feature storyfrom | Playboythe Playboy interview.

with Ray Kurzweil
July 1, 2022

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publication: Playboy
section: interviews
pages: society
story title: the Playboy interview: with Ray Kurzweil
deck: Playboy magazine interviews the author, inventor, and data genius.
author: by David Hochman
date: April 19, 2016

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An introduction.

Many think author, inventor and data scientist Ray Kurzweil is a prophet for our digital age. A few say he’s completely nuts. Kurzweil, who heads a team of more than 40 as a director of engineering at Google, believes advances in technology and medicine are pushing us toward what he calls the singularity, a period of profound cultural and evolutionary change in which computers will out-think the brain and allow people to live forever. He dates this development at 2045.

Ray Kurzweil was born February 12, 1948 and he still carries the accent of his native Queens, New York. His Jewish parents escaped Hitler’s Austria, but Kurzweil grew up attending a Unitarian church. He valued knowledge above all, and computers in particular. His grandmother was one of the first women in Europe to earn a PhD in chemistry.

His uncle, who worked at Bell Telephone Labs, taught Ray computer science in the 1950s, and by the age of 15, Kurzweil was designing programs to help do homework. Two years later, he wrote code to analyze and create music in the style of various famous composers. The program won him the prestigious Westinghouse Science Talent Search, where he was invited to visit the White House at 17 years old. That year, on the television game show I’ve Got a Secret, Kurzweil pressed some buttons on a data processor the size of a small car. It sounded-out original sheet music that could have been written by the classical composer Johannes Brahms.

After earning degrees in computer science and creative writing at MIT, he began to sell his inventions, including the first optical character recognition system that could read text in any normal font. Kurzweil knew a “reading machine” could help the blind, but to make it work, he first had to invent a text-to-speech synthesizer, as well as a flatbed scanner; both are still in wide use. In the 1980s Kurzweil created the first electronic music keyboard to replicate the sound of a grand piano and many other instruments. If you’ve ever been to a rock concert, you’ve likely seen the name Kurzweil on the back of a synthesizer.

These days, Kurzweil plays the role of tech oracle to the elite. His best selling books The Age of Intelligent Machines and The Singularity Is Near offer eerily specific forecasts on computing, bio-technology, and human evolution. Much of his work sounds like science fiction, but Kurzweil rationally lays out his vision at symposia, college lectures, and popular conferences.

At age 70, Kurzweil has his fingers in many pots. He co-founded Singularity University co., a research institute and think tank that focuses on how science can solve humanity’s challenges: water scarcity, over-population, shortages. His Google team is developing software tools for machine learning and English language understanding — including a series of chat-bots that can converse with you and have different personalities. In his spare time, Kurzweil started a hedge fund and just finished his first novel.

Playboy contributing editor David Hochman spent extended time with Ray Kurzweil. He said: “Talking to Ray is a little like chatting with Albert Einstein, Mr. Spock from Star Trek, and the Google guys — all at once. His intelligence is off-the-chart. He knows everything about everything, and it’s all filtered through the lens of whatever’s at the forefront of the wired world.”

Kurzweil wore a Google watch on one wrist and a Mickey Mouse watch on the other, spoke for hours. Hochman said: “The biggest surprise? We were together for 2 days — but Ray didn’t check his e-mail or text messages once.”

the interview | part 1

1. |

You describe a near future in which nanobots inhabit our bloodstreams, our brains upload to the cloud and people never die. It sounds terrifying.

When people talk about the future of technology, especially artificial intelligence, they very often have the common dystopian Hollywood-movie model of us versus the machines. My view is that we will use these tools as we’ve used all other tools—to broaden our reach. And in this case, we’ll be extending the most important attribute we have, which is our intelligence.

The capability of information technology doubles each year. At the same time, the price of the same functionality comes down by half every year. These are all features of what I call the law of accelerating returns. It’s why you can buy an Apple iPhone or a Google Android mobile phone that’s twice as good as the one from 2 years ago — but for half the price.

