what is now your entire consciousness being entirely inside of a machine.

      Having said all of that, there are still some things that might not allow the whole thing to work. Specifically, what we think of as our “mind” might still actually depend on the rest of our body to provide us with the physical context for everything that exists within it. Like how the feeling of Anger is really just the tightening of certain muscle groups and the feeling of adrenalin squirting into our veins or how we wouldn’t really know how Love would feel without knowing what being hungry was like, as in, when you say you yearn, or hunger, for someone who is missing in your life. It may just be that without all of those little cues from the rest of your body, all of that “stuff” that you downloaded into the machine will essentially just be useless static; garbage data without meaning or reference.

      Bla bla bla. I’m sorry. I do tend to ramble. Especially when talking about subjects like this. 😛

      Anyway, keep on asking those questions! Take care! Peace and carpe diem, all! 🙂

  • Nqina Dlamini

    I worry about immortal dictators.

    • Teemu Soilamo

      I hear that dictator’s a pretty dangerous job.

  • Peter Jacobs

    The biggest problem with the Internet is that there is no reliable way to sort out Facts from Opinions from B.S.! If we were all connected by nanobots, I fear we would be paralysed by the inability to cope with so much information. It would be like induced Autism.
    In addition; considering the ability of propaganda to influence people currently, surely this would be an even greater risk. Could we lose track of the boundary between self and the Cloud?

    • Peter, I (Jeff) was all excited about nanobots in my brain until reading this comment. You bring up an awesome point. The filtering system would need to be better than the one we each employ now to sort out the BS from the real data, because the sheer volume of BS and bad data in the cloud would be overwhelming.

      • Erik Frostrup

        I would suggest a simple filtering system, which already exists. Your life today consists of thousands of ads communicated to you through your ears and eyes as you commute to work, watch tv, or listen to the radio or youtube. The information is ALREADY being put into your brain. You still have a mental filtering system to choose which ones you listen to, and when you say, “Ah, no more for me, thanks.” and turn it off. Why would any product worth it’s dollar not allow the user actual control of application? One of the reasons I don’t buy a lot new of products today because I don’t believe they will offer much to my well being or personal enjoyment. I, and I hope the majority of the public, would allow it as a cognitive application, not an “overmind”. Could it eventually develop into an “overmind”? I argue that people from the 1930’s might argue that has already happened to us. I hope that as long as real, free, and critical choice of media exists, we will be a free species. No matter what the media input….. FINGERS CROSSED.

  • Peter Jacobs

    With regard to A.I., as long as a person + a computer can out perform a computer alone, we are more intelligent.

  • Hunter

    Woah Woah Woah… did Ray Kurzweil just say he thinks Quantum Computing will never work? or is he referring to the encryption piece of quantum computing?

    In my eyes, the future of long distance communication will be through quantum entanglement. Please tell me my dreams of transmitting data instantaneously are not misguided.

  • Thank you! And, since you’re new, “Welcome to the party, pal!”

  • Eric Thompson

    I recently heard the talk with Ray Kurzweil from 9/9/2016. Specficially the part about nano-bots connecting human brains to the cloud. If this happens many people will have enormous mental abilities. What is interesting to me is the superstitious people ( you know ,the one”s who try to drag society backwards) will not make the change. They will have relatively less intelligence and might be outcompeted.
    Can you say Neanderthal?

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