Here’s a comment from Keith Norbury on the Kurzweil response post that I agree with:
It looks as though Kurzweil and Anissimov are both quibbling. I had similar thoughts as Anissimov did when I scrolled through the predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines. But I also thought, well, Kurzweil is just a little hasty in his enthusiasm. Yes, there’s a danger in setting firm dates for predictions of technological progress. However, because he makes them, Kurzweil gets people’s attention. Even when he is wrong on the exact date, he is still able to point to a trend that indicates he will be right soon enough (in most cases). So far, though, the dates have passed for the easier predictions. It gets harder going ahead.
Kurzweil’s main point is that technology is improving exponentially not linearly. That’s a difficult point to grasp. However, we still don’t know if even exponential growth is enough to tackle some sticky problems, such as simulating human intelligence. Nobody knows where the goal posts are yet. Nor do we understand yet the principles involved in uploading a human mind to computer, never mind the engineering it would require. The answers might be just around the corner, or they might be a long way away. Time travel, for example, is possible under the laws of physics. However, the huge energies required pose a giant obstacle to making it a reality.
I’m now reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s excellent Red Mars, which points out the difficulties in making predictions. It’s speculative fiction but also hard science fiction. The trouble is, though, that the hard science in Red Mars is the science of 1993 when it was written. In the book, the voyage to Mars took nine months, as predicted using the technology that was proven in 1993. Since then, an ion propulsion system is well along the road to development that promises to shorten the trip to about 40 days — when it happens. That certainly doesn’t look like it will be by 2026, as in Red Mars. One could argue that Robinson wasn’t being a futurist when he wrote Red Mars. However, at the time he was striving to imagine as accurately as he could, based on the knowledge available, what that future mission would look like. Unfortunately, he didn’t imagine that humans would develop a better technology for getting to Mars, even though the principles of ion propulsion were already well known back in the 1990s.
My guess is that Robinson, in writing Red Mars, was thinking too linearly about technological progress and not in the exponential way that Kurzweil does. That’s what sets Kurzweil apart from other intelligent people who speculate about the future.
I agree with Kurzweil that many important technological metrics are improving exponentially, and that his linear-thinking critics are incorrect. I have always argued that major change is likely in the relatively near future. I regard a Singularity at 2029 or earlier as definitely within the realm of possibility. I am a “Singularitarian” of the type that Kurzweil describes in his book. Much of my life is focused around the idea of a Singularity, similar but not the same as Kurzweil’s idea of the Singularity. I object to Kurzweil’s statements that MNT and nanorobots will certainly be a reality in the 2020s. I object to a lot of other things. I agree on the broad outlines of exponential change. I do not think Kurzweil is an “idiot”, as Singularity Hub misleadingly claimed recently. I think Kurzweil is a genius and I applaud him for making predictions at all.
It is much easier to criticize than to make predictions, I admit that. I believe that Kurzweil’s model is a good framework, and my model of the future is extremely similar to his relative to the mainstream. Still, the fine points are worth arguing. My main focus is on the points themselves. Perhaps I should have just listed the items and not even called them Kurzweil’s predictions, so I could criticize them at will without in any way threatening his reputation. In any case, I don’t think that Kurzweil’s reputation is at risk here. As he pointed out, I just poked at 7 out of 108 of his predictions in the book. I apologize for the sensationalist title of my original post — I didn’t mean that ALL of Kurzweil’s predictions for 2009 had failed, just “Here’s a few failed predictions that I found on this specific web page and I agree with”.
I’m sure that everyone is interested in seeing Kurzweil’s point-by-point analysis of his predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines. Considering the concerns raised by those seven predictions I mentioned, I think a thorough review of the book is in order, and I’m pleased that Kurzweil himself has taken up the task. I gave the original post a provocative title because I strongly believed that investigation would benefit the entire futurist community, and I hoped to start a conservation on it. In that respect, it appears to have succeeded.