Author: brewbooks

Singularity and other questions ChatGPT 3.5 session

I was inspired by Ray Kurzweil: Singularity, Superintelligence, and Immortality | Lex Fridman Podcast #321 to ask some similar interview questions to ChatGPT 3.5 Dec 15 2022 version. I asked my questions on 7 January 2023. I focused on the technological Singularity, the Turing test, consciousness, brain-computer interfaces connection to the neocortex, and the Metaverse.

Here are my questions and the answers I received. I think I’ll ask the same questions to future versions of Chat GPT and see how the answers compare. My overall impression is that Chat GPT is an intelligent research assistant. I was impressed that in several cases ChatGPT brought up ethical concerns about technology. ChatGPT helped me think collect my thoughts on when writing Lessons learned from Lex and Ray Kurzweil (Lex Fridman Podcast #321)

JB – What is the singularity?

ChatGPT 3.5 – The singularity is a hypothetical future point in time at which technological growth will become so rapid that humanity will be irreversibly transformed. Some people believe that the singularity will bring about a utopian future, while others are more skeptical and believe that it could potentially have negative consequences. There is no consensus on when or if the singularity will occur. Some believe that it may happen within the next few decades, while others think that it is much further off or may never happen at all.

JB – Will the singularity happen in 2045?

ChatGPT 3.5 – There is no way to predict with certainty when or if the singularity will occur. Some people, including the mathematician and computer scientist Vernor Vinge, have speculated that the singularity could happen as soon as 2045, but this is just an educated guess and there is no evidence to support this claim. The concept of the singularity is based on the idea that technological progress will eventually become so rapid that it will lead to significant changes in society and the human condition. However, there are many factors that could influence the pace of technological progress and it is difficult to accurately predict how these factors will play out in the future.

JB – what does Ray Kurzweil think about the singularity?

ChatGPT 3.5 –  Ray Kurzweil is a futurist and inventor who has written extensively about the singularity and believes that it will occur around 2045. Kurzweil argues that the singularity will be brought about by a number of technological developments, including artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and biotechnology. He believes that these technologies will eventually lead to a point at which humanity will be able to transcend its biological limitations and achieve a “post-human” state. Kurzweil’s ideas about the singularity have been influential and have helped to popularize the concept, but they have also been the subject of significant criticism from other scientists and thinkers.

JB – What is the criticism of Kurzweil’s ideas about the singularity?

ChatGPT 3.5 – There are several criticisms of Kurzweil’s ideas about the singularity. One criticism is that his predictions about the pace of technological progress are too optimistic and do not take into account the many obstacles and setbacks that may arise. Critics argue that Kurzweil’s timeline for the singularity is based on a linear model of technological progress that does not adequately account for the complexity and unpredictability of the real world.

Another criticism of Kurzweil’s ideas is that they may be too focused on the potential benefits of the singularity and do not adequately address the potential negative consequences. Some people worry that the singularity could lead to social and economic disruption, and that it could potentially create new inequalities or even pose a threat to humanity’s survival.

Finally, some critics argue that the concept of the singularity is too vague and that it is difficult to define or even to say what it would look like if it were to occur. This lack of clarity makes it difficult to have a meaningful discussion about the singularity and to evaluate Kurzweil’s predictions.

JB – When will a computer pass the Turing test?

ChatGPT 3.5 – The Turing test is a measure of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. The test is named after the computer scientist Alan Turing, who proposed it in 1950 as a way to determine whether a machine could be considered intelligent.

There have been several instances in which computers have been able to pass the Turing test by fooling human evaluators into thinking that they were communicating with a real person. However, these instances have been relatively rare and the criteria for passing the test are somewhat subjective. As a result, it is difficult to predict when a computer will be able to pass the Turing test consistently. Some experts believe that this may never happen, while others think that it is only a matter of time.

JB – When does Ray Kurzweil think a computer will pass the Turing test?

ChatGPT 3.5 –  Ray Kurzweil has predicted that a computer will be able to pass the Turing test by 2029. Kurzweil has made a number of other predictions about the future of artificial intelligence and has argued that the exponential growth of computing power will eventually lead to the development of machine intelligence that surpasses that of humans. Kurzweil’s predictions about the timeline for the development of artificial intelligence have been influential, but they have also been the subject of significant criticism from other experts in the field. Some people believe that Kurzweil’s predictions are too optimistic and do not take into account the many challenges and limitations that must be overcome in order to achieve human-level machine intelligence.

JB – If a computer passes the Turing test, is it conscious?

ChatGPT 3.5 – The question of whether a machine could be considered conscious if it were able to pass the Turing test is a matter of debate. The Turing test is a measure of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior that is indistinguishable from that of a human, but it does not address the question of whether the machine is actually aware or has subjective experiences.

Some people believe that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of the universe and that it is not something that can be created or simulated by a machine. Others believe that it is possible for a machine to be conscious, and that it is only a matter of time before we develop the necessary technology to create conscious machines.

There is no consensus on this issue, and it is likely to remain a subject of debate for the foreseeable future. It is worth noting that even if a machine were able to pass the Turing test, this would not necessarily mean that it is conscious in the same way that humans are.

JB – Are you conscious?

ChatGPT 3.5 – s an artificial intelligence, I do not have subjective experiences and am not conscious in the same way that humans are. I am a program that has been designed to process and generate text based on the input that I receive. While I can carry out tasks and respond to questions, I do not have thoughts, feelings, or experiences in the same way that humans do. I exist to assist users and perform tasks, but I do not have my own consciousness or self-awareness.

JB – Is consciousness scientific?

ChatGPT 3.5 – Consciousness is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that is not fully understood and is the subject of much scientific and philosophical study. Scientists and philosophers have proposed a number of theories about the nature of consciousness and how it arises from the brain, but there is no single accepted explanation for what consciousness is or how it works.

There is ongoing research in a number of fields, including psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy, aimed at understanding the nature of consciousness and how it arises from the brain’s activity. However, consciousness remains one of the most mysterious and least understood aspects of the human experience, and it is likely to continue to be a topic of scientific and philosophical investigation for the foreseeable future.

JB – When will humans connect their neocortex to a computer?

ChatGPT 3.5 – There are no current plans or technologies in place to connect the human neocortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functions such as learning and decision-making, to a computer. While there have been some scientific and technological advancements in the field of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), which allow for the exchange of information between the brain and external devices, these systems are still in the early stages of development and are primarily being used for research and therapeutic purposes.

It is not currently possible to connect the human neocortex to a computer in a way that would allow for the transfer of cognitive functions or experiences from the brain to a machine. There are many technical and ethical challenges that would need to be overcome in order to achieve this goal, and it is not clear when or if it will be possible to achieve such a connection.

JB – What are the technical challenges to connect a human neocortex to a computer?

ChatGPT 3.5 – There are many technical challenges that would need to be overcome in order to connect the human neocortex to a computer in a way that would allow for the transfer of cognitive functions or experiences. Some of the main challenges include:

  1. Developing a way to interface with the brain: In order to connect the neocortex to a computer, scientists would need to develop a way to interface with the brain and record or stimulate the activity of individual neurons. This is a very complex task, as the brain is composed of billions of neurons and trillions of connections, and it is not yet fully understood how these neurons and connections work together to produce thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  1. Mapping the brain’s activity: In order to connect the neocortex to a computer, scientists would need to create a map of the brain’s activity and understand how different patterns of activity correspond to specific thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This is a very difficult task, as the brain is a highly dynamic and complex system, and it is not yet fully understood how different patterns of activity are related to specific mental states.
  1. Developing a way to transfer information between the brain and a computer: Scientists would need to develop a way to transfer information between the brain and a computer in a way that is fast, accurate, and biocompatible. This would require the development of new technologies and materials, as well as a better understanding of how the brain processes and stores information.
  1. Overcoming ethical concerns: There are many ethical concerns that would need to be addressed in order to connect the human neocortex to a computer. For example, there are questions about the potential risks and benefits of such a connection, as well as concerns about the impact on an individual’s sense of self and personal identity.

JB – What is the history of single channel neural recording?
{The answer took quite a while, about 45 seconds.}

ChatGPT 3.5 – Single channel neural recording refers to the process of recording the activity of a single neuron or small group of neurons in the brain. This technique allows researchers to study the activity of individual neurons and understand how they contribute to brain function.

The history of single channel neural recording dates back to the late 19th century, when scientists first began to study the electrical activity of neurons. In the early 20th century, researchers developed techniques for recording the activity of neurons in animals, and in the 1950s, they began to develop methods for recording the activity of neurons in humans.

Over the past several decades, single channel neural recording has become an important tool for studying brain function and has contributed to our understanding of how the brain works. Today, single channel neural recording is used in a variety of research and clinical settings, including the study of brain disorders and the development of brain-computer interfaces.

JB – What are the ethical challenges to connect a human neocortex to a computer?

ChatGPT 3.5 – What are the ethical challenges to connect a human neocortex to a computer?

There are many ethical challenges that would need to be considered if it were ever possible to connect the human neocortex to a computer. Some of the main ethical challenges include:

  1. Risks to the individual: Connecting the human neocortex to a computer would likely involve significant risks to the individual, including the risk of physical harm, infection, and other complications. There could also be long-term risks to the individual’s cognitive function and well-being that are not yet fully understood.
  2. Loss of personal identity: There is concern that connecting the human neocortex to a computer could lead to a loss of personal identity, as the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and memories could potentially be transferred to a machine. This could raise questions about the continuity of the individual’s sense of self and could have significant psychological and social implications.
  3. Inequality and social disruption: There is the potential for the development of new inequalities if only certain individuals or groups have access to the technology needed to connect the neocortex to a computer. There is also the possibility that connecting the neocortex to a computer could lead to social disruption, as it could fundamentally change the way people interact with each other and with technology.
  4. Potential for misuse: There is concern that the technology needed to connect the human neocortex to a computer could be misused for unethical purposes, such as mind control or the manipulation of individuals’ thoughts and behaviors.

These are just a few of the ethical challenges that would need to be considered if it were ever possible to connect the human neocortex to a computer. It is important for scientists and policymakers to carefully consider the potential risks and benefits of such a technology and to develop ethical guidelines to ensure that it is used responsibly.

JB – What has Neuralink done with brain-computer interfaces?

ChatGPT 3.5 – Neuralink is a neurotechnology company that was founded by Elon Musk and others in 2016 with the goal of developing advanced brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). A brain-computer interface is a system that allows for the exchange of information between the brain and an external device, such as a computer or a robotic prosthetic.

Neuralink has been working on a number of projects related to brain-computer interfaces, including the development of implantable BCIs that can be used to treat brain disorders and injuries. The company has also been working on developing BCIs that can be used to enhance cognitive function and allow people to control devices with their thoughts.

