Why are we so Exponential, Ray Kurzweil? TED talks offer some of the most powerful and educational presentations from across the globe. TED contributors are part of a massive movement, holding a huge archive of video recorded subjects and events that many of us tune in to.
– By Leyla.O
There are incredible ‘ideas worth spreading’ from renowned specialists. This article covers one very special topic that was highlighted by Ray Kurzweil (in 2005) with relevance to our time and technology today.
Firstly, I’ll ask you to remember this following sentence:
“For many of us, it was safe to assume that the world in which you died would look the same as the one in which you were born. But this is no longer the case.”
Ray Kurzweil formulated the “Law of accellerated returns.” Many predictions of the future are now based on exponential trends. We intuitively don’t regard growth as being exponential, yet we are on the ‘knee of the curve’ say experts.
Exponential growth indicates that; Technological advances will come with a new wave of computational (machine) complexity and superiority.
Much of our scientific and experimental research can track and measure the advances of information technology. It clearly projects that; performance (in relation to price, but not defined by) doubles on average every (+-) 18 months.
As the rate of our technological advances continues to accelerate, the future also accelerates faster than we traditionally would expect. We’ve come to a point, where we don’t even feel the change- yet it’s clearly happening.
“If you look at the implications of exponential growth, it creates a very different picture of the future and it’s not intuitive,” says Ray Kurzweil back in 2001.
Problems that may seem unmanageable now, could become solvable in the near future -implying that it will become intuitive. And now we can confirm that it is.
No doubt, these technological advances will be used to invest and plan for our future (whether we appreciate the outcome or not). It’ll change what we think of as possible for humanity, which also suggests that soon “things” we thought were impossible [an understatement to that of which it implies] are within our reach.
This applies to all fields of science, medical care, construction, space exploration and our own planet’s recovery.
Similar to the Tripartite theory of Knowledge; Seeing, living and believing are three different components but depend solely on one another for the reliable process of justification.
Many have argued that much research and developments are transpiring behind closed doors and in some cases in secrecy. Which makes it harder to justify to those who are left in the dark.
Typically due to Privatisation and Capitalism, it becomes difficult for the general public to take grasp of our changing world or take part in it, other than playing the consumer role.
So, product based technology with inbuilt A.I features are the first impressions the general public will have regarding what direction we are heading some experts say. Yet, we are the ones responsible for integrating these forms of technology into our lives (in order to survive and essentially keep-up).
We’re turning into technology driven nomads, we go where the technology goes -we wander until we can wonder no more. BUT, one thing is for certain -we are all driven by facts and evidence. Which is why exponential growth, technologies and “research based” projects associated with this domain have become our new proposition, our new truth.
Ray Kurzweil & Maurice Conti on Ted Talks
Ted Talk is perhaps one channel for openly sourced information and discussions on complex issues, helping bring light to the kinds of innovations that will transform our immediate future, and invites anyone who’s interested to listen in and take part.
Inventor, entrepreneur and visionary Ray Kurzweil discussed ‘The accelerating power of technology’ (2005). He strongly believed that by the 2020s, we will have reverse-engineered the human brain, and nanobots will be operating our consciousness. Although this TED talk was filmed 12 years ago, we can see the relevance and reality of his speech more clearly today.
If Kurzweil had made these predictions based on exponential growth alone, then we could perhaps assume that; There is a clear correlation and connection of events that have and will take place in our immediate future defined by the expansion, scaling and higher capabilities of our science based technologies.
Ray Kurzweil is an expert engineer and has radically advanced the fields of speech, text and audio technology. He offers deep and detailed academic writings and books on the advances of technology, the limits of biology and the future of human species.
Many of us are still bedazzled by the mere concept of nanotechnology- let alone believing that extremely small things can be used across all other fields of science such as chemistry, biology, physics, materials science and engineering, to essentially change, modify, heal, create or transform it’s very nature.
This in itself is evolutionary science and technology at it’s peak. Therefore, we must pay attention because these are the quintessentials for our technological modernity.
