CNN | The Glenn Beck Program: Interview with Ray Kurzweil
May 30, 2008
CNN — May 30, 2008 | Glenn Beck
The following is a CNN transcript from the episode aired May 30, 2008. To watch the full video click here.
GLENN BECK, CNN HOST: At the age of five, Ray Kurzweil declared himself an inventor. By 17 he was on I’ve Got a Secret with a computer that he had made that now composed its own original music.
In the 1980s, he built an electric piano for Steve Wonder and founded the Kurzweil Music System now working with the co-founder of Google to solve the energy crisis through solar power.
The man Bill Gates calls a visionary thinker, a man I have been trying to speak to for over 10 years. Ray Kurzweil is here. And he is about to change the way you think about our future forever. Join me for an incredible hour next!
I have to tell you, America, I am thrilled. I have been waiting to talk to this guy for a very, very long time. You are in for an amazing hour. We’ll spend an hour with the guy Bill Gates calls a visionary thinker and futurist. He has 16 honorary doctorates, me too. He has been inducted into the in the Inventors’ Hall of Fame, inventor, entrepreneur, author of “The Singularity is Near.” And many others. Ray Kurzweil.
What a real honor. I read your book Age of Spiritual Machines. I don’t even know how many years ago that came out. Mind-boggling. I read that. It is some of the, some of the most frightening and yet hopeful stuff I have ever read.
RAY KURZWEIL, INVENTOR AND SCIENTIST: It`s been tracking very accurately. I looked at it recently. A book I wrote in the 1980s. The Age of Intelligent Machines. That had predictions like the emergence of the Worldwide Web coming in the mid 1990s. Which seemed ridiculous in the 80s.
BECK: You’re a guy who people like, a Bill Gates would call up and say, hey, ray, we are making this machine, can you tell me about the future of this kind of machine. Are we headed in the right direction? Is that the way people use you?
KURZWEIL: That`s one of my roles, as a futurist. There are certain things actually we can track accurately. Which is if you can measure the information content like cost performance of computing, the number of nodes on the Internet, the number of bytes of brain data, cost of sequencing DNA, those things track accurate, exponential progressions, and I have been making accurate predictions about those kinds of things.
BECK: So we have a ton to talk about. I want to talk about energy, the future of energy. Want to talk to you about global warming. I want to talk to you about health. I mean, you believe that, you`re going to live forever?
KURZWEIL: Well, I am working on it.
BECK: You are working on it. So far, it`s not like a joke.
KURZWEIL: So far so good. But yes, I do have a plan.
KURZWEIL: And it’s not an absolute guarantee. But yes, we can stay healthy long enough until we have technology that will get us to the next stage and so on.
BECK: America, wait until you hear. I mean — you believe it from this guy. All right, let me start with this. You say we have 32 times more technical advancement if you will coming in the next, 40, 50 years.
KURZWEIL: Half century.
BECK: In the next half century than we have had since 1900.
KURZWEIL: Right. Well we are doubling what I call the paradigm shift rate, rate of technical progress every decade. So the next 50 years, we’ll see 32 times more progress than in the last century.
BECK: Where does that put us? What — what is life like at that point?
KURZWEIL: Fifty years from now, life is quite different. We will be spending most of our time in virtual reality, we’ll be enhancing our brains by merging with our technology, we will be able to back up our mind file. People will think it is actually pretty amazing we went through the day without backing up the information in our brains. Just like we think it is crazy today.
BECK: How do you mean? So.
KURZWEIL: You have information up there.
BECK: Right. Some of us not so much.
KURZWEIL: And you know we think it is pretty — irresponsible to not back up a personal computer. Yet we don’t back this information up.
BECK: So are you talking about. I hate to ask Ray Kurzweil this question. Do you go to the movies?
KURZWEIL: On occasion.
BECK: On occasion. I didn`t see this movie. But — The Matrix. They tell me that in The Matrix, they could, what was it they put a chip or put a cord in the back of your head and you could upload all of this information.
KURZWEIL: Well, we’re going to be able to send nanabots, blood cell sized devices inside our blood stream that will keep us healthy from inside and go inside our brains through the capillaries and interact with our biological neurons. If that sound futuristic, people have computers in their brains, for example Parkinson’s patients have a pea-sized computer in their brain that replaces biological neurons destroyed by the disease. The latest generation actually allows you to download software in the neural implant from outside the body in the patient. That is today.
