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The Daily Need

Futurist Ray Kurzweil isn’t worried about climate change

Ray Kurzweil at JavaOne+Develop 2010 in San Francisco. Photo: Flickr/Yuichi Sakuraba

Author, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil famously and accurately predicted that a computer would beat a man at chess by 1998, that technologies that help spread information would accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that a worldwide communications network would emerge in the mid 1990s (i.e. the Internet).

Most of Kurzweil’s prognostications are derived from his law of accelerating returns — the idea that information technologies progress exponentially, in part because each iteration is used to help build the next, better, faster, cheaper one. In the case of computers, this is not just a theory but an observable trend — computer processing power has doubled every two years for nearly half a century.

Kurzweil also believes this theory can be applied to solar energy. As part of a panel convened by the National Association of Engineers, Kurzweil, together with Google co-founder Larry Page, concluded that solar energy technology is improving at such a rate that it will soon be able to compete with fossil fuels.

I caught up with Kurzweil when he was in New York promoting a new documentary about his life to ask him about his optimistic views on the usually gloomy subject of energy and climate change.

Lauren Feeney: You have made a prediction about the future of solar energy….

Ray Kurzweil: One of my primary theses is that information technologies grow exponentially in capability and power and bandwidth and so on. If you buy an iPhone today, it’s twice as good as two years ago for half that cost. That is happening with solar energy — it is doubling every two years. And it didn’t start two years ago, it started 20 years ago. Every two years we have twice as much solar energy in the world.

Today, solar is still more expensive than fossil fuels, and in most situations it still needs subsidies or special circumstances, but the costs are coming down rapidly — we are only a few years away from parity. And then it’s going to keep coming down, and people will be gravitating towards solar, even if they don’t care at all about the environment, because of the economics.

So right now it’s at half a percent of the world’s energy. People tend to dismiss technologies when they are half a percent of the solution. But doubling every two years means it’s only eight more doublings before it meets a hundred percent of the world’s energy needs. So that’s 16 years. We will increase our use of electricity during that period, so add another couple of doublings: In 20 years we’ll be meeting all of our energy needs with solar, based on this trend which has already been under way for 20 years.

People say we’re running out of energy. That’s only true if we stick with these old 19th century technologies. We are awash in energy from the sunlight.

Feeney: In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama set a goal of running the country on 80 percent renewable energy by 2035, which is a little bit less ambitious than what you’ve suggested. Are you satisfied with the goal set by the president?

Kurzweil: 2035 is 24 years. I am saying we can meet all our energy needs from solar in 20 years. It’s actually pretty consistent with what I’m saying.

Feeney: You have a very optimistic view of the future; eccentric, even. You believe that eventually we’ll be able to live forever, and maybe even bring people back from the dead. How would that growth in population affect the environment? A lot of people are afraid of overpopulation as one of the major factors in climate change.

Kurzweil: We will be extending the human life expectancy; in fact, we have done that already. Human life expectancy was 37 years in 1800, 48 in 1900; it’s now pushing 80. But this is going to go into high gear now that health and medicine has changed. It used to be hit or miss. We’d just find things — medicine was just a kind of an organized set of ideas that we discovered accidentally. We now have the actual means of understanding the software of life and reprogramming it; we can turn genes off without any interference, we can add new genes, whole new organs with stem cell therapy. The point is that medicine is now an information technology — it’s going to double in power every year. These technologies will be a million times more powerful for the same cost in 20 years.

However, the same technologies that are going to extend life and nudge up the biological population are also going to expand the resources. We just talked about energy, because we are running out of it, but actually we are awash in energy. We are awash in water — pun intended. Just most of it is dirty and polluted. And we know how to convert it, today, but it takes energy, which is why it’s expensive. Once energy is inexpensive, we can create water.

There is a whole set of new food technologies. We are going to go from this revolution that happened 10,000 years ago of horizontal agriculture to what’s called vertical agriculture, where we grow plants, fruits, vegetables and meat in computerized factories by artificial intelligence; hydroponic plants tended by intelligent robots to create fruits and vegetables, in-vitro cloned meats, basically just cloning the part of the animal that you want to eat, which is the muscled tissue. There is no reason to create a whole animal to get to the parts that we want to eat.

The point is that the same technologies that are going to increase human longevity are also going to expand the resources and ultimately make them very inexpensive.

Feeney: You talk about what will happen instead of what might happen. But there are so many obstacles to dealing with climate change — political gridlock, consumer apathy. Are you concerned that these things might not happen because of obstacles like these?

Kurzweil: My main thesis, which I call the law of accelerating returns, is not affected by the kind of things you are referring to. The exponential growth of computation is measured in many different ways continued through the entire 20th century, completely unaffected by the little things like World War I and II or the Great Depression. It was not affected at all by the recent economic downturn. This exponential growth of solar energy has continued through thick and thin.

As the cost per watt of solar falls significantly below coal and oil, people are going to go to that for economic reasons. It won’t be a political issue.