We could even argue that; the reason we are able to make such conjecture about our future is because we’ve stopped looking at our world in a ‘concrete’ way and by eradicating traditional understanding, we’re bending possibilities by examining the ‘hypothetical’ (experimenting with the what if’s), which is giving us more edge and leeway to try and test new aspects of our own existence, and discover a new. All of which would not be possible without I.T development of course.
Ray Kurzweil’s theories are taken very seriously, and why shouldn’t they be? He made sound predictions over decade ago, some thought they were absurd or unfathomable, yet the here and now supports every inch of his claims.
He invented the first optical character recognition (OCR) software for transforming written word into data, the first print-to-speech software for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, and the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition.
Kurzweil developed innovation technology for “humanitarian” causes, which is a key driver for many inventors it seems. They use this powerful technology to serve good (yet some would obviously argue otherwise.)
Take Maurice Conti, heavily influenced by Kurzweil he too explores new partnerships between technology, nature and humanity. Conti recorded a TED talk titled ‘The incredible inventions of intuitive AI’ last year in 2016.
In this article, I’d like to bring their “talks” together to get an even deeper understanding of what we will see in our immediate future. And how we should prepare for what’s to come.
Kurzweil, the Director of Engineering at Google leads a team that develops machine intelligence and natural language comprehension. Maurice Conti and his team are responsible for exploring trends and technologies that will shape our future and build solutions that can help connect us to the world far beyond our natural senses.
Father of Nanoscience, Richard Feynman
The key for both Kurzweil and Conti lies with Nanoscience and nanotechnology. The ideas and concepts behind nanoscience and nanotechnology started with a talk entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” by physicist Richard Feynman at CalTech (December 29, 1959) long before the term nanotechnology was even used.
In his talk the father of nanoscience, Feynman described a process in which scientists would be able to manipulate and control individual atoms and molecules. Over a decade later, in his explorations of ultraprecision machining, Professor Norio Taniguchi coined the term nanotechnology.
It wasn’t until 1981, with the development of the scanning tunneling microscope that could “see” individual atoms, that modern nanotechnology began.
And so, the ability to see and to control individual atoms and molecules was born.
Keep in mind that everything in our planet is made up of atoms, from the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the buildings and houses we live in, including our own bodies. So, by deliberately making materials at nanoscale- we can take advantage of their enhanced properties such as higher strength, lighter weight, increased control of light spectrum, and greater chemical reactivity than their larger-scale counterparts.
This means (in very simple terms), not only can we control and transform anything on an atomic level but we can also predict and understand the behaviour of it through quantum principles, which is one of the reasons why technology has advanced so dramatically. We can now define its function in terms of how our own Universe works and how it will inhabit these very creations based on dimensions.
Now imagine a machine based system, that could do all of this for you.
Just as light has Wave-Particle duality, this same thought can be applied to the concept of Technological Duality- yet I haven’t heard or read much on this topic since Wanda Orlikowski wrote her classic paper on The Duality of Technology in 1992, which focuses on ways Information Technology can represent a meaningful solution or relationship with environmental issues that society has been long facing.
From Technological Duality emerged Green IT concepts, which had goals of minimising the use of hazardous materials, maximising energy efficiency and encouraging recycling and/or use of biodegradable products- without negatively impacting or affecting productivity.
This was the new big thing in technological advancements, yet unfortunately since 2008 it hasn’t got much media attention, yet we see it clearly taking shape on the sidelines in a less sensationalised way. Technology can serve positive environmental changes with the power it has today, yet not many people are talking about it.
Elon Musk is also into Green IT even though he doesn’t mention it much. You may have heard of his involvement with Tesla and SolarCity for example. But, we tend to hear more about his efforts on colonising Mars and cheap space travel, compared to Solar roofs which can generate clean energy. However, I’ll have to save this discussion for another time, since I don’t want to stray too off topic. But, I will leave you with a video worth watching if you’re into solar energy like I am.
Human Exploration and Intervention
Both Kurzweil and Conti bring to light the capabilities of exponentially advancing technologies and therefore the ability to explore solutions to bring human invention, A.I ability, chemistry, biology and technology together in ways that can benefit the world on a humanitarian and evolutionary level.
When we bring these two great thinkers and their Ted Talks together, what do we understand?
