Last night the famous technology pioneer, best-selling author, and controversial prophet Ray Kurzweil participated in a lively discussion with Robert Krulwich (cohost of WNYC's Radiolab) after a screening of the documentary Transcendent Man at the Tribeca Film Festival. The thought-provoking film is both a fascinating character study of Kurzweil, who is obviously a genius, and an entertaining look at the heated debate over where biotechnology and artificial intelligence is taking us.
Kurzweil predicts because of Moore's Law, it's only a matter of time (he says 2039) before our technology achieves Singularity, which he describes as the point when artificial intelligence will radically advance, enabling our species to "transcend biology" and, with the help of nanotechnology in our bloodstream, become a sort of Human 2.0, a mix of machine and man. He believes we will have created benevolent computerized gods who, rather then enslave us, will enable us to merge with them and live forever—a prediction that Transcendent Man reveals as rooted in Kurzweil's own stated goal to bring his beloved father back from the dead, using his DNA and robots to extract Kurzweil's memories.
After the screening, Kurzweil conceded that "there are existential downsides" to artificial intelligence (see Terminator, The Matrix). "We have 20,000 nuclear weapons on a hair-trigger today. People don't actually talk about them that much but they're still around... I don't think conflict is likely to go away. There is likely to be conflict between different groups of humans armed with machines and technologies just as we have today... But there were predictions 15 years ago, when the first software viruses emerged, that they would get more sophisticated and ultimately destroy computer networks. That prediction never came true, and no one's taken down the Internet for even one second."
Feeling reassured? Transcendent Man, which will be screened at the festival a final time on Friday night, is at turns terrifying and hopeful, depending on your point of view. Check out the film's trailer below.