And this kind of technology is doubling in power every year, it is shrinking in size by effect of 100 per volume per decade. So 25 years from now these technologies will be a billion times more powerful, 100,000 times smaller, we`ll be able to send the nanobots into our brain, they`ll interact with our neurological and they will extend our intelligence and we’ll be a hybrid of biological and non-biological intelligence.
BECK: You said in I think it was, The Age of Spiritual Machines at some point you will walk into your room, your computer will pass your intelligence or all the intelligence on the planet by 2027.
KURZWEIL: By 2029 .
KURZWEIL: By 2029 a machine will be able to pass a Turing test, meaning it is indistinguishable from human intelligence. So we won’t be able to tell the difference.
BECK: At what point — this was frightening, where you said that, you will actually, you will go to turn off your computer and it will say, no, I`m lonely.
KURZWEIL: Well, our computers aren’t going to be these distinct rectangular devices we carry around. We are going to merge with them. If I were to say that someday we`ll have blood cell sized devices in our blood stream keeping us healthy you would say that sounds very futuristic. But there are already 50 experiments of doing that today with first generation of the devices in animals. So this is already starting. These devices will get more and more intelligent. If you go on to 2029, our computers are not going to be these rectangular devices we put in our pocket. They’re going to be inside our bodies and brains and we are going to be a hybrid of biological and nonbiological intelligence.
It is going to keep us healthy. It`s going to go inside our brains and it`s going to extend our intelligence. And that is nonbiological part of our intelligence, to that we can download knowledge and skills just like we download knowledge and skills to our computers today.
BECK: Do you — do you at any time worry about — I mean it`s — in some ways, I`m trying to remember “Brave New World” enough, in some ways you are entering a place who their could you be manipulated by this? Could somebody say, I`m turning you off. Click. And turn you off?
KURZWEIL: Well we already do a lot of intimate things with our computers. And they`re inside our clothing. And so privacy and control of our software is already a big issue. You don`t want somebody looking at everything you are doing. And controlling what you do on your personal computer. There are people walking around like Parkinson`s patient who have computers in their brains and they can actually download new software to the computer inside their brain from outside their head. That`s today.
So, these are already issues. But we do manage these issues — I mean privacy and control of software is important. But nobody has said, that this issue is so important let`s get rid of the Internet because of the problem.
BECK: But there’s a difference between, I mean it’s physically in me. You know, I would hate to have somebody have control of what`s physically in me. And to say yeah, you know I don`t really agree with you. Click, and turn you off.
KURZWEIL: Oh, there are — technology has always been a double-edged sword. Ever since we had fire and stone tools.
BECK: Because you wrote, because I think — some of the stuff that you write is not only amazing in its technology but it’s — it’s not just the science, it’s the philosophy that has to go with it. And that`s what scares me. Philosophy is not growing as fast as technology is. And when you say — you know, there is going to be an attorney that will have to represent a machine and say — is it real? Or is it not? Is it life? Is it not? Are we ready for that kind of technology?
KURZWEIL: We’re not going to make a leap from today to 2029, or 2045 in one big leap. We’re going to get there hundreds of steps from now. One step at a time. And by the time we get there, we kind of get used to very radical changes. Look at today, describe that to people, 50 years ago. It would seem very daunting. And yet we accept it. The fact that you can take a device out of your pocket and with a few key strokes and access all of human knowledge. It seems incredible. But we take it for granted.
BECK: How realistic are some of the things you talked about. So much more. How realistic are the things we`ll talk about tonight, because I was promised a flying car, dammit, and I want the flying car. They still haven`t done that? How realistic is this stuff?
KURZWEIL: Well, my predictions have to do with information technology, computation, communications, the fact that we can w treat our biology as information processes, we have this outdated software running in our bodies, and those types of processes track they`re accurately in this exponential fashion. So, there have been a lot of predictions that have nothing to do with information technology, many of which have been inaccurate. I have been making predictions for 30 years, which have really tracked accurately. Like the emergence of the Worldwide Web, the fact that the computer took the World Chess Championship in 1997.
BECK: You do have a …
KURZWEIL: The demise of the Soviet Union, from decentralized electronic communication. I mean these things have been predictable because computation, communication, follows these very accurate, very predictable progressions.
