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My Interview With Ray Kurzweil, His New Book And Your Questions

Me and Ray at Singularity University in 2011

Ray Kurzweil‘s impact on my life in general but especially on what I have been doing for the past 3 or 4 years is hard to exaggerate. It is a simple fact that I would be neither blogging nor podcasting about exponential technologies, not to mention attending Singularity University, if I haven’t read his seminal book  The Singularity is Near.

Thus it is no surprise that from the very first episode of my Singularity 1 on 1 podcast Ray has been the number one person I wanted to interview.

After 3 years of trying if all goes according to plan, next Wednesday afternoon I should be visiting the Kurzweil Technologies Office in Boston and talking to Kurzweil himself about the technological singularity in general and his new book How to Create a Mind in particular.

One might say that in some sense I have been preparing for this interview for more than 3 years. Still, with a subject such as Ray I clearly need to do more. So I started reading an early copy of How to Create a Mind. I am also thinking a lot about the exponential amount of questions that I would like to ask during those brief 60 minutes I hope to spend with him. Things like:

What should I focus on? What would be interesting for you? Can I come up with questions that he hasn’t been asked before? How can I make this more memorable and unique? How can we reach more people and get them proactively engaged in creating the future? How can I get more financial support for Singularity 1 on 1 so that I can produce many more episodes like this one…

It seems to me that perhaps the best thing I can do is ask you to submit your own questions for Dr. Kurzweil. While I cannot promise that I will end up posing your particular question I can guarantee that I will read carefully and consider all of the ones submitted. In addition, to make it worth your while I will randomly draw the name of one person from those who have posted questions and will preorder a copy of Ray’s book for you. Thus, if you take the time to think about and put the effort into writing a few good questions in the comments section below, you have a shot at not only winning a free copy of How to Create a Mind but also of getting your question answered by Ray Kurzweil himself.

So, what are you waiting for?! Just write down your questions in the comments section below!

P.S. My interview with Ray Kurzweil is the first of the next 30 episodes of Singularity 1 on 1. If you want to see more of those please support my fund-raising campaign: https://www.singularityweblog.com/donate-and-support-singularity-weblog/

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  • Yoni Binstock

    Great job Socrates.
    Perhaps ask him what are ways we can ease the transition to post-humanist future and how to avoid the conflict between “natural” humans and proto humans.

  • Another countdown begins! 🙂

    I offer a pre-emptive congratulations, and my question suggestions, based on your suggestions for questions:

    “What should I focus on?” Perhaps Kurzweil will have something fresh on his mind to share with you. Or maybe he will expect you to steer the interview. I’d like to hear the interview evolve organically, then perhaps inorganically.

    “What would be interesting for you?” I’d be thrilled to hear any latest technological predictions, or any revisions of his previous predictions.

    “Can I come up
    with questions that he hasn’t been asked before?” Yes! You always come up with fresh questions, Nikola. I don’t know if Kurzweil’s been asked this before, but how about his take on who controls Ramona’s creative output, and the copyright issues related to her likeness and her quotes? His opinion on copyright issues in general.

    “How can I make this
    more memorable and unique?” I’d love to hear an update on Ramona. Is she on an exponential curve? Any sparks between Ramona and Richard Saul Wurman? How are the Ravens doing?

    “How can we reach more people and get them
    proactively engaged in creating the future?” This is a great question for Kurzweil. What has worked for him? What does he think is the future of social media?

    Thank you!

  • Hey Nikola, really love the show. I’m still listening to all the singularity 1 on 1 podcasts. And ofcourse, I’m definitely looking forward to this one! Awesome you managed to get Kurzweil himself. Something popped into my mind, something I’d like to hear Kurzweil’s take on. Maybe this does not coincide with whatever you want to ask, but still: A while ago I read Ben Goertzel’s article ‘Is God an Alien Mathematician?’. Since Kurzweil is really busy with designing systems and stuff, and the singularity, if it were to happen, would come about by the accelarated designing of intelligent systems, does he exclude an intelligent origin, or some kind of entity? Does he have a view on where intelligence originates? A bit philosophical, but very crucial nonetheless.