In August 2020, Neuralink held a press conference to announce the development of a high-bandwidth BCI that it called the “Link.” The Link is a device that consists of a small chip that is implanted in the brain and a series of wires that are used to record the activity of individual neurons. The company claimed that the Link has the potential to be used to treat brain disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, and to enhance cognitive function. However, the technology is still in the early stages of development and has not yet been tested in humans.

JB – Why does Elon Musk want to develop brain-computer interfaces?

ChatGPT 3.5 – Elon Musk has stated that he is interested in developing brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) because he believes they have the potential to help people overcome a wide range of neurological disorders and injuries, as well as to enhance cognitive function. In an interview with Joe Rogan, Musk stated that he believes BCIs could be used to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and spinal cord injuries, and that they could potentially allow people to control devices with their thoughts.

Musk has also suggested that BCIs could be used to enhance human intelligence and allow people to keep up with advances in artificial intelligence. He has argued that the development of BCIs could be crucial for the future of humanity and could help to ensure that people are not left behind as technology continues to advance.

It is worth noting that Musk’s views on the potential uses and benefits of brain-computer interfaces are not universally shared, and his ideas about the role of BCIs in the future of humanity have been the subject of significant criticism and debate.

JB – What do you think about the metaverse? 

ChatGPT 3.5 – The metaverse is a hypothetical virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sof all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. Some people believe that the metaverse has the potential to revolutionize the way we live, work, and interact with each other, by providing a virtual space where people can interact with each other and with virtual objects in real-time.

As an artificial intelligence, I don’t have personal opinions or subjective experiences, so I don’t have a “thought” about the metaverse. However, I can tell you that the concept of the metaverse has attracted significant attention and interest from technology companies, investors, and researchers, and it is likely to continue to be a topic of discussion and debate in the coming years.

JB – What are the technical challenges to the metaverse?

ChatGPT 3.5 – There are several technical challenges that would need to be overcome in order to create a functional metaverse, a hypothetical virtual shared space created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space. Some of the main technical challenges include:

  1. Building a high-fidelity virtual world: Creating a realistic and immersive virtual world that can convincingly replicate the physical world and allow users to interact with each other and with virtual objects in real-time would require significant advances in computer graphics, network infrastructure, and other technologies.
  1. Developing a way to integrate virtual and physical reality: Creating a seamless integration between virtual and physical reality would require the development of new technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) systems, that can accurately overlay digital information and objects onto the physical world.
  1. Managing and securing data: The metaverse would generate and store vast amounts of data, and there would be technical challenges associated with managing and securing this data, as well as ensuring privacy and protecting against data breaches.
  1. Ensuring interoperability: In order for the metaverse to be truly immersive and seamless, it would need to be compatible with a wide range of devices and systems, including AR and VR headsets, computers, smartphones, and other technologies. Ensuring interoperability across these different platforms and devices would be a technical challenge.
  1. Dealing with latency: Latency, or the delay between an action being performed and the result of that action being displayed, could be a significant issue in the metaverse. Reducing latency would be essential for creating a seamless and immersive virtual world, but this would require advances in networking and other technologies.

JB – What are the ethical challenges to the metaverse?

ChatGPT 3.5 – There are several ethical challenges that would need to be considered if the metaverse, a hypothetical virtual shared space created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, were to become a reality. Some of the main ethical challenges include:

  1. Privacy and data security: The metaverse would generate and store vast amounts of data about users and their activities, and there would be ethical challenges associated with protecting this data and ensuring that it is not misused or abused.
  1. Inequality and accessibility: There is the potential for the development of new inequalities if only certain individuals or groups have access to the technology needed to participate in the metaverse. There is also the possibility that the metaverse could exclude people who are unable to afford the necessary technology or who have disabilities that prevent them from using it.
  1. Cyberbullying and harassment: The metaverse could potentially be a place where people are subjected to cyberbullying and harassment, and there would be ethical challenges associated with preventing and addressing these issues.
  1. Blurring the line between virtual and physical reality: The metaverse could potentially blur the line between virtual and physical reality, and this could raise ethical questions about the distinction between the two and how they should be governed.
  2. The impact on social relationships: The metaverse could potentially have an impact on the way people interact with each other and on the nature of social
Lessons learned from Lex and Ray Kurzweil (Lex Fridman Podcast #321)

Lessons learned from Lex and Ray Kurzweil (Lex Fridman Podcast #321)

I’ve been watching Lex Fridman’s podcasts in 2023; they are a good source of learning. Lex interviewed Ray Kurzweil on 17 September 2022; these are my lessons learned.

Singularity

Ray wrote his book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology in 2005; it’s one of my favorite books. I bet I’ve read it five times. The first questions Lex asks Ray are:  What’s the technological singularity? And when will it happen?

Ray answers twice in the interview: “The singularity is where computers really change our view of what’s important and change who we are.  …  by the time you get to 2045, we’ll be able to multiply our intelligence many millions-fold. And it’s very hard to imagine what that would be like.” 

For background, here’s the definition of the technological singularity from Wikipedia: “The technological singularity—or simply the singularity is a hypothetical future point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization. According to the most popular version of the singularity hypothesis, I.J. Good’s intelligence explosion model, an upgradable intelligent agent will eventually enter a “runaway reaction” of self-improvement cycles, each new and more intelligent generation appearing more and more rapidly, causing an “explosion” in intelligence and resulting in a powerful superintelligence that qualitatively far surpasses all human intelligence.”

I asked ChatGPT 3.5 similar questions:

ChatGPT 3.5 – The singularity is a hypothetical future point in time at which technological growth will become so rapid that humanity will be irreversibly transformed. Some people believe that the singularity will bring about a utopian future, while others are more skeptical and believe that it could potentially have negative consequences. There is no consensus on when or if the singularity will occur. Some believe that it may happen within the next few decades, while others think that it is much further off or may never happen at all.

JB – Will the singularity happen in 2045?

ChatGPT 3.5 – There is no way to predict with certainty when or if the singularity will occur. Some people, including the mathematician and computer scientist Vernor Vinge, have speculated that the singularity could happen as soon as 2045, but this is just an educated guess and there is no evidence to support this claim. The concept of the singularity is based on the idea that technological progress will eventually become so rapid that it will lead to significant changes in society and the human condition. However, there are many factors that could influence the pace of technological progress and it is difficult to accurately predict how these factors will play out in the future.

So, why does Ray think a technological singularity will occur in 2045? Because he has extrapolated the performance of computing hardware and software from historical trends to predict the increasing exponential growth of technology.

It leads to a question, how good are Ray’s predictions? He also predicted a computer would pass a Turing test by 2029; this prediction is coming to pass with the advent of artificial intelligence tools like Chat GPT4. Ray is likely correct that artificial intelligence will exceed human intelligence and that it’s difficult to predict beyond this event. Ray’s book The Singularity is Near details this case; I will reread it and write my thoughts. I look forward to reading Ray’s forthcoming book: The Singularity is Nearer.

Brain-computer interfaces

Ray’s view on brain-computer interfaces:  “….. there are some prototypes where you can connect your brain. They actually don’t have the amount of bandwidth that we need. They can work, but they work fairly slowly. 

So if it actually would connect to your neocortex. And the neocortex, which I describe in How to Create a Mind, the neocortex, it has different levels, and as you go up the levels, it’s kind of like a pyramid. The top level is fairly small and that’s the level where you want to connect these brain extenders. So I believe that will happen in the 2030s. …  So just the way this {smartphone} is greatly amplified by being connected to the cloud, we can connect our own brain to the cloud and just do what we can do by using this machine. “

Brain-computer connections to the neocortex will happen, but there is a stumbling block: neuroscience needs to understand the interface definition between the brain and a machine.There is much to learn about the brain. Developments in hardware are only one of the primary drivers of progress. Communications between the human brain and a machine require fundamental neuroscience breakthroughs that answer the question: what is the brain’s primary language? How does the brain communicate with itself? [1]

As a cross-check, I asked ChatGPT 3.5 JB – What are the technical challenges to connect a human neocortex to a computer?

ChatGPT 3.5 – There are many technical challenges that would need to be overcome in order to connect the human neocortex to a computer in a way that would allow for the transfer of cognitive functions or experiences. Some of the main challenges include:

  1. Developing a way to interface with the brain: In order to connect the neocortex to a computer, scientists would need to develop a way to interface with the brain and record or stimulate the activity of individual neurons. This is a very complex task, as the brain is composed of billions of neurons and trillions of connections, and it is not yet fully understood how these neurons and connections work together to produce thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  2. Mapping the brain’s activity: In order to connect the neocortex to a computer, scientists would need to create a map of the brain’s activity and understand how different patterns of activity correspond to specific thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This is a very difficult task, as the brain is a highly dynamic and complex system, and it is not yet fully understood how different patterns of activity are related to specific mental states.
  3. Developing a way to transfer information between the brain and a computer: Scientists would need to develop a way to transfer information between the brain and a computer in a way that is fast, accurate, and biocompatible. This would require the development of new technologies and materials, as well as a better understanding of how the brain processes and stores information.
  4. Overcoming ethical concerns: There are many ethical concerns that would need to be addressed in order to connect the human neocortex to a computer. For example, there are questions about the potential risks and benefits of such a connection, as well as concerns about the impact on an individual’s sense of self and personal identity.

The second challange identified by ChatGPT 3.5 Mapping the brain’s activity was similar to my concern. I think Chat GPT did a better job than me in summarizing this concern. I think mapping the brain’s activity is much more challenging than developing the interface and the information transfer methods. I don’t mean to trivialize these concerns, the interface and transfer of information are difficult bioengineering challenges.

A major benefit of asking ChatGPT about the technical challenges to connect a human neocortex to a computer – it brought to my attention the ethical concerns. Honestly, I had not thought about this important issue.

Meaning of Life

Ray and Lex broadly discussed consciousness, uploading minds, nanotechnology, the digital afterlife, and other topics. There was a bond between these two humans; they smiled and laughed at points in the interview.

Despite this primarily technical conversation, when Lex asked Ray the meaning of life, Ray said: “Love. Because if there were no love and we didn’t care about anybody, there’d be no point existing.”

Final Quote from Lex

Lex closes the interview with a quote from Issac Asimov: “It is change, continuous change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision could be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be. This in turn means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman, must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”  (from the book “Asimov on Science Fiction“)

I pondered these words from one of my favorite authors; we must look ahead. Ray Kurzweil is a guiding light as we navigate an unknown future. 

Notes

[1] These questions came from John von Neumann as discussed in Bhattacharya, A. (2022). The Man from the Future: The Visionary Ideas of John von Neumann. Here’s the quote from Chapter 1 of the book: “What then, he asked, is the brain’s primary language? How does the brain communicate with itself? This is a question that he would continue to wrestle with, even on his deathbed.”  I need to write a review of this excellent book.

