Ask Ray | Potential for elitization of the singularity

November 18, 2014 by Ray Kurzweil

(credit: stock image)

Dear Professor Kurzweil,

I was hoping for your views on the potential elitization of singularity that could lead to exacerbation of class, opportunity and economic division.

The ongoing quest for extending human life and artificially enhancing its quality testifies to our instincts for permanence and survival at all cost.

Technologically acquired supremacy breaks the well accepted paradigm that improved life span, physical and cognitive performance is possible only with practice, studious effort and a healthy lifestyle.

Enhancement made accessible to all holds potential to eliminate interpersonal rivalry, covetousness and even war, by equalizing life span and quality. All of us would be “first (beings) among equals.”

However, the more likely scenario is trenchantly divisive, with those who cannot afford such impressive enhancements being at risk of being outdone, outlived, if not exploited, by enhanced beings. A brave new world where talent and effort becomes obsolete and perfection is for sale is morally transgressive.

Joseph Ting

Adjunct Associate Professor, Clinical Research Methods and Prehospital Care
School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology


Professor Ting,

There is an approximately 50% deflation rate for all information technology. That is why mobile phones were only affordable by the wealthy 15 years ago and now are dramatically better yet very inexpensive, so much so that there are approximately six billion cell phones in the world and about a billion smart phones.

Technology starts out affordable only by the rich at a point where it does not work very well. By the time a technology is perfected it is almost free. Even physical devices will become almost free with the advent of 3D printing.

Ray Kurzweil


Ray,

Thanks! I take your well made point with the analogy of mobile telephone adoption across the world.

Increasing affordability of new technology such as the mass adoption of mobile phones around the world, including in low resource settings, is not capable of narrowing the persistent gradient in the quality of smartphones widely sold in advanced economies compared with cheaper versions that an average consumer in sub-Saharan Africa has access to.

Compare the latest Apple iPhone with a Nokia mobile phone that cannot access the internet. Furthermore, in low development countries, web enabled data access networks may be very slow with limited coverage, regardless of the quality of one’s smartphone.

For artificial enhancement of function or physiology, this gradient will obstinately remain. Although the quality of both the best contemporary bio-physiological enhancement and its low end, out of date version are both expected to improve over time, competitiveness, covetousness, prestige and income driven pricing is likely to maintain a chasm of quality between what the super-rich and the average punter is able to afford.

This is going to potentiate inequities in access to the best, widening society’s socio-economic divide.

Joseph


related reading:
National Nanotechnology Initiative | Ethical, legal and societal issues
Al Jazeera | Innovate Africa


related viewing:

PBS NewsHour | Mobile phone usage explodes in Africa, spurring innovation. A drive through Kenya’s bustling capital of Nairobi reveals a nation in love with the mobile phone.

Across the African continent, improvements in mobile phone technology and greater access to the internet are spurring new innovations in the tech sector. Special correspondent Martin Seemungal reports from Kenya, the East African nation leading the trend.