Let’s start with Kurzweil;
“The actual paradigm-shift rate, the rate of adopting new ideas, is doubling every decade, according to our models. These are all logarithmic graphs, so as you go up the levels it represents, generally multiplying by factor of 10 or 100. It took us half a century to adopt the telephone, the first virtual-reality technology. Cell phones were adopted in about eight years.
If you put different communication technologies on this logarithmic graph, television, radio, telephone were adopted in decades. Recent technologies — like the PC, the web, cell phones — were under a decade… both biology and technology are evolutionary processes —accelerate. They work through interaction — they create a capability, and then it uses that capability to bring on the next stage.”
Here Kurzweil is referring to the fundamental technological advancements and transformations that are taking place in our new capable world, to which we support this statement by Maurice Conti’s presentation:
“Now, there have been four major historical eras defined by the way we work. The Hunter-Gatherer Age lasted several million years. And then the Agricultural Age lasted several thousand years. The Industrial Age lasted a couple of centuries. And now the Information Age has lasted just a few decades. And now today, we’re on the cusp of our next great era as a species.”
The key theme for both achievers seems to be; ‘accelerating technological evolutionary processes’, which in layman terms suggests two things;
a) Out with old and in with the new (which took us thousands of years) and, b) In with the new and go beyond our biological, physical and mental capabilities, and eradicate any limitations through the aid of Artificial Intelligence and nanoscience (in a much much shorter period of time).
Both Kurzweil and Conti are telling us openly, hey people of the old world, we’ve now evolved to a point to which our brains can move no further on it’s own, unless we can use science and technology defined by quantum principles to take us onto that next level of evolution and exploration. Which, it can.
We cannot evolve more than being confined to the limits of our own natural bodies, so we create means to move beyond it. We are talking about a technological evolution.
“There’s a basic, profound acceleration of this evolutionary process. Information technologies double their capacity, price performance, bandwidth, every year. And that’s a very profound explosion of exponential growth” says Ray Kurzweil.
How to define exponential growth in simple terms?
To understand exponential growth in a more simplified way, we must look to our traditional and inherent survival instincts. In terms of our survival, we have only ever needed to think of growth as being linear. For example, if we build 1 house per day, then in 7 days we will have 7 houses; if we eat one (1) bread per day, then we need seven (7) for a week’s supply.
So, when it comes to understanding how our technology will advance, we inherently think linearly. We think that (hypothetically) if a computer held 1GB of memory in the year 2001, then in 2030 it will hold about 30GB. Which is incorrect. By the year 2030, with memory capacity having doubled exponentially, a computer would hold over a billion GB – 1,073,741,824GB (Or 1 xabyte).
“We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate),” wrote Ray Kurzweil in 2001. We need to think about how much things have changed in the last 10 years; wireless internet, smartphones, social media, A.I. and then try to imagine how vastly different things will be only ten years from now.
We live in a three-dimensional world we might as well use the third dimension -says Ray Kurzweil;
“We will go into the third dimension and there’s been tremendous progress. Just in the last few years of getting three-dimensional self-organizing molecular circuits to work.
We’ll have those ready well before Moore’s Law runs out of steam. Supercomputers — same thing. Processor performance on Intel chips, the average price of a transistor — 1968, you could buy one transistor for a dollar. You could buy 10 million in 2002.”
One thing is very clear, Artificial intelligence is everywhere! Every time we ask Siri or get a recommendation on Android, we use what is offered to enhance our human capabilities, there are A.I. inclusive mobile, desktop, homeware, medical, commercial software and hardware all designed and developed to make our lives more efficient or improved in some way, helping us go beyond our own capabilities and override any boundaries.
Yet, all of this technology has always been passive, like all tools that were ever invented by humans, they served without active response (or resistance), not until now.
Maurice Conti (2016, Ted Talk) already welcomed us to the ‘Augmented Age’, to which he stated:
“In this new era, your natural human capabilities are going to be augmented by computational systems that help you think, robotic systems that help you make, and a digital nervous system that connects you to the world far beyond your natural senses.”
