Singularity University | Ray Kurzweil remarks at Singularity University Graduate Studies Program 2013 graduation

August 27, 2013

I run across two types of people. I’ve been thinking about what distinguishes these two groups, what causes a person to be in one group or the other.

One group accepts problems. Problems are just the way things are. We need to learn to accept problems.

The purpose of life, for example, is to accept death, to become comfortable with it — after all it’s the natural way.

This group is pessimistic about problems. Problems are just going to get worse. They find a lot of evidence for this perspective. Now this view makes perfect sense, because they don’t plan to do anything about the problems anyway. And they don’t think they would succeed if they tried. So why try?

And if you do try to solve a problem and your plan fails, then this is a dishonor, a disgrace, a humiliation. It is shameful. As bad as the world is, you just made it worse by wasting time and resources.

Then there’s the other group. The second group does not accept problems. The goal of life is to conquer them, to surmount limitations, natural or otherwise, to defeat ignorance, to overcome suffering — of people, animals, the Earth.

This group is optimistic and realizes that optimism is not an idle prediction about the future but a self-fulfilling prophecy. This group believes in the power of human ideas to create the world we want — virtual worlds and real worlds.

This group is not afraid of failure. They believe in its value. It simply means experience. Failure is just success deferred. This group is patient with failure and impatient with problems and limitations.

So what accounts for whether a person is in the first group or the second group? I’ve really been thinking about this question and have not come up with an answer. If you think of one, please let me know.

I believe it has something to do with being open minded to new ideas, leaving enough space in your neocortex for new perspectives, not being overly attached to what you’ve learned and to the common wisdom, not being afraid of the disapproval of your peers.

Einstein’s thought experiments defied both, but he stuck with the conclusions he reached despite early ridicule.

But I do know where to find the second group and that is right here at Singularity University. This year’s class has been exemplary in demonstrating a belief in the power of human thinking — and action — to overcome any and all problems. It has been a thrill to meet all of you this summer and to get to know you, and I hope to continue collaborating with you in the years ahead.

Congratulations to all of you! Please stay part of the SU community and of the second group who believe in the future. I especially look forward to seeing and experiencing all of your projects change the world.

Singularity University Graduate Studies Program Opening Ceremonies 2013

Singularity University was founded by Ray Kurzweil, chancellor, and Peter Diamandis, chairman, in 2009.

related reading:
Singularity University | Ray Kurzweil
Singularity University | Peter Diamandis, MD, PhD