Unlike many famous people, Ray Kurzweil – born in 1948 – really has changed the way the world works. As a teenager he built his own computer and taught it to compose music. After graduation from MIT he invented the flatbed scanner and a program to read and digitize any standard text font, as well as the first effective text-to-speech synthesizer. Then he invented a sampling synthesizer that reproduced orchestral instruments well enough to fool experts.
But it is for his melding of philosophy and science that Kurzweil wants most to be remembered. He believes – passionately – that with the current exponential increase in knowledge a point will soon be reached which he calls the “Singularity,” where, according to an article published at Mercator.net by Egil Asprem, artificial intelligence will start replicating itself and “change will accelerate so fast as to practically transform everything in the blink of an eye.” And by everything he means the entire universe. This tipping point, says Kurzweil, will be reached in 2045.
Life eternal in a perfected material universe
Though a professed atheist, Kurzweil’s future includes a spiritual element. The Singularity, he says, will instill intelligent nano-robots into all human beings, connecting them intimately with each other and with everything else. The stuff of earth, moon and stars will be transformed into a giant brain with a limitless energy supply. Matter will become intelligent, conscious and (Kurzweil’s words), “infused with spirit.” Human beings will then be able to shuffle off their mortal bodies to become perfect and eternal.
In a conversation with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, which Kurzweil reports in his 2005 book The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Gates asks, “So, is there a God in this religion?” Kurzweil replies, “Not yet, but there will be. Once we saturate the matter and energy in the universe with intelligence, it will ‘wake up’, be conscious, and sublimely intelligent. That’s about as close to God as I can imagine.” A surprising number of self-dubbed Singularitarians are buying into Kurzweil’s vision, including Russian multimillionaire Dmitry Itskov and the Dalai Lama. And last year Google hired Kurzweil to be director of engineering to make self-replicating artificial intelligence a reality.
He in the Heavens shall laugh them to scorn
Not everyone is convinced. “The brain is not computable and no engineering can reproduce it,” said Duke neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis in a speech at this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science. New Yorker blogger Gary Marcus, professor of psychology at New York University, is even more scathing, claiming Kurzweil understands neither neuroscience nor psychology, and that even his grasp of artificial intelligence is 30 years out of date. Perhaps. But Kurzweil’s biggest mistake may be his failure to recognize what Christians and Jews have known for some 3,000 years. There is already a super-intelligent Singularity who “fill[s] heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 23:24).