My smart-phone is several 1,000 times more powerful and millions of times less expensive than the $11 million IBM 7094 computer I used — when I was a student at MIT in year 1965. But that’s not the most interesting thing about my mobile phone. If I want to multiply computational and communication power by 10,000 —that is to say, if I need to access 10,000 computers — I can do that in the cloud, and that happens all the time. We’re not even aware of it. Do a complex language translation, a complex search or many other types of transactions, and you’re accessing 1,000s of computers while you sit quietly in a park somewhere. Over the next couple of decades, we’re going to make ourselves smarter by integrating with these tools.

2. |

Humans are evolving into iPhones?

We’re merging with these non-biological technologies. We’re already on that path. I mean, this little mobile phone I’m carrying on my belt is not yet inside my physical body, but that’s an arbitrary distinction. It is part of who I am—not necessarily the phone itself, but the connection to the cloud and all the resources I can access there.

3. |

Isn’t what nature gave us enough?

We have limited capacity in our brain. It’s at least a million times slower than computational electronics. The neo-cortex is a thin structure around the brain that emerged millions of years ago with mammals. The big innovation came 2 million years ago when humanoids evolved and developed a large forehead. If you look at other primates, they have a slanted brow. They don’t have a frontal cortex. That additional amount of neo-cortex is what we used to add higher levels of abstraction, and that was the enabling factor for us to invent — first of all, language, but also things like humor and music. No other animal can keep a beat. No other animal can tell a joke.

4. |

So plugging our brains into machines will make us exponentially smarter and more charming?

Exactly. By the 2030s we could have micro-sized bots that travel through the human body and brain non-invasively, connecting-up to a synthetic substrate that works in the same way our minds do — but in the cloud. So we’ll have an additional neo-cortex, just like we developed human consciousness 3 million years ago — and we’ll use it to add additional levels of abstraction. We’ll create more profound forms of communication than we’re familiar with today, more profound music and funnier jokes. We’ll be funnier. We’ll be more romantic. We’ll be more adept at expressing loving sentiments.

5. |

What exactly will that look like from the user end?

Let’s say I’m walking along and I see my boss at Google, Larry Page, approaching. I have three seconds to come up with something clever to say, and the 300 million modules in my neo-cortex won’t cut it. I need a billion modules for two seconds. I’ll be able to access that in the cloud just as we can access additional computation in the cloud for our mobile phones, and I’ll be able to say exactly the right thing.

But the truth is, we don’t know what it will look like. Once we can expand our thinking in the cloud, our intelligence grows beyond anything we can currently comprehend. Our intuition about the future is linear. It’s hardwired in our brains that way. 10,000 years ago you would track an animal in the field and expect it to speed up as it went along.

You would make a linear prediction as to where it would go so you could catch it. That type of thinking made sense, but it ignores the sort of exponential growth we see with technology. We’re approaching a point where technological progress will become so fast that everyday human intelligence will be unable to follow it. It’s a horizon past which the concepts we’re familiar with are so transformed that it’s hard to see past it.

6. |

This is the event horizon you call the singularity. Why have you set its arrival so specifically in 2045?

The non-biological intelligence created in that year will reach a level that’s a billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today. But there will be dramatic changes prior to that. I’ve been consistent about these dates for decades now. One is 2029, which is when computers will pass a valid Turing test, meaning they’ll be indistinguishable from human intelligence in a conversation.

7. |

How will all this help us live longer?

Let’s start with genetics, which is now called biotechnology. It’s beginning to revolutionize clinical practice and will completely transform medicine within 1-2 decades. We’re starting to reprogram the outdated software of life — the 23,000 little programs we have in our bodies, called genes. We’re programming them away from disease and away from aging.

For example, at the Joslin Diabetes Center, they turned off the fat insulin receptor gene that tells you to hold-on to every calorie in your fat cells. That was a good idea 10,000 years ago when our bodies evolved, because the next hunting season might not work out so well. But today it underlies an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. We’d like to turn that gene off. They tried it in animal experiments. The animals ate ravenously but remained slim. They didn’t get diabetes. They didn’t get heart disease. They also lived 20 percent longer. And that’s just one example of 23,000 genes.

We’re involved with a company where we add a gene to people who are missing a gene that causes a terminal disease called pulmonary hypertension, and the treatment has actually worked in human trials. We can subtract genes. We can modify stem cells to have desirable effects such as rejuvenating the heart if it’s been damaged in a heart attack, which is true of half of all heart attack survivors.