Feeney: A lot of climate scientists say that we have about 10 years to turn the situation around, otherwise we’re going to hit this tipping point and we are all doomed. So you think we’re going to make it?

Kurzweil: Even if those timelines were correct, there will be quite a transformation within 10 years and certainly within 15 or 20 years. The bulk of our energy will be coming from these renewable sources. So, I think we have plenty of time. I think we can make it to the point where these renewables are taking over. And I think there are reasons besides climate change to move away from fossil fuels — that whole oil spill, remember that, that’s not climate change, that’s just pollution. But I don’t see a disaster happening before we can get there because it is pretty soon at hand.

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  • Terryf

    very informative. hopefully solar energy will one day be sufficient.

  • Davesag

    I agree with him on the solar power thing, but climate change is not just about how we source our energy. There is already enough CO2 and other GHGs in the air to force a warming of the Earth for many years to come; the oceans have incredible thermal inertia. Deforestation drives approx. 20% of the world’s CO2 emissions too, and while solar power may help with some of that (solar chainsaws!) we are still skirting far to close to too many tipping points for me to feel comfortable about it.

  • Chadd Wamboldt

    duh…does it really take a super smart dude to think about this stuff?

  • Flying Shrimp

    I don’t like it. It will use up the sun!

  • Bonnieblue

    Right now solar is a long way from cost competative with coal in the Midwestern states that use it. It would have been helpful had this article actually addressed the progress in solar that is claimed to being in the process of improving so rapidly.

  • Chadd Wamboldt

    duh…does it really take a super smart dude to think about this stuff?

    with regards to Climate Change…there are so many hopeful technologies that will reduce CO2 concentrations in the air…harvesting biofuel from algae and growing super plants (such a new accellerated growth rice plant that was invented a couple of years back)….I’d be willing to bet that within 50 years we will all be worrying about Global Cooling….don’t forget that all that energy that would have been converted into heat from the sun is going to be converted into word done (and/or other forms of energy) so the amount of the sunlight converting directly into heat will be diminished as well.

    We are not dying and global warming is not the threat to our survival that our power-seeking politicians and glamorizing media would like to promote.

  • Guest2011

    So that’s 16 years. We will increase our use of electricity during that period, so add another couple of doublings: In 20 years we’ll be meeting all of our energy needs with solar, based on this trend which has already been underway for 20 years.

    Good article, but please tell me this was a typo and meant to be 2 words: underway

  • Growth is not sustainable

    It may already be too late. The permafrost is melting.
    This is no time for optimism… it’s a time for action.

  • Kevin O. McCann

    Kurzweil’s is right. Accelerating technology will solve most any problem we will face in the future, assuming we survive the transition. We have plenty of energy and old and new. Deforestation, disease and starvation are continued because of corrupt governments colluding with business. Most could be solved by now. Yet, the world’s solution seems to be to make governments more powerful, which will have the opposite effect that the little socialist, environmentalist think. Wealthy nations and a love of nature is the best protection for our world. Our children have been taught that wealth is bad. They do not even know how wealth is created. Poor indebted populations will say screw the environment.

  • Joseph

    I imagine that some day the cars will be covered entirely with flexible solar panels. The road also will be covered with solar panels… the batteries will be embedded under the road…not carried in the car. Will keep them that much lighter. The wheels will be very hard but quiet composite. No friction like rubber. They cars will travel in like trains all bumper to bumper to break down wind resistance. Computers will organize their collective speed and location by GPS.

  • Kris

    Very well said!

  • Feeneyl

    Yes, it was a typo, thanks for pointing it out. Fixed.

  • Amy B

    This is wonderful news, if only it were for everyone. What he fails to think about is that these wonderful leaps in technology only positively influence the wealthy and elite countries. There are still plenty of places in the world that do not even have our 19th century technology! And those are the people who will be used and exploited in the process. I would imagine that extended lifespan, etc., would only impact those of us who have the time and money to pursue it. What’s lacking? Love. If only love would grow exponentially in the hearts of the socially privileged at the rate of technology! We need to rethink our priorities.

  • Besharatm

    Informative article, but underestimates the role of corporate vested interest in slowing or even killing the progress of competing technologies, often by simply buying the threatening infant technology, and preventing its further development. One example that comes to mind is the purchase of the LA electric trolley public transport system by Ford and Firestone in the thirties order to tear it up and force people to buy their cars and tires, thus redirecting the subsequent course of American mass transport system.

  • Pete70111

    Kurzweil is always a interesting read. Atomospheric carbon dioxide levels have been falling for 400 million years, from 40,000 ppm down to the all time low in the 1970′s of 300 ppm. At 260 ppm all the plants start dying from too little Co2. During the dinosaur era the Co2 levels were 4000 ppm and the earth was a verdant garden supporting mega ton creatures who did not farm. We have lots of time if there is even a problem at all.

