Singularity May Be Real, But Kurzweil’s Still A Jerk

Ray Kurzweil. Photo by Michael Lutch. Courtesy of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.

Ray Kurzweil. Photo: Michael Lutch.

SYSTEM ALERT: Don’t listen to Ray Kurzweil!

He is dead wrong … just not how you think he is. If anything, his seemingly crackpot notion of Singularity — namely, that man and machine will be indistinguishable no later than 2045 — is so prescient and precise, to borrow a term from Battlestar Galactica, it’s frakin’ scary.

Look around you; we’re awful close as it is. From insulin pumps to robotic limbs to the chips embedded in Parkinson’s patients, an albeit fledgling Singularity is already here. And with IBM’s Watson having bested both Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter at Jeopardy!, this inert, bipartisan Mr. Smith came to Washington earlier this month and quickly disposed of Reps. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Nan Hayworth (R-NY), Jared Polis (D-CO), former Rhodes Scholar Jim Himes (D-CT) and trained nuclear physicist Rush Holt (D-NJ). For heaven’s sake, we’ve got robots in Japan, right now, that can dance better than Bristol Palin and Thom Yorke put together.

Alas, however, heed him not. Ray Kurzweil is still wrong — at least ethically. But if you find yourself absolutely compelled to listen to him talk (trust me, I know, he can be quite engrossing), please, whatever you do, do not buy a “single” thing from him. For it’s as a businessman, as a huckster that Kurzweil is most dangerous — more so, even, than the most convincing of cyborgs. And when it comes to how much people will pay for his wares — honest, hard-working and intelligent people — Raymond Kurzweil is far scarier than anything lurking under your bed, or in your inbox, come 2045.

This might make me a hypocrite, but I still have my Kurzweil 2500 synthesizer. As a piano student more interested in Wendy Carlos than J.S. Bach, it was a gift for my 13th birthday in March of 1997. And as the middle son of two right-to-work state teachers, it was a lavish gift at that — the kind you only get once or twice as a kid. Boy, did I love that keyboard. While my peers in the small Southern town where I grew up were busy chasing loud girls and racing even louder trucks, I only had eyes, and ears, for this clunky, cumbersome synth. And at the risk of sounding too techie, suffice it to say that its 76 keys, 192 oscillators and 128 MB of RAM were more than enough club back then for a callow country boy. In fact, I studied the manual so religiously that had I not been Baptist, but Jewish like Kurzweil — my de facto העלד — I could have read it aloud amongst all the elders with nary a stutter or flub.

But like Apple products now, just a few months later, the K2500 was already obsolete. Stumbling upon the brand new K2600 at the mall (on a routine trip with Ma for dungarees, no less), I soon realized that I’d been had. Bookish, demure and, worse yet, teetering on the brink of pubescence, looking back, I guess I took it a bit too personal. Pushing thirty now, I’d like to think I’m a bit smarter. Regardless, the present me refuses to acknowledge that, according to Kurzweilian economics, this is the way the world ends.

Yet, therein lies the crux of his whole enterprise. Kurzweil uses the term “exponential growth” to explain that computers are getting smarter and faster at an ever-faster rate — machines, like kids, growing like weeds themselves. Of course, we’ve known this all along. Kids today learn about Moore’s Law well before they’re taught the atomic number of silicon. But even the slowest toddler knows it’s wrong to steal. And just because you ape a computational constant, li’l Raymond, that doesn’t mean you get to expense it.

At his best, Ray Kurzweil remains a brilliant pitch man who, like another personally flawed futurist — the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke — has gotten lucky barking at some of the more “singular” moments in man on machine violence since John Henry’s bout with the steam hammer. At his worst, however, he’s a self-righteous colporteur, peddling his sci-fi snake oil to Terminator fanboys too evolved for Dan Brown’s sanguine pulp.

After all, as everyone from Tiresias to Nostradamus to Dionne Warwick has proven time and again, try as we might, man simply cannot predict the future. In the end, the only purported soothsayer I ever half-way trusted anyways was that seer of Appalachia himself, Edgar Cayce. And you know why? Because unlike Raymond Kurzweil, Edgar Cayce never made a dime off any of his oracles.

And as for that ol’ K2500 synth, it’s patented fool-you-once technology couldn’t dupe a fly now. Even better than the real thing, my ass.

Logan K. Young is a contributing writer for Blurt, Dusted and his alma mater’s weekly Free Times. He’s also written for Crawdaddy!, Option and Pitchfork’s Altered Zones and been published in The American Mercury, Paris Transatlantic and the Trouser Press Record Guide. A lapsed student of the late Karlheinz Stockhausen, he lives with his cat just outside “Suffragette City” in Washington’s harDCore suburbs.

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  • oh cool

    wait so you’re really just mad about your synthesizer?

    I thought this article was gonna have a turn and become about him selling some horseshit product now or whatever. But you’re angry I guess that some dumb people somewhere might take every prediction he makes as fact? Did you get paid for writing this short pointless whatever it was?

  • oh cool

    wait so you’re really just mad about your synthesizer?

    I thought this article was gonna have a turn and become about him selling some horseshit product now or whatever. But you’re angry I guess that some dumb people somewhere might take every prediction he makes as fact? Did you get paid for writing this short pointless whatever it was?

    • ArgosyJones

      No shit. I was all ready to get my hate on, and it turns out to be some childhood trauma about a birthday present. Methinks Logan K. Young is the huckster in this article.

  • ArgosyJones

    No shit. I was all ready to get my hate on, and it turns out to be some childhood trauma about a birthday present. Methinks Logan K. Young is the huckster in this article.

  • ArgosyJones

    No shit. I was all ready to get my hate on, and it turns out to be some childhood trauma about a birthday present. Methinks Logan K. Young is the huckster in this article.

  • Sccrplaya0068

    This is the crappiest most immature article i’ve read in a while!

  • Sccrplaya0068

    This is the crappiest most immature article i’ve read in a while!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nick.sauber Nick Sauber

    Maybe someone should explain the concept of “cyclical consumption” to the author of this article. EVERYTHING we buy involving technology is obsolete the minute we pay for it. It’s what keeps this backwards ass economy going and ultimately it is it’s fatal flaw. I guess Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and so on and so on are jerks as well, because after all they sell things that are obsolete a year later too under the guise that there are top of the line products. But we all know they’re not, because if they were we would never have to buy another computer, cell phone or piece of software ever again and that would be the death of our “economy.” And no one in a position of wealth and power is going to have that. Period.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nick.sauber Nick Sauber

    Maybe someone should explain the concept of “cyclical consumption” to the author of this article. EVERYTHING we buy involving technology is obsolete the minute we pay for it. It’s what keeps this backwards ass economy going and ultimately it is it’s fatal flaw. I guess Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and so on and so on are jerks as well, because after all they sell things that are obsolete a year later too under the guise that there are top of the line products. But we all know they’re not, because if they were we would never have to buy another computer, cell phone or piece of software ever again and that would be the death of our “economy.” And no one in a position of wealth and power is going to have that. Period.

    • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

      I see your point, but is it really a bad thing to scream on the metaphorical hilltops of the internet that these things are wrong? I don’t really have a solution, but I’m sure I’m not the only one that finds concepts of things like “cyclical consumption” and “planned obsolescence” as disgusting to the core as this guy seems to. It seems clear to me that the some of the other people posting against this guy don’t see the problem…

      • vecretary

        The article should have mentioned the 4 day $8,000 weekend workshops by the Singularity University. What a scam!

  • MrPINKi

    This kid needs a hug and a new synth. I too was ready to find a seed of hate for Mr. Kurzweil. Albeit the guy rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but that’s just probably because he’s become a millionaire a 100 times over and predicts things that pisses people off. I myself think the man is pretty damn smart and is taking the right pills, his own of course.

  • MrPINKi

    This kid needs a hug and a new synth. I too was ready to find a seed of hate for Mr. Kurzweil. Albeit the guy rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but that’s just probably because he’s become a millionaire a 100 times over and predicts things that pisses people off. I myself think the man is pretty damn smart and is taking the right pills, his own of course.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    I see your point, but is it really a bad thing to scream on the metaphorical hilltops of the internet that these things are wrong? I don’t really have a solution, but I’m sure I’m not the only one that finds concepts of things like “cyclical consumption” and “planned obsolescence” as disgusting to the core as this guy seems to. It seems clear to me that the some of the other people posting against this guy don’t see the problem…

  • chinagreenelvis

    Thank you, Disinfo.com, once again, for wasting my time. The articles on this site are starting to live up to its name.

  • chinagreenelvis

    Thank you, Disinfo.com, once again, for wasting my time. The articles on this site are starting to live up to its name.

