Ray Kurzweil Explains the Coming Singularity

Ray Kurzweil: Well, by 2020 we’ll have computers that are powerful enough to simulate the human brain, but we won’t be finish yet with reverse engineering the human brain and understanding its methods.

One of my main themes, and I’ve developed this thesis over 30 years, is that information technology grows exponentially; the power of computers are understanding the human brain, specializes solution of brain scanning, the number of bits we move in the internet. Many different measures of information technology double every year, or every 11 months, 13 months; depending on what you’re measuring. These technologies will be a million times more powerful within 20 years.

In fact, the speed of exponential growth is itself speeding up. So, in 25 years these technologies will be a billion times more powerful than they are today. And we’ve already seen that kind of progress.

When I was an undergraduate we all shared computer at MIT that took up half of a building. The computer and your cellphone today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful. That’s a billion fold increase in price performance of computing since I was an undergraduate.

By 2029, and I’ve been quite consistent on this date, we will have completed the reverse engineering of the human brain. And we’ve already made very good progress on that. We’ve reversed engineered a number at different regions, like the cerebellum, which is responsible for our skill formation and slices of cerebral cortex where we do our cursive thinking and the auditory cortex, the visual cortex and so on.

By 2029, we’ll have reverse engineered and modeled and simulated all the regions of the brain. And that will provide us the software/algorithmic methods to simulate you know, all of the human brains capabilities including our emotional intelligence. And computers at that time will be far more powerful than the human brain. And we’ll be able to create machines that really do have subtlety and suppleness of human intelligence. And they’ll combine that power with ways in which machines are already superior to us. They can impart us all of human knowledge with the few keystrokes, it can remember billions of things accurately. They can share knowledge in electronic speeds that are million times faster than the human language.

So, it will be very powerful combination.

But the last point I’ll make is that it’s not some alien invasion of intelligent machines coming from Mars to invade us. It’s coming from within our civilization. And the whole point of it is to extent our reach. Ever since we picked up a stick to reach a higher branch, we’ve used our tools to extend our reach.

We can now already extend our reach mentally. I can take out device from my pocket and access all of human knowledge in a few keystrokes. Half of the farmers in China have these devices and could do the same thing; is pointing a real cultural revolution in China and around the world. And these tools are continued to grow exponentially in power.

The singularity is not just that point where we achieve human model and intelligence on a machine. That will start a new revolution where these machines will continue to grow exponentially in power. They’ll be able to actually improve their own software design.

By 2045, we’ll have expanded the intelligence of our human machine civilization a billion fold. That will be singularity and we borrow this metaphor from physics to talk about an event horizon. It’s hard to see beyond.

 

Ray Kurzweil: Well, it’s not the case that I’m only looking at the optimistic side. I am an optimist. And I do think we’ve been helped more than we’ve been hurt by technology already. Human life expecting was 37 in 1800. And human life was very hard disaster from labor field, disease field and so on.

But I’ve actually written extensively about the dangers of all this.

Bill Joyce’s article on the cover of Wired Magazine, why the future does need, which talked about the grave dangers of Genetics Nanotechnology and Robotics, came from my book. He says at the beginning of the article, he got these ideas from my book, The Age of Spiritual Machines. And chapter 8 of the Singularity is Near is called the deeply intertwine promise versus parallel of GNR, Genetics Nanotechnology and Robotics.

I’m working extensively with the army to develop a rapid respond system to deal with the possible abuse of biotechnology. The same technologies set are empowering us to reprogram biology away from cancer and heart disease, could also be use by a terrorist to reprogram a biological virus to be more deadly or more communicable.

And the good news is we actually have the scientific tools to defend ourselves just like we defend ourselves from software viruses with a rapid response system. Then we need to put a system like that in place.

But it’s not accurate to say that I’m only painting a rosy future and that I have a utopian vision. My vision is not utopian.

The power of these technologies will grow exponentially, I believe that is inexorable that has gone on for the last 110 years since 1890 senses. What we do with these technologies is not preordained, that future history has not been written. I am very concerned about the downsides. I’ve written extensively about them and in fact, I’m working on defending against those. So, I am optimistic that we will get more promise than parallel but they both exist.

Technology has been a double edge sword ever since fire and stone tools.

 

Ray Kurzweil: I’ve been very active in talking about the downside of technology, and there are dangers. A danger we face right now is the ability for a bio-terrorist to use our biological sciences to reprogram a biological virus to be deadly or communicable.

And we have the ideas to combat that, but they’re not yet in place and. So I think that’s an existential risk we need to deal with very quickly. There’ll be new dangers from these new technologies.

I’m optimistic but not sanguine, and I’m not necessarily convinced that we won’t encounter painful episodes. I think, overall, we’ll be help more than we’re hurt. But you only have to look to the 20th century: we had a 180 million people die in the world of the 20th century. That scale of destruction was made possible by technology. We’ve also helped ourselves enormously because human life expectancy was 48 in 1900.

We need to address this dangers and downsides. That’s what worries me.

 

Recorded on April 27, 2009.

