PBS Discusses Kurzweil, The Singularity, and Bio-ethics

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Kurzweil talks human enhancement with Religion and Ethics News Weekly.

The Religion and Ethics News Weekly program on PBS recently interviewed Ray Kurzweil about his predictions for how humanity will change in the years ahead. The segment, entitled “Ethics of Human Enchancement” uses Kurzweil as its centerpiece. It even includes footage from Transcendent Man and The Singularity Is Near – full length documentaries about Kurzweil and his work. More important than the futurist’s involvement, however, is the questions that the program raises: will we augment our biology? If we do, what problems will it cause or solve? I’m not particularly satisfied with the answers presented in the video, but I am glad that national media programs are taking such discussions seriously. You can watch PBS’ presentation in its entirety in the video below.

For those familiar with concepts like exponential growth in intelligence, the Technological Singularity, and human enhancement, nothing in PBS’s program is particularly new. Viewers may recognize projects like Braingate, and brain implants that treat Parkinson’s from previous articles appearing on the Hub. Anyone who’s watched Transcendent Man, or read/watched The Singularity is Near knows considerably more about Kurzweil than is covered in these ten minutes. Why then, should we care about this news segment? Mostly because it’s on PBS.

Watch the full episode. See more Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

“Ray Kurzweil may not be a household name…” The opening line really sums it up, and you can plug many different things in place of Ray Kurzweil’s name. The Singularity. Accelerating technology. Exponential growth. These topics simply aren’t part of the mainstream media discussion. It’s pretty revealing that we’re still relying on a science fiction film from 1999, The Matrix, to introduce audiences to the concept that we could eventually produce non-human intelligence. Referencing a decade old movie for explaining cutting edge science? Pretty lame if you think about it (of course I did it myself just a few weeks ago). Still, that’s where the national discussion is at the moment.

Thank goodness then that bio-ethics and human enhancement are getting more of a platform. This probably isn’t the most exposure the concepts have ever received, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The choices we make today about implants (or genetic treatments) that augment humanity will have far reaching implications for years to come.

Which is why I’m a bit wary of these topics appearing in a forum like Religion and Ethics News Weekly. Don’t get me wrong, the program is great – 115 awards and counting – but it does place the debate in the tired old Science vs. Religion framework (just look at the way they juxtapose Kurzweil to Christian Brugger). The ethical issues surrounding human augmentation should concern you no matter what belief system you follow. Likewise, the very real dangers presented by augmenting technologies (whether they be nanotech, biotech, and/or machine) are something that need to be studied whether or not we think of such advancements as progress or witchcraft.

Ultimately I do believe that humans will create, or help give rise to, intelligence that matches or exceeds our own. I’m also pretty sure that we’ll find ways to enhance ourselves, and that the allure of doing so will encourage many to take advantage of such enhancements. I’m not sure what either of these implies about souls and spirituality and I’m very happy leaving such questions to philosophers and theologians. What I am concerned with is whether such creations will aid or injure humanity. I think either is a possibility and I suspect that which outcome occurs will depend greatly on how much time and effort we spend in preparing ourselves for such an event. To that end I hope we see many more of these discussions on PBS and other major networks. The effects of advancing technology will effect the entire world, and we may need the attention of the entire world to ensure that effect is a positive one.

The Religion and Ethics News Weekly has provided a transcript of the news segment above as well as videos for extended interviews for Ray Kurzweil and Christian Brugger.
[image and video credit: RE News Weekly]
[source: PBS]

Discussion — 47 Responses

  • Nathan Waters August 27, 2010 on 2:14 am

    Wow, he is not aging well these days…

    • James Quin Nathan Waters August 27, 2010 on 3:56 am

      Actually, I think he looks better now than he did a few years ago. I’m not a sycophant, but I read a few things about his regimen and his bloodwork test results really are that of a 40 year old. I started taking a few of the supplements he takes and I definitely notice changes in my physiology that are in line with reversing or stalling the aging process.