The point is health care is now an information technology subject to the same laws of acceleration and progress we see with other technologies. We’ll soon have the ability to rejuvenate all the body’s tissues and organs and develop pharmaceuticals targeted specifically at the underlying metabolic process of a disease rather than taking a hit-or-miss approach. But nanotechnology is where we really move beyond biology.

8. |

Tiny robots fighting disease in our veins?

Yes. By the 2020s we’ll start using nanobots to complete the job of the immune system. Our immune system is great, but it evolved thousands of years ago when conditions were different. It was not in the interest of the human species for individuals to live very long, so people typically died in their 20s. The life expectancy was 19.

Your immune system, for example, does a poor job on cancer. It thinks cancer is you. It doesn’t treat cancer as an enemy. It also doesn’t work well on retroviruses. It doesn’t work well on things that tend to affect us later in life, because it didn’t select for longevity.

We can finish the job nature started with a non-biological T cell. T cells are, in fact, nanobots—natural ones. They’re the size of a blood cell and are quite intelligent. I actually watched one of my T cells attack bacteria on a microscope slide. We could have one programmed to deal with all pathogens and could download new software from the internet if a new type of enemy such as a new biological virus emerged.

As they gain traction in the 2030s, nanobots in the bloodstream will destroy pathogens, remove debris, rid our bodies of clots, clogs and tumors, correct DNA errors and actually reverse the aging process. One researcher has already cured type 1 diabetes in rats with a blood-cell-size device.

9. |

So if we hang on for 15 more years, we can live forever?

I believe we will reach a point around year 2029 when medical technologies will add: 1 additional year, every year to your life expectancy. By that I don’t mean life expectancy based on your birth date — but rather your remaining life expectancy.

10.  |

That’s a lot of Friends television show re-runs. Won’t we become bored?

Ennui is certainly one of the challenges. If we’re doing the same things for 100s of years, life will become profoundly monotonous. But that’s true only if we have radical life extension without radical life expansion.

So we’re going to make ourselves smarter, as we’re doing already. But we’ll merge with tech — expanding into the cloud, we’ll add more levels of abstraction to our thinking.

Just as we evolved into humans — and invented art, music, and science — with that additional neo-cortex we’ll add more profound forms of communication. Plus deeper activities as we, again, add to the levels and scope of our abilities.

We’re going to have fantastic virtual environments. We can enjoy any earthly environment, but we’ll also have fantastic virtual environments limited only by our imaginations, and our creativity is going to become greater.

By the 2030s, you and I could be 100s of miles apart, and it will seem just as though we’re sitting together as we are now — there are even technologies that will enable us to touch one another. I actually have some patents on that. Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of virtual reality head-gear company Oculus is just one harbinger of the coming era.

Today the technology is not quite realistic — but by the mid-2020s, with retina-based devices transmitting images directly to your retina, similar devices in your ears and other sensors that stimulate the tactile sense, you and I could be in different locations and yet feel completely as though we’re both at a table in the Taj Mahal palace in India — or walking on a virtual Mediterranean beach, feeling the moist warm air on our faces.

By the 2030s this technology will go inside the nervous system. I mentioned nanobots that will connect your neocortex to the cloud. Another application will be to send signals directly to your neo-cortex as though they’re coming from your senses. So your brain will feel like it’s actually in the virtual environment. It’s going to be extremely realistic and incorporate all the senses.

11. |

Sexuality often leads the way in technology. It sounds like the future will see plenty of innovation on that front.

Yes. Early adoption of new communication tech often involves sexual applications. Johannes Gutenberg — the historic inventor who created movable type — his first book was the christian Bible, but that was followed by a lot more adult titles. The same thing happened with film, video, the web, plus products such as Second Life — an early virtual reality simulated environment that has a large adult section. And as virtual reality becomes more realistic, certainly romantic activity will become extremely popular.

12. |

How do you envision the future of romance?

Not only will people be able to have romantic encounters together in different locations, but you’ll have the ability to change who you are and who your partner is. In virtual reality you don’t have to inhabit the same body you have in actual reality. A couple could become each other, for example, and experience the relationship from the other person’s perspective. You could transmit a creative version of yourself to your partner, or she may alter how she wants you to look.

13. |

So looking normal won’t be an option for romantic partners of the future? We’ll all be super-idealized physical forms?

