Feet of clay weekend competition: Ray Kurzweil edition

People may know of Ray Kurzweil. I first saw him at a conference in Melbourne where he was introduced as the greatest thing since sliced bread (an introduction he’d clearly had a hand in writing or authorising) and kept talking about how great he was. Anyway, he has some very impressive achievements to his name so good on him.

He’s popularised the ‘law of acellerating returns’ pointing out that for things governed by exponential growth – like Moore’s Law and the many similar phenomena of exponential growth in technology – a job that looks half done will be nearly finished. If something doubles every x months, decoding 50 percent of the human genome means you’re only x months away from finishing something that may have taken many years.

It’s always seemed to me that this powerful fact is nevertheless not powerful enough to help us make good predictions as to when more complex phenomena based on these technologies will emerge (like if and when we’ll be able to fly around in jet packs or even if and when robots will be able to run on two legs faster than humans) because there are so many emergent phenomena along the road and it’s very hard to anticipate when they’ll emerge. But I’ve never heard him address that in one of his talks. Perhaps he does in his books. (And the successful givers of popular talks seem to know not to address exceptions and caveats. They’re not very entertaining. I think they’re kind of of the essence in these matters, but who am I?)

Anyway I couldn’t help noticing two clangers in this talk – which was quite interesting, but still unsatisfying to me for the reason explained in the preceding para. One is his suggestion that Thomas Hobbes wrote 200 years ago (it’s a wonder he didn’t have a livelier correspondence with Thomas Jefferson) and the other is his quoting of the “Chinese” proverb that you can’t step into the same river twice. (By that well known Chinese sage Heraclitus).

Anyway, since we’ve taken delivery of the latest in Troppo’s fleet of vehicles, now is the time to ask Troppodillians what similar stories of Great Men (and women) with feet of clay they have. The winner will take Bronwyn the new Troppo helicopter to Fairbairn Airbase where they’ll be flown to the Middle East where, once it’s been cleared on the President’s breakfast kill list, they’ll be able to take out the terrorist of their choice from the comfort and safety of Chopper, Troppo’s new drone.

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11 Responses to Feet of clay weekend competition: Ray Kurzweil edition

  1. Crocodile Chuck says:

    Well skewered.

    I have always considered that guy crazier than a sh _ t house rat.

  2. Nicholas Gruen says:

    What’s crazy about a shithouse rat?

    Though I certainly like the expression!

    • Crocodile Chuck says:

      Its a [classic] early 20th C American vernacular pejorative

      impossible to ignore

      &, in this case, the descriptor is eminently appropriate.

      • David Walker says:

        Without wanting to be a smart-arse, the normal expression is “cunning as a shithouse rat”.

        • Crocodile Chuck says:

          If it WAS ‘cunning as’, it wouldn’t be hanging around filthy latrines, would it? ;)

        • David Walker says:

          Just as well I didn’t want to be a smart-arse, since I wasn’t even smart. It turns out the phrase “crazy as a shithouse rat” – which I have never heard used or seen written – gets far more Google hits than “cunning as a shithouse rat”

  3. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I also note that he has strong views, and a plan regarding resisting aging. I thought it was based on calorific restriction. His plan was to live till he predicted medicine will be adding more than a year’s extra life to us each year after which the ageing problem is pretty self-evidently solved. This reminds me that that prediction is a better of example of the kind of prediction I think you can’t make based on the idea that processing power and a bunch of other things are growing exponentially. Anyway, I thought ‘good on him’ for having the discipline to undergo calorific restriction when I saw him a few years ago, but he didn’t look noticeably younger than his age, and now looks noticeably older than that.

  4. Clive James – a great writer in his day on matters cultural – not being able to see through climate change denial comes to mind.

    Last weekend, he was regretting the death of Bob Carter, noting how polite a man he was towards the “alarmists.” Just goes to show that cultural critics, when it comes to science, can make great poets.

  5. paul frijters says:

    Stephen Hawkins’ warning of the take-over of the robots comes to mind. Linus Pauling with his free-radicals Vitamin C obsession. Newton and his obsession with the secrets of the Pyramids. The history of science is full of people who were both brilliant and selectively dogmatic. The reason is often the usual one, ie the wish to dominate. Either to dominate their own bodies or others (listen to me or else!).

    It would probably be hard to find any individual whose views on each topic are reasonable in the eyes of others. From the point of view of the people of the Middle Ages, we are probably all batsh*t crazy. And the people living in 200 years will probably look at us in the same way.

    It is comforting to see that even our heroes are human.

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