  • Michael Cote

    Kurzweil is wrong. Slapping a solar panel onto one’s home requires building permits, zoning variances, and radical changes to ancient land-use regulations. Buying an iphone, or the latest intel chip, requires a bit of shopping. He’s equating two worlds. Solar panels are not sold and marketed by Apple. Even if you could purchase ultra-efficient panels at Walmart, you’d still have to fight with your local government, building inspector, and even your neighbors to use them. It’s not the same thing.

  • Brian

    Didn’t anybody here read Popular Science in the 1980s?
    We were supposed to heavily utilize Solar well before now.

  • scribe

    Kurzweil is the epitome of technological hubris, to the point of embarrassing himself repeatedly as a confirmed crackpot. For PBS to be airing this kind of ignorant crap is every bit as irresponsible as having some pseudo-expert on who contends, contrary to all established science, that vaccines lead to autism. This is extremely deleterious corporate propaganda.

  • Will Jayroe

    Most people think Kurzweil is a self-deluded nut, but I feel like I “get” what his primary ideas are and appreciate them. I’ve read his books and don’t think he’s crazy, I think he’s probably right.

    He always qualifies his statements and answers his critics reasonably. Most of the comments above have been addressed directly by him in his books or talks. People forget, he’s been around for a while (he turned 63 this month) and has gotten a lot of “predictions” right based on his theories.

    Also, he’s worked with Stevie Wonder building some of the first synths… so you have to show some respect.

  • charlesfrith

    Half the planet starves. Get a grip Kurzweil. Step outside the bubble.

  • Hillwalker Wv

    Tell me that *after* you clean up all the damage from ‘the coal years’.

  • Eli Djangle Scott

    maybe if Another Robot Learns to Love then it’ll all work out.

  • Anonymous

    Kurzweil is clueless about software. Hardware compute speeds doubling every so often is completely irrelevant if you cannot write software to take advantage of it. Obviously the man has never tried to write a multi-million line software system that would be required to make his singularity fantasy happen. Nor does he understand the exponential nature of the problem.

  • guest_poster

    You don’t seem to know who Kurzweil is. OCR, muscial keyboards, AI… Even NASA is on board with his line of thinking; look up Singularity University in wikipedia. Just about everybody with an IQ above 120 is aware and onboard. The only thing ‘thoughtful’ people question is the timeline.

  • Drew

    Only because the technology wave hasn’t reached them. Countries in the starving part of the world are fighting for freedom right now. African nations are so retro.

  • Durtin

    I believe Mr. Kurzweil isn’t counting on home owners being the largest consumers of solar panels. It seems more likely, and much more feasible, for energy companies and their investors to hold the largest demand for solar panels. Also, it should be noted that policies of governance and social norms will change with advances in technologies(*).

    *(When autos were a newfangled obscene waste of money, there were laws or ordinances which required the driver to: honk their horn when approaching horses/cows, turn off the engine if the animal was spooked, and further action of beginning to disassemble the auto while hiding the parts if the animal would not pass. (Yay History Day!))

  • charlesfrith

    I can provide scholarly documentation that you are regrettably deeply erroneous and/or deluded. hopefully or.

  • Matt Perry

    Google Hans Rosling. The situation in developing nations, including those in Africa, is improving. South East Asia was once starving. Look at how it’s progressed in the last ten years. The west was once plagued by these problems, and then it wasn’t. Progress happens, things change. It takes more faith to ignore the trends.

  • charlesfrith

    Really. Google Indian farmer suicides. Google Raj Patel and starvation. Google Food Sovereignty and then Google La Via Campesina and when you’re done Google me and FOOD. That should take three days then come back and I’ll school you in reality.

  • Anonymous

    On the contrary, I know him quite well. I have served on boards with him. Have dined with him personally on several occasions, and have worked on several of his investments and start-ups with the venture group backing him. The fact is that the type of software solution necessary to support his grandiose vision of “singularity” simply does not exist and is outside the scope of human organizational ability to create. And his facile representation that computers will write their own software to do this ranks right up there with “spontaneous generation” as a scientific belief.

  • Frank

    Google “agricultural yields” before giving anyone lectures, Charles Frith.

  • charlesfrith

    I’ve done my research Faceless Frank. What’s your body mass index by the way?

  • rackroyd

    I attended a seminar for agrologists a couple of years ago dealing with gene engineering and the professionals adressing us then said that, like hardware, the gene information and splicing abilities was following the same exponential rate of growth. The development in genetics is directly related to both foods and biofuels, as well as many other areas.
    I have to agree with Mr. Kurzweil that the knowledge growth in the areas related to energy, food, etc. will be able to solve the potential crises that the doomsayers fear.

  • Sfshilo

    What? What part of anything he said is “crackpot”? What he is saying about solar power is absolutely true. Ask any EE if they think solar is a viable fuel source and they will say yes.

  • Theoriginalct

    Hey There,

    Upon reading a few of Ray’s books, you will discover a few repeating themes. One of his ideas that help all of the others to congeal are certain technological keystones. Among those keystones, he mentions the ability of technology to design/engineer and improve itself with far more efficiency than a human ever could. In this situation, it shouldn’t be too dificult to imagine a computer that can write it’s own code.