BECK: OK. More here in just a second. Including the day that Rick Kurzweil decided he was an inventor. He declared, I believe he was five, at the time, I was eating glue. We`ll be back in just a minute.
BECK: Back with inventor and futurologist, Ray Kurzweil. Five years old he knew he wanted to be an inventor. At 12 you found your way to a computer. Was it your grandfather that was actually working with original Leonardo Da Vinci manuscripts?
KURZWEIL: My grandfather came back from Europe having had the opportunity to touch some of Da Vinci`s manuscripts and he described it in reverential terms. That was the philosophy of my family. Respect for human knowledge and ideas. The fact that any problem you encounter, a life problem or a technical problem, there are ideas out there that you can find and overcome those, those problems. So that`s been kind of a philosophy that`s guided my life.
BECK: Which is — which is odd — or maybe even more meaningful seeing that your family escaped Nazi Germany in 1938?
KURZWEIL: Yeah, they overcame that problem. And I have overcome problems in my life, medical problems or technological problems, business issues, usually I have been able to find the solution to a problem. If you look for the right idea, the power of human ideas I think can really overcome any challenge.
BECK: At any time — at any time, I look at the TV and look at these clowns in Washington. I just start screaming at the TV. I’m like get out of people’s way. Just — just let people inventors, thinkers, just let them go. It will either work or it won`t work. But people are amazing the things they can come up with if they just aren`t restricted. I mean, you got to have, common sense stuff. But you know what I mean?
KURWEIL: I agree. I think the power of entrepreneurship and invention can really overcome age old problems that we are facing like the environment, energy, health. Even poverty. The World Bank reported that poverty in Asia has been cut in half because of information technology over the last decade. And will be cut by 90 percent because of information technology over the next decade. Africa is actually not far behind. Cell phones are ubiquitous in Africa. The Internet is invading. Africa jump-starting a health system. Educational system.
BECK: Do you think it is possible to go back to these repressive governments with the information technology that is out there? How come China hasn’t, hasn’t collapsed on itself?
KURZWEIL: Well, there are some 60 million blogs in China. So the democratizing power of the decentralized electronic communication like the Internet is very powerful. It’s in China. It’s everywhere. And it is really very democratizing. I wrote in the 1980s that the Soviet Union was doomed because of the decentralized electronic communications, the fax machines, the early e-mail, teletype machines. That’s what we saw in the coup against Gorbachev in 1991.
The paradigm of grabbing the centralized radio and TV station and keeping everybody in the dark didn`t work any more. And I think that’s been behind the democratization we saw in the 90s.
BECK: You are sitting on a plane, I don’t know how many years ago, you are sitting next to a blind man. And obviously he is blind, can’t read, in the magazines, etc, etc. You leave the plane. Tell the story. What happened?
KURWEIL: I had a technology that could recognize printed letters. It was kind of a solution in search of a problem. We didn’t know what it was good for. So this guy happened to be blind, said blindness is not a handicap. I can do anything. I am traveling around the world. But then he corrected himself. One thing I can’t do is read current material like my office memos. So we decided to devote that technology, character recognition to build a reading machine for the blind.
BECK: And you have got a new thing we’ll show in just a little while. But this brought you to Stevie Wonder?
KURZWEIL: It`s actually a good idea, the exponential growth of technology. The first reading machine introduced in `76 was the size of a washing machine and now it`s a four-ounce cell phone.
BECK: Look at this.
KURZWEIL: That`s 5,000 times smaller, and actually a lot better and a lot cheaper. That`s the nature of information technology. Stevie Wonder was our first customer.
BECK: Of the reading machine.
KURZWEIL: Of the reading machine in `76. Then we became friend. He challenged me to combine acoustic music and electronic music and that led to another project, Kurzweil Music Systems where we created the first music synthesizer that could re-create the grand piano.
BECK: Never put it together. I can se it in my mind’s eye. The black piano, the black electronic piano, with Kurzweil on the back. Never put it together that you are the guy who did that.
KURZWEIL: That’s one of my projects, yeah.
BECK: When — when, you say that when — a child is born today, will not face disease in the future.
KURZWEIL: We are now undergoing a profound transformation. Where medicine, biology is no longer hit or miss. It is an information technology. We have outdated software running in our bodies.
BECK: What does that mean?
