Ray Kurzweil Discusses Longevity, Robot Revolts at SXSW

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 12 2012 9:55 PM

Ray Kurzweil Discusses Longevity, Robot Revolts at SXSW

86237514
Inventor Ray Kurzweil.

Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

On Monday at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, Ray Kurzweil, the prolific author, scientist, and futurist, presented a keynote conversation with Time magazine columnist Lev Grossman to discuss, in the broadest terms, his vision of the future, including augmented-reality glasses, 3-D printing airplanes, and reforming our education system. 

Here are three of his most interesting predictions.

Advertisement

1) Kurzweil, a long-time advocate of extreme human longevity, says that we will begin to think of improving our health and longevity along the same lines as writing computer programs. Genes, he argues, are essentially software—except we haven’t been able to refine them. In Kurzwell’s future, we’ll turn genes on and off, such as the genetic disposition to store calories in case nourishment isn’t available for long stretches, in a process akin  to updating a phone’s operating system.

2) I always thought discussions of computers outsmarting humans belonged in Battlestar Galactica and other sci-fi tales. However, Kurzweil believes that computers will ultimately become smarter than us: They will have the resources for total recall, and their ability to understand the nuances of irony and wordplay is only getting better and better. Watson, the IBM super computer, can call up every fact in Wikipedia in a mere three seconds. At some point, Kurzweil predicts, we will begin to judge computers as sentient beings, because they appear that way to us. But he does not foresee a man vs. machine showdown; it’s much more likely that humans will just continue to work with computers in tandem.

3) Grossman asked Kurzweil whether the super tools he speaks of so enthusiastically will kept in the hands of an elite few, rather than shared by the world, a concern common in the world of emerging technologies. Kurzweil dismissed this idea: The technology around us—smartphones, computers—becomes cheaper and cheaper and more ubiquitous. That trend, he predicts, will only increase over time.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Katherine Goldstein is the editor of Vanity Fair's website, VF.com. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:58 AM Does this Colorado Poll Show Latino Voters Bailing on the 2014 Election?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Food
Sept. 18 2014 9:34 AM How to Order Chinese Food First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 18 2014 8:53 AM The Other Huxtable Effect Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?