The Age of Spiritual Machines: Part 2

Defining Kurzweil’s Work: Academic Analysis for a Non-Academic Work

The book The Age of Spiritual Machines explores the future of human/artificial intelligence using a classic exercise in “what ifs.” This is called speculative science and futurology. Because this is predictive, in the same way that a fortune teller is predictive, it is not a peer-reviewed academic book. Academics can and will easily criticize his work because the book is speculative. His predictions are lacking empirical evidence, given that nothing can be assumed to be constant in the future and we cannot measure events that have not taken place. If you have no empirical evidence in the future, you will need to use the past for your assumptions. He does this but comes up with wildly speculative ideas of how the future will word.

Academia requires empirical facts that can be strongly supported using the scientific method. In science, political, chemical, biological etc, academics do not “prove” anything is “true” but show that their findings are strongly supported by evidence. Unfortunately, the future has not occurred yet. Therefore it is futile to claim that Kurzweil’s predictions are strongly supportable or not supportable because there is no empirical evidence from the year 2019 for either argument.

Why Kurzweil is still valuable if it is not academic and might not even occur as predicted? To use a classic example, in Orwell’s dystopia 1984, he predicted London would be Landing Strip 1. This did not happen thankfully but that novel has contributed to a thought provoking assessment of political science, government, cultural and scientific thinking. Non-academic thinkers may choose to believe that Kurzweil’s predictions are highly probable. They are free to make that imaginative leap. They are also free to believe that in 24th Century, people will wear pants on their heads be it will be fasionable. It would be wrong however for someone claiming to be an academic to accept his predictions as factual or non-factual, they are speculative, period. Even if Kurzweil’s theories are likely or unlikely to occur as he predicts they are deeply thought-provoking and worthy of analysis none the less.

If it is futile to treat The Age of Spiritual Machines as an academic work, it is because academia is not Kurzweil’s audience. He is trying to stimulate the imagination with creative ideas. It is our goal to use academic analysis to better assess those ideas. Academia reduces the fun factor for non-academic minds but thinking logically, and critically will provide objective analysis that might be useful to better understand the questions proposed by this book: its implications and its flaws. Academics are inherently negative/critical/analytical (all the same result) because their goal is to target the weaknesses in an argument and dissect it. They should be free to criticize:

  • • His ethical views.
  • • His failure to seriously address the Human Factor (see below). His failure to address important questions that we might have about what he normative desires for the future versus what other people desire for the future.
  • • His theory of the good life versus other theory of the good life.
  • • His methodology wherever it is dubious
  • • His predictive skills in the past.
  • • His criticism of cautious progressivism.
  • • His faith in computers to provide only positive outcomes.
  • • His ignorance of the negative outcomes of technology.

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