    Again congrats, and thanks for the show!

  • Here’s a question:

    Talking about the singularity is often very theoretical. Aside from trying to live long enough to reach it, what is a PRACTICAL step that someone can do to prepare today? Let’s say you’re an average IT guy whose job depends on technology not being TOO different tomorrow than it is today. Can you do anything to be in a better position when things start changing too quickly to keep up with?

  • Oh and, don’t go too easy on him, even though it’s the guru himself. challenge him. that would be interesting 😉

  • You bet! Actually kind of blew it last time I saw him for I was too critical at Singularity University. So this time I hope to get the balance right.

  • Great question Mike!

  • This is an interesting and important question Dion. However, I’ve seen it asked in a few version before and Ray has said that it is a philosophical question not a scientific one… Yes, I know that it is not a good answer so perhaps we can come up with a better version to make him address it…

  • Great list of questions Cynthia, thank you very much!

  • Ramin Etemaadi

    Thanks for this opportunity for us.

    Please ask him when he predicts that human being would be able to configure DNA of species like a Linux kernel? For example, enabling or disabling some of the functionalities and recreate new generation like compiling a software fast and easy!

  • I am DYING to know how you were “too critical” at SU! Care to elaborate?

  • Perhaps, I can tell you the story one day over a glass of wine and in person…

  • You might want to press him on a few social issues he regularly dodges.

    For instance, Glenn Beck, or his many Libertarian supporters (who are more like religious acolytes) who seem to be pushing for their vision rather too early (before the necessary technologies are anywhere NEAR ready), and thus making a case where a great many people who might otherwise live to be old enough to take advantage of the technologies that the ongoing process of the Singularity will bring about WON’T live long enough to take advantage of them, due to having many necessities denied them by these very supporters of Ray’s: Many of the people at the SIAI, for instance, are the type of people who would have screamed out “Let him die!” at the GOP debates earlier this year, as a response to a question put to Ron Paul. These are typically not the sort of people who help put a friendly face upon the Singularity.

    I realize that this is not a “Single Question,” but rather a whole raft of them.

    It worries me personally, because I am one of those people who might not live long enough if medical services are denied to people with pre-existing conditions (something the Libertarian crowd says “Let the Markets decide”), and that I am trying to get a second a third degree (and a graduate degree) that would be denied me if the Libertarian Singularity Crowd got their way (and, there are tens or hundreds of thousands like me; thus limiting our possible contributions to the world simply because we made some mistakes when we were younger).

    It would be nice to know why he doesn’t take a moral stance that is more condemning of the selfishness that is exhibited by many of these fairly high-profile supporters.

  • And, since you asked me to post this here…

    Here is my post from Facebook:

    Ray sent me a Galley Copy of his new book: “How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.”

    It is a decent explication of how the neocortex of the brain operates at the lowest level (Bottom-up), and thus gives pretty much the same account of cortical operations that have been put forward by people such as Henry Markham (Blue Brain), Jeff Hawkins (“On Intelligence” and Numenta, HTM), and Dharmendra Modha (IBM’s Cognitive Computing Chip Set).

    But Ray leaves out a great deal of important information, or, rather, that we have a lack of it, concerning the operation of the brain-stem, the Limbic System (being INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT to our understanding of the operation of the brain – the Limbic System mediates 90% of the neocortical operations), and the Connectome (which may or may not also be terribly important to understand).

    He does have some very excellent arguments that are aimed directly at destroying the whole philosophical mess that is the “Brain-Body” or “Binding” problem. And that can only be good, as too many people waste their time on Philosophical arguments about “Consciousness” and “Qualia” rather than just building a fucking brain, and then seeing what happens.

    This has pretty much been how a great deal of science has progressed, when it came to terrifically hard problems (Nuclear Energy, the Airplane, Automobiles, Steam-Locomotives, the Computer itself, and so on). People ignored the philosophy, or the “Arguments against” such technologies, and pushed ahead with their construction.