      • Hollander James Quin August 27, 2010 on 9:29 am

        Anti-aging drugs?!?! Gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme!!! :-D

      • A. User James Quin August 27, 2010 on 12:55 pm

        Carl Sagan used to say that Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Claiming that Ray is biologically 20 years younger than his chronological age is an extraordinary claim. Where is the extraordinary evidence to back it up (“Ray says so” isn’t extraordinary enough)? Until the evidence is presented in a well-respected, peer-reviewed journal after he has been examined by multiple experts in the field, believing his extraordinary claims is no different than believing in mysticism/religion.

        • DragonAss A. User August 27, 2010 on 7:45 pm

          The evidence is in his bloodwork.

          • A. User DragonAss August 28, 2010 on 1:57 pm

            And the extraordinary age-reversal evident in the results of these blood tests are put up for independent review by experts were published in what credible journal?

    • Tor Nathan Waters August 28, 2010 on 11:44 am

      This is how he looked 11 years ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97c2ezJ_1U8

      • A. User Tor August 28, 2010 on 2:26 pm

        He appears to me to look much more than about 1 decade younger in the 1999 video. Now, 11 years later, the stem cells in his face are rapidly loosing the ability to regenerate facial muscle cells, and subcutaneous fat cells, as evident by the shrinkage in the size of his head. His eyes have drooped. Noticeable increase in his facial wrinkles are most likely caused by decreased ability of his fibroblasts in the connective tissue to regenerate collagen and elastin, and a significant increase in glycation leading to glucosepane crosslinks. Same processes are probably occuring in his cardio- and cerebrovascular systems. He appears older than many, many (most?) people of his own age who don’t take 150 supplements a day. I see nothing by comparing his face in these 2 videos, to suggest that Ray has been ageing by less than 11 years in the intervening time span.

        • Tor A. User August 29, 2010 on 7:47 pm

          That was not what I thought, but I might very well be wrong. Apparently you know much more about how aging is spotted than me.

          I don’t have any opinion about Kurzweil’s supplements, but it should be mentioned that he had a pretty unhealthy lifestyle until he decided to try to prolong his life. At the age of 35 he got type II diabetes.

        • Brent A. User August 30, 2010 on 6:33 am

          He doesn’t appear to be holding back aging at all. But, I guess you have to give him credit for not having a bad toupee, botox, face lifts, etc… which I’m sure is a lot of pressure to get.

  • Nathan Waters August 26, 2010 on 10:14 pm

    Wow, he is not aging well these days…

    • James Quin Nathan Waters August 26, 2010 on 11:56 pm

      Actually, I think he looks better now than he did a few years ago. I’m not a sycophant, but I read a few things about his regimen and his bloodwork test results really are that of a 40 year old. I started taking a few of the supplements he takes and I definitely notice changes in my physiology that are in line with reversing or stalling the aging process.

      • Hollander James Quin August 27, 2010 on 5:29 am

        Anti-aging drugs?!?! Gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme!!! :-D

      • A. User James Quin August 27, 2010 on 8:55 am

        Carl Sagan used to say that Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Claiming that Ray is biologically 20 years younger than his chronological age is an extraordinary claim. Where is the extraordinary evidence to back it up (“Ray says so” isn’t extraordinary enough)? Until the evidence is presented in a well-respected, peer-reviewed journal after he has been examined by multiple experts in the field, believing his extraordinary claims is no different than believing in mysticism/religion.

        • DragonAss A. User August 27, 2010 on 3:45 pm

          The evidence is in his bloodwork.

          • A. User DragonAss August 28, 2010 on 9:57 am

            And the extraordinary age-reversal evident in the results of these blood tests are put up for independent review by experts were published in what credible journal?