KURZWEIL: Well 22,000 software programs called genes evolved thousand of years ago in conditions very different. I give you one example of, out of 23,000. One gene called the fat insulin receptor gene says hold on to every calorie because the next hunting season might not work out so well. That was a great idea 1,000 years ago. And it`s a terrible idea today. It underlies the epidemic of obesity. When that gene was turned off in animals, these animals ate a lot and remained slim. Didn`t get diabetes, they didn’t get heart disease. Lived 20 percent longer. They got the health benefit of caloric restriction while doing the opposite. And there are several pharmaceutical companies rushing to bring that to the human market.
And we have a new technology. RNA interference that can turn genes off. And we have identified other genes that promote disease and aging that we would look to turn off.
BECK: May I be a test person for the fat thing? Seriously.
KURZWEIL: That`s coming.
BECK: America would thank you for that.
KURZWEIL: There`s over 1,000 drugs in the development pipeline using this technique of RNA interference. We have new forms of gene therapy. They can add new genes. So we’re reprogramming the outdated software. So it`s a whole new thing.
BECK: Coming up in a second. Ray Kurzweil will be back. Secret to reversing diabetes and his plans to live forever. Not kidding you. He says he is never going to die. I got a bus waiting for him outside.
BECK: Back with author, entrepreneur and inventor, Ray Kurzweil, at 35 diagnosed with type II diabetes, gone now, you reversed it?
KURZWEIL: The conventional approach made it worse. So I decided to immerse myself in the scientific literature. I came up with an approach that reversed it and haven’t had any indication of diabetes for the last 22 years.
BECK: Excuse me for not knowing anything about diabetes, but that’s really rare isn`t it?
KURZWEIL: That is rare. Now, actually we have better knowledge. So some of the ideas that I have articulated in several books is now more mainstream. So we are doing a better job of controlling diabetes.
BECK: And you actually believe that you can, you may, unless you get hit by that bus I have waiting for you outside, that you can live forever, you are already taking, how many what is it, 230?
KURZWEIL: I cut it down. It’s like 150 pills a day.
BECK: Do you ever just kickback and go I couldn`t have another pill, uh, under your belt?
KURZWEIL: Not a big deal. I do it while checking e-mail.
KURZWEIL: But I wrote a book with Dr. Terry Grossman, talks about three bridges to radical life extension. Bridge one we can do to keep us healthy. I am 60 years old. But I am biologically much younger. To keep us young and healthy until we get to the next bridge which is the full flowering of this biotechnology revolution where it can reprogram the outdated software that runs in our bodies.
BECK: So you also do. I read this. I said to my wife, I said “Honey, exercise in four minutes. This is perfect.” She said “you can’t exercise in four minutes.” You use it. It’s — there it is. This contraption. Four minutes of exercise?
KURZWEIL: Well, I don’t actually buy that either. I do it for four minutes. But I have added it to my other routine. I still walk and I still work out with weights.
BECK: Why would you do that for four minutes in that ad.
KURZWEIL: It is a good four minutes. If you are going to exercise four minutes. I recommend it.
BECK: That`s about all I could squeeze in. I can`t do any more than that. You, you talk a little bit about — you know that we are going to be able to change our body. We will reprogram the outdated genes and the code in it. How does that not lead to discrimination or ooh, sorry you are an old model. Or I can`t get you insurance. Or any of this stuff?
KURWEIL: Well — we’re going to have 80 years olds who look and act 35 or 40. So they’re going to be quite vital. These technologies are unaffordable only when they don’t work. Cell phones, 15 years ago they didn’t work. They were unaffordable now. Now there are 3 billion cell phones in the world, they are ubiquitous in Africa, they are very inexpensive and they work quite well. Same with AIDS drugs, they cost $30,000 a year didn`t work very well. Now it is $100 per patient a year in sub-Saharan Africa. By the time they work well, they`re very inexpensive and ultimately quite ubiquitous. We will have technologies that will allow us to support a much larger biological population.
BECK: OK. When we come back — the future of energy. The answer to our fossil fuel crisis and global warming. Don’t go away.
BECK: We are spending an incredible hour with Ray Kurzweil.
I am not kidding you, I read a book of his about 10 years ago, tried to get him on my then slug radio program, and I think the answer was, like, who are you? So I have been waiting to talk to him for a long time. Inventor, entrepreneur, best-selling author, this guy is amazing. I want to talk to you a little bit about, first, let`s start with global warming. Do you buy into global warming?