    And due to their construction, the answers to the philosophical objections either fell by the wayside, or the answers fell out of the construction of the objects themselves.

    The Mind-Body/Binding problem is rather like the old canard about “It should be impossible for a Bumble-Bee to fly.”

    Yet they obviously did. And it turned out that this myth was propagated because of an error in the math, and the inability of science to measure how fast the wings flapped/beat. Turned out that they beat by a factor of 100 more than had been estimated.

    So, just like with these other problems (flight, computers, nuclear energy/weapons), if we do as people such as Henry Markham, Jeff Hawkins, and Dharmendra Modha (and myself – if you want to get down to it) are doing, and just BUILT A FREAKING BRAIN…. The answers to the Binding/Mind-Body problem will just fall out in the wash.

    And it will probably turn out to be something along the lines of “The brain couldn’t do anything ELSE but to create the sensations and perceptions that we have.”

  • I have an AI-project I program on from time to time(last time was many months ago though). I wonder what Kurzweil advices me to focus on in trying to make an AI myself? I have chosen to not have much graphics, but instead focus on the communication with it(and later on its own thinking if I can achieve that).

    I also wonder how important he thinks language is to intelligence?

  • Tracy_R_Atkins

    This is HUGE! Congratulations!

    We keep getting more great interviews! It just goes to show
    that everyone needs to pitch in something to help with the Singularity 1-on-1
    funding campaign.

    There are some really compelling questions people have
    already put forward. You always put together some great stuff for your
    interviews and they always flow well.

    I’m really stoked!

    -Tracy R. Atkins

  • MatthewJPrice

    Congratulations on securing such an important interview! It will be a great episode for sure, and I’m looking forward to it.

    In general, I would like to hear about the next 10 to 20 years and what AI and robotics will be doing along that time. I’m especially interested in the socio-economic effects of technological unemployment as more and more sectors become automated.

    As the cost of robotics and solar energy drops through the 20s, will the corresponding drop in the cost of living balance out the cost of our millions of unemployed citizens?

    Lastly, making predictions about the future is notoriously hard, and by definition, making predictions past our event horizon is impossible; despite this you have one of the best, if not the very best track record for predicting the future. What advice can you give to amateur futurists trying to forecast future technologies as they converge at an accelerating rate?

    Thank you for the opportunity to submit my questions Socrates, I can’t wait to see the interview regardless of what you choose to include.

  • Nikola Danaylov, I am so glad that I am reading this. No doubt about it that your contribution is one of the most profitable toward the community of futurists or singularitans.Whoever miss your podcast is out of date. You are always asking the right questions in the right time to the right person. Intelligent questions. I not only follow your work as I also do as much as possible to spread it. What you and Kristiano Sales are doing must be acknowledged. As regard to asking a question to Kurzweil, mine is: ……………{ Ray, you advocate a radical change in society when the Singularity comes due. Technology will rule, according to the predictions, and another civilization may arise. Do you think that in order to put everything in place it must be mandatory put in place a central government in the world to balance resources and benefit the nations? } …………. Nik, I am living in France as you know, where I research in a Master course of Engineering of Technology for medias and education taken in the campus of Poitiers University. My research subject is about the Future of Technological Education according to the Laws of Gordon Moore & Accelerating Returns of Ray Kurzweil. The focus of this unique research is to understand and use forecasting tools and techniques to predict what are going to be the market needs of this predictable future for students, teachers and others as well try to anticipate techological tools that will be in place and that will revolutionize the technological educational system contributing to a society more merged with technologies. Just to remember you Nik that I am living in Poitiers, a city 100% devoted to education and that holds the Futuroscope, that is a big research center to think and create trends toward future. It is a thematic park and a kind of Silicon Valley city surrounding it. Take a look on this link please and have a great interview yourself.http://en.futuroscope.com/map-of-the-park