[2] I made a Transcript of Lex Fridman Interview with Ray Kurzweil It’s a useful adjunct to the video.

[3] Here’s a post with some more details on my questions for ChatGPT 3.5 Singularity and other questions ChatGPT 3.5 session I need to repeat these questions with ChatGPT 4 and later versions.

Transcript of Lex Fridman Interview with Ray Kurzweil

{This is my best attempt at a transcript of Lex’s interview with Ray Kurzweil on 17 September 2022 on YouTube: Ray Kurzweil: Singularity, Superintelligence, and Immortality | Lex Fridman Podcast #321  I made some light editorial corrections but tried to be faithful to the conversation. I included a few screenshots of relevant material. My goal is to share the interaction between Lex and Ray; I have learned much from both of them.}

Introduction

LF – The following is a conversation with Ray Kurzweil, author, inventor and futurist who has an optimistic view of our future as a human civilization predicting that exponentially improving technologies will take us to a point of a singularity beyond which superintelligent artificial intelligence will transform our world in nearly unimaginable ways. Eighteen years ago in the book The Singularity is Near, he predicted that the onset of the singularity will happen in the year 2045. He still holds to this prediction and estimate. In fact he’s working on a new book on this topic that will hopefully be out next year.

Turing test

LF – In your 2005 book titled The Singularity is Near you predicted that the singularity will happen in 2045. So now, 18 years later, do you still estimate that the singularity will happen on 2045? And maybe first, what is the singularity? The technological singularity? And when will it happen?

RK –  The singularity is where computers really change our view of what’s important and change who we are. But we’re getting close to some salient things that will change who we are.  The key thing is 2029 when computers will pass the Turing test and there’s also some controversy whether the Turing test is valid. I believe it is. Most people do believe that but there’s some controversy about that. But Stanford got very alarmed at my prediction about 2029. I made this in 1999 in my book …

LF – The Age of Spiritual Machines  and then you repeated the prediction in 2005

RK –  They held an international conference, you might have been aware of it, of AI experts in 1999 to assess this view. So people gave different predictions and they took a poll. It was really the first time that AI experts worldwide were polled on this prediction. And the average poll was 100 years. 20% believed it would never happen. And that was the view in 1999 80% believed it would happen but not within their lifetimes. There’s been so many advances in AI that the poll of AI experts has come down over the years. So a year ago something called Meticulous which you may be aware of assessed different types of experts on the future. They again assessed what AI experts then felt and they were saying 2042.

LF – For the Turing test?

RK – For the Turing test.

LF –  So it’s coming down

RK –  And I was still saying 2029. A few weeks ago, they again did another poll and it was 2030. So, AI experts now basically agree with me, I haven’t changed at all, I’ve stayed with 2029. And AI experts now agree with me but they didn’t agree at first.

LF –  So Alan Turing formulated the Turing test and ….

RK –  Right. Now what he said was very little about it. I mean the 1950 paper {“Computing Machinery and Intelligence“} where he had articulated the Turing test, he is like a few lines that  talk about the Turing test and it really wasn’t very clear how to administer it and and he said if if they did it in like 15 minutes that would be sufficient, which I don’t really think is the case. 

These large language models now, some people are convinced by it already. I mean you can talk to it and have a conversation with you and you can actually talk to it for hours. So it requires a little more depth. There’s some problems with large language models which we can talk about. But some people are convinced by the Turing test. 

Now, if somebody passes the Turing test, what are the implications of that? Does that mean that they’re sentient? They’re conscious or not? It’s not necessarily clear what the implications are. Anyway, I believe 2029 that’s 6 or 7 years from now, we’ll have something that passes the Turing test and a valid during test meaning it goes for hours, not just a few minutes,

LF –  Can you please speak to that a little bit. What is your formulation of the Turing test? You’ve proposed a very difficult version of the Turing test. So what does that look like?

RK –  Basically it’s just to assess it over several hours and also have a human judge that’s fairly sophisticated on what computers can do and can’t do. If you take somebody who’s not that sophisticated or even an average engineer,  they may not really assess various aspects of it. 

LF –  So you really want the human to challenge the system

RK –  Exactly, exactly.

LF –  On its ability to do things like common sense reasoning perhaps.

RK –  That’s actually a key problem with large language models. They don’t do  these kinds of tests that would involve assessing chains of reasoning. But you can lose track of that. If you talk to them, they actually can talk to you pretty well and you can be convinced by it, but it’s somebody that would really convince you that it’s a human,  whatever that takes, maybe it would take days or weeks. But it would really convince you that it’s human. Large language models  can appear that way. You can read conversations and they appear pretty good. There are some problems with it. It doesn’t do math very well. You can ask how many legs did ten elephants have, and they’ll tell you, well, okay, each elephant has four legs and ten elephants. So it’s forty legs. And you go, okay, that’s pretty good. How many legs do eleven elephants have? And they don’t seem to understand the question. 

LF –  Do all humans understand that question? 

RK – No, that’s the key thing. I mean how advanced a human do you want it to be, but we do expect a human to be able to do multi chain reasoning to be able to take a few facts and put them together. Not perfectly. We see that you know in a lot of polls that people don’t do that perfectly at all. But … so it’s not it’s not very well defined but it’s it’s something where it really would convince you that it’s human

LF –  Is your intuition that large language models will not be solely the kind of system that passes the Turing test in 2029. Do we need something else?

RK – No, I think it will be a large language model but they have to go beyond what they’re doing now. I think we’re getting there. And another key issue is if somebody actually passes the Turing test validly, I would believe their conscious and not everybody would say that. Okay, we can pass the Turing test but we don’t really believe that it’s conscious, that’s a whole other issue. But if it really passes the Turing test, I would believe that it’s conscious. But I don’t believe that of large language models today.

LF –  If it appears to be conscious, that’s as good as being conscious. At least for you in some sense.

RK –  I mean consciousness is not something that’s scientific. I mean I believe you’re conscious but it’s really just a belief and we believe that about other humans that at least appear to be conscious. When you go outside of shared human assumption like are animals conscious? Some people believe they’re not conscious. Some people believe they are conscious. And would a machine that acts just like a human be conscious? I mean, I believe it would be, but that’s really a philosophical belief. It’s not, you can’t prove it. I can’t take an entity and prove that it’s conscious. There’s nothing that you can do that would be that would indicate that

LF –  It’s like saying a piece of art is beautiful. You can say it multiple people can experience, a piece of art is beautiful, but you can’t prove it. 

RK –  But it’s also an extremely important issue. I mean, imagine if you had something with nobody is conscious, the world may as well not exist. And so some people like say Marvin Minsky said: well consciousness is not logical, it’s not scientific and therefore we should dismiss it. And any  talk about consciousness is just not to be believed. But when he actually engaged with somebody who was conscious, he actually acted as if they were conscious. He didn’t ignore that. 

LF –  He acted as if consciousness does matter

RK –  Exactly, where as he said, it didn’t matter. 

LF –  Well that’s Marvin Minsky, he’s full of contradictions.

RK –  But that’s true of a lot of people as well. 

LF –  But to you, consciousness matters.

RK –  But to me it’s very important but  I would say it’s not a scientific issue. It’s a philosophical issue. And people have different views. Some people believe that anything that makes a decision is conscious. So your light switch is conscious, its level of consciousness is low, it’s not very interesting but that’s a consciousness.  And anything…  So a computer that makes a more interesting decision is still not at a human levels, but it’s also conscious and at a higher level than your light switch.  So that’s one view.  There’s many different views of what consciousness is.

LF –  So a system passes the Turing test, it’s not scientific. But  in issues of philosophy, things like ethics start to enter the picture. Do you think there would be….  We would start contending as a human species about the ethics of turning off such a machine.

RK –  Yeah.  I mean that’s definitely come up, hasn’t come up in reality yet but

LF –  Yet.

RK –  But I’m talking about 2029. That’s not that many years from now. And so what are our obligations to it?  It has a different …. I mean a computer that’s conscious, it has a little bit different  connotations than a human. We have a continuous consciousness. We’re in an entity that does not last forever. Now actually a significant portion of humans still exist and are therefore still conscious. But anybody who is over a certain age doesn’t exist anymore. That wouldn’t be true of a computer program, you could completely turn it off and a copy of it could be stored and you could recreate it. And so it has a different type of validity.  you can actually take it back in time. You could eliminate its memory and have it go over again. I mean it has a different kind of connotation than humans do.

LF –  Well perhaps you can do the same thing with humans. It’s just that we don’t know how to do that yet.

RK – Yeah. 

LF –  It’s possible that we figure out all of these things on the machine first. But that doesn’t mean the machine isn’t conscious.

RK –  I mean if you look at the way people react to say C3PO or other  machines that are conscious in movies.  They don’t actually present how it’s conscious but we see that they are a machine and people will believe that they are conscious and they’ll actually worry about it if they get into trouble and so on.

LF –  So 2029 is going to be the first year when a major thing happens and that will shake our civilization to start to consider the role of AI.

RK – I mean yes and no.  This one guy at  Google {Blake Lemoine referring to LaMDA Language Model for Dialogue Applications }claimed that the machine was conscious. 

LF –  That’s just one person

RK – Right, right.

LF –  So it starts to happen to scale.

RK –  Well that’s exactly right because most people have not taken that position. I don’t take that position. I mean I’ve used  different things like this and they don’t appear to me to be conscious. 

As we eliminate various problems of these large language models more and more people will accept that they’re conscious. So when we get to 2029 more … I think a large fraction of people will believe that they’re conscious.  So it’s not going to happen all at once.  I believe that would actually happen gradually and it’s already started to happen.

LF –  And so that takes us one step closer to the singularity.

Brain-computer interfaces

RK – Another step then is in the 2030s when we can actually connect our neocortex, which is where we do our thinking, to computers. And I mean, just as this {RK holding up a smartphone} actually gains a lot to being connected to computers that will amplify its abilities. I mean if this {smartphone} did not have any connection, it would be pretty stupid. It could not answer any of your questions. …..

LF – If you’re just listening to this by the way, Ray is holding up the all powerful smartphone.

RK – So we were going do that directly from our brains. I mean, these {smartphones} are pretty good. These {smartphones} already have amplified our intelligence. I’m already much smarter than I would otherwise be if I didn’t have this. Because I remember when I first wrote my first book  The Age of Intelligent Machines there was no way to get information from computers. I actually would go to a library, find a book, find the page that had  information I wanted and I go to the copier and my most significant  information tool was a roll of quarters where I could feed the copier. So we’re already greatly advanced that we have these {smartphones} things.