KURZWEIL: Well, we have had one degree Fahrenheit of warming in the last 100 years. And it`s increasing. But we are going to do away, in my opinion, with fossil fuels within 20 years, with renewables like solar, which are on their own exponential progression.
BECK: Hang on just a second. Let me go back, because you`re a smart guy. Let`s focus on the global warming. We have had global warming. It has stopped since 1999. Now they`re saying it is going to take another hiatus for another 15 or so years. Is the Al Gore stuff scare tactics, is it real? I mean, this week, Jupiter, Mars, Titan, Pluto, they’re saying all have global warming or climate change on those planets, yet we are the only one that is man-made?
KURZWEIL: Well, I am not a fan of fossil fuels, but it’s not primarily because of global warming — it’s really these other forms of pollution in the extraction and shipment of fossil fuels, and burning it and so on.
KURZWEIL: And also, it has geopolitical effects.
BECK: Oh, yes. It’s a nightmare.
KURZWEIL: And it’s expensive. So, it is very easy to dismiss technologies when they’re at the early part of the exponential. We are doubling the amount of solar energy every two years. We’re only seven doublings away from it meeting 100 percent of our energy needs. You might say, do we really have enough sunlight? The answer is we have 10,000 times more than we need.
BECK: But you know…
KURZWEIL: If we captured one part in 10,000 of the sunlight, we would meet all of our energy needs. And we will be able to do that with these new nano-engineered solar panels.
BECK: All right. So tell me how this works. Because where is Mike? Mike is behind camera one here. How much was it, Mike, $68,000? Sixty-eight — Mike has got a house. He just tried to — you know, how do I outfit for solar panels? Sixty-eight thousand dollars…
KURZWEIL: Yes. Well…
BECK: … to do it.
KURZWEIL: Solar panels are still an old industrial technology. There is billions of dollars of venture capital going into a new generation of nano- engineered solar panels that are much more efficient.
And I just worked on this actually with Larry Page of Google, on a National Academy of Engineering blue ribbon panel, and we came up with a plan. We believe we are less than five years away from a tipping point where the cost per watt from solar energy will be less than the cost per watt from coal and oil. So then even if you don’t care about any of the environmental effects, it’s just the economic incentives will be there to switch over from fossil fuel.
BECK: When you say the singularity is coming in one of your books, what does that mean exactly?
KURZWEIL: Well, singularity is a metaphor meaning a profound singular change. And ultimately, our machines are going to be more intelligent than unaided human intelligence. And we’re going to merge with the technology and become smarter. And that is such a profound transformation to the human civilization that we call that a singularity.
BECK: Are you a spiritual guy?
KURZWEIL: I believe in the power of ideas. I mean, I think that`s a spiritual…
BECK: Right. OK. Because there`s a lot of people, and some people — I’m religious. And I feel this — something coming. And I think you could talk to just about anybody that they feel something coming. Is that — in your words, would it be the singularity? Would it be that tipping point where everything is just going to start changing?
KURZWEIL: Singularity is a pretty profound transformation. So, if people believe that there is something profound coming, that that would fit the bill. But it is going to come from our technology, which it is going to explode exponentially.
Exponential growth is explosive. People think linearly, one, two, three, and 30 steps later you`re 30. But the reality of information technology is it`s going 2, 4, 8, 16, and 30 steps later you are at a billion. So this exponential growth of computers and communications and also technologies like solar energy is going to ultimately be very explosive.
BECK: OK. So, like, for instance, the human genome project was a…
KURZWEIL: It’s a very good example. People dismissed that as being…
BECK: A failure.
KURZWEIL: … a failure halfway through the project, saying you only collected one percent of the genome. But that was right on schedule. It had been doubling every year.
If you double one percent seven more times, then you get 100 percent. And that`s what happened. And it`s actually continued since the end of the genome project. And if you look at the curves, it`s very smooth exponential growth. Every aspect of our biological science is following that kind of pattern.
BECK: So where are we on the — because the secret is to get to one, right? To get to one percent, because then it is 2, and then it’s 4, right?
KURZWEIL: Well, we are actually now about one percent on these renewables of solar and wind. And it`s doubling every two years. So we are only seven doublings, which is 14 years, away from 100 percent. And that will — that will continue.
We are also at that kind of stage in terms of our biological technologies. We have the means of reprogramming our genes. We can turn them on. We can turn them off. We can simulate biological processes. So all of these things are progressing at this exponential rate.
BECK: What is the — do you believe in hydrogen power? Do you believe in — are you just solar? Or do you think we need a little of this, we need a little of this, we need a little of this?
KURZWEIL: Well, I think we can make a very strong case that solar alone will meet the bill. And we have 10,000 times more sunlight than we need. We also need…
BECK: Is that planet-wise or country-wise?
KURZWEIL: That’s planet-wise. But actually, if we devoted one small fraction of a percent of the deserts that are now unused in the United States to solar farms with the new technologies that will emerge in five or six years, we could meet all of our energy needs. You also need storage technologies, and that is also coming with nanotechnology. And some of that gives us hydrogen.
BECK: How come we are not hearing about this? I mean, there is nobody — I`ve talked to…
KURZWEIL: Well, venture capitalists are aware of it. In fact, Al Gore actually belongs now to Kleiner Perkins, which is investing billions of dollars in these kinds of technologies. So he has heard of it by now…
KURZWEIL: … because there are investments going in these new technologies.
BECK: Here’s the thing. All of our — all of our leaders are — they seem to be blocking everything, every step of the way. And there doesn`t seem to be anybody who is articulating a grand vision. There is — I`m looking for the president who is going to say, OK, peak oil, no peak oil. It doesn`t matter. We`re going to do this, we`re going to this, and we are going to have a moon shot. If you say…
KURZWEIL: The science is the same. We just had a National Science Foundation, National Academy of Engineering blue ribbon panel with Larry Page and Dean Kamen, and Craig Benter (ph) and myself, we came out with this plan to replace fossil fuels within 20 years with solar energy and store it in nano-engineered fuel cells. And we also came out with some other ideas to overcome disease by reprogramming our biochemistry through biotechnology and move towards virtual reality and a few other things.
BECK: You know, I have to tell you, you had me until you said Dean Kamen, because I think the guy is brilliant, but, I mean, the Segway, he promised he would revolutionize — I mean, it would revolutionize New York, but they won`t even let you have one in New York.
KURZWEIL: Well, that (ph) has a cool water machine, for a few billion dollars would meet the water needs of Africa. So, I mean, there are new emerging technologies…
KURZWEIL: … that are — that can meet our material needs. When people worry about overpopulation from extending human longevity, they need to look at these new technologies which will give us the energy and water and other material resources we need.
BECK: What does transportation look like? Car gone?
KURZWEIL: Well, the first thing we`ll move toward is electric cars — ultra-hybrids, plug-ins.
BECK: And we plug them in from solar panels?
KURZWEIL: And we’ll be putting solar panels and other solar technologies on the grid. We have, you know, more than enough sunlight to do that.
BECK: The — my son is 3. I have a daughter that`s 2. A son that`s 3. And a couple of teenagers. If I was to concentrate on one thing with my younger kids, what should I concentrate on? What should I prepare them for? What kind of life, what kind of job, what kind of world?
KURZWEIL: Well, everything is being transformed. I mean, I speak at a lot of different conferences. And music conferences sound like computer conferences. And graphic arts conferences sound like computer conferences. So they should understand the technology, but they should follow their passion. People usually have something they`re passionate about. And every — every different kind of field is going to be contributing to our future knowledge. Human knowledge is doubling every year. And we need our technology to keep track of it. And we can access it now with a few key strokes…
BECK: This is really…
KURZWEIL: … devices in our pockets.
BECK: This is the revenge of the geeks isn`t it?
BECK: I mean, the geeks are going to rule the world.
KURZWEIL: They are, in case you haven`t noticed.
BECK: All right. We`ll be back in just a second.
New technology, incredible invention, literally changing the lives of blind people. You will see it in just a minute.
BECK: Back with Ray Kurzweil.
He’s going to show us the KNFB reader. This is -’- if you are blind, you turn it on like that.
KURZWEIL: Yes. This is a reading machine. It’s 5,000 times smaller than the first one we in introduced. It`s 4 ounces. It reads in seven languages. So I just…
BECK: You just take a picture.
KURZWEIL: … take a picture of a page.
BECK: How does a blind person do that?