  • Nikola Danaylov, I am so glad that I am reading this. No doubt about it that your contribution is one of the most profitable toward the community of futurists or singularitans.Whoever miss your podcast is out of date. You are always asking the right questions in the right time to the right person. Intelligent questions. I not only follow your work as I also do as much as possible to spread it. What you and Kristiano Sales are doing must be acknowledged. As regard to asking a question to Kurzweil, mine is: ……………{ Ray, you advocate a radical change in society when the Singularity comes due. Technology will rule, according to the predictions, and another civilization may arise. Do you think that in order to put everything in place it must be mandatory put in place a central government in the world to balance resources and benefit the nations? } …………. Nik, I am living in France as you know, where I research in a Master course of Engineering of Technology for medias and education taken in the campus of Poitiers University. My research subject is about the Future of Technological Education according to the Laws of Gordon Moore & Accelerating Returns of Ray Kurzweil. The focus of this unique research is to understand and use forecasting tools and techniques to predict what are going to be the market needs of this predictable future for students, teachers and others as well try to anticipate technological tools that will be in place and that will revolutionize the technological educational system contributing to a society more merged with technologies. Just to remember you Nik that I am living in Poitiers, a city 100% devoted to education and that holds the Futuroscope, that is a big research center to think and create trends toward future. It is a thematic park and a kind of Silicon Valley city surrounding it. Take a look on this link please and have a great interview yourself.http://en.futuroscope.com/map-of-the-park

  • Dan

    stress robotics

  • I’d be interested to hear Kurzweil’s views on patents, especially in software. I know he holds many himself. Does he think they promote or hold back innovation? Is a 20 year patent period appropriate as we approach the singularity?

  • Congratulations for your interview with
    R.Kurzweil, Nikola! Looking forward to listening it. Three questions.

    I’m following with great interest the Singularity
    University. How will it contribute to the exponential diffusion of the Transhumanistic
    approach all over the world? What about the steps and timing of this process?

    Ideally, all the advanced world should be
    focused on speeding up the process towards singularity. Companies,
    universities, research centers and institutions might be put together to work for
    this project, with an intensity never reached in the past even by great projects.
    Is this convergence becoming reality within a decade?

    Brain nanomachine are a key interface for merging
    successfully human species with superintelligences. Is it foreseeable that their
    development is included among the priorities of institutions and corporations
    within this decade?

  • SHaGGGz

    It’s well-known that Ray wishes to use technology to resurrect his father. He wishes to do so not through cryonics but through a software-aided reconstruction through gathering data from diaries and various other materials. I’d be interested to know whether he thinks this would be a mere shadow of his father based on very incomplete information, or whether he thinks this really would be his father, and whether Ray could love him.

    I’m glad to see that you plan on asking questions he hasn’t been asked before, as virtually all of the topics I ever see him cover are the “singularity 101” topics that I’m sure we are all very familiar with by now. I would be very interested in seeing topics of a more political nature be covered, particularly in light of the last couple years of American and financial history. The question asked above with regard to libertarianism and Ron Paul would be apt. Another related topic would be his stance on taxes; for instance, how does he see the moral value of one of Facebook’s co-founders renouncing his American citizenship to avoid taxes?

  • Siddharth Singhal
  • Martin Andersen

    Kurzweil predicts human-level intelligence by 2029, and the Singularity in 2045. He explains the 16 year gap with the time needed to mature the AI, like a child growing up. Is Kurzweil thinking linearly here, and not exponentially, since our technology should be much more advanced in 2029 than today, and we might expect the AI to mature much faster.

    For example, Google already has some software which can learn by itself, by looking at images found on the Internet. Considering 2029 and how much information available then, an advanced AI should learn very fast.

  • Yes friend, I will try to ask him new questions though given the number of interviews he has done it is not so easy. Hence me asking you for your help 😉

  • Great question Steve!

  • Another thought. Why does Kurzweil promote super-intelligent AI as the key idea for the singularity? This is just one example of many exponentially accelerating technologies and is probably the one that is most likely to turn the public against the idea (robots destroy mankind, etc).

  • Mike

    About living long enough to live forever…
    At what point (your chrono age) will people look at you & say ‘hes not just a normal person keeping in good shape, looking a bit younger than his years, he really is onto something’

  • There is a lot of talk about human brain-computer interphases and intracranial nanomachine infusions to increase human intelligence; what about animals, particularly pets? Will The Singularity help us to commune better with those other Earthlings? Do you think there is a market for such a technology as that which would allow pet owners to commune directly with the minds of their pets? Or do animal brains lack a sufficient construct of consciousness to commune with in the first place? Would it be unethical to impose such a technology on an animal since they could not legally consent to it?

  • typo

    “Ray and I”, not “Me and Ray”.

  • seamando

    Given the recent article on the website “The Trouble With
    Transhumanism” by Steve Morris, what are Ray’s opinions on transhumanism in particular the negative connotations associated with it given
    his parents escape from austria before the onset on world war 2..

    Morris’ article states that for some Transhumanism , “… triggers
    subconscious thoughts of Nazi doctors, of racial “cleansing”, of designer
    babies and of scientists with no understanding of or respect for ethics.”

    Are there
    elements of transhumanism that ray himself is not comfortable with, or does
    he categorise these ideas in altogether entirely different mold as separate from
    the ideas of transhumanism.

  • Hi Nikola:
    Here is a question;

    Ray has said that the brain creates the mind, and that the mind creates the brain. When a reverse engineered brain is eventually built (on a digital substrate), we will not be able to ‘know’ a mind is present – as we can only measure/see the brain.

    Does Ray have any uneasiness about the idea of brain uploading as being a complete copy of the conscious biological being? In other words, does he see any possible issues with uploading my brain to an exact digital duplicate and in the process destroying the biological brain?

    Good luck! I’m looking forward to hearing the interview!
    Cheers, Michael

  • teresa

    Congratulation’s Socrates on your interview with Mr. Kurzweil…your the bomb! I know that Mr. Kurzweil hates death, that it robs us of all life has to offer. Also that he does not believe in God. I am curious if he knows the buddhist philosophy of eternal life. That life is like a ring no beginning and no end. We have lived millions and millions of lifetimes. When we die we go into a state of “ku” meaning nothingness until we have the fortune to be reborn. People with high life conditions are reborn immediately, based on the law of cause and effect.

  • Will there an emergence of the Theosphere? Will there be cyborg diseases as the body struggle to adapt with neuro-implants? How does technological singularity relate to contemplative/meditative insights regarding the nature of consciousness and mind? Will there be a cultural singularity accompanying technological singularity?

  • Having been someone working on reverse-engineering the brain for the past 30 years, I am currently working on the OpenWorm project and we have successfully defined the connectome of the nematode C. Elegans in a data format (NeuroML). I am now working on the inner cell workings to define Neuropeptides specifically (proteins and metabolites generally) but have concluded that the only way to expressly reverse-engineer the brain/organisms is to understand gene expression or to say it another way, to decode the ultimate organic program = genes/DNA. What is Dr. Kurzweil view of how the total understanding of gene expression is the key to the reverse engineering of the brain and the singularity?
    A couple of websites worth noting:
    http://www.openworm.org
    http://www.neuroml.org
    http://www.opensourcebrain.org

  • FYI, just heard a CBC interview on “Spark” – http://www.cbc.ca/spark/episodes/2012/10/05/192-strangers-startups-secrets-of-the-mind/
    Kurzweil part starts around minute 41 of the interview.
    One more question would be; Re extending lifespans, in his view, what has changed in the last 5 years re scientific advances (or lack thereof) that is significant for “Bridge 1” and also how does he think Bridges 2&3 are progressing?

  • Darrell Johnson

    If “the age of spiritual machines” is upon us, then what will be the nature of spirituality—in the sense of trancendance and the interconnectedness of all beings—in this new age? What form of spirituality will help us begin to adapt to this transition, just as religion and superstition helped our species survive into today’s world where its relevance has at last been outlived?

  • I would like to know it as well man.

  • GJ, I will be looking forward to this one.

  • Just me

    I don’t understand, where is the interview with ray ??

    Was it cancel ?