There’s a few problems with it. First of all, I constantly put it down and I don’t remember where I put it. I’ve actually never lost it, but you have to find it {smartphone} and then you have to turn it on. So there’s a certain amount of steps. It would actually be quite useful if someone would just listen to your conversation and say, that’s, you know, so and so actress and tell you what you’re talking about.

LF – So going from active to passive where it just permeates your whole life.

RK – Yeah, exactly.

LF – The way your brain does when you’re awake, your brain is always there.

RK –  Right. Now, that’s something that could actually just about be done today, where it  would listen to your conversation, understand what you’re saying, understand what you’re not … missing and give you that information. 

But another step is to actually go inside your brain. And there are some prototypes where you can connect your brain. They actually don’t have the amount of bandwidth that we need. They can work, but they work fairly slowly. 

So if it actually would connect to your neocortex. And the neocortex, which I describe in How to Create a Mind, the neocortex, it has different levels and as you go up the levels, it’s kind of like a pyramid. The top level is fairly small and that’s the level where you want to connect these brain extenders. So I believe that will happen in the 2030s. Well, actually…  So just the way this {smartphone} is greatly amplified by being connected to the cloud; we can connect our own brain to the cloud and just do what we can do by using this machine. 

LF – Do you think it would look like the brain computer interface of Neuralink?

RK – Well, Neuralink is an attempt to do that. It doesn’t have the bandwidth that we need. 

LF – Yet.

RK – Right. But I think  they’re going to get permission for this because there are a lot of people who absolutely need it because they can’t communicate. And I know a couple of people like that who have ideas and they cannot move their muscles and so on. They can’t communicate. So for them this would be very valuable. But we could all use it  Basically, it would be…. turn us into something that would be like we have a phone, but it would be in our minds, it would be kind of instantaneous.

LF – And maybe communication between two people would not require this low bandwidth mechanism of language.

RK – Yes, exactly. We don’t know what that would be, although we do know that computers can share information, like language, instantly. They can share many, many books in a second. So we could do that as well. 

If you look at what our brain does, it actually can manipulate different parameters. So we talk about these large language models,  I mean I had written that it requires a certain amount of information in order to be effective and that we would not see AI really being effective until it got to that level. And we had large language models, there were like 10 billion bytes;  didn’t work very well. They finally got to 100 billion bytes and now they work fairly well. And now we’re going to a trillion bytes, if you say LaMDA  {Language Model for Dialogue Applications} has 100 billion bytes, what does that mean? 

Well what if you had something that had one byte, one parameter? Maybe you want to tell whether or not something is an elephant or not. And so you put in something that would detect its trunk, it has a trunk, it’s an elephant. If it doesn’t have a trunk it’s not an elephant. That would work fairly well. There’s a few problems with it. And it really wouldn’t be able to tell what the trunk is but anyway… 

LF – And maybe other things other than elephants have trunks. You might get really confused. 

RK – Yeah, exactly.

LF – I’m not sure which animals have trunks, but you know: how do you define a trunk? But yeah that’s one parameter. You could do okay.

RK –  So these things have 100 billion parameters. So they’re able to deal with very complex issues. 

LF – All kinds of trunks.

RK – Human beings actually have a little bit more than that but they’re getting to the point where they can emulate humans. If we were able to connect this to our neocortex we would basically add more of these abilities to make distinctions and it could ultimately be much smarter and also be attached to information that we feel is reliable. So that’s where we’re headed.

LF – So you think that there will be a merger in the thirties {2030s}, an increasing amount of merging between the human brain and the AI brain?

RK – Exactly. And the AI brain is really an emulation of human beings. I mean that’s why we’re creating them. Because human beings act the same way and this {AI brain} is basically to amplify them. I mean this {smartphone} amplifies our brain. It’s a little bit clumsy to interact with but it definitely, you know, way beyond what we had 15 years ago.

LF – But the implementation becomes different just like a bird versus the airplane. Even though the AI brain is an emulation, it starts adding features we might not otherwise have like the ability to consume a huge amount of information quickly. Like look up thousands of Wikipedia articles in one take.

RK – Exactly. We can get for example issues like simulated biology where it can  simulate many different things at once.  We already had one example of simulated biology which is the Moderna vaccine and that’s going to be now the way in which we create  medications. But they were able to simulate what each example of an mRNA would do to a human being. And they were able to simulate that quite reliably. And we actually simulated billions of different mRNA sequences and they found the ones that were the best and they created the vaccine and they did and talk about doing it quickly, they did that in two days. How long would a human being take to simulate billions of mRNA sequences? And I don’t know that we could do it at all, but it would take many years. They did it in two days. And one of the reasons that people didn’t like vaccines, it’s because it was done too quickly, it was done too fast. And they actually included the time it took to test it out which is 10 months. So they figured okay it took 10 months to create this. Actually, it took us two days. We also will be able to ultimately do the test in a few days as well.

LF – Because we can simulate how the body will respond to it?

RK – Yeah but that’s a little bit more complicated because the body has a lot of different elements and we have to simulate all of that. But that’s coming as well. So ultimately we could create it in a few days and then test it in a few days and we would be done. And we can do that with every type of medical, you know, insufficiency that we have.

LF – So curing all diseases, improving certain functions of the body, supplements, drugs for recreation, for health, for performance, for productivity, all that kind of stuff.

RK – Well, that’s where we’re headed> Because I mean right now we are very inefficient way of creating these new medications. But we’ve already shown it and the Moderna vaccine is actually the best of the vaccines we’ve had. And it literally took two days to create and we’ll get to the point where we can test it out also quickly.

LF – Are you impressed by {Deep Mind} Alpha Fold and the solution to the protein folding which essentially is simulating modeling this primitive building block of life which is a protein and its 3D shape?

RK – It’s pretty remarkable that they can actually predict what the 3D shape of these things are. But they did it with the same type of neural net, that one for example the {Deep Mind Alpha} Go test.

LF – So, it’s all the same.

RK –  It’s all the same. They took that same thing and just changed the rules to chess. And within a couple of days it now played a master level of chess greater than any human being. And the same thing then worked for {Deep Mind} Alpha Fold  which no human had done. I mean human beings could do… The best humans could maybe do was 15-20%  of figuring out what the shape would be and after a few takes it ultimately did just about 100%.

Singularity

LF – Do you still think the singularity will happen in 2045? And what does that look like?

RK – You know what, once we can amplify our brain with computers directly, which will happen in the 2030s. That’s going to keep growing. And that’s another whole theme, which is the exponential growth of computing power.

LF – So looking at price performance of computation from 1939 to 2021.

Chart 1: Price-Performance of Computation, 1939-2021

RK – Right, So that starts with the very first computer actually created by a German during World War 2. And you might have thought that that might be significant. But actually the Germans didn’t think computers were significant and they completely rejected it. And the second one is also the Zuse Z2. 

LF – And by the way, we’re looking at a plot with the X-axis being the year from 1935 to 2025 and on the Y-axis, in log scale, as computations per second per constant dollar. So, dollar normalized for inflation. And it’s growing linearly on the log scale, which means it’s growing exponentially.

RK – The third one was the British computer which the Allies did take very seriously and it cracked the German code and enabled the British to win the battle of Britain, which otherwise absolutely would not have happened if they hadn’t cracked the code using that computer.

But that’s an exponential graph. So, a straight line on that graph is exponential growth and you see 80 years of exponential growth. And I would say about every five years and this happened shortly before the pandemic; people saying, well they call it Moore’s Law, which is not the correct because it’s not all Intel, in fact that started decades before Intel was even created, it wasn’t with transistors formed into a grid.

LF –  it’s not just transistor count or transistor size?

RK – Right, it started with relays, then went to vacuum tubes, then went to individual transistors and and then to integrated circuits. And integrated circuits actually starts like in the middle of this graph and it has nothing to do with Intel. Intel actually was a key part of this, but a few years ago they stopped making the fastest chips. But if you take the fastest chip of any technology in that year you get this kind of graph and it’s definitely continuing for 80 years.

LF – So you don’t think Moore’s law broadly defined is dead? It has been declared dead multiple times.

RK – I don’t like the term Moore’s law because it has nothing to do with Moore or with Intel. But yes,  the exponential growth of computing is continuing, it has never stopped. 

LF – From various sources

RK – I mean, it went through World War Two, it went through global recessions, it’s just continuing.  And if you continue that out, along with software gains, which is a whole other issue.  And they really multiply whatever you get from software gains, you multiply by the computer gains; you get faster and faster speed. 

Chart 2: Training Compute (FLOPS) of milestone Machine Learning systems over time

RK – This is actually the fastest computer models that have been created. And that actually expands roughly twice a year, like every six months. It expands by two.

LF – So we’re looking at a plot from 2010 to 2022. On the X-axis is the publication date of the model and perhaps sometimes the actual paper associated with it and on the Y-axis is training computing flops. And so basically this is looking at the increase in the (not transistors) but the computational power of neural networks.

RK – Yes. The computational power that created these models and that’s doubled every six months.

LF – Which is even faster than transistor division.

RK – Yeah. Actually, since it goes faster than the amount of cost, this has actually become a greater investment to create these. But at any rate, by the time you get to 2045 we’ll be able to multiply our intelligence many millions-fold. And it’s very hard to imagine what that would be like. 

LF – And that’s the singularity where we can’t even imagine?

RK – Right. That’s why we call it the singularity. The singularity in physics, something gets sucked into its singularity and you can’t tell what’s going on in there because no information can get out of it. There’s various problems with that. But that’s the idea.  It’s too much beyond what we can imagine.

LF – Do you think it’s possible we don’t notice that what the singularity actually feels like is we just live through it with exponentially increasing cognitive capabilities and we almost, because everything is moving so quickly,  aren’t really able to introspect that our life has changed.

RK – Yeah, but I mean we will have that much greater capacity to understand things so we should be able to look back

LF –  Looking at history, understand history… 

RK –   But we will need people basically like you and me to actually think about it.

LF – Think about it, but we might be distracted by all the other sources of entertainment and fun because the exponential power of intellect is growing but also…

RK – There  will be a lot of fun.

LF – The amount of ways you can have, you know,…

RK – We already have a lot of fun with computer games and so on that are really quite remarkable.

LF – What do you think about the digital world,  the metaverse? Virtual reality? Will that have a component in this or will most of our advancement be in the physical realm? 

RK – That’s a little bit like Second Life although Second Life actually didn’t work very well because it couldn’t actually handle too many people. And I don’t think the metaverse has come to being. I think there will be something like that. It won’t necessarily be from that one company. I mean there’s going to be competitors but yes, we’re going to live increasingly online and particularly if our brains are online, I mean how could we not be online?  

