Question Forum 3
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1. What does a future look like in Ray Kurzweil’s prediction? What problems do you take with this? What problems does this create?
2. Kurzweil always speaks of the importance of getting the big picture, but does that simply mean we can neglect the small details? Shouldn’t we need the small details to achieve the big picture? For example, does Kurzweil’s assertion that we need only understand what the brain is doing as a whole outweigh understanding what makes each individual neuron fire?
3. Kurzweil thinks of a brain as a supercomputer that can have similar wiring. Is the brain more complex then Kurzweil makes it seem? If so, how can we achieve a computer with power equaling that of the human brain? Does this idea have to be true for Kurzweil’s predictions for the future to hold some truth?
4. Does Kurzweil’s habit of taking 250 supplements a day contradict his faith in achieving the singularity? Is this aggressive approach destroying our bodies or, in fact, prolonging our lives? Does this really seem worth it?

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Katie Stitt

If Ray Kurzweil’s predictions are true, we must be headed towards doomsday. Like all the authors we have explored thus far, Kurzweil believes that the technological “progress” we are making has severely negative connotations. Honestly, with all this exponential growth we are making, it’s a miracle we haven’t blown ourselves to smithereens yet. I think that says something about us as a race, and about our brains.
Kurzweil may argue that artificial intelligence has not reached the level of our brainpower, and I think it is because there is a cognitive process the brain possesses that cannot be replicated mechanically. Kurzweil says technology will conceivably catch up to the computational processes the human brain can handle in the next few decades. He even argues that even if his calculations are slightly wrong, the process is inevitable. Even if it is true that software functions catch up to bodily functions, the world will still not be as mechanical and Kurzweil believes. Sure, we’ll be able to solve problems faster and may be equipped with better medical technology, but I don’t think the world will be a well oiled machine.

There are simply human qualities that can’t be replicated. Maybe someday robots and computers will be able to simulate emotion, but will it be “real?” I see a world where technology does a lot of thinking for us, maybe even responding to our emotions, but not actively participating in the process.

On the topic of memory, computers may someday be able to store infinite information to assist humans in recalling memory. But even if technology continues to serve as aids, it will never be able to filter out the most important memories to a person. It may follow a formula, but how could it keep up with each individual? Humans possess a spontaneous personality that computers can try to replicate, but will fail. Who knows, maybe Kurzweil’s predictions will be correct. I just like having a little more faith and respect for the complicated and imaginative human brain.

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Lindsey Macdonald

I think that we can see the big picture without looking at small details because the big picture doesn’t require you to dig deep; you just have to understand the general concepts. But the big picture does not allow a person to truly understand what’s going on in certain situations or processes, such as the processes that brain executes every second of the day.

I disagree with Kurzweil’s assertion that we don’t have to understand each individual neuron in order to replicate the processes that the human brain performs. I think Kurzweil underestimates the complexities of the human brain and how much goes into the simplest bodily functions or actions, such as touching your fingers together or even breathing. There’s a specific part of the brain and specific neurons that control all these functions.

Other things that come to mind are sensations or emotions. Kurzweil asserts that someday technology will take on a life of its own and evolve separately from biological life. How can non-organic matter develop things like emotions or senses? Can a machine truly feel sadness or happiness? Can it distinguish between smells and tastes? This may be possible if scientists are truly able to understand the exact processes that go into these emotions and sensations and are able to replicate these neurological pathways, but not if we just know that they happen somehow.

I do agree though that the inner workings of the brain are a lot like the hard wiring of a computer or calculator. There are many intricate processes and pathways that go into the functioning of these technologies. I just think that in this point in time scientists and inventors only understand how to replicate the simpler tasks that the human brain accomplishes.

I also think that Kurzweil is a little off on his timeline. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, people thought we would be living like The Jetsons right now with flying cars and robots doing everything for us. Obviously that hasn’t happened, and similarly I don’t think that in the next 30 years we’ll have true artificial intelligence indistinguishable from human intelligence. It may seem ideal to Kurzweil, but I think a majority of people are either frightened by this premise because of its implications or just don’t see a need for it and would rather stick with biological life forms rather than artificial ones.