    • Tor Nathan Waters August 28, 2010 on 7:44 am

      This is how he looked 11 years ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97c2ezJ_1U8

      • A. User Tor August 28, 2010 on 10:26 am

        He appears to me to look much more than about 1 decade younger in the 1999 video. Now, 11 years later, the stem cells in his face are rapidly loosing the ability to regenerate facial muscle cells, and subcutaneous fat cells, as evident by the shrinkage in the size of his head. His eyes have drooped. Noticeable increase in his facial wrinkles are most likely caused by decreased ability of his fibroblasts in the connective tissue to regenerate collagen and elastin, and a significant increase in glycation leading to glucosepane crosslinks. Same processes are probably occuring in his cardio- and cerebrovascular systems. He appears older than many, many (most?) people of his own age who don’t take 150 supplements a day. I see nothing by comparing his face in these 2 videos, to suggest that Ray has been ageing by less than 11 years in the intervening time span.

        • Tor A. User August 29, 2010 on 3:47 pm

          That was not what I thought, but I might very well be wrong. Apparently you know much more about how aging is spotted than me.

          I don’t have any opinion about Kurzweil’s supplements, but it should be mentioned that he had a pretty unhealthy lifestyle until he decided to try to prolong his life. At the age of 35 he got type II diabetes.

        • Brent A. User August 30, 2010 on 2:33 am

          He doesn’t appear to be holding back aging at all. But, I guess you have to give him credit for not having a bad toupee, botox, face lifts, etc… which I’m sure is a lot of pressure to get.

  • The Avenger August 27, 2010 on 11:07 am

    Why did they have to include that theological seminar guy? “The spirit”? Geez, there’s no such thing, mister.

    • Spritualskeptic The Avenger December 1, 2010 on 6:53 pm

      “‘The Spirit’? Geez, there’s no such thing, mister” is not an argument.

  • The Avenger August 27, 2010 on 7:07 am

    Why did they have to include that theological seminar guy? “The spirit”? Geez, there’s no such thing, mister.

  • Dave August 27, 2010 on 2:10 pm

    Any word on when they are actually going to release “Transcendent Man”? What’s the hold up?

    • Alex Dave August 28, 2010 on 5:05 pm

      I can not wait for Transcendent Man to come out. Based on what I’ve read and heard (I have a friend who knows the producers) an announcement is coming very very soon! I think they (the producers) have had to wait for Kurzweil’s schedule to exhaust itself because the film and Kurzweil are going on a nation wide, concert style tour! That would be awesome!

      • Brain 2045 Alex August 28, 2010 on 5:47 pm

        Why nobody talking about the movie “The Singularity Is Near”? as far as I understand this is the movie that we should really wait for. When should it be release? I’m really waiting for this movie.

  • Dave August 27, 2010 on 10:10 am

    Any word on when they are actually going to release “Transcendent Man”? What’s the hold up?

    • Alex Dave August 28, 2010 on 1:05 pm

      I can not wait for Transcendent Man to come out. Based on what I’ve read and heard (I have a friend who knows the producers) an announcement is coming very very soon! I think they (the producers) have had to wait for Kurzweil’s schedule to exhaust itself because the film and Kurzweil are going on a nation wide, concert style tour! That would be awesome!

      • Brain 2045 Alex August 28, 2010 on 1:47 pm

        Why nobody talking about the movie “The Singularity Is Near”? as far as I understand this is the movie that we should really wait for. When should it be release? I’m really waiting for this movie.

  • J.S. August 27, 2010 on 2:37 pm

    Have you noticed how all people who claim to be “bioethicists” are neo-luddite douchebags who understand nothing about basic philosophy, let alone the future? The very idea of a religious bioethicist seems ridiculous.

    • 1 J.S. August 30, 2010 on 6:12 am

      I completely agree. The guy does not have the credential to be on the same platform as the inventors presented in this video. They might as well record the opinions of the bum that lives on the subway platform.

  • J.S. August 27, 2010 on 10:37 am

    Have you noticed how all people who claim to be “bioethicists” are neo-luddite douchebags who understand nothing about basic philosophy, let alone the future? The very idea of a religious bioethicist seems ridiculous.

    • 1 J.S. August 30, 2010 on 2:12 am

      I completely agree. The guy does not have the credential to be on the same platform as the inventors presented in this video. They might as well record the opinions of the bum that lives on the subway platform.

