The Bet Against Singularity

Posted in Big Thought, People by Harsha on April 6, 2008

Ray Kurzweil lives in Massachusetts and has been a prolific inventor since he was in his mother’s womb. He has also written a ton of books – here is his Wikipedia entry for more information.

He is also the main proponent of Singularity. WIRED has a cool article about him in their latest issue, billing him as a Futurist who is doing everything he can to live long enough to witness this event. Briefly, it is the point in time predicted by Kurzweil where when machines become conscious or become aware and overtake human intelligence. Before you start guffawing, remember that he has been at the cutting edge of technology for many years and has been almost always ahead of his time.

Kurzweil’s toenail is smarter than me. But then when I read that he and his research partner Dr. Terry Grossman whom he met in 1999 have “exchanged thousands of emails, sharing speculations about which cutting-edge discoveries could be safely tried” (WIRED article), and also that “The doctor charges $6,000 per appointment”, I couldn’t help wondering what will happen to the future of Singularity, if I placed and win won a bet that Kurzweil will be dead in 60 years or less? You see, this obsession with immortality or doing stuff in the afterlife is traceable to the Egyptians. They buried their Pharaohs with artifacts to be used in the afterlife (which still lie lie still unused after 1000s of years!), so this idea of wanting to either live forever or for at least way beyond general life expectations, is very, very old.

But can such stupendous claims, backed no less by the most complex and probably the most accurate of equations generated by one of the smartest men on Earth, be dissolved into oblivion, by the simplest of representations of information – a binary choice … a bet?

Kurzweil pops a LOT of pills (“He takes 180 to 210 vitamin and mineral supplements a day, so many that he doesn’t have time to organize them all himself”), which for a renowned scientist like him seems like a very stupid naive approach because after all, these are pills from today’s time, created by today’s unethically scary pharmaceutical industry, for treating yesterday’s problems from yesterday. I think if old age doesn’t kill him eventually, then the chemicals will probably get to him soon enough. He also “frequently bicycles through the Boston suburbs” – seems like a fairly safe activity but you can be hit by a car anytime and as the traffic is crazy in the city.

The “Singularity” movement hinges on Kurzweil’s ability to live very long. Guys like Matt Philips, 32, “who became independently wealthy when Yahoo bought the Internet advertising company where he worked for four years” and are willing to pay Dr. Grossman (remember, he is Kurweil’s Singularity partner) $6,000 an hour purely based on Kurzweil’s word, means I smell opportunity.

I’ll bet that Kurzweil (born 1948) will die sometime in the next 60 years. He is already around 60 years of age, and people living up past 100 is not uncommon (there are around 75,000 100+ year olds in the US). I think he will probably die due to a major illness concocted by these toxic pills, or by riding around in Boston, or by being shot by a crazy-eyed Matt Phillips (JUST KIDDING!). Dr. Grossman states that “The normal human lifespan is about 125 years” – ancient Indian texts suggest 4 stages of life each spanning 25 years. So do I believe 1000s of years of knowledge or a $6,000/hour doctor with a deeply vested interest in propagating Singularity till Kurzweil lives?

Can the great mathematical and scientific Kurweil and his million books on Singularity be brought down by an scientific simpleton like me?

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