Amanda Duncan

4. I think that Kurzweil’s habit of taking 250 supplements a day does undermine his faith in the singularity because it also shows his lack of faith in humans. Human bodies are formulated to survive, and to add 250 supplements a day is just absurd. Bodies are not computers that will suddenly switch their programming because you “download” vitamins into its hard drive. By taking the organic description out of the human equation, I think that he is messing with a dangerous equation. And all scientific questions aside, I think that someone should ask the normative question of “is this something that we should be pursuing?”

I can see the appeal that would exist with consuming a pill to extend your life, but I think that he has the reversed the direction of the cause/effect of consumption a little bit. For sure, there are substances out there that are shown to decrease your life expectancy: fast food has been shown to lead to high cholesterol, heart attacks, etc. Smoking tobacco has been shown to lead to lung cancer.

But there is little scientific proof that shows it works oppositely, namely that consuming 250 supplements a day will actually increase your life expectancy. (After all, there is no proven scientific way for Ray to determine how young his body seems to be, compared to his actual age.) On the contrary, I would think that consuming a cocktail of unnatural substances would be unhealthy, even if that goal is for immortality.

Sure, it is an incredible goal to shoot for, but is this something that we should do. All questions about the feasibility aside, what happens if we can achieve immortality? Will it become a toy for those who can afford it, accessible only to those who have the ability to afford it? (Because I know that I personally would not be able to afford 250 supplements a day, let alone afford something that will keep me alive indefinitely.)

And with a world population at almost 6.9 billion, is this something that we should even be looking at?? Will machines be able to increase the carrying capacity of the earth? Maybe. But should we assume that they will? No way! I think that we need to be looking at the moral implications of this; because the rich could surely afford to buy land and space and resources (air/water/food) to live, but what about the poor, or even middle classes who wouldn't be able to afford that? According to World Bank figures, almost 80% of the world lives on $10/day or less. (http://tiny.cc/be76z) What happens to them? Will they die off because they have nowhere to live and no access to the immortality pill? This is, I think, the bigger problem with his approach.


Christopher Roubo

Response to Question 1

First of all, I do find Kurzweil’s assertion that we will have working nanobot technology examining people’s brains by the 2020s to be pretty odd, especially considering that this is still a hypothetical technology and it seems fairly naive to assume that we would have all the kinks worked out of having microscopic robots worked out almost instantly.

Other than that though, I think nanobot technology if we ever achieve it would produce some controversy. You’d have the theoretical medical miracles such as using nano-robotics to examine the brain incredibly thoroughly, but you would also undoubtedly have people paranoid of having such devices working around the inner most part of their brains. I mean, I don’t even like having a webcam on my computer because I’ve heard of people hacking into them and spying on people through their computers. I’d be amazed if some conspiracy theorists didn’t openly believe that nanobots in their brains weren’t messing with their minds or allowed others to spy on them at all times.

One thing I find to be very interesting is when Kurzweil discusses prolonging or even reversing the natural aging process and how he mentions that he views “disease and death… as a calamity, as problems to be overcome” (p. 210). I can understand fighting aging and disease, and that technology and medicine will become progressively more advanced in dealing with those two areas; what strikes me is Kurzweil’s discussion of fighting off death, supposedly once we fully understand the human body well enough to take care of it, as one would take care of his/her house (like Kurzweil analogizes).

To me though, trying to fight off death is will always be a losing battle. Sure, I believe people will be able to live longer and longer as we become more advanced, but living forever? I don’t ever see it happening, nor do I believe it should ever happen. Who would get to decide who gets to live forever and who doesn’t? What would be the ethics involved in making such a decision? And how overpopulated would our planet become if more and more people simply didn’t die? And if people lived forever, would life have any value?

