Ray Kurzweil

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Cheating the death of imagination: Teaching the unknowable

The idea of a Technological Singularity has been discussed and debated intensely since the early 1990s. Coined by Vernor Vinge and popularized by Ray Kurzweil, the idea is that as technologies evolve, technologies improve, costs decrease; and, in turn, the process of technological evolution advances and speeds itself up, creating a J-curve of exponential, accelerating change. Eventually, the J-curve hits an inflection point, and change begins to occur at timescales that seem nearly instantaneous. This is the Technological Singularity.

At Education Futures, in our work to help guide governments and organizations, we’ve looked hard at what this means to humans and human systems – in particular with regard to how we will learn and work in the future. In this frame, the Technological Singularity also represents the point at which change occurs so rapidly that the human mind cannot imagine what will happen next. Moreover, technological change facilitates social change (and vice-versa). We need to prepare for rapidly-occurring, intense periods of social, cultural, and economic transformation.

The Technological Singularity represents the limit of human imagination.

It is important to note that the J-curve of accelerating change is graphed independently of scale. There is not a standard measurement of change, and there is no measurement of time. We can look at illustrative examples for correlates, such as the growth of microprocessor computing power under Moore’s Law, but the idea of a Technological Singularity is subjective to the human experience.

Herein lies the rub: We are all very different. We have differing abilities to cope with change, to imagine new futures, to communicate, to solve problems, use resources wisely, and so forth. We cannot expect to experience ‘the’ Technological Singularity together. Rather, we should prepare to experience many individual singularities, as individuals, groups, and as a society. Depending on who we are and the contexts in which we are placed, we will hit the limits of our imagination – our singularities – at different times and under different circumstances. Industries are transforming (and disappearing!) at different rates and at different times, communities are shifting at independent and co-dependent paces, and individuals and families are under increasing pressure to stay relevant.

Humans are not afraid of change, but we fear the unknown. When we hit the limits of our imaginations, we push back toward the knowable, often with very ugly consequences. Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the state-sponsored fake news phenomenon, and the rise of slavery advocate Roy Moore in Alabama – all inconceivable a decade ago – serve as examples that humans are prone to a retreat toward bigotry, ignorance, and hate when confronted with uncertainty. Like the followers of Ned Ludd worked to sabotage the industrial movement in the 19th century, these socially regressive Neo-Luddites subvert technological change to regress society toward an imagined past, no matter how horrible, that presents themselves with a sense of certainty.

A community cannot progress technologically while sabotaging itself socially. While our singularities may be unavoidable, we can at least learn how to cope with them by learning to embrace the unknown. This, at the forefront, requires a tremendous amount of imagination and creativity from all of us.

Our schools, which are designed to prepare youth for static futures, need to be urgently repurposed to prepare all of society for the unknowable. Imagination, creativity, and innovation, together with support for greater agency and self-efficacy must underpin serious efforts to achieve meaningful outcomes for all learners. We must balance core content knowledge with soft skills such as simulational thinking, knowledge production, technology, intercultural communication, critical and multi-paradigmatic thinking, focused imagination, developed intuition, emotional intelligence, and systems design.

Are you ready to take the dive into teaching and learning for the unknowable? Continue on with our series on invisible learning:


"The rough guide to the future" – a good starting point

Book: The rough guide to the future
Author: Jon Turney
Publisher: Rough Guides (2010)

Last month, Rough Guides quietly released Jon Turney’s new book, The rough guide to the future. I was looking forward to the release of the volume –not just because I’m quoted in one of its asides– but because I am always on the lookout for new primers on futures studies and serious looks into the future.

The future seems to be a tangental topic for the Rough Guides series, and that might explain the subdued promotion by the publisher. Or, perhaps, it’s due to lackluster reviews (New Scientist calls it “too polished”). With a focus on established, modern issues that impact our long-term futures, the book provides a survey of how we are building our future landscapes. For this, I believe it deserves better attention.

An interesting part of the book is that Turney includes the feedback of fifty “thoughtful futurologists, scientists and other experts,” where he asks each:

  • What is your highest hope for what will happen?
  • What is your worst fear?
  • What is your best bet for what will actually occur?

Respondents include Ray Kurzweil, Freeman Dyson, Aubrey de Grey, Bruce Sterling, Sohail Inayatullah, and me.

A general futures guidebook is a bold undertaking. But, New Scientist is probably right — the book is broad, and lacks the depth required to really dive into eyebrow-raising forecasts and visions of the future. As a primer, however, it is very well organized. For people who are just beginning to explore the future, the book serves as a very nice starting point as we survey what’s ahead.

