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Exponential Technologies: Cheer Up World—We Are On the Verge of Great Things

Humanpanel_2 At the recent World Science Festival in New York City, Ray Kurzweil outlined why he is certain that the future isn’t as dreary as it’s been painted, and why we are closer to the incredible than we think: Exponential upward curves can be deceptively gradual in the beginning. But when things start happening, they happen fast. Here are a selection of his predicted trajectories for these “miracles” based on his educated assessment of where science and technology is at in the present.

·    Within 5 years the exponential progress in nanoengineering will make Solar power cost-competitive with fossil fuels

·    Within 10 years we will have a pill that allows us all to eat whatever we feel like and never gain any unwanted weight

·    In 15 years, life expectancies will start rising faster than we age

·    In about 20 years 100% of our energy will come from clean and renewable sources, and a computer will pass the Turing Test by carrying on a conversation that is indistinguishable from a human’s.

Commenting on the validity of Kurzweil’s predictions, John Tierney notes in the New York Times that Kurzweil has been uncannily accurate in the past:

“It may sound too good to be true, but even his critics acknowledge he’s not your ordinary sci-fi fantasist. He is a futurist with a track record and enough credibility for the National Academy of Engineering to publish his sunny forecast for solar energy. He makes his predictions using what he calls the Law of Accelerating Returns, a concept he illustrated at the festival with a history of his own inventions for the blind.

In 1976, when he pioneered a device that could scan books and read them aloud, it was the size of a washing machine. Two decades ago he predicted that “early in the 21st century” blind people would be able to read anything anywhere using a handheld device. In 2002 he narrowed the arrival date to 2008. On Thursday night at the festival, he pulled out a new gadget the size of a cellphone, and when he pointed it at the brochure for the science festival, it had no trouble reading the text aloud. This invention, Dr. Kurzweil said, was no harder to anticipate than some of the predictions he made in the late 1980s, like the explosive growth of the Internet in the 1990s and a computer chess champion by 1998.”

Kurzweil backed up his claims at the conference with charts and graphs that showed some of the exponential advancements of the past. One graph showed how computing power started with the first electromechanical machines over a century ago. Initially they doubled every three years. At mid-century, they began to double every two years, which was the rate that inspired Moore’s Law. It now takes only a year. Another graph showed technological changes going back millions of starting with stone tools working its way up to modern computers.

“Certain aspects of technology follow amazingly predictable trajectories,” Kurzweil noted. Hopefully, the popular sci-fi plot where uncontrolled science and technology dooms mankind has gotten it backwards. If Kurzweil is right, the future isn’t as bleak as many claim, and science may well turn out to be our savior.

Posted by Rebecca Sato

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Source: nytimes.com/tierneylab


nice to hear something cheerful for a change. Everyone talks about how new scientific developments and technology have the power to destroy us, but we can't "throw the baby out with the bathwater". We need to focus more on all of the incredible things that we can accomplish.

Thank you. I needed this today.

First cerful thin i'v herd from this website in a wile.

Sounds real good. I've always been a sci-fi fan
and can see now nearly everything's coming true..

That anti-weight-gain pill sounds like a mixed blessing; to be able to eat (as much of?) anything we want and not put on the pounds? Are we going to have enough food for that?

Lol Ray Kurzweil thinks he's Jesus of Nazareth. What a load of crap. Yes, there will be progress, but he underestimates the stick in the mud nature of humanity.

Around 2060 (approx) supercomputer of that age that takes up a space of a hangar combined with A.I., will be put together. The purpose of this "machine" is to in a way replace scientists working in some field of technology development. It will be like an electronic Einstein, Tesla, Leonardo... and all great discoverers, scientists and inventors combined all together and multiplied by computing power x times (well just imagine a super-computer that takes up a space of today's super-computers but 50 or more years from know (nanotechnology will be old by that time)). What will that machine do?
Lets just say that it will create technological, environmental, medical, and all other improvements that will our society need. X times faster than all the scientists of the time, which means we are going to progress at incredible speed.
That will be the biggest "revolution" of our civilization.

