Isn't It Time to Focus on the Real Future?

Posted by Jillian Theil and Pete Shanks February 16, 2011
Biopolitical Times

Time recently published a major feature on the Singularity promoter and technologist Raymond Kurzweil. It was the cover story not only in the American but also the European, Asian, and South Pacific markets. Chronicling Kurzweil's story, author Lev Grossman writes:

A hundred years from now, Kurzweil and [Aubrey] de Grey and the others could be the 22nd century's answer to the Founding Fathers.

Grossman also covers Kurzweil's major prediction for the next century:

Kurzweil believes that we're approaching a moment (the Singularity) when computers will become intelligent, and not just intelligent but more intelligent than humans. When that happens, humanity - our bodies, our minds, our civilization - will be completely and irreversibly transformed. He believes that this moment is not only inevitable but imminent. According to his calculations, the end of human civilization as we know it is about 35 years away.

This may sound familiar. The topic was featured in the New York Times in 2010. And Newsweek in 2009. And Wired in 2008. Not to mention Singularity: The Movie, which made it to a film festival last year and might be released soon (they've been saying that for a while). And of course the book, The Singularity is Near, which came out in 2005. There is also Singularity University, which is not a university and not really about singularity. Kurzweil is a talented inventor, an original thinker (though he did not invent the concept he exploits so well), and an absolute master of publicity.

The concept is a combination of scientific speculation and doomsday fantasies, spiced with dreams of immortality; a kind of techno-porn. (Kurzweil himself plans on living forever, not necessarily in the somewhat aging body he famously feeds with dozen of pills a day.) It appears to be seductively appealing to certain adolescents of all ages. It has generated a sense of excitement and intrigue around Kurzweil, the Singularity, and transhumanists with little, if any, concern for the serious and realistic implications (1,2,3) of such ideology.

Considering the effort, energy and especially the cash being invested into and generated by this idea, one can't help but raise an eyebrow. It is so much hoopla around a mere prediction for the future, and not the salient issues that affect us at present.

Update: A movie about Kurzweil is prominently discussed in Scientific American. John Rennie says it "reveals the futurist's emotional life but fails to question his bold claims."

Previously on Biopolitical Times: