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Ray Kurzweil’s Anti-Utopian Views

Posted: Fri, November 23, 2012 | By: Singularity Utopia



“Utopia” was a dirty word when I started blogging about the Singularity in 2010, it was almost shameful to consider technology creating utopia. I focused on utopia because to my mind utopia would be an inevitable consequence of technology but our approach towards utopia was a neglected issue. Utopia seemed to be a logical and inescapable conclusion. To counter unawareness I entered the fray.

Now in late 2012 awareness seems to be growing regarding how utopia is truly possible. I noticed a couple of articles recently publicizing the idea of utopia and Post-Scarcity. Shame regarding the realization of total happiness via technology is diminishing. People are beginning to appreciate the logic of utopia. I am becoming aware of other people who share my utopian view.

For posterity it is important to note how Ray Kurzweil initially opposed the idea of utopia, and perhaps he continues to oppose utopia, but I think he is gradually changing his mind. Ray Kurzweil is admittedly optimistic but he clearly hasn’t grasped the inevitability of utopia. Ray can change his mind, or if he can’t change he could perhaps create a better mind.

People often think I’m merely a follower of Ray Kurzweil but on the contrary there are various points where Ray fails to competently address the future we are heading towards, so on the whole despite Ray being a clear influence I’d say I oppose more than support Ray’s view of the future. Here are five points where Ray Kurzweil states he is not utopian, he thinks technological-utopia is impossible.

1. 12th November 2004. Via the American Foundation for the Blind, Ray Kurzweil was interviewed by Tony Candela, at Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. The source is: An Oral History Interview with Ray Kurzweil. When Tony asked Ray if he is a utopian idealist, regarding the Singularity, Ray clearly explained how he is not utopian, furthermore he stated the Singularity is not a utopian vision:

“I’m not a utopian and it’s not a utopian vision. In fact, I’ve talked a lot about the intertwined promise and peril of technologies. It empowers our creative side, it also empowers our destructive side.”

2. 1st October 2009. Ray was interviewed by Computerworld for an article titled Nanotech could make humans immortal by 2040, futurist says. Ray clearly dismisses the idea of technology entailing utopia. In the interview Ray said:

“Technology is not a utopia. It’s a double-edged sword and always has been since we first had fire.”

3. 23rd April 2012. Via Ray’s own site KurzweilAI, it is stated Ray vision is not utopian. Clearly Ray’s mind has not changed thus perhaps it is premature to suggest Ray is starting to appreciate how utopia is inevitable.Utopia is the logical conclusion of advanced technology but Ray does not see this. On this occasion, regarding the article on KurzweilAI, Ray was interviewed on 15th April 2012, by Carver Wilcox, Anthony Batt, and Kashy Khaled, for the Katalyst Network:

“My vision is not a utopian one. Fire cooked our food and kept us warm but it also burned down our villages, so these technologies are double-edged swords.”

4. 30th December 2009. H+ Magazine authors Surfdaddy Orca and R.U. Sirus published an interview with Ray Kurzweil. The article, titled “Ray Kurzweil: The H+ Interview,” is another example of Ray refusing to appreciate how technology can create utopia. Ray said:

“My vision is not a utopian one. For example, Iím working with the U.S. Army on developing a rapid response system for biological viruses, and that’s actually the approach that I advocate - that we need to put resources and attention to the downsides.”

5. 23rd December 2005. Ray was interviewed via NPR, for a show titled “Ray Kurzweil: Life in the Future.” This is a good example of how Ray fails to account for scarcity being the source of all conflict. Ray appears to be unaware of how Post-Scarcity will end all violence in the not too distant future. In the words of Peter Diamandis, Ray fails to account for how “technology is sort of a scarcity liberating process.” Ray presents his anti-utopian theme:

“Well, actually my vision is not a utopian one. I think we will have the means of overcoming poverty, meeting our energy needs, cleaning up the environment. But these new technologies actually can be used for destruction, also. I mean, take biotechnology, genetic technology. We are gaining the means, you know, and will ultimately have the means of overcoming disease, you know, presumably a good thing. But it has also empowered bioterrorists to take a biological virus and modify it and create something that could be a destructive weapon, so that there is this intertwined promise versus peril.”

Perhaps indicating a change in Ray’s thinking, or maybe Ray’s logic is merely malformed thus he contradicts himself, Ray seemed to demonstrate in March 2012 how all violence would be obsolete in the future, thus there would be no utilization of technology for destructive purposes. Via Ray’s own words we can see utopia is actually possible: “I’ve actually grown up with a history of scarcity - and wars and conflict come from scarcity - but information is quite the opposite of that.”

