Re: REVIEW: Kurzweil talk
22 Jan 1999 20:37:48 -0000

Mike Linksvayer <> wrote:

> On Wednesday I saw Ray Kurzweil give a short talk promoting "The
> Age of Spiritual Machines" at Stacey's in downtown San Francisco.

Hey, I was there.

> chess master would be beheaded. Kurzweil claimed that we are at
> a similar midpoint with regards to computers -- fairly quietly
> they have become an integral part of human society, and will soon
> radically alter it.

Problem. He claims computer doubling is now once a year, and also makes noises about what computers will be like in 2050. Possibly that's just for effect, but assuming 50 doublings from now -- he claimed 32 in the past century -- is a lot. A 10^15 increase in power for the same cost.

> The audience was either already well informed or just took all of this in
> stride. The questions were very predictable, but not stupid, e.g.

I got the impression from watching people near me that some number were amused and disbelieving. "What a freak."

Question that wasn't asked: what about the exponential increase in cost of research and manufacture? (Well, fab plants get more and more expensive.)

> Overall I thought Kurzweil presented his ideas very reasonably.
> No hint of 'gee whiz'.

True. He also began the talk with a demonstration of his speech recognition software, which seemed to work well after being adjusted to the acoustics.

I got no feel for how this book might differ from the Age of Intelligent Machines, not that I know anything about that book.

Neil Gaiman the next day was a much more amusing speaker.

(On Searle:)

> Nothing amazing there. The interesting thing is that he claimed
> that a century ago there were intense debates about whether life
> could have a purely biological foundation. Many postulated that
> for a thing to be alive it needed a mystical 'life force', which
> the mechanics of biology would never suffice to produce. Very

Century, hah. Dawkins in _Unweaving the Rainbow_ quoted some 1920s or 30s text describing 'the gene', and then going on to caution that the student should not make the mistake of thinking that the gene was a concrete thing; that while it played a role in biology analogous to the atom in chemistry, it was not a thing like an atom, and had no meaning outside of a living spell.

Then came Watson, Crick, and their unnamed assistant, and vitalism died a quick death. When you can extract a gene into a test tube, copy it, put the copies into unrelated cells, and get the protein back... well, what can one say?

I expect copying minds back and forth would cause a similar cessation of debate. Not total, some would still insist the minds weren't minds, but similar.

-xx- Damien Raphael Sullivan X-)