  • Tor August 28, 2010 on 11:55 am

    The bioethicists interviewed here is such an idiot. It’s saddening and provoking every time theists are interviewed about philosophy and thinking on television. Being deluded and believing extraordinary things without proof doesn’t give you the right to talk about things you know little about while being called an expert

  • Tor August 28, 2010 on 7:55 am

    The bioethicists interviewed here is such an idiot. It’s saddening and provoking every time theists are interviewed about philosophy and thinking on television. Being deluded and believing extraordinary things without proof doesn’t give you the right to talk about things you know little about while being called an expert

  • Septeus7 August 29, 2010 on 11:39 pm

    What is extraordinary about claiming that the creator of a tool is of a higher order of being than the tool?

    Kurzweil is one making the extraordinary claims by claiming we know so much about ourselves that we will be able to make machines that are more “human” than we are.

    I don’t believe is absolute strong AI but a mixed of relatively strong and narrow AI much like today where human and computers play off each other. I call this kind of AI “staggered strength” AI.

    AIs’ will become good in certain areas and humans become better in other areas both constantly changing and evolving as it has always been. Humans are the creators and the machines are partial reflections of our creative minds.

    I suggest all of you take a break the sci-fi and read Shiller’s essay on the “AEsthetic Estimation of Magnitude” so you come to understand that no idea of magnitude including a “magnitude of intelligence” is not a construct of the human imagination and therefore superseded by the human imagination.

    The problem with AI research is that denies the existence of the creative imagination and reduces the human to a logical and emotional binary symbol processor. But human imagination is found in the realm of creative classical metaphor and irony which by definition not reduce to an algorithm because those things lie outside the domain of the conventional rules of language and symbolic.

    Once again they are of a higher order as symbols are crude representation of the higher conceptual meaning created in the sovereign mind of individual.

    The greatest problem with Ray Kurzweil if these AI systems develop to the point where human based on a superficial functionality assume that the machines can start do all the “thinking” for us and thus created an environment where the cultural of creative thinking is lost and when the machine systems encounter a problem beyond the capacity of the system to handle and the moribund human culture is so steeped in popular amusement and creatively dead it cannot recreate the culture of creativity quickly enough to adapt to the changing environment and thus ultimately the belief in an strong AI when only a mixed “staggered strength” AI exists could destroy humanity.

    I fear we are already seeing the dying of the human creative culture and one simply has to look at the music and the language. Interestingly enough the prior post on this site seemed to indicate that I’m not off based with my concerned about the intellectual disruption caused by the overuse of information technology.

    The skeptic should not have been this so-called “bioethicists” who is completely unfamiliar with the classical humanist philosophy which has answered these questions years ago.

    • Tor Septeus7 August 31, 2010 on 9:03 pm

      (I might have misunderstood you.)

      “What is extraordinary about claiming that the creator of a tool is of a higher order of being than the tool?”

      Nothing, although I don’t see why it would have to be so. We humans have already created machines that are better then us at a lot of things – also in terms of mental abilities.

      But claiming there is a theistic god is extraordinary. All the evidence available suggests that we are not created, and it’s not reasonable to assume that all things necessarily have a creator. If God created us, who then created God, etc.

      “In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must of course ask next where God comes from. And if we decided this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and decide that the origin of the universe is an unanswerable question? Or, if we say that God has always existed, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed.”

      Carl Sagan

      • Septeus7 Tor September 1, 2010 on 4:55 am

        Quote: “Nothing, although I don’t see why it would have to be so.”

        It would have to be so for the same reason a polygon can never become a circle i.e. the object is of a higher order. I’m saying the human mind is too the computer what the sphere is to the polygon. If you don’t understand the analogy then I can’t help you.

        Quote: “We humans have already created machines that are better then us at a lot of things – also in terms of mental abilities.”

        No, they are not better at in mental abilities because they don’t have minds. They are faster at following algorithms which were ultimately designed by humans.