  • Anonymous

    Let me know when I can buy one. Until then, it is really just a nice fairy tale. Name one system that actually is in production that is self-modifying and self-improving and we can have a discussion. Until then, Ray is predicating his entire vision of singularity on something that has never been demonstrated or implemented. Just hypothesized.

  • Howard A. Landman

    You know, that used to be true. But if you’d ever seen a farmer in India, driving his crops to market in an ox-cart, and talking on his cell phone, you’d know that things are finally changing even down below the poverty line. Being able to ask if the next village over needs eggs today BEFORE you spend 3 hours driving over there is a huge win.

  • Theodore R. Smith

    Well, humans, for one ;-)

  • Theodore R. Smith

    It’s capturing latent energy that otherwise is wasted by hitting the Earth and bouncing off into space. Think of it like running a steam turbine off the steam generated from boiling water for tea.

  • Hsmith

    “Solar panels are not sold and marketed by Apple.” Yet…

  • Praxiteles

    Forget googling all that – Google the core of the argument – look at the trends in solar energy use. The only argument is when you will hit the top of the S curve. If you, like him, believe the top will not occur for 20 years, then solar power will supply 100% of our energy.

    The Internet had exponential growth (which Kurzweil predicted) as is genomic sequencing technology (from $3 billion for the first genome to $12K this year). Even Moore’s law has held on a purely computations per second basis for 110 years. Even WW2 had virtually no effect on the trend.

    Once we have cheap solar energy – sea water purification goes hand in hand.

    Google the trends – the only argument is when the top of the S curve hits – and few have any substanital arguments the top is coming soon.

  • Praxiteles

    Look who is winning the solar war.

    It is not countries with the regulations you describe.

    Google how much solar business China’s companies are winning.

  • Praxiteles

    But technology IS reaching the developing world.

    I just met with a surgeon who has been working 20 years in Africa repairing women with complications from pregnancy.

    His experience? He said penetration of cell phones is now 75% in Africa. Virtually every family owns one. He said, “I have never met a pygmy in the Congo who doesn’t own a cell phone.” People ask, how do they charge them? He said they charge them from car batteries, crank radios, and other places. He said mostly, he has no idea how they charge them – but they are. They use the phones to SMS each other to meet in villages where doctors are visiting – and to SMS each other money.

    Commoditization is driving technology deeper into developing countries than ever before.

  • charlesfrith
  • YoloMike

    Please stop spreading your know-nothing climate denialism. Atmospheric carbon levels have been rising precipitously over the course of the last 100 years, and they most certainly haven’t been falling for 400 million years. Here are some very simple graphs of the scientific data on these matters.

  • Theoriginalct

    Ever heard of traction control? Limited slip differentials? a farmer from the late 1800′s would assume a new Ferarri to be some form of witchcraft (God forbid it be red).
    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from majic.’

    I can’t tell you guys how much I appreciate cynicism, as it serves many important purposes in addition to aiding one in maintaining a realistic outlook, with a bias normally trending away from maniacal optimism. Unfortunately though, methinks that it has all too often been used as a defence mechanism by the burgeoning masses of feaux sophisticates, who lack the academic horsepower to reason outside of contemporary, personal and local paradigms.
    Those of us without the aforementioned handicaps have an easier time accepting our potential as a species. Just multiply the factors contributing to our survival with greed-compelled enginuity.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think you understand the issue or the point i am making. Let me rephrase in clearer terms. I should have said “Let me know when I can buy a self-modifying, self-improving SOFTWARE system.” This capability is the entire lynchpin of Ray’s singularity “theory” and it simply does not exist, nor is there any real prospect for it. When it DOES exist, then we can talk about fantasy becoming reality as far as this idea is concerned.

    And for the record, I’ve never seen a transmission, differential, or other piece of mechanical farm machinery that modifies itself. They don’t add new gears to themselves, create new appendages, or do anything other than the fixed set of functions they were manufactured to perform. And i am not going to upload my consciousness to a computer using a tractor or a hay baler.

  • Dekker451

    The fact is that the type of software solution necessary to support his grandiose vision of “singularity”[...] is outside the scope of human organizational ability to create.”

    You don’t know that. No one does. If anything the opposite is more likely considering the fact that Theodore R. Smith pointed out: Humans are themselves a self-modifying and self-improving system.