I think we’ll expand our concept of what’s normal. We’re doing that already. People are doing things to their bodies that were considered radical decades ago and are now mainstream — such as tattoos, piercings, cosmetic surgery. As you go into virtual environments, some people create avatars that look like themselves, and other people make fantastic new types of creatures. I think our aesthetic will modify, with the freedom of virtual reality — so you won’t have to be the same person all the time, but you could when you want to be.

14. |

What you’re describing could change the nature of relationships, and re-define what it means to be monogamous.

We’ve already — somewhat — separated the biology of human sexuality from its communication, sensory, and recreational purposes. In virtual reality we’ll have even more freedom to experiment.

We already have more lines to draw today than we did in the past. Couples disagree on what is infidelity, for example. People have different opinions. Communicating in a romantic manner over the web blurs lines. If you want to spice-up your love live, you can turn your partner into someone else — or you can transform yourself. You’ll have that option as well.

15. |

You and your wife have been married for more than 40 years. But is there anyone whose body you would like to inhabit?

That’s a good question. I haven’t been asked that one before. Probably a woman. If I had to pick one? Actress Amy Adams. I like her perky style.

16. |

Fascinating. Do you have any other pop culture heroes or heroines?

I like singer + song-writer Taylor Swift.

17. |

You listen to music star Taylor Swift?

I do. I think she’s very soulful, and her voice has gotten better too. “Teardrops on My Guitar” is a great song. I was hoping to meet her at the Grammy Awards last year, but she was sitting too far away from me.

18. |

In the 1980s, you invented the Kurzweil K250 music synthesizer, the first keyboard capable of simulating the sound of a grand piano and other orchestral instruments. Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and Prince are rock stars among its many fans. Do you have stories to tell?

My friendship with Stevie Wonder goes back to 1976 — when he invited himself to my office to listen to the Kurzweil reading machine for the blind. My wife and I hung out with music legend Ray Charles. More recently, singer + song-writer Alanis Morissette approached me at an airport to thank me for the Kurzweil keyboard. It’s rewarding, but I’ve always been shy. Unstructured social situations make me nervous.

19. |

Every generation has its defining psychological label, and armchair therapists today love throwing around the catchall terms on the spectrum and Asperger’s. Some have used those terms to describe you.

I do see some social awkwardness in myself and in some of my peers who are brilliant in technology. But we’re intelligent enough to compensate for that — and find ways of interacting with people. I’ve always dreaded cocktail parties — but I met my wife at a party and spilled red wine on her pants, which might have been intentional. I insisted that I wash it out with her leg still in it. We fell in love very quickly and got engaged within a year.

20. |

Let’s move on. Your employer Google is a behemoth now. How does it avoid becoming the next IBM?

I think the Google leadership realizes, as do most enlightened technology leaders, that paradigms are short-lived and you have to constantly reinvent yourself. You can’t ride just one paradigm and one algorithm, though the PageRank algorithm that underlies search has certainly been one of the most successful algorithms in history.

At Google we’re constantly looking for new ideas and for people who can fashion new ideas and success. I run a team of more than 40 really brilliant scientists. We’re working on natural-language understanding, trying to get computers to understand the meaning of documents, and it’s quite an incredible team. That’s actually the most important resource I have discovered at Google: the talent there.

image | above

Vintage photo of a city club by Playboy.

credit: Playboy

the interview | part 2

21. |

Do you think universities will still matter a hundred years from now?

Those institutions represent a confluence of intelligent people. Good ideas come from smart minds working together. But education is changing. One of the beneficial things we’ll have from technology is very high-quality learning, from preschool to graduate school, all free and all online—including interaction with teachers and fellow students. I think the principal role of education should be to encourage people at all ages to do projects and learn from those projects. The most important reality of what we call Silicon Valley is the freedom to fail. Here we call it failure of experience. You have to be an optimist to be an entrepreneur.

22. |

You certainly are optimistic. But in many ways, the world is an increasingly difficult and dangerous place. Look at the continued violence in the Middle East and the totalitarian regimes in Africa and North Korea — not to mention corruption, racism, and greed.

Well, I wouldn’t put all those phenomena in the same basket. Despite oppressive regimes, the consensus is actually moving in the right direction toward greater liberty, freedom and democracy. That wasn’t always the philosophy of the world. I mean, there were almost no democracies 200 years ago and only a handful 100 years ago. Not every society is a perfect democracy today, but most believe it is the desirable norm we should seek.

This is the most prosperous and peaceful time in human history. If you read the book The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker PhD — he documents a profound inverse exponential in violence. Your chance of being killed 100s of years ago was far greater than it is today, because there was extreme scarcity of resources back then. Tech is driving progress here, too. On one hand we’re seeing more violence because people are capturing it on their mobile phones. But that brings awareness to it. In the past, the next village could have been destroyed, and you probably never heard about it.

Human life has become immeasurably better. The poor today have amenities that kings and queens didn’t have one or two centuries ago, including refrigerators and toilets, not to mention computers, televisions and recorded music.

23. |

A vast digital divide separates those with access to communications technology from those without access. Won’t that gap only get wider?

No. People think the world is getting poorer, but according to the World Bank group, for example, poverty in Asia has been cut by 90 percent over the past 20 years because these societies have gone from primitive agrarian economies to thriving information economies. The internet is entering developing areas at a rapid rate. The kid in Africa with a smartphone has more intelligent access to information than the president of the United States did 15 years ago, and progress like that spreads very quickly. It’s a radically different world than it was a generation or two ago.

24. |

We live in interesting times.

Very interesting. People say they don’t want to live forever. Often their objection is that they don’t want to live hundreds of years the way the quintessential 99 year old is perceived to be living — frail or ill and on life support. First of all, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about remaining healthy and young, actually reversing aging and being an ideal form of yourself for a long time. They also don’t see how many incredible things they would witness over time—the changes, the innovations. Me, I’d like to stick around.

25. |

Last year Bill Gates — founder of Microsoft co. — said, “It seems pretty egocentric, while we still have malaria and TB, for rich people to fund things so they can live longer.”

Bill Gates is completely ignoring the 50 percent deflation rate that’s inherent in information technology. You did have to be wealthy to have a mobile phone 20 years ago. They didn’t work very well. They did one thing, which was make phone calls, and they did it poorly, and they didn’t fit in your pocket. Today there are billions of them doing a million things, and they’re basically free. By the time technologies work well, they’re affordable for almost everyone. By year 2020, you won’t require as much wealth in general.

26. |

We won’t need money in the future?

We’ll be able to survive with very little money. Not that I advocate that. Money will be important. But as we get to the 2020s, we’ll be able to print-out most of the material resources we need with 3D printers. We’ll be able to print clothing at pennies per pound, which is what 3D printing costs — and there will be an open-source market with free designs you can download, then print out on your printer.

27. |

What about our energy and food needs?

Certainly within 20 years we’ll be meeting all our energy requirements through solar and other renewables. We’re awash in energy—10,000 times more than we need, from the sun—and we’re going to move to these renewables not just because we’re concerned about the impact on the environment but because it will be cheaper and more economic.

We know how to clean up or desalinate water using other emerging technologies, such as the Slingshot water vapor distillation system by engineer Dean Kamen PhD — at very low cost, particularly if we have low-cost energy.

We’re going to have a vertical agriculture revolution where we’ll grow food in vertical buildings, recycling all the ingredients and resources so there’s no ecological impact, unlike the environmental disaster represented by factory farming. Pesticide-free fruits and vegetables done through hydroponic plants, in-vitro cloned meats.

28. Many of your past predictions were accurate, but you got plenty wrong too. In your book: The Singularity Is Near you wrote that by 2015 we’ll depend on robots to clean our houses.

I don’t think I actually said that, but if you Google my predictions, you’ll see I’ve scored quite well overall. I did an analysis of the predictions I made for 2009 in the book The Age of Spiritual Machines, which I wrote in the late 1990s. I made 147 predictions: 86 percent were correct. Even some of the ones that were incorrect, such as self-driving cars — were not all incorrect. They were off by just a few years. In terms of direction — it was pretty accurate.

29. |

Do you know what your IQ is?

It was measured when I was a child at 165 — and I haven’t measured it since.

30. |

Does it bother you that some people think you’re crazy? Pulitzer Prize winning science writer Douglas Hofstadter PhD compared your work.

I think that particular statement reflects poorly on him. The difference between myself and my critics is that we’re looking at the same reality, but they apply their linear intuition about where we will go, and I’m thinking about it from the exponential perspective. The good news is, the evidence for my position is everywhere around us. I gave a speech not too long ago to junior high school science winners from around the country — and they came up to me and said: “That’s really true. Things were so different when I was 8!” People are seeing the results of exponential growth — because you don’t have to wait that long now to actually see it unfold.

31. |

Other critics call you a utopian dreamer. Not to put a damper on things, but what is to stop darker forces from using the technologies you describe and putting society in grave peril?

First of all, my view of the future is not utopian. There will always be problems. Privacy is a big issue, for instance. But in some ways, privacy is getting better too. I grew up in an era when you couldn’t have a private phone conversation — you didn’t know who was listening-in on the phone line, because there were other extensions.

Today, communication is private. I run into very few people who tell me their lives were ruined by some invasion of privacy. That’s doesn’t mean it’s not a serious issue — as some big companies discovered. But so far, encryption is advancing more rapidly than the tech of decryption.

32. |

What about bio-terrorism?

It’s a concern. If a bio-terrorist releases a new biological virus, that’s a serious danger. But we can combat it. I was in the US Army Science Advisory Group, and my issue was protecting ourselves against bio-terrorism. Today we have a rapid-response system. We can sequence a virus almost instantly.

That’s another example of exponential growth: HIV took 5 years to sequence — SARS took 31 days. We can now do it in 1 day. We can quickly create either an RNA interference-based medication or an antigen-based vaccine — and spread protection quickly if there’s an outbreak.

This is part of the protocol that emerged from the historic Asilomar Conference, that established guidelines and ethical standards for responsible practitioners — as well as a rapid-response system.

33. |

Could hackers shut down the internet with computer viruses?

Early on, some people predicted that software viruses — just emerging — would become so powerful they’d make the web useless. Part of that prediction came true. Software viruses are sophisticated + powerful.

But we also have a tech immune system that detects new viruses and semi-automatically reverse-engineers them — putting-out antidotes on the web in the form of anti-viral software. This is the paradigm we use to stay safe. But it’s not a full solution: tech keeps getting more sophisticated. Yes, the dangers get more dangerous, but our tools for combating them also get more powerful.

34. |

Then there’s distraction: 25 percent of automobile accidents involve mobile phones. Do we need more tech?

It depends on the kind of technology you’re talking about. The automobile is ok technology, but it’s not great. Humans are bad drivers. In the course of this interview, dozens of people have died around the world from human drivers. There are 1.2 million deaths and millions of injuries each year caused by human drivers — that’s why self-driving cars are on coming. It’s just another example of how tech will make life safer + healthier.

35. |

But what about the impulse people have to check our screens at every stop-light, at every pause in a conversation? That can’t be healthy.

Humans have a proclivity to addiction, and that extends to using technology. Books by researcher Sherry Turkle PhD explain that we’d rather communicate on our devices than with each other. But generally speaking, there’s another person at the other end of that device. Teens and children growing up today are communicating with people around the world — in ways that are uplifting and educational.

Time triage is actually the most important decision we have. How are we going to spend our time? As we learn more about the brain and expand our minds through merging with tech — we’re going to treat it as a network, to improve our use of time in more creative and profound ways.

36. |

Do you ever turn your brain off, so to speak?

I like bicycling. I like to walk and hike — letting my mind be free. I also do that while falling asleep, so I like to take naps. This novel I just wrote with my daughter is called Danielle: Chronicles of a Super-Heroine — and it’s about a clever young girl. I’d have fantasies about her as I drifted off to sleep. That was actually the source of the ideas in that book.

37. |

You literally write books in your sleep?

It’s a technique I use: I give myself some challenge or question before dozing off. For me, it could be a decision: should I do this business deal? Or it could be a literary issue: how can I express my idea in something I’m writing? It could be an inter-personal issue. It could be a math problem. I try not to solve it — instead I let my mind wander. And when I wake up in the middle of the night, I find myself dreaming in a strange, oblique way about the question.

Sigmund Freud MD understood this. He said the censors in your mind are relaxed in your dreams, so we dream about things that are culturally taboo. Well, there are also professional taboos. We have set ways of thinking about certain types of issues, particularly in science + tech. When those rules are relaxed, I find some strange and wonderful ways of solving problems.

38. |

Have you used drugs to expand your thinking?

I smoked marijuana in college for a period, and it was a way of changing your consciousness. I’ve always been wary of LSD, because if you end-up on a bad trip, you can’t get off the ride. Alcohol is probably the oldest means we’ve had of changing our consciousness, escaping the anxiety of reality, and it can be useful for that. I enjoy gently relieving anxieties through a glass of wine. But I think our greatest opportunities to be creative — to communicate with others and have relationships — are fostered by technology. That’s the best opportunity to transcend.

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39. |

Would you say technology is your religion?

Religion originated in pre-scientific times, and it attempted to answer valid questions such as: Why are we here? What is this incredible miracle of people coming into existence who didn’t exist before? And then the inverse miracle of them disappearing: Where did they go? What happens then? What is the nature of consciousness? Do we really have free will? What are we supposed to be doing when we’re here? Religion came-up with valid insights.

I’d say the most important is the Golden Rule — to treat other people the way you would wish to be treated. Today we have more insight into the nature of reality from physics, biology and neuroscience, so we should update our answers to these questions based on our greater understanding of the world.

40. |

There are many things science isn’t able to explain.

That’s true. In particular, science does not provide a definitive answer to the issue of consciousness. There’s actually no falsifiable experiment you could run that would definitively answer the question of whether or not an entity is conscious. You could ask the entity, and some character in a video game today could say: “Yes, I’m conscious, and I’m very angry at you,” and we wouldn’t believe it, because it doesn’t have the subtle cues we associate with having those subjective states.

But my contention is — as we get to the 2030s — artificial consciousness will be very realistic. That’s what it means to pass the Turing test. And we will believe it, and they’ll get angry at us if we don’t believe them, and since they’ll be very smart, we don’t want that to happen. But is that consciousness? John Searle PhD — a philosopher at the University of California — says consciousness is just another biological attribute, like digestion, lactation or respiration, but that’s not the case. We can’t really tap into the subjective experience of another entity. Are animals conscious? We don’t know. That question is the root of the animal rights issue. I think my cat, before he died, was conscious. Not everybody agrees with that, but they probably hadn’t met my cat.

41. |

Is it true you’ve elected to be frozen in the event of your untimely demise?

Yes, with the view toward being reanimated some decades from now. I think that will be feasible in the 2040s.

42. |

How do you feel about that prospect?

Poorly. I have enough trouble staying on top of my responsibilities when I’m alive and kicking, so the idea of being in suspended animation for decades is not appealing. That’s plan D. Plan A is to make it through, and I’m doing well. So far so good. I wrote these books actually as a way of encouraging myself and shaming myself into taking good care of my health so I would be an exemplar of what I’m talking about. Plan B is also to make it through. Plan C is the same thing.

43. |

If you die before the singularity arrives, does that mean you’ve failed?

Yes. I regard death as the greatest tragedy. People talk about getting accustomed to death and accepting it. But the end of each life is a terrible loss — like the mythical library of Alexandria burning down. All that information, all their skills, their personality, their memories — are gone. The people who loved that person also suffer. A significant portion of their neo-cortex had evolved to understand the person and interact with them, and then suddenly that person is no longer there for them to use that part of their brain, which leads to the shock of mourning. I call mourning the price of love.

But I think it’s humanity’s mission to transcend our limitations, and the most profound limitation we have is that of our life span. That’s the hardest thing for people to accept, because birth and life and death have been with us since the beginning of recorded history. But I can see a path that’s not far off where we can indefinitely extend our lives.

44. |

Will we know when we’ve reached this period you’re talking about?

That’s a good question. I mean, nothing is ever certain. I could be hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow. I do believe we will begin to overcome the causes of our short lives. And that’s going to become a flood in the very near future. But you’re right, we can never truly know eternity. As hard as I try, I can never come back to you and say: “Hey, I’ve done it. I’ve lived forever” — because it’s never forever.

— end —


HIV = human immuno-deficiency virus
IBM = International Business Machines co.
LSD = lysergic acid diethylamide
RNA = ribonucleic acid
SARS = severe acute respiratory syndrome


from: Wikipedia

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