Information is the opposite of scarcity and everything is becoming information technology, which is notable in 3D-printing or bioinformatics, furthermore Ray has stated “biology is now an information technology,” so what’s the rationale for Ray’s anti-utopian viewpoint? How can Ray fear the existence of “bioterrorists” in our Post-Scarcity future? This seems illogical. Ray is correct when he states wars and conflict come from scarcity, and he is correct when he states information is the opposite of scarcity, and he is correct to say biology is now info-technology. Following this train of logic it would be sensible if Ray stated utopia is inevitable but his views have been anti-utopian. For some inexplicable reason Ray fears bioterrorists.

Perhaps Ray dismisses the idea of utopia due to misplaced diplomatic acquiescence. Maybe his anti-utopian views are based on foolish diplomatic concessions to pessimism, but this needs to change because awareness regarding our utopian future can ease a lot of suffering now. Concealing the truth regarding our future, for the sake of pessimists, can be damaging because unjustly negative perceptions are created regarding a future of “bioterrorists.” The future will be an world of perfect happiness. We have a reason for immense hope. We need Ray to correct his flawed anti-utopian viewpoint. If super-intelligence canít create utopia it will be a very lame type of oxymoronic intelligence. Utopia is a wild concept but the Singularity is singular therefore we shouldnít be ashamed of wildness, if utopia is the truth.



Comments:

Even if scarcity of material goods and energy were eliminated, which I believe will occur within the next several decades, humans would still fight over land, status, power, and other humans (e.g., the love and attention of a beautiful woman). Consequently, I believe we can approach the ideal of a utopia, but never achieve it.

By Mike D on Nov 23, 2012 at 7:55am

“Ray’s anti-utopian viewpoint” - in everything i ever read by Ray as well as in the examples you cite there’s no indication that he holds anti-utopian viewpoints.  He repeatedly points out that technology does not imply utopia, and that is correct.  It’s one major source of existential risk for a large number of lifeforms (and of extermination for many human and non-human individuals on a daily basis) and may or may not get us through to the realization of abundance, and if it does there is no guarantee that abundance will be with us henceforth, in fact to me that seems rather unlikely unless what you are referring to is some kind of tiplerian end state.  Another problem is the lack of definition of utopia.  One man’s u is another man’s dys.

By René Milan on Nov 23, 2012 at 8:25am

René Milan, I think you are either pro or anti-utopia. If you think technology cannot create utopia, which Ray does, then I think you fall into the anti-camp. It is comparable to being pro or anti-abortion, if you think human ethics should not allow abortion then you are anti-abortion. Ray thinks technology will not create utopia thus he is anti-utopia. Ray can’t be clearer than “technology is not a utopia,” regarding his anti-utopian viewpoint. I do admit Ray is optimistic despite his anti-utopian views (note 3rd paragraph in bold), but it is correct to say his views are anti-utopian.

By Singularity Utopia on Nov 23, 2012 at 11:36am

Mike D. In the future it will be bizarre to fight over land, it would be utterly absurd comparable to fighting over the air we breathe. There is more than enough air for everyone to breathe thus we don’t fight over air-breathing. The universe is a massive place, our most powerful telescopes cannot see the edge, the most distant areas we can see are regarding vastly earlier points in time due to the length of time it takes light to travel. Do you realize how fast light travels, it is very fast, and the observable universe is around 46 billion light years in size. One light year is a massive distance, and the exploitable matter within one light year is mind blowing. Planetary Resources (Diamandis and Co) has stated one near-Earth asteroid could easily contain more platinum then has been minded in the entire history of Earth.

CNN states the closest Earth-type planet “Alpha Centauri B, is about 4 light-years,” but in between there is a massive amount of asteroids humans could easily transform into planets when we possess sufficiently advanced technology. Reasonably soon everyone will be able to print their own spaceship then zoom of into space to create their own world. Each individual could cerate 50 worlds purely for their own pleasures and there would still be limitless amounts of matter available. We will even be able to create new universes. Where did all the matter from the Big Bang come from? Our universe started off the size of an atom, or smaller, which is a mind blowing concept regarding the apparent creation of matter. Larry Page, echoing the motto of his university (Michigan), has said we should have a healthy disregard for the impossible, but is Post-Scarcity really so impossible to consider? Our thinking needs to be singular regarding the Singularity.

By Singularity Utopia on Nov 23, 2012 at 12:00pm

The energy in our universe is not finite. So, in principle, we cannot achieve abondance.
Practically, one can avoid being without energy if we can master nano-technologies in order to develop fusion energy then, in the (far ?) future, if our descendants (perhaps ourselves, in case we are able to achieve very long life) master femto-technologies everything may be possible until the ultimate limit is attained (it’s actually very very large, but, i’ve no crystal bowl to see the future.
The only hope escaping the final limit could be creating a bubble universe… It’s really SF but given the acceleration of evolution we can go… everywhere.
I share Ray Kurzweil view that the fusion of man and it’s creation is our future. But beware, technological utopia * IS NOT * the paradise. It’s something totally different.