Next Horizon Forum roundtable: Education and the Technological Singularity

An invitation to the next Horizon Forum meeting at the University of Minnesota:

Education and the Technological Singularity

January 27, 2010

11:30am – 1:30pm

250 Wulling Hall (U of M East Bank)

At the next Horizon Forum, you are invited to join the discussion, moderated by Arthur Harkins and John Moravec, with special guests, as we probe into the deep future of education.

The New York Times’ John Tierney published an interview with Ray Kurzweil on accelerating change:

Now, [Kurzweil] sees biology, medicine, energy and other fields being revolutionized by information technology. His graphs [of accelerating technological change] already show the beginning of exponential progress in nanotechnology, in the ease of gene sequencing, in the resolution of brain scans. With these new tools, he says, by the 2020s we’ll be adding computers to our brains and building machines as smart as ourselves.

What does this mean for schools today? Kurzweil’s vision of the Singularity is criticized for being technologically deterministic. But, are there relevant social and cultural aspects related to the human experience? At the Horizon Forum’s next open roundtable, will explore what changes could take place in our schools and learning institutions within the next 35 years as technology transforms the human mind and human potential… and what we can start doing today!

Lunch and validated parking will be provided. Please RSVP your attendance by 10am on January 25 to Carole MacLean at or call 612-625-5060.

The Horizon Forum is sponsored by the Preparation to Practice Group in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. For for information about the Horizon Forum, contact John Moravec at or call 612-625-3517.

Kurzweil's Transcendent Man

We haven’t had an opportunity to screen Ray Kurzweil‘s the film, Transcendent Man, yet, but The Futurist magazine published a preview:

Scene: A movie theater on the west side of Manhattan during the Tribeca Film Festival. The audience teems with hip New York film students eager to see the world premiere of a new documentary. They’re joined, unexpectedly, by computer scientists, geneticists, and futurists from Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong. The lights dim. After a brief opening, inventor Ray Kurzweil appears on the screen, looks squarely into the camera, and says, “I’m never going to die.”

So began the world premiere of Barry Ptolemy’s Transcendent Man, a feature-length film that chronicles Kurzweil’s ideas on the future of technological innovation. Chief among his forecasts: In the next 30 years, humans will use genomics, nanotechnology, and even artificial intelligence to escape death.

The film is in limited release and we will post more about the film and its implications for education as soon as we have an opportunity to view it. In the meantime, Read more at The Futurist or visit the film’s website.

Singularity University

Singularity University

This past week

A shockwave passed through the singularity community today with the public launch of Singularity University at the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley.  Singularity University aims to assemble a world class community of thought leaders, academics, and entreprenuers across the many fields of exponentially advancing technologies (nanotechnology, genetics, medicine, artificial intelligence, etc.) in order to address humanity’s grand challenges.

With significant backing from Google and NASA, and with the participation of a renowned cast of faculty and advisors, Singularity University is poised to literally overnight become a world class institution for the innovation, collaboration, and leadership that will allow the world to capitalize on the great promise of technology to solve the world’s greatest problems…

Founded by Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis (X Prize Foundation), and Larry Page (Google), the Singularity University focus its curriculum on technologies surrounding:

  • Future Studies & Forecasting
  • Networks & Computing Systems
  • Biotechnology & Bioinformatics
  • Nanotechnology
  • Medicine, Neuroscience & Human Enhancement
  • AI, Robotics, & Cognitive Computing
  • Energy & Ecological Systems
  • Space & Physical Sciences
  • Policy, Law & Ethics
  • Finance & Entrepreneurship

What’s missing, however, is a human capital development focus.  As the world approaches the Technological Singularity, how can we design better human capital futures?  Moreover, what are the social, cultural, and educational elements we need to start studying and working on today to ensure our success? …our survival?

Change is accelerating: Get ready!

Change is the theme of this week, and we open with a reminder from Ray Kurzweil that change is accelerating. Last week, the New York Times’ John Tierney published an interview with Kurzweil on accelerating change:

Now, [Kurzweil] sees biology, medicine, energy and other fields being revolutionized by information technology. His graphs [of accelerating technological change] already show the beginning of exponential progress in nanotechnology, in the ease of gene sequencing, in the resolution of brain scans. With these new tools, he says, by the 2020s we’ll be adding computers to our brains and building machines as smart as ourselves.

Kurzweil has a track record of being correct with his projections of technological advancement. What does this mean for education? What changes would take place in our schools within the next 12-22 years as technology transforms the human mind and human potential? This week, we will consider these questions, and look at both U.S. presidential candidates’ proposals for changing education for a better future.

