Ask Ray | Will human intelligence amplication widen the divide between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’?
May 11, 2011 by Ray Kurzweil
Dear Mr. Kurzweil,
My name is David Gonzalez, and I am a high school senior. I have been doing extensive research on the Singularity and the technologies used to bring about these changes and plan to major in bioengineering in college. I have some concerns as to the nature of our technological progression towards the eventual dawning of the Singularity.
You have mentioned that the exponential growth of technology will eventually lead to the creation of machines that will match and inevitably surpass human intelligence capabilities.
I find myself confused on the matter of “IA” (intelligence amplification) vs. “AI” (artificial intelligence). Are we creating the next generation of “humans” in these superior machines? Or, are we using these technologies to augment our own intelligence, as well? Are they simply the next generation of AI — are they destined to become our “replacements”?
Personally, I would like to see that our own intelligence matches that of our machines, but maybe I am thinking about this the wrong way. Any input you are able to give would be greatly appreciated.
— David Gonzalez
Your question is a good and important one. In my view the purpose of AI is IA. We can see that already. Look at how much smarter we are already as a result of our computers. And even though most of those computers are not yet in our bodies and brains (although a few are), they are very close to us.
The size of computers is shrinking, and when they are the size of blood cells (in about 20 years), they will routinely go inside our bodies to keep us healthier and make us smarter (IA). The AIs are not a race apart, we are already a human-machine civilization. I’d be happy to send you a complimentary inscribed copy of The Singularity is Near.
I have an even more pressing question that I wish to ask regarding the coming of the Singularity, and I would like to know what your thoughts are on it. With all of these wondrous new technologies fast approaching, I find myself very fearful of the possibility of a growing schism between the “haves” and “have nots” in society. There are those like myself, fortunate enough to be able to pursue a college education, and there are also those who do not even have access to drinking water. Then there are also the wealthy and societal elites who enjoy a disproportionate amount of wealth in the United States economy.
Just how much of a divide can result from these technologies being on the market with people being able to upgrade themselves? I fear the gap between rich and poor — and even the gap between wealthy and middle class — will grow exponentially in the coming decades. What are your thoughts on this and how do you think these issues can be avoided, if at all?
— David Gonzalez
The law of accelerating returns implies a 50 percent deflation rate in all information technologies. Look at how dramatically this has played out in the area of cell phones and mobile computing, both of which are now ubiquitous. A kid in Africa with a smartphone (increasingly ubiquitous) has access to more information than the president of the United States had 15 years ago. Half of the farmers in China and 30 percent of Africans have mobile devices now of one kind or another, and most will have smartphones within a couple of years.
The increasing use of the Internet is revolutionizing access to medical care, education, and, of course, politics. These are deeply democratizing technologies. These exponentially growing information technologies will provide access to clean water, to very inexpensive clean energy, and abundant healthy food through new nanotechnology-based capabilities.
They also lead to greater wealth throughout the world. These trends are already well underway. The number of years of schooling that a child receives in his or her childhood has more than doubled everywhere in the world over the past half century. All nations have become much wealthier. I have the graphs that demonstrate these trends.