By Lise Pals on Nov 24, 2012 at 4:59am

@Singularity Utopia - “I think you are either pro or anti-utopia” - this is a mistake.  There is no one utopia, and you still haven’t defined yours.  Suppose mine would be to join a hive aggregation (possible) or even to embark on an assimilation crusade in the way of the Borg (unlikely).  There’s a chance you would disagree and even try to prevent me from achieving it.  That would not make you “anti-utopia”.  Likewise let me suppose your goal would be to live happily ever after in the way of the Eloi on a park planet, something that would likely bore me to death and i will object to.  Again that doesn’t make me “anti-utopia”.
I suggest reading some, any, Vonnegut, which might help you overcome the binary thinking engrained in the american mind and reinforced by the output of Hollywood, that leads people to perceive the world terms of black and white, good guys bad guys, “either you’re with us or you’re against us”.

“If you think technology cannot create utopia” - currently it clearly can’t.  Once it attains the capacity to think and decide about issues like that and a certain degree of autonomy, maybe it will.  But again, whose utopia ?  Are you aware what SingInst is working on ?  “Technology” may develop an idea of utopia very much in conflict with yours and mine. This discussion will lead nowhere until you declare your goals.

“It is comparable to being pro or anti-abortion, if you think human ethics should not allow abortion then you are anti-abortion.” - yes it is because that is also a false dichotomy.  I believe that abortion is a primitive and dangerous procedure which must be replaced by simple pregnancy prevention accessible to all, but i support the right of choice.for all.  I am neither pro nor anti abortion.

“Ray thinks technology will not create utopia thus he is anti-utopia.” - this statement is a crass violation of logic It’s like saying “he doesn’t think salamanders will give milk,so he is anti-milk.”

“Ray can’t be clearer than “technology is not a utopia,” regarding his anti-utopian viewpoint.” - another logic error of a similar kind In any case, you keep insisting that he holds “anti-utopian” views, but as mentioned earlier, neither in your citations nor in anything i ever heard and read by him is there any indication that that is so.  If he has confirmed publicly or just to you privately that he is “anti-utopia”, which i understand to mean that he would object to the pursuit or attainment of any kind of utopian state, please produce evidence and i will gladly concede.  If you can’t, how about asking him so his answer could lay this debate to rest After all it’s your responsibility to back up your proposition, and if you can’t you need to desist.  Those are rules of informed discourse.

“but it is correct to say his views are anti-utopian.” - say it three times and it becomes true.

By René Milan on Nov 25, 2012 at 10:35am

René Milan, I think there is only one utopia, that is the definition of utopia. Utopia is a perfect social-economic system, it is a perfect way of life in which everybody is happy. Your hypothetical idea of utopia where you would feel happy murdering lots of people, as part of a Borg-hive, it is a fallacious scenario. Such ideas may seem attractive in paranoia-tainted science fiction but in actuality when you apply intelligence to the scenario you will see there will be no violent or psychopathic tendencies in the future because all such rapacious psychological states are scarcity based. Technology will defeat scarcity. When resources are superabundant there is no need to murder other beings for their resources, which is the motive in all murder even if the motive is not apparent to the conscious mind.

If we follow the reasoning of your implausible hypothetical scenario I am convinced if aggressors exist as you suggest, then such aggressors due to the nature of aggression would quickly be eradicated (non-violently) in self-defence. Very soon the universe will contain only sensible people thus the universe would be utopia. Aggression is all about the frustration regarding an inability to solve problems via intellectual methods, thus instead of utilizing brainpower the aggressor resorts to brute force. Aggressors in my opinion don’t have access to sufficient intelligence, which in the case of a futuristic Borg scenario would mean there are no M-Brains (matrioshka brains) to help the Borg, thus due to their primitive intelligence they would quickly be neutralised via very shrewd intellectual stratagems. In Star Trek I seem to remember the Borg were actually neutralised by a mathematical puzzle and that was despite the limited fictional intelligence of the Enterprise crew. In reality the Enterprise crew would possess significantly improved intelligence and very likely access to M-Brains but they did not because fiction is fiction. Fiction can be useful in some cases regarding looking into the future to see what is possible but it does not mean hordes of aliens are waiting in Space to destroy us.