Many will disagree with this arguing that AI will never be possible, but I strongly disagree that we cannot build a artificial mind. If "mindless" nature was able to create it through evolution, how can we say than that we cannot?

Maybe even 50 years form now is not enough, but you just wait!

A lot of these sound great - but the pill to lose weight? Abnormal weight may be natures way of telling you to change your diet. It sounds like this would allow you to effectively disconnect from nature's built-in feedback mechanism. That's part of why our world is in such a mess as it is - people can live extravagently and shelter themselves from the consequences of their excess. A future of slim junk food addicts is not too exciting to me.

A lot of these sound great - but the pill to lose weight? Abnormal weight may be natures way of telling you to change your diet. It sounds like this would allow you to effectively disconnect from nature's built-in feedback mechanism. That's part of why our world is in such a mess as it is - people can live extravagently and shelter themselves from the consequences of their excess. A future of slim junk food addicts is not too exciting to me.

All these advancements are fine ideed,but by the time they occur the average American will not be in any position to afford them because the industry involved will be overseas, and most Americans will be unemployed.

Well, most of it sounds good. It's nice to hear something cheerful, but of course I have to ruin it. If life expectancies begin growing faster than aging, the overpopulation crisis would dwarf almost any of the problems we currently have.

you people should really consider reading his book. "the singularity is near" it has a lot more to say about the future than the 4 things this post puts an emphasis on. it is a decent sized book and well worth the time to read. you should also try to find video of him speaking, he is a very enthusiastic speaker and is tons of fun to watch

The idea that AI will be impossible is utterly laughable. It's not possible now because we can't fit the computing power of the brain in a medium sized room yet. That barrier will fall in a decade or two.

Human beings aren't very special. 99% of human beings are barely distinguishable from walking monkeys in pants.

I don't drive -- haven't owned a car for eighteen years, because the car culture is an obvious example of human's being little more than monkeys in pants -- but recently I've been catching a ride with my girlfriend to where I have an onsite contract (I'd rather take the bus so I can work enroute and bill my transit time, but riding with her helps me maintain a compatible schedule) and the way people drive is clear proof that the vast majority of human beings are little more than monkeys in pants.

Any human being with a shred of intelligence would immediately intuit when presented with the driving environment, that the way to maximize flow would be to minimize accelerating & braking. To do this you would maintain adequate space between you and the car in front of you.

How much space exactly depends on the average distance between stops, the rate of flow the road is capable of handling, and the speed limit the stoplights are designed to control. This is just so obvious to anyone with intelligence that it barely bears explaining, but anyone who wasn't intelligent enough to find it obvious could easily discover it by spending a couple hours writing a simulation (such an easy task that it is a common 2nd or third year computer science project, and if those monkeys in pants can do it, anyone should be able to).

But how do 99.9% of people drive, the people whose intelligence is supposedly so special we'll never be able to reproduce it with computers?

Like monkeys in pants. Accelerate impatiently until you have to brake sharply, bumper a couple feet from the car ahead of you who also accelerated pointlessly from one red light to the next.

Monkeys. In. Pants.

The idea that we won't be able to attain and surpass this so called intelligence with computers is ridiculously absurd patent bs.

S.O.G. I'm glad that your exciting times getting a lift in your girlfriend's car has taught you so much about how humans are monkey's in pants. But why don't you use some of that creative energy of yours to come up with a solution to something instead of writing "monkeys in pants" over and over. I'll admit it's a catchy phrase, but we got the point already.

What do you have against monkey's anyway? They're pretty smart. Young chimps have certain cognitive skills that are superior to human college students.


"Ever feel like you have the memory of a monkey? Well, as it turns out—you’re probably not even that smart. Even the Japanese researchers were surprised when they pitted young chimps against human adults and the chimps won. Young chimps, it appears, have better cognitive functioning when it comes to short-term memory that college educated humans."

So maybe, the real point you should be making is that monkeys are just humans without pants...