By 2045, we’ll have expanded the intelligence of our human machine civilization a billion fold. That will result in a technological singularity, a point beyond which it's hard to imagine.

30 grunts and sounds that may have been the first language

Linguists discover 30 sounds that may have allowed communication before words existed.

Credit: Alexander Krivitskiy / mana5280/ Unsplash /Big Think
Surprising Science
  • What did the first person who wanted to speak say?
  • New research suggests that there are lots of sounds that everyone understands.
  • These sounds may have allowed the first exchanges that gave birth to language.
Keep reading Show less

7 most notorious and excessive Roman Emperors

These Roman Emperors were infamous for their debauchery and cruelty.

1876. Painted by Henryk Siemiradzki.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Roman Emperors were known for their excesses and violent behavior.
  • From Caligula to Elagabalus, the emperors exercised total power in the service of their often-strange desires.
  • Most of these emperors met violent ends themselves.

We rightfully complain about many of our politicians and leaders today, but historically speaking, humanity has seen much worse. Arguably no set of rulers has been as debauched, ingenious in their cruelty, and prone to excess as the Roman Emperors.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive, here are seven Roman rulers who were perhaps the worst of the worst in what was one of the largest empires that ever existed, lasting for over a thousand years.

1. Caligula

Officially known as Gaius (Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), Caligula was the third Roman Emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. He acquired the nickname "Caligula" (meaning "little [soldier's] boot") from his father's soldiers during a campaign.

While recognized for some positive measures in the early days of his rule, he became famous throughout the ages as an absolutely insane emperor, who killed anyone when it pleased him, spent exorbitantly, was obsessed with perverse sex, and proclaimed himself to be a living god.

Caligula gives his horse Incitatus a drink during a banquet. Credit: An engraving by Persichini from a drawing by Pinelli, from "The History of the Roman Emperors" from Augustus to Constantine, by Jean Baptiste Louis Crevier. 1836.

Among his litany of misdeeds, according to the accounts of Caligula's contemporaries Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, he slept with whomever he wanted, brazenly taking other men's wives (even on their wedding nights) and publicly talking about it.

He also had an insatiable blood thirst, killing for mere amusement. Once, as reports historian Suetonius, when the bridge across the sea at Puteoli was being blessed, he had a number of spectators who were there to inspect it thrown off into the water. When some tried to cling to the ships' rudders, Caligula had them dislodged with hooks and oars so they would drown. On another occasion, he got so bored that he had his guards throw a whole section of the audience into the arena during the intermission so they would be eaten by wild beasts. He also allegedly executed two consuls who forgot his birthday.

Suetonius relayed further atrocities of the mad emperor's character, writing that Caligula "frequently had trials by torture held in his presence while he was eating or otherwise enjoying himself; and kept an expert headsman in readiness to decapitate the prisoners brought in from gaol." One particular form of torture associated with Caligula involved having people sawed in half.

He caused mass starvation and purposefully wasted money and resources, like making his troops stage fake battles just for theater. If that wasn't enough, he turned his palace into a brothel and was accused of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, whom he also prostituted to other men. Perhaps most famously, he was planning to appoint his favorite horse Incitatus a consul and went as far as making the horse into a priest.

In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated by a conspiracy of Praetorian Guard officers, senators, and other members of the court.

2. Nero

Fully named Nero Claudius Caesar, Nero ruled from 54 to 68 AD and was arguably an even worse madman than his uncle Caligula. He had his step-brother Britannicus killed, his wife Octavia executed, and his mother Agrippina stabbed and murdered. He personally kicked to death his lover Poppeaea while she was pregnant with his child — a horrific action the Roman historian Tacitus depicted as "a casual outburst of rage."

He spent exorbitantly and built a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of himself called the Colossus Neronis.

He is also remembered for being strangely obsessed with music. He sang and played the lyre, although it's not likely he really fiddled as Rome burned in what is a popular myth about this crazed tyrant. As misplaced retribution for the fire which burned down a sizable portion of Rome in the year 64, he executed scores of early Christians, some of them outfitted in animal skins and brutalized by dogs, with others burned at the stake.

He died by suicide.

Roman Emperor Nero in the burning ruins of Rome. July 64 AD.Credit: From an original painting by S.J. Ferris. (Photo by Kean Collection / Getty Images)

3. Commodus

Like some of his counterparts, Commodus (a.k.a. Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus) thought he was a god — in his case, a reincarnation of the Greek demigod Hercules. Ruling from 176 to 192 AD, he was also known for his debauched ways and strange stunts that seemed designed to affirm his divine status. Numerous statues around the empire showed him as Hercules, a warrior who fought both men and beasts. He fought hundreds of exotic animals in an arena like a gladiator, confusing and terrifying his subjects. Once, he killed 100 lions in a single day.

Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) questions the loyalty of his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) In Dreamworks Pictures' and Universal Pictures' Oscar-winning drama "Gladiator," directed by Ridley Scott.Credit: Photo By Getty Images

The burning desire to kill living creatures as a gladiator for the New Year's Day celebrations in 193 AD brought about his demise. After Commodus shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning as part of the Plebeian Games leading up to New Year's, his fitness coach (aptly named Narcissus), choked the emperor to death in his bath.