  • Visparity

    The article should have mentioned the 4 day $8,000 weekend workshops by the Singularity University. What a scam!

  • Bobbiethejean

    And if you look to your left, children, you will see an exemplary instance of butt-hurtius maximus in all its butt-hurt splendor.

  • Bobbiethejean

    And if you look to your left, children, you will see an exemplary instance of butt-hurtius maximus in all its butt-hurt splendor.

  • Fenrir130

    So, he’s wrong because…?

    As far as ad hominem attacks go, this one reveals nothing interesting about its target. Your arguments are so weak, barely enough to justify writing a paragraph, that I wonder if the author might not be projecting a bit. Kurzweil might be an attention whore, but at least he has ideas to contribute. The author is also an attention whore, but the only idea he’s trying to sell us is that Kurzweil being one is somehow ethically reprehensible.

  • Fenrir130

    So, he’s wrong because…?

    As far as ad hominem attacks go, this one reveals nothing interesting about its target. Your arguments are so weak, barely enough to justify writing a paragraph, that I wonder if the author might not be projecting a bit. Kurzweil might be an attention whore, but at least he has ideas to contribute. The author is also an attention whore, but the only idea he’s trying to sell us is that Kurzweil being one is somehow ethically reprehensible.

  • 5by5

    I’m on Team Bill Joy.

  • 5by5

    I’m on Team Bill Joy.

  • 5by5

    I’m on Team Bill Joy.

  • 5by5

    I’m on Team Bill Joy.

  • http://www.nickmeador.org/ ndmeador

    I think Kurzweil is wrong not about the integration of technology into our lives (and even our bodies), but because he’s a contractor for the U.S. Army and other powerful organizations in our world. He talks about the imminent benefits of placing microcomputers in our body. But I wonder what’s to stop them from claiming ownership of our entire bodies once such devices are inside of us. To doubt Kurzweil does not make us “luddites”–despite his arguments to the contrary.

    Mostly I think he’s raping the very idea of the Singularity. It’s not ONLY about technology. The more important factors are broadened consciousness and global interconnectivity. Kurzweil will always be a salesman before anything else.

  • http://www.nickmeador.org/ ndmeador

    I think Kurzweil is wrong not about the integration of technology into our lives (and even our bodies), but because he’s a contractor for the U.S. Army and other powerful bodies in our world. He talks about the imminent benefits of placing microcomputers in our body. But I wonder what’s to stop them from claiming ownership of our entire bodies once such devices are inside of them. To doubt Kurzweil does not make us “luddites”–despite his arguments to the contrary.

  • matt

    i don’t normally bitch… but this article was bad.

  • matt

    i don’t normally bitch… but this article was bad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670081041 Matt Braynard

    Hey Logan! Long time no see.

    Looks like a pile-on. Can I have a go?

    First, Holt beat Watson.

    Second, the K2500 was released in 1996. The K2600 was released in 1999. That is an epoch in technology years. During that time the price of a megabyte of RAM went from a high of $29.90 down to $0.78. (Current price: $0.012).

    Is it ironic that you are angry about Kurzweil warning people that technology advances quickly when your ignorance of this warning led you to buy a three-year old keyboard when the new and improved model was right around the corner?

  • mbraynard

    Hey Logan! Long time no see.

    Looks like a pile-on. Can I have a go?

    First, Holt beat Watson.

    Second, the K2500 was released in 1996. The K2600 was released in 1999. That is an epoch in technology years. During that time the price of a megabyte of RAM went from a high of $29.90 down to $0.78. (Current price: $0.012).

    Is it ironic that you are angry about Kurzweil warning people that technology advances quickly when your ignorance of this warning led you to buy a three-year old keyboard when the new and improved model was right around the corner?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C5SV3Y6GG7GRK3NBX64IXAXDGM Jessica Hurst

    Don’t buy high-quality synths because they’ll make new models in a few years? Yeah…fuck you.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C5SV3Y6GG7GRK3NBX64IXAXDGM Jessica Hurst

    Don’t buy high-quality synths because they’ll make new models in a few years? Yeah…fuck you.

  • Disinfo

    A lot of smoke, not nearly enough fire. I’m not defending Kurzweil, but this article is not attacking him in any meaningful manner.

  • Disinfo

    A lot of smoke, not nearly enough fire. I’m not defending Kurzweil, but this article is not attacking him in any meaningful manner.

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