Al Fin: Neither Ray Kurzweil nor PZ Myers Understand the Brain

Al Fin’s comments on the PZ Myers/Kurzweil tiff:

Lost in all the ballyhoo is the obvious fact that in reality, neither Kurzweil nor Myers understand very much about the brain. But is that clear fact of mutual brain ignorance relevant to the underlying issue — Kurzweil’s claim that science will be able to “reverse-engineer” the human brain within 20 years? In other words, Ray Kurzweil expects humans to build a brain-functional machine in the next 2 decades based largely upon concepts learned from studying how brains/minds think.

Clearly Kurzweil is not claiming that he will be able to understand human brains down to the most intricate detail, nor is he claiming that his new machine brain will emulate the brain down to its cell signaling proteins, receptors, gene expression, and organelles. Myers seems to become a bit bogged down in the details of his own objections to his misconceptions of what Kurzweil is claiming, and loses the thread of his argument — which can be summed up by Myers’ claim that Kurzweil is a “kook.”

But Kurzweil’s amazing …

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Terry Grossman: Rethinking the Promise of Genetics

Great article from h+ magazine from about a week ago: “Rethinking the Promise of Genomics”. This is by Terry Grossman, co-author (with Ray Kurzweil) of Fantastic Voyage:

I used to be a big believer in the enormous potential of genomics, and each of my two previous books, Fantastic Voyage and TRANSCEND: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, had chapters devoted to this topic. The relevant chapter in the earlier book, Fantastic Voyage, published in 2004, was titled “The Promise of Genomics.” My co-author in these books, Ray Kurzweil, is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost inventors and futurists, and he has made predictions for what is likely to occur in the future in the field of genomics . Yet, these days I find that I am feeling far less confident at least for the near term about the near term prospects for this “promise.”

Here’s a key quote by Grossman:

Currently I have moved much closer to the idea of “genetic irrelevance,” the idea that in the overwhelming majority of cases, our genes are of much …

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Michael Anissimov Essays at the Lifeboat Foundation

The Lifeboat Foundation website got a complete makeover not too long ago, and all my essays there were upgraded with new images to make them ever more interesting! I suggest you go on over and check some of them out. Many of them are adaptations of my best blog posts:

Existential risks:

Classifying Extinction Risks — 2007

Futurism:

10 Futuristic Materials — 2008 Brain-Computer Interfaces for Manipulating Dreams — 2008 Top Ten Cybernetic Upgrades Everyone Will Want — 2007 (one of my faves!) Immortalist Utilitarianism — 2004 (a classic early work!) Top Ten Transhumanist Technologies — 2007 (made the Digg frontpage!)

Nanotechnology

First-Stage Nanoproducts and Nanoweaponry — 2006

Robotics/AI

What are the Benefits of Mind Uploading? — 2009

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Shimizu Corporation Megaengineering Projects

This site has been making the rounds on the blogosphere, I just thought I’d link it because it’s cool stuff. Even though this company has a big vision, it also has a lot of contemporary achievements and projects, including $14 billion annual sales. Patrick Millard’s Formatting Gaia blog has a good overview of Shizmu’s visionary projects.

In Japan, it is socially acceptable for even the largest firms to be inspired by radical futuristic visions. In the USA, it’s acceptable, but mostly behind closed doors, or publicly in places like Silicon Valley. It’s politically dicey in many places, because the party line is that true positive change can only be achieved by either 1) taxing corporations to pay for need X, or 2) deregulating corporations so they can produce enough wealth so that need X is eventually filled. However, more modern politicians (Obama) have come to realize that technology, not just political or social agitation, can produce lasting positive change. Meanwhile, many Democrat and Republican politico-bots fight it out forever on TV and …

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Martine Rothblatt in Forbes Magazine

There is a story on Martine Rothblatt, a prominent transhumanist, in the most recent issue of Forbes magazine. It tells the story of how Martine transitioned from being a satellite company executive to a pharmaceutical executive to save her daughter from a rare disease.

Some of you may recall my liveblogging coverage from the 3rd annual Terasem Colloquium on the Law of Transbeman Persons and the 4th annual Terasem Colloquium on the Law of Futuristic Persons, which were hosted in Satellite Beach, Florida, by Martine and her wife Bina. These intimate gatherings gave me the opportunity to speak one-on-one with memorable characters such as Wendell Wallach, Marvin Minsky, and many others.

H/t to Robert Freitas for the link.

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Phil Bowermaster Responds to Annalee Newitz: “Five Arguments Against Four Arguments Against Immortaility”

Phil Bowermaster responds here. Me, I can appreciate the io9 post as a masterpiece of generalization from fictional evidence; including images, I count eleven specific appeals to fictional evidence. This appears to be an early form of co-processing, where content from an external device (in this case, poor television shows) heavily intertwines itself with the thinking processes of the writer, to the point where reality cannot be distinguished from fiction.

