I wrote this piece for the Globe and Mail newspaper. You can read it in its entirety here. As is always the case in these debates, people will generally focus on the technology and the likelihood. That’s to be expected, of course. But since there is little or no chance that we will see mind-to-machine transfer in the next 100 years, in a way the secondary question is far more fascinating: Why is the mainstream so eager to promote and advance this idea? The comments attached to the Globe piece so far focus, as expected, on the issue of whether or not it can be done. We need to change that conversation so that we are more aware of how the dialogue and rhetoric around these utopian technological ideas are permeating society.
From the beginning of the Globe piece:
The most remarkable thing about Ray Kurzweil is not that he is convinced that he will never have to die. It’s that his ideas have gone mainstream.
He has just released a new book, the modestly titled, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. Meanwhile, over the past six years, the 64-year-old American futurist and inventor has been on the cover of Time magazine and has been the subject of a feature-length documentary. Forbes magazine dubbed him “the ultimate thinking machine.” He has 19 honorary doctorates and commands speaking fees of as much as $50,000.
All this stature stems primarily from his conviction that by 2040 we will be able to transfer our minds to machines.
As the promotional text proclaimed on his 2006 book The Singularity Is Near, “Our intelligence will become increasingly non-biological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today.” This will give birth to the Singularity – a time of total transformation in which we will merge with our computers, cast off our bodies, extend our lives indefinitely and have near-infinite intelligence at our disposal. (Mr. Kurzweil didn’t invent the idea, but he certainly popularized it.)
I reach Mr. Kurzweil at his home in Massachusetts and ask him if the predictions he first made in 2006 are still accurate. “We’re very much on that course,” he tells me. “We are right on the curve.” The curve is a graph showing, as he explains it to me, “the law of accelerating returns, the exponential growth of every form of information technology.”