In reality, humans are just one of many intelligent species. I like humans though, and I think there's hope for us. Thanks for the article! xx

I certainly hope old Ray is right, even I'm getting worried about the future as the things we take for granted now become more and more scarce.
But all this crap we've found ourselves in now can be seen as an opportunity rather than the end of the world, time for a radical change in how we live and what we want from life (and its not SUVs and golfing holidays!)

@Kristijan : That's pure idiocy, why would nature would like to tell us anything? Nature is blind, we have built in fat saving mechanism so that we can survive the harsh winters, now those winters are thousand of years in our past, the fat kills us. "A good diet" is meaningless it's only an artifact of our ancient past that we don't need it. It would "evolve out" if we were in nature's mercy and since we're not WE'LL "evolve it out" and we better do so. We chose the world of ideas, our feral past is of little to no importance anymore, we'd better dispose of our nutritional and fitness habits of our twilight past. There's nothing more retarded than the most complex mechanism known to universe (human brain) to be reduced to repetitions in a sunless cubicle (gym) so that its body won't fall off, it's obvious that we don't need such a body anymore.

We don't live in the savannas, we're beings of ideas and only wisdom (the best possible use of intelligence) should only be our future, not lame "body toning", criminal affairs and over-indulgence (addiction).




This reminds me of what happens when a gas tank under pressure forms a leak. If someone unknowingly loosens a hatch bolt on a tank under pressure, the gas will start to leak out the ever so small gap, but once it starts to get out, it will begin to increase exit speed until the gas pressure becomes so great, that all the remaining hatch bolts will break, causing the hatch to explode completely off. This can and usually happens within a very few seconds of such a leak.

I have a real example from the quantum age that supports Kurzweil’s positive approach.
We already have small quantum computers. It is well known that large quantum computers will offer many research advantages that can benefit everyone.. and advance us technically into the quantum era. The best published progress is being made by D-Wave Systems Inc.
However these computers will also remove most of the security in our global systems such as Internet banking and eCommerce. So, spy’s want large quantum computers too!
My Company has recently created what appears to be the first universal solution to this potential ‘negative’ side… and have just begun to promote our new technology with promising responses. There is interest in exploring how we can ‘limit’ the ‘negative’ potential around the arrival of large quantum computers.
New breakthrough technologies usually offer disruptive potentials, but the path to limit the downside is usually to be found near by. Obviously we also subscribe to the positive world future view :) .
There is quite a lot of easy-to-read info on our website http://pqs.io for those who are interested to know more and you can email me if you would like to participate and even perhaps support our work in some 'positive' manner.
Kind regards,
Ron Kelson
Synaptic Laboratories Limited

I wish I could be more optimistic to the future. Four main issues are listed and I tell you much more important things are ignored. Let me first discuss what is wrong about these apparently promising issues.

. Nanoengineering may be able to make solar energy a substitute of fossil fuel in 5 years; but how much time would it take for this technology to spread all over the world?

. As a student of physiology I should say that pharmacology (the science of drugs!) up to now has failed to ideally and without any side-effect correct phyisological disorders. On the other hand obesity is one of the hundreds of health issues we face; what about others?

. I’m in agreement with the third statement. But that poses another problem: OVERPOPULATION!

. It’s really optimistic to reach to 100% renewable energey resources in 20 years. And when computers “pass the Turing Test by carrying on a conversation that is indistinguishable from a human”, the life of mankind on earth will get closer to its extinction. I sometimes think about computers and robots, and the potential power they have got. A self-controlled robot can easily thrive in a low-oxygen and polluted air, relying on cheap solar energy created by nanoengineering!

Assuming that in 20 years we conquer the energy challenge, how should we manage our ever-increasing consumption of resources? We may be safe eating whatever we want and having no worry of gaining weight, but will then be enough food to eat?

Environment is the most important actor overlooked in this optimistic scenario. If we continue our progress into an ideal world with current rate of exploiting the environment, our farmlands become wasteland; our freshwater becomes toxic by our high-tech inventions. Briefly, we may starve while energy abounds!

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