  • John

    “Next Wednesday afternoon I should be visiting the Kurzweil Technologies Office in Boston and talking to Kurzweil himself”

    Where is the interview ? was it cancel ?

  • Just be patient friend. The interview is currently being edited and will be published later today…

  • John, I had to travel to Boston and back to do the interview. Right now I am editing and hope to have it up later today or tomorrow the latest….

  • Nikola Danaylov, I have a question for Ray Kurzweil but maybe it is too late for the edition of your video. Anyways, here it is:

    What do you think about “Categories and the Geometry of Mind?”

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/categories.and.geometry.of.mind/

  • Sorry Juan, the interview was done 2 days ago and I am uploading the final cut as we speak…

  • John

    OK Thanks, I hope that it will be ready soon.

    By the way why there is no date in your post ? (at least I can’t find it anywhere) when I’m reading a post I want to know when was it written, a week ago, a month ago, a year ago ?

    I think that It’s an important information, and here it’s missing.

  • No problem John, hope you have seen that the interview is up but if you haven’t here it is: https://www.singularityweblog.com/ray-kurzweil-on-singularity-1-on-1/

    As per the post dating issue I appreciate your input and realize that this is occasionally an issue. However, I have done it for a reason and the positives outweigh the negatives in general. So I am afraid I don’t intend to change that…

  • Dan Vasii

    How to create a mind – unless you can define what a mind is, you cannot do it. Animals have brains, but do NOT have minds – animal minds are the equivalent of human subconsciousness, as foundation is for a house. So we may know how to put in place a foundation, but IN NO WAY this knowledge makes us arhitects. Mere bricklayers.

  • Hey Guys,

    Thank you very much for all your comments and questions.

    As promised, I wrote the names of all people who submitted questions on little pieces of paper and put them in a box. I shook it well and asked my wife to draw a name. The lucky winner is Matthew J Price. Matthew will have a copy of Ray’s “How To Create A Mind” new book pre-ordered and paid by me. For the rest of you I hope that the interview itself was good enough. 😉

    Cheers!

  • Lu Lu

    They do have a mind, in the sense that they recognize patterns and respond to external stimuli in useful ways.
    Hans Moravec has a even looser definition on mind. To him a computer software that plays chess (or other games, some of them much complexier than chess, such as RTS games) also qualifies to be called “mind”.
    If you are talking about the so-called “consciousness”, then I want to tell you that there is no way to prove whether something is conscious. I may not be conscious, in other words, I may be a “philosophical zombie”. But I am functional and look like a conscious being.
    It makes no difference.

  • Lu Lu

    Well, don’t go overboard (e.g. asking silly questions and wasting his time), as we know that he is a rare genius (that humanity are in dire need of more of his kind) that have alot serious things to do.

  • Like many people my age (almost 40) I think waiting another 30 years for the future to get here makes me angry. We still live like post cavemen, this world is being held back because some people are scared. I may not live another 30 years, I want it now! I want to free this world from its F-451 prison cell. ” Do you really think fear and ignorance will ever die”

  • Peter Taylor

    Does Kurzweil and other people whovare trying to make Robots smarter than people not understand the Robots are gunna turn on us and kill us or do worse, we will be extinct,,, Also why has the Goverment not stopped these people?

  • Frank Karas

    Hello Socrates, Just happened upon this page reading about Ray Kurzweil. Looks like I’m a little late!

    I would have suggested that you consider the difference between asking an “interested” question as opposed to asking an “interesting” question.

    Asking an interested question is having your attention on the person you’re interviewing while trying to ask an interesting question is having your attention on yourself.

    Of course telling you this is just my attempt in trying to be interesting.

    Now I’m off to search for the interview…

  • Frank Karas

    Hello Socrates, Just happened upon this page reading about Ray Kurzweil. Looks like I’m a little late!

    I would have suggested that you consider the difference between asking an “interested” question as opposed to asking an “interesting” question.

    Asking an interested question is having your attention on the person you’re interviewing while trying to ask an interesting question is having your attention on yourself.

    Of course telling you this is just my attempt in trying to be interesting.

    Now I’m off to search for the interview…

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