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Kurzweil's dirty shirt and flawed futurism fall flat
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Kurzweil's dirty shirt and flawed futurism fall flat

The singularity theorist and transhumanist prophet was no match for Joe Rogan’s Everyman logic.

Ray Kurzweil made a rare appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast on Tuesday. For those who don’t know Kurzweil, he is the author and futurist employed at Google who is most famous for advancing the idea of the singularity. In the dystopian future Kurzweil pines for, human beings will be able to live forever by uploading our consciousness into computers. Sure they will. He also is the godfather of the transhumanism movement.

Kurzweil rarely gives interviews and has cultivated a mystique of a genius monk who descends from the servers occasionally to preach the truth of the AI gods. It seems avoiding public scrutiny was a wise course of action, because he comes across like a man who never took the time to examine his rantings.

Joe Rogan might be the perfect foil for a futurist and woo peddler like Kurzweil.

When you read about these people preaching life extension and immortality, one can’t help but think of Ponce de Leon and his search for the fountain of youth. Perhaps Kurzweil will avoid having to traverse the Florida swamps in his pursuit of eternal life, but his schtick is no less absurd.

Kurzweil showed up for the interview in a dirty shirt and comically oversized suspenders, which Rogan noted. Left unmentioned was the horrid toupee he was sporting. One wonders about a mind preparing to merge with machines while being concerned with a thinning hairline.

Joe Rogan might be the perfect foil for a futurist and woo peddler like Kurzweil. He knows just enough about these subjects to be dangerous but also asks questions with an Everyman logic that is a perfect antidote to cut through the vague science this man spews.

The interview starts off with Kurzweil speculating about how great it would be if your phone just started talking to you whenever you had a question. Rogan responds that it might be pretty annoying to have answers yelled at you 24/7.

The conversation proceeds in this way for most of the next two hours. Kurzweil makes fantastical statements, and when Rogan asks fairly simple follow-ups, his interlocutor never quite answers. Instead, we’re left with vague quotes about silicon salvation being nigh.

The myth surrounding this secular prophet began with his 1989 book, “The Age of Intelligent Machines.” In it, Kurzweil predicted the rise of super-intelligent AI that would outstrip human intelligence and usher in a new age of humanity. He was correct about the rise of many aspects of digital culture, including the internet. But he takes credit for a host of predictions that are rather vague and up for debate. The man remains unfazed. Throughout the interview, Kurzweil presents as inevitable his predictions about the singularity happening by 2045.

Kurzweil goes on a rant about how people used to live only until the age of 34, which proves why technology is amazing. This is a shockingly ignorant statement for someone with his intellectual reputation. Yes, because of infant mortality rates, life spans used to be shorter. But that doesn't mean that people who survived childhood dropped dead in their thirties, as he seems to think.

Kurzweil and Rogan eventually get to the heart of the matter when it comes this transhumanism techno religion: What happens when we die.

Many religions have theories, but the transhumanists have a great zag. You never need to die. With advancements in medicine, we can reverse aging, and when the inevitable comes, our conscious selves will already have been uploaded into the cloud. It’s worth noting that despite Kurzweil’s 40-year obsession with health and taking 100 life-prolonging vitamins per day, my dad looks more vital at a similar age. His regimen involves walking around the neighborhood and smoking cigars.

Rogan is no neurologist or philosopher, but he keeps trying to nail down Kurzweil on the central question. If we have no clue about the nature of human consciousness, how would one go about uploading it? Even if we could, wouldn’t whatever robotic creation that results be nothing more than a zombie rather than a person?

Alas, Kurzweil has no answer.

It’s telling that he also has no clue that our data and phones are not secure and can be hacked and surveilled by any government or company willing to buy Pegasus. He admits to building a large language model to converse with his dead father but scoffs at questions about the spiritual nature of his ideas. It makes sense that Kurzweil’s new book is called “The Singularity Is Nearer: When We Merge with AI,” a sequel to his 2005 book “The Singularity Is Near.” With these people, their predictions are always right around the corner. Trust me, bro.

From his Wikipedia page: “Kurzweil has joined the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a cryonics company. In the event of his declared death, Kurzweil plans to be perfused with cryoprotectants, vitrified in liquid nitrogen, and stored at an Alcor facility in the hope that future medical technology will be able to repair his tissues and revive him.”

He also will be ushered into the corridor of Horus, where he will meet Osiris and be judged on how he lived his life … oh wait, that’s a different death cult. What’s certain is that for all of human history, we’ve longed to escape our fate.

Percy Bysshe Shelley probably put it best:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

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Peter Gietl

Peter Gietl

Managing Editor, Return

Peter Gietl is the managing editor for Return. He is a tech journalist, magazine editor, and essayist covering human stories in the digital age, from crypto to AI to transhumanism. He lives in Colorado.
@petergietl →