Eric Kambach

3. I think the idea of the brain as a supercomputer is a decent, if not over used in this class, comparative metaphor. They both have similar functions and purposes in the storing and processing of information, and both play vital roles in everyday society. Both can can be maintained and manipulated, and both can degrade with age. And, of course, people are heavily reliant on both the brain and computers.

However, some of Kurzweil's ideas seem far fetched at the moment. When it comes to creating a machine of the same power of the human brain, we've already gone over examples of how engineers are walking the path towards this end.

We've spoken about the robot designed or taught to lie. I believe this is just a simple case of inserting a specific characteristic or command into its programming to allow it to say the opposite answer to a question. I'd have to look up that whole project, but that's my optimistic reaction. We've also discussed the soccer-playing robots. When the engineers actually insert basic and complex soccer tactics and player statistics and highlights to mimic into the robots memoryas opposed to remote controlsthen I'll stand up and protest because that is not how envisioned the Beautiful Game.

Right now, if there were ever to be a break through in the invention of a supercomputer of equal or greater power to the human brain, I feel that that scientists would have to go as far as making it a biological organism, which would confirm Kurzweil's idea of a singularity between machine and man. I feel that the technological evolution can only stay within the limits of mechanics for so long before someone finds it necessary to take technology and slicing it with organic creatures.

Considering my favorite science fiction films about the idea of man vs. machines, I think Kurzweil's predictions can only come true if scientists are crazy enough to take an organic creaturea dog, monkey or human beingand completely transform it into an organic computer. And considering how much limitation science has in achieving its goals in this society, Kurzweil's ideas are unofficially on the path towards becoming reality.


Annabeth Wonch

4. I was shocked when I read that Kurzweil took 250 supplements a day, as well as receiving multiple intravenous therapies a week. That’s like, 10 pills an hour, which honestly just seems inconceivable, because I can barely remember to take a multivitamin a day. I understand that he had a disadvantage with his family’s genes, but I think the lengths he is going to are ridiculous. Even though it does seem to be having a positive effect on his lifestyle (his biological age is forty when in reality he is fifty six), it sounds to me like he’s cheating, and it seems incredibly unnecessary, and just too time consuming to even be considered. I totally get it if he wants to be healthy but isn’t 250 pills a day just a little extreme?

Everyone thinks that they want to live forever and are constantly looking for that fountain of youth. Whether it’s botox or ginko biloba (for memory) people are always trying to find ways to avoid getting older, whether they be healthy or not. Personally, I do not ever want to be old. I’m not saying that I don’t want to have a long and rewarding life until I’m eighty, I just don’t ever want to be not able to do the things I do now, which sounds childish and a little selfish. But I would never want to live forever. I don’t think I could handle it, and if the world is going to change at such a rate that Kurzweil suggests, I don’t think in my old age (assuming by they time they figure out how to live forever I will be old) I would be able to keep up. I do not think it’s worth it to prolong the life cycle. I think it would be more worth it for people to figure out how to cure diseases so that everyone can have the healthiest existence while they are on earth. If we all live forever, wouldn’t everything get way overpopulated anyway? It just doesn’t seem like a good idea, and I think figuring out how to live forever would create a great debate over whether it should be allowed or not. Whose life is really that magnificent that it just can never end, and who’s to say one person deserves to live forever over another person?

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Jay Speidell

I think that he makes a lot of assumptions that aren't based on any actual science. He's trying to show us a future where we have given our humanity over to robots, and he says with certainty when it is going to happen. I just have a hard time taking any of his ideas seriously.

The 250 suppliment thing does give an interesting perspective into his mentality. He's probably terrified with dying, and whatever he can do to get everyone to believe in the immortality that a merging of technology and humanity wouldbring the closer he can get to believing it himself. Pseudoscience is more of a religion or anything else, and much like hollistic medicine it provides a good dose of hope at the cost of critical thinking.