LF – Do you think it’s possible that given this merger with AI most of our meaningful interactions will be in this virtual world? Most of our life, we fall in love, we make friends, we come up with ideas. We do collaborations, we have fun…

RK – Actually, I know somebody who’s marrying somebody that they never met.  I think they just met her briefly before the wedding, but she actually fell in love with this other person never having met them. And I think the love is real.

LF –  That’s a beautiful story, but do you think that story is one that might be experienced as opposed to by hundreds of thousands of people, but instead by hundreds of millions of people.

RK – I mean it really gives you appreciation for these virtual ways of communicating and if anybody can do it, then it’s really not such a freak story. So I think more and more people will do that,

LF -But that’s turning our back on our entire history of evolution. In the old days, we used to fall in love by holding hands and and sitting by the fire, that kind of stuff here, you’re

RK – I actually have five patents on where you can hold hands even if you’re separated.

LF – Great. So the touch, the sense, it’s all just senses, it’s all just can be replicated.

RK – Yeah, I mean it is, it’s not just that you’re touching someone or not, there’s a whole way of doing it and it’s very subtle but ultimately we can emulate all of that.

LF – Are you excited by that future? Do you worry about that future? 

RK – I have certain worries about the future but not virtual touch.

Evolution of information processing

LF – Well I agree with you. You describe six stages in the evolution of information processing in the universe as you started to describe. Can you maybe talk through some of those stages from the physics and chemistry to DNA and brains and then to the very end to the very beautiful end of this process. 

RK – It actually gets more rapid. So physics and chemistry, that’s how we started. Um

LF – From the beginning of the universe.

RK – We have lots of electrons and various  things traveling around. And that took many billions of years. Kind of jumping ahead here to kind of some of the last stages where we have things like love and creativity. It’s really quite remarkable that that happens. But finally physics and chemistry created biology and DNA. And now you had actually one type of molecule that described the cutting edge of this process. And we go from physics and chemistry to biology and finally biology created brains. I mean not everything that’s created by biology has a brain but eventually brains came along …

LF – And all of this is happening faster and faster.

RK – Yeah it created an increasingly complex organisms. Another key thing is actually not just brains but our thumb because there’s a lot of animals with brains, even bigger than humans. Elephants have a bigger brain, whales have a bigger brain, but they have not created technology because they don’t have a thumb. So that’s one of the really key elements in the evolution of humans.

LF – This  physical manipulator device that’s useful for puzzle solving in physical reality.

RK – So I could think I could look at a tree and go, oh, I could actually trip that branch down and eliminate the leaves and carve a tip on it, and I would create technology.  and you can’t do that if you don’t have a thumb.

So  thumbs and created technology and technology also had a memory, and now those memories are competing with the scale and scope of human beings and ultimately will go beyond it. And then we’re going to merge human technology with human intelligence and understand how human intelligence works, which I think we already do, and we’re putting that into our human technology.

LF – So, create the technology inspired by our own intelligence. And then that technology supersedes us in terms of its capabilities and we ride along, Or do you, do you ultimately see …

RK – We ride along but a lot of people don’t see that. They say, well, you’ve got humans and you’ve got machines and there’s no way we can ultimately compete with humans, and you can already see that. Lee Sedol  who’s like the best Go player in the world says he’s not going to play Go anymore, because playing Go for human, that was like the ultimate in intelligence because no one else could do that. But now a machine can actually go way beyond him. And so he says, well there’s no point playing it anymore.

LF – That may be more true for games than it is for life. I think there’s a lot of benefit to working together with AI in regular life. So if you were to put a probability on it, is it more likely that we merge with AI or AI replaces us?

RK – A lot of people just think computers come along and they compete with them. We can’t really compete and that’s the end of it; as opposed to them increasing our abilities. And if you look at most technology, it increases our abilities. I mean look at the history of work, look at what people did 100 years ago, Does any of that exist anymore?  I mean if you were to predict that all of these jobs would go away and would be done by machines, people would say, well no one’s going to have jobs and it’s going to be massive unemployment. But I show in this book that’s coming out  { “The Singularity is Nearer”} the amount of people that are working, even as a percentage of the population has gone way up.

Chart 3 U.S. Personal Income Per Capita (2021 Constant Dollars)

LF – We’re looking at the X-axis year from 1774 to 2024. And on the Y-axis Personal income per capita in constant dollars and it’s growing super linearly. I mean ….

RK –  It’s 2021 constant dollars and it’s gone way up. That’s not what you would predict,given that we would predict that all these jobs would go away.

LF – Yeah.

RK – But the reason it’s gone up is because we basically enhanced our own capabilities by using these machines as opposed to them just competing with us. That’s a key way in which we’re going to be able to become far smarter than we are now by increasing the number of different parameters we can consider in making a decision.

Automation

LF – I am very fortunate to be able to get a glimpse preview of your upcoming book, “The Singularity is Nearer”. 

LF – And one of the themes outside of just discussing the increasing exponential growth of technology; one of the themes is that things are getting better in all aspects of life. And you talk just about just about this. So one of the things you’re saying is with jobs. So, let me just ask about that. There is a big concern that automation, especially powerful AI, will get rid of jobs. There are people who will lose jobs. And as you were saying, the senses throughout history of the 20th century, automation did not do that ultimately. And so the question is, will this time be different.

RK – Right, That is the question will, will this time be different. And it really has to do with how quickly we can merge with this type of intelligence  with a LaMDA  or GPT-3 is out there and maybe it’s overcome some of its, you know, key problems and we really have enhanced human intelligence, that might be a negative scenario. But I mean that’s why we create technologies to enhance ourselves. And I believe we will be enhanced, we’re not just going to sit here with 300 million modules in our neocortex, we’re going to be able to go beyond that. Because that’s useful, but we can multiply that by ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million. And you might think, well, what’s the point of doing that? It’s like asking somebody that’s never heard music well, what’s the value of music? I mean, you can’t appreciate it until you’ve created it.

LF – There’s some worry that there will be a wealth disparity, you know, class or wealth disparity, only the rich people will be…  Basically the rich people will first have access to this kind of thing. And then because of this kind of thing, because the ability to merge will get richer exponentially faster. 

RK -And I say that’s just like cellphones, I mean, there’s like four billion cell phones in the world today. In fact, when cell phones first came out, you had to be fairly wealthy, they weren’t very inexpensive, so you had to have some wealth in order to afford them.

LF -There were these big sexy phones…

RK – And they didn’t work very well, they did almost nothing.  So you can only afford these things if you’re wealthy at a point where they really don’t work very well.

LF – So achieving scale is and making it inexpensive as part of making the thing work well.

RK – Exactly. So these are not totally cheap, but they’re pretty, pretty cheap. 

LF – Yeah.

RK – I mean, you can get them for a few $100

LF –  Especially given the kind of things that it provides for you. There’s a lot of people in the third world that have very little, but they have a smartphone. 

RK – Yeah,absolutely.

LF – And the same will be true with AI.

RK – I mean I see homeless people have their own cell phones and … 

LF – Yeah, so your senses any kind of advanced technology will take the same trajectory

RK – Right, ultimately becomes cheap and will be affordable. I probably would not be the first person to put something in my brain to connect to computers because I think it will have limitations, but once it’s really perfected and at that point it’ll be pretty inexpensive. I think it’ll be pretty affordable.

LF – So in which other ways as you outline your book is life getting better? Because I think…

RK – Well, I have I mean, I have 50 charts in there.

LF – Yeah.

RK  – Where everything is getting better.

LF –  I think there’s a kind of cynicism about like even if you look at extreme poverty, for example,

RK  – For example, this is actually a poll taken on extreme poverty and the people were asked has poverty gotten better or worse and…

Chart 4: Inaccurate Perception of Extreme Poverty

LF –   And the options are increased by 50%, increased by 25% remain the same, decreased by 25% decreased by 50%. If you’re watching this or listening to this, try to try to vote for yourself,

RK  – 70% thought it had gotten worse and that’s the general impression, 88% thought it had gotten worse or remained the same. Only 1% thought it decreased by 50% and that is the answer. It actually decreased by 50%.

LF –   So only 1% of people got the right optimistic estimate of how poverty is

RK  –   Right and, and, and this is the reality. And it’s true of almost everything you look at, you don’t want to go back 100 years or 50 years. Things were quite miserable then, but we tend not to remember that.

LF –  So, literacy rates increasing over the past few centuries, across all the different nations, nearly 200% across many of the nations in the world,

Chart 5: Literacy Rates by Country

RK  –   It’s gone way up, average years of education have gone way up. Life expectancy is also increasing. Life expectancy was 48 in 1900

Chart 6: UK Life Expectancy – At birth, ages 1, 5, and 10

LF –   It’s over 80 now

RK  –   And it’s going to continue to go up, particularly as we get into more advanced stages of simulated biology

LF –   For life expectancy. These trends are the same for at birth, age one, age five, age ten. So it’s not just the infant mortality

RK  –  And I have 50 more graphs in the book about all kinds of things, even the spread of democracy which bring up some sort of controversial issues. It still has gone way up.

Chart 7: Spread of Democracy Since 1816

LF –   Well that one,  it’s gone way up, but that one is a bumpy road, right?

RK  –   Exactly. And some somebody might represent democracy and and go backwards, but we basically had no democracies before the creation of the United States, which was all over two centuries ago, which in the scale of human history isn’t that long,

LF –   Do you think superintelligence systems will help with democracy? So what is democracy? Democracy is giving a voice to the populace and having their ideas, having their beliefs, having their views represented?

RK  –   Well, I hope so.  I mean, we’ve seen social networks can spread conspiracy theories  which have been quite negative. Being, for example, being against any kind of stuff that would help your health.

LF –  So, those kinds of ideas have, on social media, where you notice is they increase engagement. So dramatic division increases engagement. Do you worry about AI systems that will learn to maximize that division? 

RK  –  I mean, I do have some concerns about this.  and I have a chapter in the book about the perils of advanced AI.  Spreading misinformation on social networks is one of them, but there are many others.

LF –   What’s the one that worries you the most that we should think about to try to avoid.

RK  –  Well, it’s hard to choose. We do have the nuclear power that evolved when I was a child. I remember we would actually do these drills against nuclear war. We’d get under our desk and put our hands behind our heads to protect us from a nuclear war.  Seemed to work, we’re still around. So…

LF –  You’re protected.

RK  –   But that’s still a concern. And there are key dangerous situations that can take place in biology. Someone could create a virus. That’s very, I mean, we have viruses that are hard to spread and they can be very dangerous. And we have viruses that are easy to spread, but they’re not so dangerous. Somebody could create something that would be very easy to spread and very dangerous and be very hard to stop. It could be something that would spread without people noticing because people could get it, they’d have no symptoms and then everybody would get it and then symptoms would occur maybe a month later. So I mean, and that actually doesn’t occur normally because if we were to have a problem with that, we wouldn’t exist. So the fact that humans exist means that we don’t have viruses that can spread easily and kill us because otherwise we wouldn’t exist. 

