Economists are known for investing enormous time making predictions about the near future, usually by following predictable cycles and extrapolating from trends of the recent past. But emerging exponential and convergent technologies seem to be throwing a wrench in the works, as some have suggested is currently taking place globally with the automation of the workforce.
So it’s about time that economists start adding another significant factor in their equations, the Singularity, and who better to turn to for guidance than Ray Kurzweil?
A few weeks ago, PBS NewsHour ran a 10-minute piece with Kurzweil titled “As Humans and Computers Merge…Immortality?” from correspondent Paul Solman for his economics-focused Making Sen$e of Financial News. It is part of a series covering Singularity University from earlier in the year. Solman probes Kurzweil for some insights about where technology is headed in the coming decades, covering topics like artificial intelligence, extending lifespans through supplementation, and digital resurrection of the deceased as avatars.
While those familiar with the Singularity may find the segment more like a teaser trailer for Kurzweil’s ideas about immortality and the Age of Technology, it reflects the growing concern about how disruptive technology is to old-fashioned economic theories and attempts to wrestle with the implications of just a few of these rapid changes before it gets out of hand:
Watch Disappearing Dead: Economic Optimism about Immortality on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
What’s most notable is that after Solman has gone on a whirlwind tour of futuristic ideas, he is challenged in how to end the piece, which is surprising considering that he has been a PBS correspondent since 1985 and taught at the Harvard Business School. But then again, trying to consider the economics of emergent technologies that may raise people from the dead in avatar form is not particularly easy to do.
For those who want to hear more from Kurzweil, PBS included three more clips from the interview.
In the first clip, Kurzweil explains what a singularity is in the physics sense and how it metaphorically reflects the future of technology, especially when it comes to AI. Ray makes his perspective clear when he states, “My view is that it’s not us versus [machines]. We’re going to merge with them.”
In this second video, Kurzweil talks more about the health program he has devised for himself and provides a bit of a window into what it’s like on a daily basis:
In the final segment of the extended interview, Kurzweil talks about his father and the possibility of taking all the documents and images he has of him and creating a digital version in the form of an avatar:
Interestingly, when PBS last interviewed Kurzweil, it was for a Religion & Ethics segment two years ago, and focused primarily on the philosophical implications of the advances of technology. So it is telling that Kurzweil now finds his ideas coming under more scrutiny by the business world.
Here’s the original 2010 PBS piece on Kurzweil:
There is a growing sense that the changes that are currently shaping the world are unlike forces of the past, either because they are stronger, faster, or more importantly, unpredictable. Understandably, those who are focused on global economies are looking for direction and answers to tough questions. One thing that is certain is that Ray Kurzweil will increasingly be in the limelight as technology continues to rustle the status quo.