  • StarTrekFan

    Ray Kurzweil is correct and visionary. In fact his predictions are conservative. The amount of knowledge and technical advancement is increasing at an incredible, unimaginable rate. There is no reason that Apple, or some company like it couldn’t come to dominate solar technology allowing everyone to own affordable iPanels. Anyone who does not believe this should research and read all the recent technical articles about solar energy. Advanced nuclear energy which also holds great promise is being developed. All current obstacles including waste processing will be overcome. All the naysayers need to start thinking outside the box. Software development is not an issue either. Machines will write their own software. Artificial intelligence is on the way, sooner than we can imagine. Software development systems will simplify fast, efficient software development and are already doing so. DNA processing, nanotechnology, biotech, materials science, etc, etc, are creating a science fiction world that will ultimately make everything cheap, lead to starships, and ultimately contact with intelligent alien species. How many Star Trek inventions have there been already? Cell phones look and function quite similarly to Star Trek Communicators. Anyone who cannot see that Ray’s vision will become reality is uninformed. Human intelligence itself will also increase beyond our wildest imagination through genetic and other means. Future generations will look back on the way we do things now as primitive and savage. As JFK said, and I’m paraphrasing, some people see things as they are and say why, and some people see things as they want them to be, and say why not. The only things holding us back are fear, lack of education, greed, and closed minded people. As Dr. McCoy said in one of the best Star Trek movies, I’m a Doctor, not a butcher. Right now, we are butchers. At least some of us have the intelligence to realize that.

  • LightningJoe

    Right. I also have severe misgivings about his “singularity” theory. I think he’s extrapolating in a way that makes no sense; as if the human mind has an endless capacity for busy-ness and handling distraction.

    We are already seeing the toll that increased inputs take out of us. Increase those even further, and we will start to fail spectacularly in many ways at once.

    We will never get close to the “singularity” Kurtzweil envisions.

  • LightningJoe

    Yes, the famous Kurzweil keyboard…

    But one thing that people with such high IQ’s have in common, is an unrealistically high assessment of what they can handle. Sure, they may be ahead of some of us in some areas, but they DON’T have an endless capacity for thought or for multitasking.

    They are still human, and they will stay that way, no matter what Kurzweil prognosticates.

  • LightningJoe

    “… a self-modifying and self-improving system…”

    with definite, if fuzzy, boundaries to their capabilities, I might add.

    No physical system whose qualities do not change, can transcend all boundaries. IF human brains could be changed in design, THEN I’d take back all I’ve said, and Kurzweil’s “singularity” might be possible.

    Until then we must wallow in our own inflated ego, mistaking it for true capability…

  • LightningJoe

    The “trends” don’t deal with oil company schenanigans, I’d guess, like buying up solar patents just to keep them off the market.

    Nice thing, about “free” markets, eh?

  • LightningJoe

    He thinks that humans can (how?) overcome their history of evolutionary S-L-O-W adaptation, and suddenly become (how?) prodigies of technological capability, that they can CONTINUE to understand it well enough to cope with it and develop any and all addendum arts.

    His idea of how large the mind really is, is what’s hubristic. Human minds are large indeed, but NOT ALL AT ONCE. They multitask by weeding the pieces ever smaller and ever smaller, preserving the ILLUSION that all the pieces are there all the time.

    Inevitably, the pieces will escape our leashes and evolve in their own time, leaving us far behind even as we think we are still in control…

    He has much, indeed, in common with Nikolai Tesla, another inventor still lauded by perennial fans. Many people still wonder why we didn’t electrify the world using Tesla’s technology. The reason is that his technology was limited to lab trials — unless we really wanted to see what putting out power differentials graded by the hundreds of volts every six inches would DO to the world…

    Anyone want to dress all the cute woodland creatures in rubber suits, just so they won’t burn up? THAT is what Tesla technology would do on a large scale.

    And that is the scale of misunderstanding that Kurzweil also brings to the party. He has no sense that humans have inherent limits; indeed, the idea is anathema to him.

    I think he decided long ago not to listen, if he ever thought of such a thing as limits — which is how he turned into a crackpot like Tesla.

  • LightningJoe

    So your scenario puts the energy companies in charge of solar? And why are they going to use solar, when they still have oil to sell us?

    We already know that they don’t care if the world burns. How is cheaper solar going to stop them before it does?

  • LightningJoe

    …and we are already back up at 400 ppm. Models show that at that point, we have no alternative but to suffer through the ride…

    And where oh where, did you get that fantasy number of 4000 ppm? You must be a GW denier…

  • Frank Friedrich Kling

    Climate change does not define the entire environmental story. For example, what are the gentleman’s prognostications regarding the wave of flora and fauna extinctions occuring around the planet? The planet is losing biodiversity at such an alarming rate that scientists have defined this current period as a, “Sixth Mass Extinction Event.” It’s one thing to be cautiously sanguine, but the facts are the facts.

  • Freemon Sandlewould

    ….and of course he is not worried BECAUSE GLOBAL WARMING IS A TOTAL HOAX

  • Blueprint2012

    Arthur C Clarke. But close. Great, since 1800. How about since 1980? With “accelerated returns” things should be incredibly different today than 30 years ago. From 1880 to 1910 they were. From 1930 to 1960 they were. Even 1950 to 1980 saw massive tech changes. But since the PC? Not so much. Please don’t say the iPhone. Or the internet, really, since its hardware was designed in the 60s and even its modern incarnation is two decades old. We’re coasting, not accelerating.

  • Dave Rongey

    Great insight. These are exciting times that we are living in where new advances in technologies will hopefully not let traditional special interest groups get in the way. A new mindset must prevail to escape the bondage of the current flawed system. Choose not to participate with that which is broken, but embrace and invest your life into that which is truly beneficial to all people and for the good of mankind.

  • KathleenElaine

    Go Solar!

  • KathleenElaine

    Go Solar!

  • Martin

    Although I certain concur with most of what Kurzweil says, when he goes off on the food technology stuff and says, “There is no reason to create a whole animal to get to the parts that we want to eat,” I have to disagree totally. Nutrition is not simply about getting a certain number of minerals, vitamins, proteins, and carbs, etc, but rather is intimately connected with the LIFE FORCE of the foods we eat. Until science can create life–life that is completely aligned and balanced with human life, i.e. exactly as Nature has done over the last six billion years–all artificially created foods will be inferior and will cause more problems than they will solve. We already see it happening with GMO foods.

  • Tallstone

    I agree with everything except ” growing meat ” but just ” the parts we want to eat ” . GROSS ! I am against eating GM foods . I eat very little meat because of all the pollution the animals are exposed to for their whole lives .Growth hormones and antibiotics are also a hazard to our health . Humanity will eventually eat less meat all over the world as we evolve and become more educated . We got the lead out of gasoline – we can do anything

  • IwanDNL

    Ok guys, lay em on the table so we can see who has the biggest. Seriously.

    I think that everybody is entitled to think what he thinks and to believe what he wants to believe. Somehow a lot of people care about what this guy thinks. I find it interesting and a little cynicism won’t hurt the brightest of minds. The only way we will know if he’s right, is to jump 20 years forward in time. I believe nobody made that possible yet (would be interesting though) and maybe nobody ever will. I surely don’t know until it’s there.

    It is good to have a civilized and educated discussion, so let’s not make it primitive by telling others that their thoughts of the future are wrong. Use your persuasion ;-) .

    I enjoyed reading the content you added by posting your thoughts. Thank you.

  • Marshallauction

    It is interesting how the interviewer just kept ramming his head at the wall, because he wanted Kurzwiel to agree with him about the Global Warming Hoax!!!

  • Mike Driscoll

    I’ll be renting his documentary from itunes this weekend for a closer look.

  • Anonymous

    In ecological systems, a population starts small and grows exponentially. But this growth cannot continue indefinitely due to limits in the necessary environmental resources. Thus, a population is limited by its carrying capacity, and either stabilizes or overshoots and collapses.

    Kurzweil’s whole “Law of Accelerating Returns” is simply based on extrapolating exponential growth. However, I know of no system that has no balancing feedback loops; I know of no system that can continue to grow exponentially forever.

    The human population has been growing exponentially since roughly 1800, no scientist argues that this will continue during the next century. If this growth continued unchecked, we would be nearing 50 billion in a few decades. But anyone studying population will tell you that this is an absurd extrapolation.

    Yes, Moore’s Law held for the 20th Century. But applying that same methodology to physical infrastructure, such as solar capacity, seems to me to be very shortsighted. I wholeheartedly hope that I am wrong and that solar technology flourishes as Kurzweil claims it will, but I am very skeptical that it can do so without major assistance from governments and from society as a whole.

  • Martin

    Bravo for pointing this out. Although futurists (and I know quite a few) are worthy of listening to and of soaking up a bit of positive energy from, they often don’t have the balancing viewpoints to bring their projections within the realm of the practically possible and, as a result, can sound a bit Pollyanna-ish.

  • Andrew Riley

    Kurzweil can gloss optimistic about how technology will usher in the ultimate transition that will supposedly benefit everyone equally, but he’s at a remove. He’s removed some fundamental aspect of identifying with humanity. He talks about how computer power followed Moore’s Law and was unaffected by the “little things” like WWI, II, and the Great Depression. Little things? Sounds like an AI who has determined that our petty little squabbles, no matter how deeply they ingrain in our minds and spirits, are no more than a blip on the screen. As long as they don’t interfere with our ascension into becoming demi-gods where none of that human shit gets in the way.

  • Doo Doo Economics

    Solar energy is .6% of US energy supplies, WOOD is 2%. So by this guys reasoning, we will all someday run our entire lives on WOOD POWER!

  • Cvbcvvcbvc

    For desirable products/features he is talking about exponential growth. The use of wood for energy is not desirable has been going down not up, but who knows maybe it is dropping exponentially ;-)

  • Ryan Cameron

    wait, so slaughtering a cow isnt “GROSS!!!” but food that is manufactured is “GROSS!!!”. What a mixed up set of values we have.

    The process of digestion for energy by consuming other lifeforms is, in my humble opinion, GROSS!!! and we should work to evolve past that necessity as we have evolved past other gross things, like eating feces, or other humans.

  • Ryan Cameron

    Somehow I dont think you really understand good software development. Writing software by yourself in a silo is one thing, but if you check out the open source movement or large software development programs using communities of developers, as well as the frontier of AI development of software, you’d be surprised how fast things can be developed.

  • Ryan Cameron

    thats a lot like saying “a monkey doesnt turn into a person…show me one fossil that has a monkey giving birth to a human”

    There are plenty of systems that do self modification on a very simple level. I cite a chaotic system of tiny solar powered moving bots demonstrated by MIT several years ago. The bots “self corrected” and collectively “learned” to stay in the sunlight. ALICE is an AI bot that “learns” language on its own. We see it all the time in biology and many of those systems have been mimicked in the lab. Growing an organ on an artificial lattice is another simple example, or shaking nano-shapes to assemble themselves because their shapes inherently tend to be attracted to where they fit. Or how about a car that automatically

    When you can accellerate these processes as we can in software, its easy to see how millions of years worth of evolution can occur very quickly. Not much point in convincing you though, because we’ll just see it happen as we’ve seen over the past 100 years.

  • Chuck Shotton

    Since you don’t know me or my background, it is awfully presumptuous of you to assume I don’t understand “good software development”. And that you equate “good software development” with the open source movement tells me you certainly don’t understand it.

    I am talking about systems of an order of complexity that the average script kiddie, FOSS geek, or web hacker has never conceived of. Systems that have hundreds or thousands of engineers working on them simultaneously. Large operating system development efforts (of which Linux is NOT one), complex command and control systems, avionics and fly-by-wire systems, terrestrial or satellite comms infrastructure, etc.

    These are systems that are at the very limits of how humans can organize themselves, and they produce nothing approaching the complexity of a system required to essentially emulate human consciousness. And the tiny handful of people actively associated with any given FOSS project certainly don’t represent anything remotely on the scale of how these teams are organized or perform. And just so you know, total lines of FOSS software created by your community of developers is dwarfed by orders of magnitude by the software created for commercial and defense applications. It is hardly representative of “good software development” or even mainstream best practices. If that is your view, then you are living in a very insular world that is not representative of how most software engineering occurs.

    So Ray is great at dispensing KoolAid for the people willing to buy into his pipe dream. But those of us who HAVE built some of the systems listed above all realize that it is precisely that. Ray most decidedly has NOT built these sorts of systems, nor has he ever worked as part of an engineering effort approaching anything like that level of complexity. So it is understandable that his limited understanding of software engineering complexities would allow him to postulate an end state that is simply not attainable given current technology, organizational methods, and human abilities.

    Hope you’re not sad that you won’t be uploading yourself anytime soon.

  • Robbert Carr

    1% opinion group

  • Robbert Carr

    You are absolutely correct Dekker

  • Theoriginalct

    From reading over the comments left, I find myself doublechecking my personal biases, just to be sure that I’m not being silly; the overall comments fit roughly into three groups: 1-totally uninformed, 2-optomistic and uninformed, 3-informed and excited.
    I’m in group number 3. Many of the pessimistic commenters , although well intentioned, seem to miss major parts of the entire singularity argument, because they obviously have enough disdain for the subject to have not read up on it.
    ie: “Humans are too limited.” …the theory of singularity recognized this. as human evolution is plotted on a chart, we are pretty much done for a while. Our only hope at evolving at an accelerated rate is through combining technology with our biology.

    “Programs dont write themselves” …My first degree was in microcomputer systems technology. If you have ever had to program in Cobalt or Fortran, and now find yourself using windows, voice recognition software, or even google (with the auto search suggestions), then you realize the very weak argument for subset recollection vs artificial intelligence. We dont need AI. we just need a machine to mimick it effectively enough.
    FYI- the scientific establishment has recently decided that we have entered a new age denoting the ability of humans to change the environment of our planet to suit us, as predicted by RK not too long ago.
    Solar is good and all, but we can back burner that for a while since the invention of the Focardi/Rossi Energy Catalyzer. The world has just changed.

  • Grey

    It seems like Kurzweil and futurists who dogmatically adhere to their Law of Accelerating Returns (TM) theory are not aware that there are other types of mathematical functions besides exponential functions which have initial exponential growth followed by growth that is not exponential, such as the logistic function.

    As the above comment explains, these types of curves fit a wide variety of growth phenomena in the natural world such as population growth and energy production. When you are dealing with finite systems that have natural limits, it is obvious that exponential growth cannot continue indefinitely.

    With the issue of solar power, it is true that the sun provides a practically limitless source of energy for human use, but even if scientists and engineers managed to make photovoltaics or other solar technologies economically feasible, they would face problems such as limited supplies of rare earth metals and other resources necessary to produce said technologies. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the obstacles renewable energies face.

  • Vjp

    F*ck your stupid, everybody here is so unbelievably annoyingly stupid. F*ck. But at least you might read the freaking article before you start making stupid remarks, just like practically all other stupid people here.

  • Michael Cooper

    I believe that Joanas Salk (of the Polio vacine) said something that may be of use here He discribed progress moving forward as an S- shaped Curve, that is to say, All problems contain the seeds of there own solutions and all solutions contain the seeds fof the next sethe next set of problem.

  • Martin Miron

    Isn’t it great to tell people what can’t be done instead of going out and doing it?

  • Palika

    but what about his assessment for solar energy? Nobody seems to question that statement over here. Or?
    Doesn’t require any self-programming software and the like, depending on the type of solar energy it doesn’t need any rare, limited metals or other ingredients …
    It would only need a shorter break-even point for return on investment for the masses to embrace it. And that point has been reached already, or is very near (depending on the country). Or?
    Really curious to hear your opinions on that over here.

  • aaaaaaaaa

    Your reasoning ability fails.

  • outdoor solar string lights

    I’m so love this blog, already bookmarked it! Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    While scientists and other human beings with feet of clay struggle to reveal and report what could somehow be real, absurdly enriched minions, overly educated sycophants and other merchants of doubt, who have had their dishonorable propaganda broadcast everywhere in the corporate-owned mainstream media by self-proclaimed masters of the universe among us, are commissioners of crimes against humanity, life as we know it and the Creation.
    What greater shame is there than the sham that is being perpetrated now here by a tiny arrogant minority of extremely foolhardy greed-mongers, who can be seen leading humankind down a “primrose path” and turning the planetary home we are blessed to inhabit into a shambles, even in these early years of Century XXI?

  • SailorBarsoom

    I see that a lot of people here are better prognosticators than Kurzweil is.  He’s only predicting thirty or so years into the future, but many here are saying that singularity will NEVER happen, that computers will NEVER improve themselves, that humans will NEVER increase their ability to handle input.

    Kurzweil thinks he can predict up to thirty years in the future, but some people here think they can predict for all eternity.

  • Michael

    What is he lying about?

    You can see the raw data on world production of photovoltaics here:

    The trend is relatively smooth and exponential.

    If you are claiming the trend in solar power will flatten to become sigmoidal – then why?The same predictions for flattening were made about Moore’s law, the growth of the Internet, and the speed and price of sequencing the human genome – but they continued to increase exponentially.

  • Michael

    It is the trend that matters – not the single point in time.

    Here is the trend: trend is relatively smooth and exponential. It is seen across many information and computational fields today. Wood use, to my knowledge, is not showing this trend for energy use.

  • Asdf Jkl;

    Wood is not an information technology numbnuts.

  • Asdf Jkl;

    It’s sad that people no longer believe in science.

  • Fonzi

    Wow. Comparing information technology to a piece of farm equipment. Really?

  • reason4iam

    Funny how that Moore’s Law thing doesn’t seem to apply to storing electrical energy. I respect ol’ Ray, but if solar only works less than a third of the day and not al all during peak load, then it won’t be the solution he envisions. After two centuries of battery technology,the only storage in use at the moment does not use them. It is the highly inefficient practice of pumping to a much higher elevation and then gravity feed back through turbines. What environmental group is going to tolerate many projects like that given that every organism is now sacred far beyond the 99% that went extinct without our help?

  • Nadine Alter

    Un article de cet éminent scientifique qui a démontré les bienfaits de l’eau Kangen!!

  • Nadine Alter

    Un article de cet éminent scientifique qui a démontré les bienfaits de l’eau Kangen!!

  • Anonymous

    Kurzweil has answered this criticism and outlined several approaches to building the highly complex systems you describe in his book the Singularity is Near.

    It is perhaps worth considering that evolution created the mind that typed that your criticism without the programming team you describe.

    There are several approaches to achieving that complexity: modeling existing neural systems (how is addressed in Ray’s book), using evolutionary computational approaches (see work by the Sante Fe Institutes for Complexity), among others.

  • Anonymous

    There are scores of self-modifying programming approaches today.

    Evolutionary computational approaches are found in many different fields. Genetic algorithms and neural networks are the two most popular.

    Self-training neural networks are the core for systems that approve or deny you for credit cards; genetic algorithms are used at the core of thousands of applications including facial recognition and image recognition.

    Look up “complex systems theory” and the decades of work in artificial life to see a variety of self improving and modifying computational systems.

  • Chuck Shotton

    “There are scores of self-modifying programming approaches today.”

    Name one that is used outside of academia for anything “real” that is used by thousands of people. The simple fact is that these sorts of systems are academic toys and they are not used to solve practical, real-world problems on an ongoing basis in widespread deployment. It’s not how you develop complex systems (now.) Genetic algorithms used to design a radio antenna might produce a useful result, but do so only one time and are small computation efforts at best. Using self-modifying systems to create something with emergent properties in a live, production environment as a replacement for a hand-coded solution hasn’t ever been demonstrated.

  • Henry Kissinger

    Well, what’s the harm in taking action?

  • Freemon Sandlewould

    Oh lord you guys actually believe the scam that is global warming? Naive fools.

  • Jay

    That’s exactly what they are, Andrew: petty little squabbles, and it is traditionalists, neo-luddites, and others like you living in the past who see them as anything of greater relevance for the majesty of the future. Welcome to the world kid.

  • Jay


  • Bruce Chapman

    Told you so!