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Volume 72, Issue 124, Friday, April 6, 2007

Opinion

Kurzweil wrong about human nature

David L. McClard
Guest Columnist

Ray says it's going to be all milk and honey. I say prepare for humankind's final war for existence.

Famed American inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil spoke Wednesday at the Cullen Performance Hall as part of the Farfel Distinguished Lecture Series. He is most recently credited with compiling extensive and convincing data on how human technologies are developing at an exponential rate. His main message, is that artificial intelligence will begin to design itself autonomously and generate a runaway explosion in self-generating technological advancement.

The diminutive genius soothed the performance hall's cerebral attendants last night with his intoxicating assurances and dazzling data, ensuring us all of what he has already promised in his latest book, The Singularity is Near -- that genetic augmentations, nanotechnology and advanced robotics will transcend humanity. 

He is sure that those of us who live for another 15 to 20 years will, in fact, live forever. This is because the widespread availability of life-extending devices will become so cheap that every human will have access to them.

In his latest predictions Kurzweil entertains the grand assumption that a beautiful peace will ensue with the genetics-nanotech-robotics revolution. However, many of his respected contemporaries have spoken out about evil-doers getting their hands on nanites and destroying the world, or using accessible genetics technologies to construct a ruthless viral weapon. 

But Kurzweil, who has been compared to Thomas Edison, calmly refutes these arguments by explaining how we are already anticipating such global catastrophes. He says that it took us five years to map the genetic code of AIDS, but only about a week to map out SARS. He convincingly assures us that technology is becoming so robust so quickly that we will soon be able to decode the genes of any new virus within hours.

As for the prospect of self-generating nanites eating up portions of the planet's surface with nightmarish speed -- a very real threat with the application of some proposed nanotechnologies -- Kurzweil's response is simple. We only have to use mission-critical software to control nanites. That is, we just have to use perfect software, the kind we use for nuclear missile and space shuttle launches.

But it will not be nanotech or viruses that kill humanity. It is the better versions of ourselves that will do the job. 

As augmentations of the brain and body are released to the public, there will be an unprecedented new class of advanced humans. Even though Kurzweil says that it will all be cheap and available to everyone all at once, it can be easily predicted that the richest and most powerful will be able to first afford these new technologies. 

Think about it. The richest and most powerful people in the world will soon be armed with extreme life-extending, intra- and extra-cranial enhancements. It would be in their best interest to keep such technologies from the poor. Simply put, the introduction of potent bio-enhancements will not spread evenly over the planet's human population. And thus an overlord caste would be born, much to the chagrin of Kurzweil.

Very intelligent people believe in Kurzweil's predictions. His data regarding the Law of Accelerating Returns is staggering, complete and thoroughly credible. However, his assumptions about humanity are flawed. 

It must be remembered that a simple majority of humans on this planet still burn wood for light and warmth. There are very powerful elements in the first-world society which do not want such wood-burners to live forever, to have instant mental access to all the world's books and to be able to communicate with each other instantaneously and cheaply.

Kurzweil's dreams are beautiful and his work in compiling such compelling data is remarkable. One day, humans will have access to genetic perfection, robotic companions and an otherworldly global mental integration. But just before this utopia flourishes, there will be a very ugly resistance between the new humans and the old humans. 

Kurzweil says to get ready to live forever. Perhaps it would be best to get ready for a war that truly ends all wars in the twilight of humankind as we have come to know it.

McClard, a UH law student, 
can be reached via dccampus@mail.uh.edu

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