        You are claiming that we will know so much about the human mind that we will be able to reduce all it’s abilities to a set of algorithms when our direct experience tells us that minds do not work exclusively off such linear processes but are much more dynamic.

        Quote: “But claiming there is a theistic god is extraordinary. All the evidence available suggests that we are not created, and it’s not reasonable to assume that all things necessarily have a creator.”

        Now since your brought in philosophy I’ll have go Plato on your ass.

        When did I a claim about a theistic God?

        And saying it’s not reasonable to believe in a creator is creates a paradox because if there are things outside of a process of creation and since we can only understand things using the ideas we create i.e. a creative process then you saying we should believe in things we can’t understand which is not reasonable since reason must be understood.

        I believe life created humanity and what life is
        I and most physicists aren’t sure and we aren’t even sure what “things” are and we don’t speculate about whether or they are “created” whatever that means.

  • Septeus7 August 29, 2010 on 7:39 pm

    What is extraordinary about claiming that the creator of a tool is of a higher order of being than the tool?

    Kurzweil is one making the extraordinary claims by claiming we know so much about ourselves that we will be able to make machines that are more “human” than we are.

    I don’t believe is absolute strong AI but a mixed of relatively strong and narrow AI much like today where human and computers play off each other. I call this kind of AI “staggered strength” AI.

    AIs’ will become good in certain areas and humans become better in other areas both constantly changing and evolving as it has always been. Humans are the creators and the machines are partial reflections of our creative minds.

    I suggest all of you take a break the sci-fi and read Shiller’s essay on the “AEsthetic Estimation of Magnitude” so you come to understand that no idea of magnitude including a “magnitude of intelligence” is not a construct of the human imagination and therefore superseded by the human imagination.

    The problem with AI research is that denies the existence of the creative imagination and reduces the human to a logical and emotional binary symbol processor. But human imagination is found in the realm of creative classical metaphor and irony which by definition not reduce to an algorithm because those things lie outside the domain of the conventional rules of language and symbolic.

    Once again they are of a higher order as symbols are crude representation of the higher conceptual meaning created in the sovereign mind of individual.

    The greatest problem with Ray Kurzweil if these AI systems develop to the point where human based on a superficial functionality assume that the machines can start do all the “thinking” for us and thus created an environment where the cultural of creative thinking is lost and when the machine systems encounter a problem beyond the capacity of the system to handle and the moribund human culture is so steeped in popular amusement and creatively dead it cannot recreate the culture of creativity quickly enough to adapt to the changing environment and thus ultimately the belief in an strong AI when only a mixed “staggered strength” AI exists could destroy humanity.

    I fear we are already seeing the dying of the human creative culture and one simply has to look at the music and the language. Interestingly enough the prior post on this site seemed to indicate that I’m not off based with my concerned about the intellectual disruption caused by the overuse of information technology.

    The skeptic should not have been this so-called “bioethicists” who is completely unfamiliar with the classical humanist philosophy which has answered these questions years ago.

    • Tor Septeus7 August 31, 2010 on 5:03 pm

      (I might have misunderstood you.)

      “What is extraordinary about claiming that the creator of a tool is of a higher order of being than the tool?”

      Nothing, although I don’t see why it would have to be so. We humans have already created machines that are better then us at a lot of things – also in terms of mental abilities.

      But claiming there is a theistic god is extraordinary. All the evidence available suggests that we are not created, and it’s not reasonable to assume that all things necessarily have a creator. If God created us, who then created God, etc.

      “In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must of course ask next where God comes from. And if we decided this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and decide that the origin of the universe is an unanswerable question? Or, if we say that God has always existed, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed.”

      Carl Sagan

      • Septeus7 Tor September 1, 2010 on 12:55 am

        Quote: “Nothing, although I don’t see why it would have to be so.”

        It would have to be so for the same reason a polygon can never become a circle i.e. the object is of a higher order. I’m saying the human mind is too the computer what the sphere is to the polygon. If you don’t understand the analogy then I can’t help you.

        Quote: “We humans have already created machines that are better then us at a lot of things – also in terms of mental abilities.”