4. Elagabalus

Officially named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II, Elagabalus's nickname comes from his priesthood in the cult of the Syrian god Elagabal. Ruling as emperor from 218 to 222 AD, he was so devoted to the cult, which he tried to spread in Rome, that he had himself circumcised to prove his dedication. He further offended the religious sensitivities of his compatriots by essentially replacing the main Roman god Jupiter with Elagabal as the chief deity. In another nod to his convictions, he installed on Palatine Hill a cone-like fetish made of black stone as a symbol of the Syrian sun god Sol Invictus Elagabalus.

His sexual proclivities were also not well received at the time. He was likely transgender (wearing makeup and wigs), had five marriages, and was quite open about his male lovers. According to the Roman historian (and the emperor's contemporary) Cassius Dio, Elagabalus prostituted himself in brothels and taverns and was one of the first historical figures on record to be looking for sex reassignment surgery.

He was eventually murdered in 222 in an assassination plot engineered by his own grandmother Julia Maesa.

5. Vitellius

Emperor for just eight months, from April 19th to December 20th of the year 69 AD, Vitellius made some key administrative contributions to the empire but is ultimately remembered as a cruel glutton. He was described by Suetonius as overly fond of eating and drinking, to the point where he would eat at banquets four times a day while sending out the Roman navy to get him rare foods. He also had little social grace, inviting himself over to the houses of different noblemen to eat at their banquets, too.

Vitellius dragged through the streets of Rome.Credit: Georges Rochegrosse. 1883.

He was also quite vicious and reportedly either had his own mother starved to death or approved a poison with which she committed suicide.

Vitellius was ultimately murdered in brutal fashion by supporters of the rival emperor Vespasian, who dragged him through Rome's streets, then likely beheaded him and threw his body into the Tiber river. "Yet I was once your emperor," were supposedly his last words, wrote historian Cassius Dio.

6. Caracalla

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus I ruled Rome from 211 to 217 AD on his own (while previously co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus from 198). "Caracalla"' was his nickname, referencing a hooded coat from Gaul that he brought into Roman fashion.

He started off his rise to individual power by murdering his younger brother Geta, who was named co-heir by their father. Caracalla's bloodthirsty tyranny didn't stop there. He wiped out Geta's supporters and was known to execute any opponents to his or Roman rule. For instance, he slaughtered up to 20,000 citizens of Alexandria after a local theatrical satire dared to mock him.

Geta Dying in His Mother's Arms.Credit: Jacques Pajou (1766-1828)

One of the positive outcomes of his rule was the Edict of Caracalla, which gave Roman citizenship to all free men in the empire. He was also known for building gigantic baths.

Like others on this list, Caracalla met a brutal end, being assassinated by army officers, including the Praetorian prefect Opellius Macrinus, who installed himself as the next emperor.

7. Tiberius

As the second emperor, Tiberius (ruling from 42 BC to 16 AD) is known for a number of accomplishments, especially his military exploits. He was one of the Roman Empire's most successful generals, conquering Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and parts of Germania.

He was also remembered by his contemporaries as a rather sullen, perverse, and angry man. In the chapter on his life from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by the historian Suetonius, Tiberius is said to have been disliked from an early age for his personality by even his family. Suetonius wrote that his mother Antonia often called him "an abortion of a man, that had been only begun, but never finished, by nature."

"Orgy of the Times of Tiberius on Capri".Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki. 1881.

Suetonius also paints a damning picture of Tiberius after he retreated from public life to the island of Capri. His years on the island would put Jeffrey Epstein to shame. A horrendous pedophile, Tiberius had a reputation for "depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe," Suetonius wrote, describing how "in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this 'the old goat's garden,' punning on the island's name."

There's much, much more — far too salacious and, frankly, disgusting to repeat here. For the intrepid or morbidly curious reader, here's a link for more information.

After he died, Tiberius was fittingly succeeded in emperorship by his grandnephew and adopted grandson Caligula.

The ‘Lost Forty’: how a mapping error preserved an old-growth forest

A 19th-century surveying mistake kept lumberjacks away from what is now Minnesota's largest patch of old-growth trees.

Credit: U.S. Forest Service via Dan Alosso on Substack and licensed under CC-BY-SA
Strange Maps
  • In 1882, Josias R. King made a mess of mapping Coddington Lake, making it larger than it actually is.
  • For decades, Minnesota loggers left the local trees alone, thinking they were under water.
  • Today, the area is one of the last remaining patches of old-growth forest in the state.
Keep reading Show less

Physicists push limits of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

New studies stretch the boundaries of physics, achieving quantum entanglement in larger systems.

Credit: Aalto University.
Surprising Science
  • New experiments with vibrating drums push the boundaries of quantum mechanics.
  • Two teams of physicists create quantum entanglement in larger systems.
  • Critics question whether the study gets around the famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast