I Get Quoted in IEEE Spectrum Blog by the Former Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American

Here’s the article, by John Rennie. Quote:

It seems only fair to allow some latitude for interpretation on the dates. But even then, it is hard to define the rightness or wrongness of Kurzweil’s predictions.

Kurzweil himself has no such difficulty, however. He knows precisely how well he’s doing. Last January, Michael Anissimov of the Accelerating Future Web site posted an item in which he suggested that seven of Kurzweil’s predictions for 2009 seemed to be wrong. Kurzweil replied with a note that argued it was wrong to single out merely seven predictions when he had actually made 108 in The Age of Spiritual Machines.

“I am in the process of writing a prediction-by-prediction analysis of these, which will be available soon and I will send it to you,” he wrote. “But to summarize, of these 108 predictions, 89 were entirely correct by the end of 2009.” Another 13 were “essentially correct,” by which he meant that they would be realized within just a few years. “Another 3 are partially correct, 2 look like they are about 10 years off, and 1, which was tongue in cheek anyway, was just wrong,” he wrote. So by his own scoring, he is at least 94.4 percent accurate.

Brian Wang says, “IEEE Spectrum tries to hold Ray Kurzweil to a high prediction standard but does not apply that standard to themselves”. Brian, this is Rennie’s first article at IEEE so the criticism doesn’t exactly apply. IEEE is not a unified entity necessarily, it’s a forum, where people of sufficiently high status can post. A lot of organizations are like that, including the World Future Society. They have no unified identity.

I’m a big fan of Ray Kurzweil. Visiting his website got me involved in the Singularity Institute and put me where I am today. He inspired me, deeply. Anyone who doesn’t read The Singularity is Near is not a serious futurist. Still, plenty of his predictions for 2010 were obviously premature. I consider it probable that most if not all of them will come true by 2020, however.

The thing about futurism is that the traditional success rate is so abysmal that even a success rate of 60-70% ought to be considered extremely high.

Comments

  1. IEEE Spectrum is a unified magazine. They should have some awareness that we are publishing an article and other times in the year we publish our annual winners and losers in technology. So there should be awareness of the hypocrisy of their article. It would be the same as Sports Illustrated criticizing Maxim for their swimsuit articles and ignoring the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue doing the same thing.

    Perhaps the editors should be aware of the other articles.

    There should be some mention. I am criticizing him so he sucks, but we do it too and worse. So we suck more. So you adding, but we are the many of IEEE so we are many glass houses and we can throw stones if we want.

  2. I haven’t read “The Singularity is Near”, but that’s mainly because I’ve read many earlier futurist works (including Kurzweil’s books) and most of the time they repeat similar ideas. I still consider myself a serious futurist though – just one with limited time for rehashing stuff I already know.

    … having said that. The book is sitting on my shelf and is in the reading queue.

  3. Anyone who doesn’t read The Singularity is Near is not a serious futurist. I’m surprised by this. Would you recommend it to someone already fairly familiar with the work of SIAI? What else is on your essential futurist reading list?

  4. Yes, I think it’s absurd not to read it, and recommend it to everyone familiar with SIAI’s work. I’ve actually read it several times. My other essential reading items would be the entire website of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology and Ramez Naam’s book More Than Human. Josh’s book Nanofuture is OK but in my view just not extreme enough.

    The Singularity is Near is actually a tome that makes The Age of Spiritual Machines seem like a quick jaunt. It’s in a class of its own in terms of the breadth of the work and quality of references.

    I can’t think of much else essential reading in futurism because most futurism sucks terribly. Clarke’s futurism is poor. Something is up with Michio Kaku, read his books if you want to find out what. “The Next 500 Years”, a popular futurist book in some quarters, is garbage. Corporate storytelling futurism is a joke.

    Anyone who writes about futurism without taking MNT and transhumanist technologies into account as central forces in shaping the potential future is failing as a futurist. Few futurists do, so most fail. Note that transhumanist technologies are considered mainstream futurism now, constantly featured at places like io9 and Popular Mechanics, which has even changed its tagline to be explicitly future-focused. (“The Future is Now”.) Everyone is still clueless about MNT, though. It’s not entirely clear that diamondoid MNT is possible, but there seems to be a strong case for at least some kind of MNT being possible within a couple decades.

  5. I’ll second Michael’s recommendation and add that The Singularity is Near still stands as the best, most coherent, and well researched and supported major futurist work you can find.

    I can find a few flaws with it – the philosophy of mind sections are a little weaker and less developed than I like, and the book is broad in the scope of it’s technological predictions to the point of lacking some depth in the implications of the most important developments, but overall there is nothing else like it.

    For example, MNT is interesting, but primarily because MNT can lead to new computing substrates and continue moore’s law. It is the latter which leads to posthuman AI and a Singularity. A future with MNT but without posthuman AI – a Diamond Age world – is interesting but not that different than our current status quo. A future with a Singularity is profoundly, unimaginably different, and automatically includes MNT as an automatic side effect.

    Paul – The SIAI work stands as an interesting counterpoint in the space of futurism, but it’s main unique ideas are underdeveloped in comparison. Much of the SIAI writing is more philosophical in nature and lacks rigorous understanding of the critical engineering challenges, understanding which Kurzweil demonstrates in abundance.

  6. prediction predilection

    Talking about rehashing, each year I’d like to see a list of NEW predictions or just ONE and I’d be happy. But it seems we already know everything about the future there is to know (and have for decades, more or less), and the future, when it comes, will neither surprise, shock nor thrill us.

  7. I figure “Diamondoid” MNT is practically bound to be *possible* – but it might come along late and be relatively expensive and rare.

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