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Forbes “Life in 2020″ Articles

Forbes has recently published a package of articles on predictions for life in the year 2020, and their social media wing emailed me to publish the links, so here they are! 2010 is a good year to make predictions for 2015 and 2020. If you want to be a futurist in 2015 or 2020, start now with some predictions! Anyway, here is the blurb and links:

You will be healthier. Your technology will be more human. You will fight to keep your job. You will walk to work. There will be nowhere to hide. Your life is about to change.

Transportation in 2020 In 10 years, your commute will be short, cheap and, dare we say, fun.

The Classroom In 2020 The next decade will bring an end to school as we know it.

Your Choice In 2020 How big computing will make every action a transaction.

Your Computer In 2020 Traditional computers are disappearing; human beings themselves are becoming information augmented.

Your Home In 2020 Goodbye, McMansions. …

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Assorted Links 1/26/2010

John Robb on Homemade Microwave Weapons James Hughes: Problems of Transhumanism: Liberal Democracy vs. Technocratic Absolutism Technology Review: Defining an Algorithm for Inventing from Nature New Study: Human Running Speeds of 35 to 40 mph May be Biologically Possible NASA’s Puffin: Will It Be the Personal Transport Vehicle of our SciFi Future? Simon Conway Morris: Aliens are Likely to Look and Behave Like Us Current TV’s Max and Jason on Connecting Science and Culture Patrick Millard: Open Sim Project Nick Bostrom: Moral Uncertainty: Towards a Solution? Humanity+ Conference in London in April Wired: Removing Part of Skull Makes for Better Brain Scans Scientific American: Time to Ban Production of Nuclear Weapons Material Ray Kurzweil at SU/MIT/X Prize BCI Workshop (More from Singularity Hub) Gary Kasparov on AI: The Chess Master and the Computer Nanowerk: Simple DNA Nanomachine is Capable of Continuous Rotation Video Gamers: Size of …

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Chapter Nine of Age of Spiritual Machines

Here is the link. This is a good place to start to review Kurzweil’s 1996-1997 predictions. I remember reading this chapter myself in 2000 and analyzing the way in which the predictions did sync up with my own and the way they did not.

There are two categories of qualifying words used for the technology predictions: either they’re 1) “ubiquitous”, “common”, or the like, or 2) they simply exist. For something to qualify as “common” in my eyes would perhaps mean that a third of the white collar business world in the United States uses it on a weekly basis. (To be very generous.) For #2, the prediction can be regarded as having come “true” even if the product only exists as a prototype in a lab and has for some time.

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Keith Norbury on Ray Kurzweil Response

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 …

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January 19, 2010 Response to Ray Kurzweil

I have written Ray a short initial response, which I pursued one or two lines of criticism but mostly admitted that he’s right that 7 is a narrow selection of predictions and that if he is 102 for 108 then I would be very impressed. The key issue is how vague or precise these predictions were to start with, as Brian writes here.

Kurzweil requested that I withhold further judgment until he produces his point-by-point analysis of his 1996-1997 predictions, so I will be waiting on that before posting my full response. In truth, it’s been a few years since I looked at The Age of Spiritual Machines, but I remember reading it several times in the 2000-2005 date range.

I think that Kurzweil is one of the best futurists out there, but here he is essentially claiming that his ability to predict the future is unparalleled. I think that such a claim deserves a lot of skepticism and verification before acceptance. Maybe he is right, though — this issue is complex, and requires time to …

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Ray Kurzweil Response to “Ray Kurzweil’s Failed 2009 Predictions”

Today, I received an email from Ray Kurzweil responding to my January 5th post titled “Ray Kurzweil’s Failed 2009 Predictions”, where I said that I found a list of seven of his “1999 predictions for 2009″ that I thought were false. Below is the letter in its entirety. I have read the letter and am thinking about it. I will conduct further research on all the claims and produce a response with my new thoughts shortly.

—–

January 17, 2010

Dear Michael,

I want to respond to your Blog post “Reviewing Kurzweil Predictions from 1999 for 2009.”

This starts out “Michael Anissimov notes that Ray Kurzweil had several predictions from 1999 for 2009 and those predictions are in general wrong.”

You also write “Ray Kurzweil’s Failed 2009 Predictions. In May 2008, a poster on ImmInst (the life extension grassroots organization I co-founded in 2002) pointed out that it looked like Kurzweil’s 1999 predictions for the year 2009 would fail. Now that 2009 is over, we can see that he was mostly correct.”

Your review is biased, incorrect, and …

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