Casey Whitehead

I don’t believe it necessarily contradicts his faith in the singularity; it is just another approach in achieving the singularity. Kurzweil’s use of supplements is another type of technology that he is using to enhance his life, though it is a very aggressive approach. So far it seems that his supplements are working to benefit his life, however I am not sure of the effects it has on his chemical make-up.
Personally I don’t have an opinion either way on supplement taking, but I know it would be for me. 250 pills a day is a lot. I have trouble taking my prescription medicine when I have a cold. 250 pills seems insane, not to mention the “half-dozen intravenous therapies” he has each week. This not only seems overwhelming for the body but extremely expensive.
The metaphor that De Grey has created about our bodies being like houses is very compelling to think about. Who says we have to get old and dilapidated like a car does? If you can take care of your house in order to extend its value and length of use, why can’t you do that for your body as well? You may have to take it to extremes like Kurzweil does but if you could get more out of your life, wouldn’t you want to try? I don’t know if I would want to live forever, but I think I’d like to live as long as I could.


Lenise Phillips

3. I think the brain is definitely more complex than Kurzweil is making it seem, but more than that, I think Kurzweil often forgets how complex we are as humans. I'm not pretending to be any sort of expert on biological science, but I know there are a lot of different factors involved in shaping and changing who we are. And for some diseases and disorders, scientists are even at a loss for explaining why they work the way they do or why they appear in some people and not others. There's no easy, concrete way to explain how we're "wired.” So when Kurzweil says “the nonbiological intelligence created in [2045] will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today,” I have a hard time taking him seriously. I appreciate that he has a “twenty-year track record of accurate predictions,” but this prediction seems a bit ridiculous. First of all, how can he even quantify the power of the nonexistent nonbiological intelligence—one billion times more power? What does that even mean? Second, I’m skeptical that even the world’s most brilliant thinkers will be able to create an artificial intelligence to surpass my own when they haven’t even found the cure for cancer.

Kurzweil argues that reverse engineering the brain will allow us to potentially cure diseases such as Parkinson’s because it helps us to “understand the principles of operation underlying the full range of our own thinking.” We can then “extend these techniques as we apply them to computational technologies that are far more powerful than the electrochemical processing that takes place in biological neurons.” I think Kurzweil puts a lot of faith in the progression of technology, but if we are knowledgeable enough to create a technology to perform these processes, why can’t we just do these processes ourselves? Kurzweil’s argument constantly blows my mind but not in the good way. How can we possibly create a technology to think on its own if we haven’t even figured out how our own brain works? Kurzweil talks about the brain as if it’s a manufactured item, but I think there’s a little more to it than that. My “software” is not the same as someone else’s “software.”

Kurzweil seems to think we can play God; the progression of technology is inevitable, and the consequences are disastrous according to him. But I think he forgets a crucial element of the human psyche; we have the power of free will. With anything manmade, there’s always some kind of limitation in terms of control. Even if we can create artificial intelligence, we’ll still be able to control its use; I don’t think we’d be living in some sort of I-Robot, apocalyptic world where the robots are turning on us.

Caty Gordon

While reading Ray Kurzweil’s book, I’ve experienced déjà-vu for the sensational predictions of Nicholas Carr and feel that both authors are grossly underestimating the capabilities of humans while overestimating the validity of their own claims. I almost feel that some his text reads as a superfluous science-fiction novel that one day we’ll look back on and laugh, saying, “Oh, that silly Kurzweil…”

Laughing point number one: human body 3.0. Really, Kurzweil, all organs will be replaced by “cybernetic implants?” While I certainly agree that science and medicine have worked in tandem to provide consumers with advances that at some point in time may have seemed impossible (titanium knee replacements, skin grafts, pacemakers, artificial hearts, stints, etc) it seems unlikely that all of our organs could function as computers. I like to think I’m pretty progressive and open to new and effective ways of learning and living, but the idea of human body 3.0 seems unlike a human body at all because it lacks the whole “human” component. Instead, it seems that would be a computer living inside human flesh.