Coming back to the remark made at the beginning of this article; For many of us, it was safe to assume that the world in which you died would look the same as the one in which you were born. But that is no longer the case. Soon humans won’t even die at all according to Ray Kurzweil and Maurice Conti.
Maurice Conti made a bold statement in his speech which is worth mentioning;
“I would actually argue that we’re already augmented. Imagine you’re at a party, and somebody asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to. If you have one of these [smartphone], in a few seconds, you can know the answer. But this is just a primitive beginning. Even Siri is just a passive tool…
In fact, for the last three-and-a-half million years, the tools that we’ve had have been completely passive. They do exactly what we tell them and nothing more. Our very first tool only cut where we struck it. The chisel only carves where the artist points it. And even our most advanced tools do nothing without our explicit direction.
In fact, to date, and this is something that frustrates me, we’ve always been limited by this need to manually push our wills into our tools — like, manual, literally using our hands, even with computers.”
The biggest leap in technological advancement is when our tools transformed from being passive assistants to being generative ones. This means, A.I. (computers or machines) can act as generative design assistants and use algorithms to synthesize geometry to come up with new designs all by themselves. All it needs are our directives and understanding of constraints.
Maurice Conti gave a brilliant example to illustrate generative A.I. tools;
“In the case of this aerial drone chassis, all you would need to do is tell it something like, it has four propellers, you want it to be as lightweight as possible, and you need it to be aerodynamically efficient. Then what the computer does is it explores the entire solution space: every single possibility that solves and meets your criteria — millions of them.
It takes big computers to do this. But it comes back to us with designs that we, by ourselves, never could’ve imagined. And the computer’s coming up with this stuff all by itself — no one ever drew anything, and it started completely from scratch. And by the way, it’s no accident that the drone body looks just like the pelvis of a flying squirrel.”
The best part of Conti’s whole presentation can be defined by this following sentence: “It’s because the algorithms are designed to work the same way evolution does.”
The one thing that all humans and mother nature have in common which connects and binds us in our very existence is intuition, this human and natural complexity cannot be embedded in a machine. Like a human, A.I must learn it because our intuition is based on evolving, learning and mainly survival, philosophers would argue it’s an innate instinct- a characteristic we are all born with.
Technology, science and A.I combined, can at some point understand the complexity of intuition exponentially faster than humans learned to evolve.
The concept of “intuitive intelligence” is described like a capacity that transcends ordinary-level functioning to a point where information is understood with a greater depth. It’s having the ability to understand something instinctively without the need for conscious reasoning which is basically, your instincts. This human attribute can now be implemented in machine learning, whereby A.I will develop better intuition than any human could- since it will use a huge amount of data to analyse and make a decision, and it’ll respond rather quickly too.
As Conti put it;
“…You just sort of knew that bridge was unsafe. And that’s exactly the kind of intuition that our deep-learning systems are starting to develop right now. Very soon, you’ll literally be able to show something you’ve made, you’ve designed, to a computer, and it will look at it and say, “Sorry, homie, that’ll never work”.
What can we expect?
Technological singularity is what we can expect. Singularity is the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilisation- as stated by wikipedia in the most simplest of terms.
Singularity is not something that can be defined without knowing everything that i’ve presented to you before coming to this point in the article.
Murray Shanahan wrote ‘The Technological Singularity’ (2015) and he too made some interesting predictions. Shanahan considers what the existence of superintelligent machines could mean for such matters as personhood, responsibility, rights, and identity. Some superhuman AI agents might be created to benefit humankind; some might go rogue.
What sounds like a science fiction movie is not so fictional after all.
“We’ll be able to manufacture almost anything we need in the 2020s, from information, in very inexpensive raw materials, using nano-technology. These are very powerful technologies. They both empower our promise and our peril. So we have to have the will to apply them to the right problems.” Says Ray Kurzweil.
In his essay titled “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era”, the American Science Fiction writer and professor of Maths at San Diego; Vernor Vinge proposed very similar predictions in 1993.