        No, they are not better at in mental abilities because they don’t have minds. They are faster at following algorithms which were ultimately designed by humans.

        You are claiming that we will know so much about the human mind that we will be able to reduce all it’s abilities to a set of algorithms when our direct experience tells us that minds do not work exclusively off such linear processes but are much more dynamic.

        Quote: “But claiming there is a theistic god is extraordinary. All the evidence available suggests that we are not created, and it’s not reasonable to assume that all things necessarily have a creator.”

        Now since your brought in philosophy I’ll have go Plato on your ass.

        When did I a claim about a theistic God?

        And saying it’s not reasonable to believe in a creator is creates a paradox because if there are things outside of a process of creation and since we can only understand things using the ideas we create i.e. a creative process then you saying we should believe in things we can’t understand which is not reasonable since reason must be understood.

        I believe life created humanity and what life is
        I and most physicists aren’t sure and we aren’t even sure what “things” are and we don’t speculate about whether or they are “created” whatever that means.

  • DCWhatthe August 30, 2010 on 2:18 pm

    Yep, he’s looking older. Could just be some recent stress in his life, though. A cold, a death in the family, a lawsuit. Who knows?

    Regarding the movies, I don’t believe anything about it anymore. We’ve heard for the last couple of years that it will ‘probably’ be coming out next season or next year. Last claim, was that Ray would be doing the rounds, promoting it in August.

    By the time Transcendent Man comes out in DVD, there will be movies with similar themes, already in the independent theatres.

    A noble effort, but the timing of its release will cause it to be only a blip I fear, outside of transhumanist circles.

  • DCWhatthe August 30, 2010 on 10:18 am

    Yep, he’s looking older. Could just be some recent stress in his life, though. A cold, a death in the family, a lawsuit. Who knows?

    Regarding the movies, I don’t believe anything about it anymore. We’ve heard for the last couple of years that it will ‘probably’ be coming out next season or next year. Last claim, was that Ray would be doing the rounds, promoting it in August.

    By the time Transcendent Man comes out in DVD, there will be movies with similar themes, already in the independent theatres.

    A noble effort, but the timing of its release will cause it to be only a blip I fear, outside of transhumanist circles.

  • DCWhatthe August 30, 2010 on 8:20 pm

    Hmmm. Just listened to the rest of the PBS video, and heard the religious angle. Some of his conclusions about the future of humans & machines are similar to those at the Transhuman Reflections website, especially in the final chapter, Are We Going to Make it? The author is more optimistic, with caveats, but addresses some of the same issues.

  • DCWhatthe August 30, 2010 on 4:20 pm

    Hmmm. Just listened to the rest of the PBS video, and heard the religious angle. Some of his conclusions about the future of humans & machines are similar to those at the Transhuman Reflections website, especially in the final chapter, Are We Going to Make it? The author is more optimistic, with caveats, but addresses some of the same issues.

  • Brad Arnold September 6, 2010 on 10:28 am

    Since theists refused Galileo’s offer of a peek through his telescope into the cosmos, retros and advocates of the status quo have been trying to hold back progress. Frankly, there are many more of them than us people who are forward looking and innovative, looking to embrace the best of emerging technology. People like Kurzweil point toward the future, but will be inevitably attacked by “conservatives” who fear what they don’t understand (which is practically everything). By the way, there is only one proven method of extending life: the CRdiet. Good luck staying on it though – most people can’t hack a voluntary continual deficit in calories.

  • Brad Arnold September 6, 2010 on 6:28 am

    Since theists refused Galileo’s offer of a peek through his telescope into the cosmos, retros and advocates of the status quo have been trying to hold back progress. Frankly, there are many more of them than us people who are forward looking and innovative, looking to embrace the best of emerging technology. People like Kurzweil point toward the future, but will be inevitably attacked by “conservatives” who fear what they don’t understand (which is practically everything). By the way, there is only one proven method of extending life: the CRdiet. Good luck staying on it though – most people can’t hack a voluntary continual deficit in calories.