Speaking of Kurzweil, he is busy adapting his book, The Singularity is Near, into a movie of the same title. Originally planned for release this spring, it’s now slated to surface sometime later in 2008.

Designing education for sustainable innovation

Presented at the JTET conference this morning:

Arthur M. Harkins, Ph.D. (USA)
John Moravec, Ph.D. (USA)
University of Minnesota


This presentation is concerned with complex subjects, but presents them in ways that audiences can understand and professionally contemplate. The core concept of the paper is “sustainable innovation,” which presumes the necessity for continuous innovation to cope with changes wrought by technology, socioeconomic trends, global climate transformations, celestial changes, and by change itself.


Ray Kurzweil has written that machines and software are beginning to challenge the supremacy and hegemony of humans over other species. Kurzweil argues that ever-shortening ‘S-curves’ of electronic hardware and software development are creating pressures to bond humans and machines into various networks and systems. Some of these include self-flyable Airbus aircraft, early implants (such as pacemakers and hearing amplifiers), and the later prospect of artificial eyes and adjunct cybernetic brains.

Kurzweil’s projections include step-by-step ‘dovetailing’ of humans with artificial systems. This process is already creating ‘gray areas’ between humans and such devices as robot arms and artificial kidneys. These and many other aspects of Kurzweil’s thinking appear to justify assertions that Trans-Humanity (TH) is evolving, and very quickly, as a complex ecology of cyborgs. The long-term prospect of uploading human central nervous system contents into non-biological units would complete the transition to a radical new embodiment of intelligence, which may be called Post Humanity (PH).


In all of this great change, why must schools stress sustainable innovation? With the help of education, how can young people retain and grow their individuality? How can they continuously reconfigure their collective memberships with others, including those within cyberspace? This paper will explore such questions and related ones by creating and discussing short sustainable innovation scenarios illustrating the roles of formal and informal educational systems. The paper will construct scenarios for two different types of sustainable innovation: those based on anticipating and creating the futures of TH, and those based on PH. The ethics and morality of both sustainable innovation types will be suggested by metrics associated with personal and collective choices.

Contact us to learn more!

Technology Evangelist: Kurzweil at Killer App Expo

The folks at the Technology Evangelist blog did a remarkable job in recording Ray Kurzweil‘s talk at the Killer App Expo and feeding video to the net. Benjamin J. Higginbotham writes:

Ray Kurzweil is a pioneer in the fields of optical character recognition, health, artificial intelligence, transhumanism, technological singularity and futurism. At the Killer App Expo in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Ray gave the evening Keynote speech. We were fortunate enough to have two HD cameras at the conference and grabbed the entire keynote with house audio. Whereas we would normally cut this 80 minute presentation into a 10 to 15 minute chunk, Ray’s material was so good, so inspiring that we have decided to leave it complete. If you’re an Apple TV user, this is a great bit to watch in full 720p. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

Speaking on innovations in education, Kurzweil stated: “Telepresence is really on the cutting edge of this sharing of information. It is form of virtual reality and it is really a harventure of what’s to come. I think it is a tremendously powerful thing to be able to have a world renowned medical expert to be really present with you if the patient is may be in Africa or something. Education to really feel like you are with an educator and just the ability to meet with each other, human communication is one of things that makes us unique, but Telepresence is on the cutting edge of our being able to meet without being limited by geographical limitations and as broadband gets higher and higher quality all these other display technologies get higher and higher resolution to the reality of Telepresence in a virtual reality is getting more and more compelling. Ultimately you will all compete very well with real reality, so in the case in the universities that students not necessarily got a class they can watch it using video conferencing on the Internet archived, it is perhaps looks crude compared to real reality today, it is actually quite satisfactory, but ultimately it will be just as realistic as being there and the ability to really meet including all of the senses without the people using Telepresence, I think it is quite revolutionary, things like Second Life as a whole another virtual reality environment, now looks crude today, but think how crude video games were when they started pong with stimulation of tennis, but it is was pretty crude, these games have become quite realistic. Things like Second Life will be a whole virtual reality environment that’s ultimately be as competing with real reality with many advantages.”

Ray Kurzweil to appear on C-SPAN

Ray Kurzweil is going to be interactively live on C-SPAN2’s “Book TV” this coming Sunday from 1100-1400 CST. Here is the blurb from this morning’s NYT:

“Join us for a live conversation with Ray Kurzweil, author of several books about artificial intelligence, including The Age of Spiritual Machines, and his latest, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Participate in the discussion by calling in or e-mailing your questions.”