When I wrote “If you think technology cannot create utopia” I obviously was not referring to current technology, or maybe this was only obvious to myself. I was referring to future technology but in future when I republish an updated version of this article I will state “If you think technology (circa 2045) cannot create utopia…”

I am very aware of SingInst and I do from time to time criticise their flawed thesis. SingInst similar to Ray has a flawed understanding of the future regarding a failure to recognize how scarcity will be eradicated and how scarcity is the cause of all conflict. Ray does recognize how scarcity is the cause of all conflict but he has not fully understood the ramifications of the Post-Scarcity age.

It is an interesting debate regarding how to define someone who thinks “technology is not a utopia” - maybe you’re correct. If someone thinks utopia via futuristic technology is infeasible; maybe you are correct and this doesn’t constitute an anti-utopian viewpoint. Maybe my analogy regarding pro or anti abortion was ill-formed if you are neither pro or anti-abortion. So what should we call someone who thinks technology cannot create utopia, perhaps utopia-skeptic, utopia-impossibleist, utopia-negator, utopia-denier, utopia-irrationalist, utopia-infeasibleist, utopia-invalidator, or some other term would be appropriate.

My point regarding Ray’s insistence on futuristic technology not being able to create utopia is that such a prominent viewpoint is HARMFUL to utopia, similar to how telling someone with heart disease a heart-transplant will not save your life. Via dismissing the idea of utopia, by stating utopia is not a valid result of futuristic technology, Ray is indirectly objecting to, and preventing understanding of how, technology will create utopia, thus his actions are detrimental to utopia. He cannot stop utopia but he can seriously delay utopia due to his OPPOSITIONAL idea that technology is not a utopia. Ray’s opposition to the idea of technology being a source of utopia leads me to state his declarations of technology not being utopia are anti-utopian. Perhaps I will in future merely deem his views illogical and I will highlight his illogic, which I did somewhat in the final paragraphs.

Utopia is a situation where everyone is happy. A utopian situation can only be achieved via technology. Futuristic technology will ensure all resources are essentially limitless, thus all wars and conflict will be obsolete because all conflict hinges upon scarcity. The biggest stumbling block regarding scarcity is scarcity of intelligence thus supreme (limitless) intelligence is a key aspect of utopia. Everyone will be perfectly happy, utopia is applicable to all people.

By Singularity Utopia on Nov 28, 2012 at 12:29am

Perfection is a necessary but not sufficient condition.  The amish strive for perfection through simplicity.  Communists through equality. The garden of eden describes a utopia based on ignorance.

Happiness, as confirmed by recent research, is not static but dynamic, subject to a dialectic process.  Happiness cannot be sustained without its potential being repleted through a period of unhappiness.  A thirsty man will be happy when offered water, while a rich man will be offended.

The idea of a state of permanent happiness is an unrealistic notion based on wishful thinking.

The Borg have no interest in murdering “people” but in assimilating them.  That is a viable, fast and efficient way of knowledge accumulation.  Adherents (“drones”) trade the benefits of independence for those of community.  Your reflexive rejection of hive mind models is based on human bias in general (humans are born alone and die alone) and western bias in particular (consensus based eastern cultures have less of a problem with the notion).

Scarcity is an explanation for greed under present conditions, and overcoming it may temporarily solve the problem of violent competition.  But expansion is a feature of evolution independent of scarcity that so far has never ceded to abundance but only to advances by better equipped competitors or to unfavourable environmental changes.  Faith in abundance as the guarantor of some utopia is misplaced.

The concept of aggression is specific to evolved human psychology and culture.  There is no aggression in the behaviour of leukocytes or bacteriophages, or in the collision of stars or galaxies.  Parasites can act destructively or symbiotically, but not aggressively.  The same is true for phenomena that spread by assimilation.  To call agents like the Borg aggressive is anthropomorphising.  An agency more evolved than them would not eradicate but assimilate them in their own particular fashion.

I consider your idea of utopia unrealistic and naïve, but at least now I think I know what you are talking about.  In the current situation there is a chance that we, if we decide to, by intelligently applying technology, will reach abundance and temporarily achieve a state resembling your utopia excluding the timelessness and happiness properties, and I agree that that is desirable compared to what we have now (and think that Mr. Kurzweil might agree as well).  But to think that current or future technology will be able or willing to do this for us is wishful thinking.
  . 
There is a difference between utopia via futuristic technology and utopia by futuristic technology that you keep ignoring.  Telling someone that a transplant will save his life is dishonest and more harmful than saying that it may.

“Everyone will be perfectly happy, utopia is applicable to all people” – except the happiness component, this could be true if “people” were the only things populating this and other universes.  But they are (fortunately) not.

By René Milan on Nov 29, 2012 at 4:48am


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