AUTOMATED VOICE: Taking picture.
KURZWEIL: It actually will guide the blind person. If you are cutting of the left side of the page, it will tell you, move to the left.
BECK: Oh, you’re kidding me.
KURZWEIL: It rotates the page automatically, uncurbs (ph) it.
AUTOMATED VOICE: … degrees counterclockwise relative to the page.
KURZWEIL: So it is rotating.
BECK: So it just told you…
AUTOMATED VOICE: (INAUDIBLE)
KURZWEIL: And it displays what it`s reading there.
AUTOMATED VOICE: Most of the examples above were research projects.
KURZWEIL: If you’re dyslexic, you can read it and hear it at the same time.
AUTOMATED VOICE: Most communications would fail. This was not the case…
BECK: That`s amazing.
So how many of these are out? And what does it cost?
KURZWEIL: We just introduced this. So this is about 1,000 blind guys and gals, and dyslexic individuals using this, reading menus, signs on the wall, handouts at meetings. It`s about $2,000.
BECK: It`s amazing. You know, I have a dyslexic friend. He is a brilliant guy and dyslexic. Hates to read. Has to listen to everything. I have to tell him about this. How much is it again?
BECK: Wow. I was going to say I’d get him one, but I’m not that good of a friend.
What is the thing that -’- what’s the Holy Grail for you? What is the thing you’re like, if I could just do this — I would look to invent, or what is it?
KURZWEIL: Well, ultimately, it`s computers that match human intelligence. I mean, that is really going to enable us to solve a lot of other problems, because we will be able to expand our intelligence.
BECK: But doesn’t it scare you? I mean, I’ve watched to many sci-fi movies. It doesn`t scare you at all that they’re like, boy, this — you know what the problem is? I’ve got to keep man safe by killing him. You know that kind of thing?
KURZWEIL: Well, if you look at what technology has been doing, it does a little bit of both. It`s both creative and destructive. But I think we are a lot better off than we were several hundred years ago. Thomas Hobbes described life as short, brutish, disaster-prone, disease-filled, poverty- filled.
BECK: He was a happy guy. I wanted to party with him.
KURZWEIL: Well, that was what life was like 300 years ago.
KURZWEIL: So we have come a long way. And ultimately, extending our physical reach and our mental reach is what our technology is all about.
BECK: You say that in 2020-something or other, that virtual reality will be 3-D. You will be able to smell it. You’ll be able to see it. I don’t know, is it like a hologram?
KURZWEIL: I actually give a third of my speeches using a three dimensional virtual reality, where it looks like I’m at the venue in 3-D, visual and auditory. And ultimately, that will be ubiquitous. So we have virtual worlds like Second Life, that are cartoon-like now. But if you go out 10 years, it will be very realistic. Ultimately…
BECK: And that will replace, like, the television?
KURZWEIL: That`s going to replace meetings. We`ll be able to do what you and I are doing now even if we are hundreds of miles apart. And ultimately, we will be able to do that with all of the senses. With virtual reality from within the nervous system.
BECK: Does virtual reality — does it — does it all concern you that — it seems to me, through television and everything else, there is a lack of understanding of what’s real and what’s not real. I mean, we start to blur these lines.
KURZWEIL: Yes. Well, we are going to actually be living in a blending of real and virtual reality. And it won`t always be clear what`s real and what’s virtual.
BECK: So again — but let me go back to not the technology, but the philosophy of that technology.
KURZWEIL: Well, virtual reality is real reality. The telephone is virtual reality. It`s as if you`re together as far as talking is concerned. And you can`t say, oh, that agreement I made with you last night, that was just in virtual reality, that`s not a real agreement.
I mean, virtual environments are real environments. Real reality just got bigger because we`ve created these virtual worlds and these virtual spaces. And it`s just a place for us to be. We can recreate earthly environments, fantastic environments that have no earthly counterpart, and be with each other in these virtual environments.
BECK: I`ve got to ask — the being with each other in virtual environments, without being crass, you know what I`m saying? I mean, there are people that are going to say — you know what I`m saying?
KURZWEIL: Well, today…
BECK: I mean, just think as low brow as you can get. That’s where I’m at right now.
KURZWEIL: Well, that`s probably accurate for today’s virtual reality. But, I mean, look at video games, how they want from Pong to how highly realistic they are today.
