Thoughts on new documentary on Kurzweil Transcendent Man
I watched the Transcendent Man documentary today. While I enjoyed it, I tried to also think from the view of someone very new to the concepts around the Singularity. (just keep in mind I am no professional movie critic).
Here are my thoughts;
- The movie presents the gist of most of the themes of Kurzweil’s book The Singularity Is Near in an entertaining way, along with some interesting commentary by supporters and detractors.
- Interwoven throughout is a lot of footage concerning Kurzweil’s relationship with his father. So the movie is both about his ideas, and also delves into the man’s personal life – as I suppose a documentary should.
- While interesting, the details of Kurzweil’s piano playing and nostalgia for his father etc. pales to the implications of the Singularity thesis itself. I think a newcomer could get easily distracted by some of Kurzweil’s quirky personality traits and miss the life-changing implications of his research and ideas.
Critics of Kurzweil’s version of the Singularity took one or more of these positions:
- The idea that we will be able to download our brain/mind is flawed – he (RK) does not understand the complexities of human biology.
- While some of the predictions may come true, his timing is way off i.e. by perhaps hundreds of years. Kurzweil is biased in his thinking and the “Immortal by the Year 2045” prediction is a function of his fear of death and a personal ‘need’ for a solution in his lifetime. i.e. wishful thinking.
- The optimistic view that super-human technology will ease us into a utopia is off. There does not seem to be any way to assure that such future artificial intelligence will be friendly to humanity (the Terminator theme)
- There is a good chance mankind won’t make it another 20 years.
- Given the radical changes ahead, we just can’t conceive of the implications.
Several of the objections or alternative views are credible, but not thoroughly developed. For those interested, there is a big section in The Singularity is Near that outlines and responds to the most common criticisms/objections. There have also been other point-counter point critiques in the media where, in my opinion, Kurzweil’s ideas hold up strongly.
My take is that Kurweil is very smart and has spent decades studying and projecting the exponential changes we are now seeing. Few others have delved so deeply. Changes in genetics/biotechnology/technology/artificial intelligence/nanotechnology are coming fast and heavy. Kurzweil, for the most part, has seen his predictions come to be. His views seem very credible to me and need to be taken seriously.
At the same time, given the extreme nature of the changes we are now starting to see, alternative outcomes are likely too. Imagine driving at a very low speed, and dropping your coffee on your lap. Then imagine the same scenario if you are travelling at over 110 kmh. At a slow speed, a little reaction may be unnoticable to the direction of the car, while at high speeds, a little shift of the wheel can have dramatic impact. My point is, in a world of ever expanding radical changes, making accurate predictions will get trickier.
One thing we can count on is that much more change is coming soon. Much more creative destruction is coming soon. Many more challenges to our accepted notions are coming soon.
Thanks for reading. Would love to hear your views and thoughts.