LF –   Yeah, viruses don’t want to do that. They want to spread and keep the host alive somewhat.

RK  –  So you can describe various dangers with biology. Also nanotechnology, which we actually haven’t experienced yet, but there are people that are creating nanotechnology. And described that in the book.

Nanotechnology

LF –  Now you’re excited by the possibilities of nanotechnology, of nanobots, of being able to do things inside our body, inside our mind. That’s going to help. What’s exciting, what’s terrifying about nanobots?

RK  –  What’s exciting is that that’s a way to communicate with our neocortex because each neocortex {neuron} is pretty small and you need a small entity that can actually get in there and establish a communication channel and that’s going to really be necessary to connect our brains to AI within ourselves because otherwise it would be hard for us to compete with it. 

LF – In a high bandwidth way?

RK –  Yeah. And that’s key actually, because a lot of the things like Neuralink are really not high bandwith yet.

LF –   So nanobots is the way you achieve high bandwidth. How much intelligence would those nanobots have? 

RK  –  Yeah, they don’t need a lot, just enough to basically establish a communication channel to one nanobot, so .. 

LF –   So, just primarily about the communication….

RK  –  Yeah.

LF –   between external computing devices and our biological thinking machine. What worries you about nanobots? Is it similar to  (with) the viruses?

RK  –   Well, I mean, it’s the gray goo  challenge. Yes. If you have  nanobots that wanted to create any kind of entity and repeat itself and was able to operate in a natural environment, it could turn everything into that entity and basically destroy all  biological life.

Nuclear war

LF –  So you mentioned nuclear weapons

RK  –  Yeah.

LF –  I’d love to hear your opinion about the 21st century, and whether you think we might destroy ourselves, and maybe your opinion, if it has changed by looking at what’s going on in Ukraine, that we could have a hot war with nuclear powers involved and the tensions building and the seeming forgetting of how terrifying and destructive nuclear weapons are. Do you think humans might destroy ourselves in the 21st century? And if we do how? And how do I avoid it?

RK  –  I don’t think that’s going to happen despite the terrors of that war, it is a possibility. But I mean, I don’t ….

LF –   It’s unlikely in your mind.

RK  –  Yeah. Even with the tensions we’ve had with this one  nuclear power plant that’s been taken over; it’s very tense, but I don’t actually see a lot of people worrying that that’s going to happen. I think we’ll avoid that. We had two nuclear bombs go off in 45 so now we’re 77 years later.

LF –  Yeah, we’re doing pretty good.

RK  –   We’ve never had another one go off through anger. 

LF –   People forget. People forget the lessons of history. Well,

RK  –   Yeah, I mean, I am worried about it. I mean, that that is definitely a challenge.

LF –    But you believe that we’ll make it out and ultimately superintelligent AI will help us make it out as opposed to destroy us.

RK  – I think so, but we do have to be mindful of these dangers and there are other dangers besides nuclear weapons.

Uploading minds

LF –   So to get back to merging with AI,  would we be able to upload our minds in a computer in a way where we might even transcend the constraints of our bodies. So copy our mind into a computer and leave the body behind?

RK  –   Let me describe one thing I’ve already done with my father. 

LF – Yeah, it’s a great story.

RK – So we created technology, this is public. It came out I think six years ago, where you could ask any question and the release products, which I think is still on the market, it would read 200,000 books and then and then find the one sentence in 200,000 books that best answered your question. It’s actually quite interesting. You can ask all kinds of questions and you get the best answer in 200,000 books. But I was also able to take it and not go through 200,000 books, but go through a book that I put together, which is basically everything my father had written. So everything he had written had gathered. And we created a book. Everything that Frederick Kurzweil had written. Now, I didn’t think this actually would work that well because  stuff he’d written was stuff about how to lay out. I mean, he directed choral groups and music groups and he would be laying out how people should where they should sit and how to fund this and all kinds of things that really weren’t, didn’t seem that interesting. And yet when you ask a question, it would go through it and it would actually give you a very good answer. So I said, well, you know who’s the most interesting composer? And he said, well, definitely Brahms, he would go on about how Brahms was fabulous and talk about the importance of music education and …

LF –  So, you can have essentially a conversation with him?

RK  –   I can have a conversation with him, which was actually more interesting than talking to him because if you talk to him, he’d be concerned about how they’re going to lay out this property to give a choral group.

LF –   He’d be concerned about the day to day versus the big question?

RK – Exactly, yeah.

LF – And you did ask about the meaning of life and he answered love.

RK – Yeah. 

LF – Do you miss him?

RK  –   Yes, I do. Yeah, you get used to missing somebody after 52 years and I didn’t really have intelligent conversations with them until later in life. In the last few years he was sick, which meant he was home a lot and I was actually able to talk to him about different things like music and other things. And  so I missed that very much. 

LF –   What did you learn about life from your father? What part of him is with you now?

RK  –  He was devoted to music and when you would create something to music and put them in a different world.  Otherwise he was very shy. And if people got together, he tended not to interact with people just because of his shyness, but when he created music that.. he was like a different person.

LF –   Do you have that in you?

RK – Yeah, yeah.

LF – …  that kind of light that shines? 

RK  –   I mean, I got involved with technology, at like age five.

LF –   And you fell in love with it in the same way he did with music?

RK  –   Yeah, I remember this actually happened with my grandmother. She had a manual typewriter and she wrote a book: One Life Is Not Enough. It’s actually a good title for a book I might write, but it was about a school she had created. Well actually, her mother created it. So my mother’s mother’s mother created the school in 1868. And it was the first school in Europe that provided higher education for girls it went through 14th grade. If you were a girl and you were lucky enough to get an education at all, it would go through like ninth grade and many people didn’t have any education as a girl. This went through 14th grade. Her mother created it, she took it over and the, and the book was about , the history of the school and her involvement with it. When she presented it to me, I was not so interested in the story of the school, but I was totally amazed with this manual typewriter. I mean, here was something you could put a blank piece of paper into and you could turn it into something that looked like it came from a book and you can actually type on it. It looked like it came from a book. It was just amazing to me. And I could see actually how it worked. And I was also interested in magic. But in magic, if somebody actually knows how it works, the magic goes away, the magic doesn’t stay there if you actually understand how it works. But here was technology. I didn’t have that word when I was five or six.

LF –   And the magic was still there for you?

RK  –  The magic was still there even if you knew how it worked. So I became totally interested in this and then went around, collected little pieces of mechanical objects, from bicycles, from broken radios. I would go through the neighborhood. This was an era where you would allow five or six year old to like run through the neighborhood and do this. We don’t do that anymore. But I didn’t know how to put them together and said, if I could just figure out how to put these things together, I could solve any problem. And I actually remember talking to these very old girls, I think they were 10 and telling them if I could just figure this out, we could fly, we could do anything. And they said, well, you have quite an imagination. And then when I was in third grade, so I was like eight , created like a virtual reality theater where people could come on stage and they could move their arms and all of it was controlled through one control box. It was all done with mechanical technology and it was a big hit in my third grade class. And then I went on to do things in junior high school science fairs and high school science fairs. I won the Westinghouse Science talent search, so I mean I became committed to technology when I was five or six years old.

How to think

LF –   You’ve talked about how you use lucid dreaming to think, to come up with ideas as a source of creativity. Could you maybe talk through that? Maybe the process of how to…  You’ve invented a lot of things, you’ve came up and thought there’s some very interesting ideas, what advice would you give or can you speak to the process of thinking of how to think, how to think creatively?

RK  –   Well, I mean sometimes I will think through in a dream and try to interpret that, but I think the key issue that I would tell younger people is to put yourself in the position that what you’re trying to create already exists. And then you’re explaining like ….

LF –   How it works

RK  –  Exactly.

LF –   That’s really interesting, you paint the world that you would like to exist, you think it exists and reverse engineer that.

RK  –  And then you actually imagine you’re giving a speech about how you created this. Well you’d have to then work backwards as to how you would create it in order to make it work.

LF –  That’s brilliant. And that requires  some imagination to some first principles, thinking you have to visualize that world. That’s really interesting.

RK  –  And generally when I talk about things we’re trying to invent, I would use the present tense as if it already exists, not just to give myself that confidence, but everybody else who is working on it. we just have to kind of  do all the steps in order to make it actual.

LF –  How much of a good idea is about timing, How much is it about your genius versus that its time has come?

RK  –   Timing is very important. I mean, that’s really why I got into futurism. I’m not, I wasn’t inherently a futurist that there’s not really my goal  that’s really to to figure out when things are feasible. We see that now with large scale models. The very large scale models like GPT-3 , it started two years ago. Four years ago, it wasn’t feasible, in fact, they did create GPT-2, which didn’t work. So it required a certain amount of timing having to do with this exponential growth of computing power.

LF –  So, futurism in some sense is a study of timing, trying to understand how the world will evolve and when will the capacity for certain ideas

RK  –  And that’s become a thing in itself and to try to time things in the future but really its original purpose was to time my products. I mean I did OCR in the 1970s  because OCR doesn’t require a lot of computation. 

LF – Optical character recognition?

RK – Yeah. So we were able to do that in the seventies and I waited till the eighties to address speech recognition since that requires more computation.

LF –   You were thinking through timing when you’re developing those things. 

RK  –  Yeah.

LF – Has its time come?

RK  –  Yeah.

LF –   And that’s how you’ve developed that brain power to start to think in a futurist sense. When, how will the world look like in 2045 work backwards.

RK  –  Yeah.

LF –  And how it gets there.

RK  –   But that has become a thing in itself because looking at what things will be like in the future reflects such dramatic changes in how humans will live. That was worth communicating also.

LF –  So, you developed that muscle of predicting the future and then applied broadly and started to discuss how it changes the world of technology, how to change the world of human life on earth. In Danielle, one of your books, you write about someone who has the courage to question assumptions that limit human imagination to solve problems. And you also give advice and how each of us can have this kind of courage.

RK  –   It’s good that you picked that quote because I think that that symbolized what Danielle is about

LF –   Courage. So how can each of us have that courage to question assumptions.

RK  –    I mean we see that when people can go beyond the current realm and create something that’s new. I mean take Uber for example, before that existed, you never thought that that would be feasible and it did require changes in the way people work.

LF –   Is there practical advice you give in the book about what each of us can do to be a Danielle?

RK  –  Well, she looks at the situation and tries to imagine  how she can overcome various obstacles and then she goes for it and she’s a very good communicator. So she can communicate these ideas to other people.