KURZWEIL: And the same thing will happen with virtual reality. Today it is cartoon-like. In the future it`s going to be just like what we are doing now.
BECK: No, no, no. Not what we are doing now. You know what I’m saying? This is the lowest brow interview you have ever done isn’t it, Ray?
KURZWEIL: No, this is great. We’re covering a lot of ground quickly.
BECK: That’s OK. I have a very short attention span. Are you at all afraid — because history repeats itself. And man has struggled and gained freedom, and then collapsed. And then grown and gained more freedom, and collapsed. Are you at all concerned? Are we — do you believe we`re past the point of, there is no going back from here? This is — it’s going to…
KURZWEIL: Well, there is no going back. But there are dangers. For example, the same technology that`s going to help us overcome cancer could be applied by a bioterrorist to reprogram a biological virus to be more deadly and more communicable. And that`s actually a specter we face right now. I have actually worked on this with the Army. The good news is we actually have the ideas to protect ourselves. And we need to create a rapid response system for biological viruses.
BECK: I`m trying to remember — I read a book from — he used to run the weapons program over in Russia. And he said there is a difference between us, here in America, and over in the former Soviet Union. They just created the nasty weapon. We always created — OK, wait, wait, wait, how do you cure that? How do you — and they were just doing, the, ooh, this is nasty and ugly.
KURZWEIL: Well, the Soviet Union did create a lot of nasty weapons.
KURZWEIL: And fortunately, none of them got out yet. But we do need to set up rapid response systems where we can protect ourselves.
BECK: OK. Final thoughts and what the future looks like — Rapid Fire, next.
BECK: Back with Ray Kurzweil. Pretty much knows everything about everything. Pretty much. Thought we’d bombard him with some Rapid Fire. And we`ll just take these just off the top of your head. The things that, you know, yes or no, or if you have short thought on it. Are you ready? Will we ever become one race of people?
KURZWEIL: We are very close already, genetically.
BECK: I always thought when I was a kid — I’m like, why didn`t everybody just have…
KURZWEIL: We actually become more different when we merge with our technology. We`ll have more differences than we do today.
BECK: That’s spooky. Money, do we get rid of money, and is it just all numbers and digits?
KURZWEIL: No, money is actually going to stick around.
KURZWEIL: But it`s going to be for intellectual property. I mean, that’s already largely what we spend money for.
BECK: What does that mean, it’s going to be for intellectual property?
KURZWEIL: For information. We’re going to be able to turn information into physical products. With nano-factories, we’ll be able to take an information file and create the physical products we need. You can already turn an information file into a movie or sound recording. So, everything`s going to become information.
BECK: Don’t you wish you knew what the hell he was even talking about? What will withstand the test of time? In other words, what won`t technology replace?
KURZWEIL: Human relationships.
BECK: I think we covered that one.
KURZWEIL: Being attracted to each other.
BECK: Future of privacy?
KURZWEIL: Actually, I think privacy is going to win. It`s a technical issue, but encryption has won over decryption. So we`ll be able to keep our messages private.
BECK: So would your body be encrypted then?
KURZWEIL: Oh yes. I mean, we encrypt our e-mail and cell phone calls today. We’re going to encrypt all the stuff running in our bodies.
BECK: Because you know what? I talked to Michael Chertoff and, oh, who was it? Somebody else high up in the government, and they said they never use e-mail. They said if you just knew how accessible everything was, you would just never put it out there.
KURZWEIL: It’s encrypted, and you can protect it. And it`s certainly a powerful tool.
BECK: Yes. Oh, they`re reading your e-mail right now. Is there an afterlife?
KURZWEIL: We are going to be able to actually save who we are. I mean, right now we don`t actually protect all of this really valuable information.
BECK: OK. So you see us — you don’t believe in the soul?
KURZWEIL: I — I don’t know.
BECK: You’re agnostic?
BECK: Yes. World population in 50 years?
KURZWEIL: It`s not going to increase that much. It might double or triple.
BECK: Culture, America, is it as we see it, is the world one? Or…
KURZWEIL: American culture is taking over, which is the idea of ideas expanding our capability, entrepreneurship.
BECK: OK. I’ve got to go. I’m getting five — I’m getting five seconds. I’m sorry. We are out of time. What a pleasure, sir. Ray Kurzweil. From New York, good night, America.