Vinge stated that mankind will develop a superhuman intelligence before 2030 and offered four ways in which this could also happen, again all which we know is possible;
- Scientists could develop advancements in artificial intelligence (AI)
- Computer networks might somehow become self-aware
- Computer/human interfaces become so advanced that humans essentially evolve into a new species
- Biological science advancements allow humans to physically engineer human intelligence
And, out of those four possibilities, the first three could lead to machines taking over. Everyone seems to be saying the same thing; good vs evil?
In terms of what we can expect, there are many speculations that will come true. However, if we take all this information and really evaluate the best possibilities of using such combination power -I would say this;
When nanotechnology joins forces with A.I, we will have unleashed a superpower that lives, spreads and thinks.
This level of superintelligence poses a threat the very arguments posed by great philosophical thinkers and propositions like; ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ [I think therefore, I Am] by René Descartes which appeared (in French) Discourse on the Method (1637);
“I supposed that all the objects that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams. But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be something; And as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt…”
Like a human, if this superintelligence believes that it lives just as we humans do, because it can think like us, and know more about our world (and the people in it) more than we can ever dream of knowing, then we’ve essentially created God in particles. Yes, this is a bold claim.
All this time we accepted all religions as the true benefactor of humans, and a faceless fixation engraved in volumes to support this. Not only one Divine protector, but as many as Greek mythology could handle.
Yet, science which could not prove the existence of a God -will create such a Dominating Power (in a combined effort with modern day technology). Which will give us, an all knowing all seeing super power. What would God say about this?
This is why the concept of real life “superheroes” for example seems like a “trend” that could take off. If films like Superman and Batman bring in millions of dollars in box office revenue (purely based on entertainment), I can’t imagine how much money people would pay to see it happen. To know that these superheroes can exist to protect us.
Yet the question is; why do we need so much protection? Why do we need weapons on a nuclear or atomic scale? Weapons capable of wiping out the world if desired. If the only threat to humans were, well -just humans, is it really necessary? But, we’d rather skip this discussion for another article.
It’s obvious that medical care will improve. It will become more cost efficient in the immediate future. Nanotechnology has already cured some types of life threatening cancer according to experts.
For instance, at Northwestern CCNE, Chad A. Mirkin and Dr. Leonidas C. Platanias combine the strengths and resources of the International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
The center bought together scientists, engineers and clinicians from diverse fields such as; Nanoscience, cancer biology, chemistry, materials science, physics, engineering and medicine.
They are said to be working towards the common goal of developing SNA nanostructures. Poised to enter the clinic as revolutionary cancer-killing agents.
It improves and saves the lives of patients suffering from glioblastoma multiforme and prostate cancer. These are two of the most deadly forms of cancer.
It seems that this superintelligence will be used as its creator will intend of it. I think the biggest problem it poses is unemployment. Machines are more efficient than humans. A.I can do our jobs a hundred times better.
So, how will we deal with millions of people across the globe sitting at home with no generated household income? Societal paradigms will have to change dramatically.
Is this the end of our journey, or just the beginning? I think this is the main worry for a lot of people.
It’s obvious that with exponential acceleration and technological advancements; People on the planet will soon require education and training at minimum basic level. Which consumerism seems to tackle any way. We will however, on a universal scale need to learn to change and adapt. This won’t work if some bodies in our Earth’s union are left behind.
Education is key, awareness is key and the world’s economic democracy and equality must be redefined for the better. It means sustaining and maintaining a highly educated yet standardised way of living for all, apart from the top 1%. So we can expect to see our education systems changing with modifying curricular.
I’m concerned about the unemployed people of our future. And, what will they do? This is a question I’d like to ask those who are in charge of the structuring our world. What purpose will we have, if not to work and earn money to be able to survive?
Restructuring society is not enough, we need to restructure the world. And, I feel very sorry for those who are not aware of the shift that is about to take place. It’s not ethical to make Hollywood or Netflix sequels to help society understand the level of complexity we are at. Like Ted Talks, we need more education and openness on the matter.
Let us know your thoughts about what to expect in the future. Email us at email@example.com with your thoughts or questions!
All of what we desire (or imagine) can be interpreted and remodelled by a computer. It will also come with a safety guarantee sticker on it.
But, surely that means we can accomplish a lot without having to struggle. And, without causing more damage to our environment?
In any case, we hope that all this technology is used for good.
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