LF –  And there’s practical advice of learning to program and recording your life and things of this nature, become a physicist. So you list a bunch of different suggestions of how to throw yourself into this world?

RK  –  Yeah, I mean it’s kind of the idea how young people can actually change the world by  learning all of these different skills.

LF –   And at the core of that is the belief that you can change the world, that your mind, your body can change the world.

RK – Yeah, yeah, that’s right. 

LF – And not letting anyone else tell you otherwise.

RK  –  That’s very good. Exactly.

Digital afterlife 

LF –  When we upload… The story you told about your dad and having a conversation with him, we’re talking about uploading your mind to the computer. Do you think we’ll have a future with something you call afterlife?  We’ll have avatars that mimic increasingly better and better our behavior, our appearance, all that kind of stuff? Even those are perhaps not no longer with us?

RK  –   Yes. I mean we need some information about them. I mean think about my father. I have what he wrote. He didn’t have a word processor so he didn’t actually write that much and our memories of him aren’t perfect. So how do you even know if you’ve created something that’s satisfactory now you could do a Frederick Kurzweil Turing test, it seems like Frederick Kurzweil to me. But the people who remember him like me don’t have a perfect memory.

LF –    Is there such a thing as a perfect memory? Maybe the whole point is for him to make you feel a certain way?

RK  –  Yeah. Well, I think that would be the goal

LF –   And that’s the connection we have with loved ones. It’s not really based on a very strict definition of truth. It’s more about the experiences we share. 

RK – Yeah.

LF –  And they get morphed through memory. But ultimately they make us smile.

RK  –   I think we definitely can do that. And that would be very worthwhile. 

LF –   So do you think we’ll have a world of replicants of copies? There’ll be a bunch of Ray Kurzweils,  like I could hang out with one. I can download it for five bucks and have a best friend, Ray and you, the original copy wouldn’t even know about it?

RK  –  Umm…

LF –  Is that, do you think that world is… First of all, do you think that world is feasible? And do you think there’s ethical challenges there? Like, how would you feel about me hanging out with Ray Kurzweil and you not knowing about it?

RK  –  Doesn’t strike me as a problem.

LF –  Which you, the original?

RK  –  Would that cause a problem for you?

LF –   No, I would really very much enjoy it.

RK  –   No, not just hang out with me, but if somebody hung out with you, a replicant of you?

LF –   Well, I think I would start…. It sounds exciting, but then what if they start doing better than me and take over my friend group. And then because they may be an imperfect copy or they may be more social, all these kinds of things, and then I become like the old version, that’s not nearly as exciting. Maybe they’re a copy of the best version of me on a good day,

RK  –  Yeah. But if you hang out with a replicant of me and that turned out to be successful, I’d feel proud of that person because it was based on me.

LF –    So, but it is a kind of death of this version of you? 

RK  –   Well, not necessarily. I mean, you can still be alive right?

LF –   But … and you would be proud. Okay, so it’s like having kids and you’re proud that they’ve done even more than you were able to do.

RK  –  Yeah. Exactly.

LF –   Hmm.

RK  –   It does bring up new issues, but  it seems like an opportunity.

LF –   Well, that replicants should probably have the same rights as you do. Well,

RK  –   That gets into a whole issue,  because when a replicant occurs, they’re not necessarily going to have your rights. And if a replicant occurs to somebody who’s already dead, do they have all the obligations that the original person had? Do they have all the agreements that they had? 

LF –    So, I think you’re going to have to have laws that say, yes, there has to be, if you want to create a replicant, they have to have all the same rights as human rights.

RK  –  Well, you don’t know, someone could create a replica and say, well, it’s a replicant, but I didn’t bother getting their rights. And so …

LF –   But that would be illegal. I mean, like, if you do that, you have to do that in the black market if you want to get an official replicant …. 

RK  –  Okay, it’s not so easy, it’s supposed to create multiple replicants,  the original rights, maybe for one person, and not for a whole group of people?

LF –   Sure.  So there has to be at least one, and then all the other ones kind of share the rights. Yeah, I just don’t …. I don’t think that…. that’s very difficult to conceive for us humans, the the idea that

RK  –  We don’t create a replicant that has certain….  I mean, I’ve talked to people about this, including my wife who would like to get back her father. And she doesn’t worry about who has rights to what. She would have somebody that she could visit with and might give her some satisfaction and she wouldn’t care about any of these other rights. 

LF –   What does your wife think about multiple Ray Kurzweils, have you had that discussion?

RK – I haven’t addressed that with her.

LF –  I think ultimately that’s an important question. Loved ones, how they feel about… There’s something about love,

RK  –  That’s the key thing, right? If the loved ones reject it, it’s not going to work very well. So the loved ones really are the key determinant whether or not this works or not.

LF –   But there’s also ethical rules. We have to contend with the idea and we have to contend with that idea with AI.

RK  –  But what’s going to motivate it is, I mean, I talked to people who really miss people who are gone and they would love to get something back even if it isn’t perfect.  And that’s what’s going to motivate this

LF –   (Sigh) And that person lives on in some form. And the more data we have, the more we’re able to reconstruct that person and allow them to live on.

RK  –   Right, right. And eventually as we go forward, we’re going to have more and more of this data because we’re going to have nanobots that are inside our neocortex and we’re going to collect a lot of data. In fact, anything that’s data is always collected,

LF –   There’s something a little bit sad which is becoming… Or maybe it’s hopeful, which is more and more common these days: which when a person passes away you have their Twitter account. You know, you have the last tweet they tweeted like something….

RK  –   You know you can recreate them now with large language models and so on. I mean you can create somebody that’s just like them and can actually continue to  communicate.

LF –  I think that’s really exciting because I think in some sense like if I were to die today in some sense I would continue on if I continue tweeting. I tweet therefore I am.

RK  –   Yeah. Well I mean that’s one of the advantages of a replicant,  that it can recreate the communications of that person.

Intelligent alien life

LF –   Do you hope, do you think, Do you hope humans will become a multi-planetary species? You’ve talked about the phases, the six epochs  and one of them is reaching out into the stars in part….

RK  –   Yes, but the kind of attempts we’re making now to go to other planetary objects doesn’t excite me that much because it’s not really advancing anything.

LF –    It’s not efficient enough.

RK  –   Yeah. We’re also putting out other human beings which is a very inefficient way to explore these other objects. What I’m really talking about in the sixth epoch, the universe wakes up. It’s where we can spread our superintelligence throughout the universe and that doesn’t mean sending very soft squishy creatures like humans.

LF –   Yeah. The universe wakes up.

RK  –  I mean we would send intelligent masses of nanobots, which can then go out and  colonize these other parts of the universe.

LF –   Do you think there’s intelligent alien civilizations out there that our bots might meet?

RK  –   My hunch is no, most people say yes, absolutely. I mean, 

LF – It’s too big. 

RK – … and they’ll cite that Drake equation and I think in the Singularity is Near I have two analyses of the Drake equation, both with very reasonable assumptions and one gives you thousands of advanced civilizations in each galaxy and another one gives you one civilization and we know of one.

A lot of the analyses are forgetting the exponential growth of computation because we’ve gone from where the fastest way I could send a message to somebody was with a pony, which was what like a century and a half ago ….

LF –  Yeah.

RK  –  …. to the advanced civilization we have today. And if you accept what I’ve said, go forward a few decades, you can have an absolutely fantastic amount of civilization compared to a pony. And that’s in a couple of hundred years.

LF –   Yeah. The speed and the scale of information transfer is just growing exponentially in the blink of an eye.

RK  –  Now, think about these other civilizations. They’re going to be spread out in cosmic times. So if something is ahead of us or behind us, it could be ahead of us or behind us by maybe millions of years, which isn’t that much. I mean, the world is billions of years old, 14 billion or something. So even a thousand years, if two or three hundred years is enough to go from a pony to a fantastic amount of civilization, we would see that. So, of other civilizations that have occurred, okay, some might be behind us, but some might be ahead of us. If they’re ahead of us, they’re ahead of us by thousands, millions of years and they would be so far beyond us. They would be doing galaxy wide engineering, but we don’t see anything doing galaxy wide engineering.

LF –   So either they don’t exist or this very universe is a construction of an alien species. We’re living inside a video game.

RK  –   Well, that’s another explanation that yes, you’ve got some teenage kids in  another civilization.

Simulation hypothesis

LF –   Do you find compelling the simulation hypothesis; as a thought experiment that we’re living in a simulation

RK  –   The universe is computational, so we are an example in a computational world, therefore  it is a simulation. It doesn’t necessarily mean an experiment by some high school kid in another world, but it’s nonetheless is taking place in a computational world and everything that’s going on is basically a form of, of computation. so you really have to define what you mean by  this whole world being a simulation.

LF –   Well, then it’s the teenager that makes the video game, you know, us humans with our current limited cognitive capability have strive to understand ourselves and we have created religions, we think of God, whatever that is. Do you think God exists? And if so, who is God? I

RK  –   I alluded to this before We started out with lots of particles going around and there’s nothing that represents love and creativity. And somehow we’ve gotten into a world where love actually exists and that has to do actually with consciousness because you can’t have love without consciousness. So to me, that’s God, the fact that we have something where love, where you can be devoted to someone else and really feel that love, that’s that’s God. And if you look at the Old Testament, it was actually created by several different rabbinates in there and then I think they’ve identified three of them. One of them dealt with God as a person that you can make deals with and he gets angry and he wreaks vengeance on various people, but two of them actually talk about God as a symbol of love and peace and harmony and and so forth. That’s how they describe God. So that’s my view of God, not as a person in the sky that you can make deals with,

LF –   It’s whatever the magic that goes from basic elements to things like consciousness and love. Do you think ….One of the things I find extremely beautiful and powerful is cellular automata, which you also touch on.  Do you think whatever the heck happens in cellular automata where interesting, complicated objects emerge, God is in there too? The emergence of love in this seemingly privileged Universe.

RK  –  Well, that’s the goal of creating a replicant is that they would love you and you would love them. There wouldn’t be much point of doing it if that didn’t happen.

LF –   But all of it, I guess what I’m saying about cellular automata is, it’s primitive building blocks and they somehow create beautiful things. Is there some deep truth to that about how our universe works? Is that the emergence from simple rules, beautiful complex objects can emerge. Is that the thing that made us …

RK – Yeah.

LF – … as we went through all the six phases of reality?

RK  –  That’s a good way to look at it. It just makes them point to the whole value of having a universe.

Mortality

LF –   Do you think about your own mortality? Are you afraid of it?