Additionally, I have qualms with Kurzweil’s assertions about the power of the human brain and how a supercomputer can exceed its capabilities. I would posit that the two are incomparable because you can’t fuse two brains but you can combine two computers (or more) to create the Kurzweil’s Frankenstein of the supposed supercomputer. An individual brain might be more complex than Kurzweil purports, but multiple brains being used to achieve the same ends might be more plausible in terms of power.

Lastly, I would like to see Kurzweil acknowledge that these predictions are contingent upon testing that some may consider cruelty to animals, or worse, actual human beings. There seems to be a large leap between hypothesis and conception of these plans for man and machine to become a singular, autonomous structure.


April Baker

I think Kurzweil’s ideas are very interesting, but I’m not sure that we can really follow through with the hands-on applications that he suggests. For example, I don’t know if it will ever be possible for us to fully know what function every single neuron in the brain is responsible for. So it makes sense to look at how the brain functions in bigger sections and as a whole. However, I think the brain is much more complex than Kurzweil wants to admit. If every single neuron does have it’s own separate function, but coexists in an entire brain of neurons, how can we ever expect to recreate that technology?

We talked some in class about artificial intelligence, and whether or not we should be trying to recreate that type of brainpower. But if we don’t understand exactly how our own brain works, how can we ever recreate it? I like Kurzweil’s explanation of humans as a pattern of information and the metaphor of water running over rocks. Although it’s interesting, I don’t know if it really supports his leap in thought to say that the patterns are simple enough for us to recreate in mass. Kurzweil says we don’t need to know how each little part works, but if we can’t start from the very basics, where would we start building a brain comparable to our own?

Kurzweil also leaves out a lot of questions that would have to be addressed if we attempted to build a brain. For example, some people have better memory than others, so some people remember more or less clearly, or even not at all. Because a computer would have an infinite memory, Kurzweil is assuming that we all want to be able to remember everything, but that isn’t necessarily true. Kurzweil also doesn’t address how a computer would be able to place value (for example, good or bad) on a memory, associate emotions with memory, or why it’s really necessary or beneficial to have a rolodex of memories stored in your brain.

Kurzweil seems to think that artificial intelligence is the way to go and that it’s coming soon. But he makes me wonder, if we do meet his timeline, where will we go from there? Will we be able to control artificial intelligence and what will we do with it? Is it really something we want or need as a culture, or is it just something that Kurzweil really wants to happen? I think society associates a lot of fear with artificial intelligence, and Kurzweil is trying to displace that fear so he can see something executed that he happens to think would be really cool.


Amanda Thomas
Question 1

People and computers becoming one, Ray Kurzweil’s discussion of the singularity seems quite reminiscent of a dystopian novel in the making. He predicts radical changes in medicine, an increased “human potential,” and an extended life expectancy. While his predictions sound good, are they really? In chapter 5, he predicts three revolutions, “Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics.” (Kurzweil, 205).

Kurzweil mentions advances in genetics and medicine like cloning, designer babies, and immortality. Life is an interesting thing. Cloning allows science to manipulate and create life. The ability to custom make babies has the potential to improve lives, but it also creates a potential for genetic elitism, much like Andrew Niccol’s movie, Gattaca, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gattaca. Could genetic improvements go so far as to exclude non-genetically engineered people from society?

One idea that arises when considering the human brain and nanotechnology is that of storing memory and emotion. If the brain is indeed like a computer, memory and emotion can be managed or potentially be completely erased. Though the ability to delete negative memories, like a tragedy, has potential benefits, it begins to tread on shaky ground. What is the limit for managing memories; who determines what is and isn’t worth remembering? This almost sounds like Lois Lowry’s The Giver, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Giver , except instead of a person bearing the burden of memory it is the computer which bears it. Kurzweil discusses uploading intelligence, personality, and skills. (Kurzweil, 201). What happens if the non-biological system/digital world breaks? Will we have forgotten how to be human?