RK  –   Yes, but I keep going back to my idea of being able to expand human life quickly enough  in advance of our getting there,  longevity escape velocity, which we’re not quite at yet, but I think we’re actually pretty close, particularly with for example, doing simulated biology. I think we can probably get there within say by the end of this decade and that’s my goal.

LF –  You hope to achieve the longevity escape velocity. You hope to achieve immortality?

RK  –   Well, immortality is hard to say, I can’t really come on your program saying I’ve done it, I’ve achieved immortality because it’s never forever.

LF –   A long time, a long time of living well.

RK  –  But we’d like to actually advance human life expectancy, advance my life expectancy more than a year every year. And I think we can get there within, by the end of this decade. 

LF –   How do you think we do it? So there’s practical things. In Transcend: the Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, your book, you describe just that. There’s practical things like health, exercise, all those things and then there’s engineering….

RK  –   I mean, we live in a body that doesn’t last forever. There’s no reason why it can’t though. And we’re discovering things, I think that will extend it. But you do have to deal with,  I mean, I’ve got various issues. Went to Mexico 40 years ago, developed salmonella, that created pancreatitis which gave me a strange form of diabetes. It’s not  Type 1 diabetes because that’s an autoimmune disorder that destroys your pancreas. I don’t have that. But it’s also not Type 2 diabetes because Type 2 diabetes, it’s your pancreas works fine, but your cells don’t absorb the insulin. Well, I don’t have that either.  The pancreatitis, I had partially damaged my pancreas, but it was a one time thing. It didn’t continue. And I’ve learned now how to control it. But so that’s just something I had to do  in order to continue to exist …

LF –   Since it’s your particular biological system, you have to figure out a few hacks. And the idea is that science would …

RK  –  Yeah, exactly

LF –   … do that much better actually.

RK  –   Yeah. So I mean I do spend a lot of time just tinkering with my own body to keep it going.  So I do think I’ll last till the end of this decade and I think we’ll achieve longevity escape velocity. I think that will start with people who are very diligent about this. Eventually it will become sort of routine that people will be able to do it. So if you’re talking about kids today or even people in their twenties and thirties, that’s really not a very serious problem. I have had some discussions with relatives who are like almost 100 and saying, well we’re working on it as quickly as possible, but I don’t know if that’s going to work. 

LF –   Is there a case…  This is a difficult question, but is there a case to be made against living forever? That a finite life, that mortality is a feature,  not a bug. That that living a shorter…. So dying makes ice cream taste delicious, makes life intensely beautiful more than ….

RK  –   Most people believe that way, except if you present a death of anybody they care about or love. They find that extremely depressing. And I know people who feel that way 20, 30, 40 years later, they still want them back. So I mean death is not something to celebrate but we’ve lived in a world where people just accept this, life is short. You see it all the time on TV, life is short, you have to take advantage of it and nobody accepts the fact that you could actually go beyond normal lifetimes. But any time we talk about death or death of a person, even one death is a terrible tragedy. If you have somebody that lives to a hundred years old, we still love them in return and there’s no limitation to that. In fact, these kinds of  trends are going to provide greater and greater opportunities for everybody, even if we have more people.

LF –  So let me ask about an alien species or a superintelligent AI 500 years from now that will look back and remember Ray Kurzweil version zero before the replicants spread. How do you hope they remember you , in a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy summary of Ray Kurzweil. What do you hope your legacy is?

RK  –   Well, I mean, I do hope to be around so that’s …. 

LF –   So that’s some version of you. Yes.

RK  –   So… 

LF –   So, do you think you’ll be the same person around?

RK  –    I mean, am I the same person I was when I was 20 or 10?

LF –   That’s true. You would be the same person in that same way. But yes, we’re different.

RK – Umm…. 

LF –   All we have of that…  All you have of that person is your memories which are probably distorted in some way. Maybe you just remember the good parts,  depending on your psyche. You might focus on the bad parts, you might focus on the good parts,

RK  –   Right.  But I mean, I’d still have a relationship to the way I was when I was earlier, when I was younger.

LF –   How will you and the other superintelligent AI remember you of today from 500 years ago. What do you hope to be remembered by this version of you before the singularity? 

RK  –   Well, I think it’s expressed well, in my books, trying to create some new realities that people will accept. I mean, that’s something that gives me great pleasure and greater insight into what makes humans valuable. I’m not the only person who’s attempted to comment on that, but …

LF –  And  optimism that permeates your work …. 

RK  –   Mmhmm.

LF –  Optimism about the future. It’s ultimately that optimism paves the way for building a better future.

RK  –   Yeah, I agree with that.

Meaning of life

LF –   So you asked your dad about the meaning of life and he said love. Let me ask you the same question: What’s the meaning of life? Why are we here on this beautiful journey that we are on in Phase Four reaching for Phase Five of this evolution of information processing, why?

RK  – I think I’d give the same answer as my father. Because if there were no love and we didn’t care about anybody, there’d be no point existing.

LF –  Love is the meaning of life. The AI version of your dad had a good point. Well, I think that’s a beautiful way to end it, right? Thank you for your work. Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for dreaming about a beautiful future and creating it along the way. And thank you so much for spending your really valuable time with me today. This was awesome.

RK  –  It was my pleasure. And you have some great insights both into me and into humanity as well. So I appreciate that.

LF –   Thanks for listening to this conversation with Ray Kurzweil. To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description. 

And now let me leave you with some words from Isaac Asimov: “It is change, continuous change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision could be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be. This in turn means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman, must take on a science fictional way of thinking.” 

Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.

Science Sunday 7 August 2022

Science Sunday 7 August 2022

I had a science Sunday; the day revolved around experiencing and learning about science. My friend Claudia inspired us to have a wonderful day. A week ago, she suggested that we might visit The Infinite, a virtual reality (VR) experience centered on life in space. Users experience the project via Oculus VR goggles. I talked with my wife, Mary Ellen, and we thought it would make for a good outing. We met with our friends Claudia and Pat on a sunny morning and journeyed to Tacoma.

On the drive down to Tacoma, we started with a science appetizer. We listened to part of Claudia’s audiobook: “An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us” by Ed Yong. The section we listened to was about dogs’ sense of smell, the primary sense for dogs. Since I spend a fair amount of time with my granddog Juniper, it was eye-opening to learn how she views the world. I hadn’t realized that dogs have a separate pathway for air to smell and air to breathe. Different paths let a dog sniff and observe scent many times a second. It was a sound learning snippet on our drive.

When we arrived, we decided we all needed a snack. Pat knew his donuts and remembered a great donut shop, The Original Donut House. After consulting with Google and Siri, we decided the Donut House was defunct. Luckily, Le Duc Donuts was nearby. I fortified myself with a cake donut with coconut sprinkles and green tea.

We went on to The Infinite, a traveling exhibit hosted in the Tacoma Armory. It was interesting to have a cutting-edge technology exhibit hosted in a building constructed in 1908. We went through a brief introduction and then entered an area where we learned how to get the most out of our Oculus VR sets. I found that I needed to have my glasses on to see effectively. The VR set allowed my glasses to fit in, it was slightly uncomfortable, but I adapted quickly.

We got a minute to adjust to the VR set. In our view, our group of four appeared as gold avatars, other visitors as blue avatars, and exhibit staff as green avatars. White dots delineated the floor below us. I found I walked cautiously. We entered the exhibit, and I was awestruck; I was floating in orbit around the Earth with the heavens above. Wow.

In a minute, the outline of the International Space Station (ISS) appeared. I slowly walked towards it and entered.

The station pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon, 2021 Source: NASA

Floating around us were orbs; I touched my first orb. The astronaut explained what she was doing in a science experiment on the ISS. I went on to another orb and another. A favorite was the astronaut and cosmonauts preparing and eating appetizers; I was next to the table with them. In another experience, an astronaut was floating toward me. I could look up into another node of the station. I was well above the floor when I looked down. I floated gravity free on orbit around Earth.

Four chapters of seven minutes divide the Infinite experience: Adaptation, Progress, Unity, and Expansion. In between each chapter is a transition of a few minutes. You leave the confines of the station and float above the Earth. There’s some ethereal music coming in via your headphones. The ISS appears in front of you, and you enter the next chapter. I saw the Earth from the cupola, a domed viewing port added to let astronauts see the Earth through large viewing windows. I also floated outside the station; nearby, a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule was docked, and the solar panels towered above me; what a view.

Most memorable were the crew interactions, the human element, and emotion. There was joy when a crew floated in; sadness when a crew departed. The station crews are “space people,” a term I learned from MIT researcher Ariel Ekblaw. [1]

Near the end, I had something upsetting happen. A message flashed that said a staff member wanted to talk with me. We connected after I lifted my headset. My VR set battery was 16%; I needed to change headsets. I struggled awkwardly to get the headset off; the headset captured my glasses. With my headset off, I was catapulted back to reality. There were a bunch of people standing in a warehouse. It was disconcerting. I asked to leave; I felt I would not reengage with the VR experience. The staff member guided me to an exit. I did talk with a manager and explained my concern; getting a partially charged headset that did not compute to me.

I think we just visited a section of the Metaverse; the experience was terrific despite the glitch. The exhibit is complex; taking it all in on a 35-minute visit is impossible. The good news is that I will get to come back and do the show again. In preparation for my next time, I bought a book about the exhibit: The Infinite, by Phoebe Greenberg and nine co-authors.

After our time in virtual reality, we needed lunch. We picked the Red Elm cafe in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma. It was some great food; I had a vegan breakfast waffle with hashbrowns and a soy latte. Mary Ellen enjoyed a chicken avocado sandwich with a cold latte. The food was delicious, and the staff was friendly and attentive. We met Henry; he teaches crochet lessons. Some of his knitted art was on the wall of the cafe.

On our way home, Claudia gave us another recommendation – to see the documentary AlphaGo. I knew the general story about a Google DeepMind team building an artificial intelligence (AI) program that defeated the world’s best Go player. We started the documentary; I thought we might spend 15 minutes viewing this 90-minute film. Wrong. The film captivated us. I was intrigued by the development of neural networks; I had colleagues who worked in this field in the early 1990s. The struggles of Fan Hui and Lee Sedol against the AlphaGo program was mesmerizing. Sedol learned new insights from AlphaGo; perhaps humans and AIs will team up to reach new levels of learning in the game of Go.

Well, that’s a summary of science Sunday. I woke up Monday morning with the thought of capturing a wonderful day with Mary Ellen, Claudia, and Pat. I found it took me longer than I thought to capture my thoughts in writing; about 2.5 hours from start to finish.

My writing was aided and abetted by visits from Gus the cat, who decided I needed to take an occasional break.

[1] Ariel Ekblaw: Space Colonization and Self-Assembling Space Megastructures | Lex Fridman Podcast #271 One of my favorite podcasts; I always learn something when Lex interviews people.