Ray Kurzweil Responds to Richard Eckersley

February 3, 2006

Originally published in The Futurist March-April 2006. Reprinted on KurzweilAI.net February 2, 2006.

This article is a response to Richard Eckersley’s comments on Kurzweil’s article, Reinventing Humanity. You can also read other responses to Kurzweil’s article by Terry Grossman, John Smart, J. Storrs Hall, and Damien Broderick.

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Richard Eckersley’s idyllic notion of human life hundreds of years ago belies our scientific knowledge of history. Two hundred years ago, there was no understanding of sanitation so bacterial infections were rampant. There were no antibiotics and no social safety nets so an infectious disease was a disaster plunging a family into desperation. Thomas Hobbes’ characterization in 1651 of human life as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short was on the mark. Even ignoring infant mortality, life expectancy was in the 30’s only a couple of hundred years ago. Schubert and Mozart’s death at 31 and 35 respectively was typical.

Eckersley bases his romanticized idea of ancient life on communication and the relationships fostered by communication. But much of modern technology is directed at just this basic human need. The telephone allowed people to be together even if far apart geographically. The Internet is the quintessential communication technology. Social networks and the panoply of new ways to make connection are creating communities based on genuine common interests rather than the accident of geography. This decentralized electronic communication is also highly democratizing. In a book I wrote in the mid 1980s I predicted the demise of the Soviet Union from the impact of the then emerging communication networks, and that is indeed what happened in the early 1990s. The democracy movement we saw in the 1990s and since is similarly fueled by our unprecedented abilities to stay in touch.

If Eckersley really sticks to his own philosophy, he won’t be around for very long to influence the debate. I suspect, however, that he will take advantage of the life extension—and enhancement—technologies that will emerge in the decades ahead. And I hope that he does so that we can continue this dialogue through this century and beyond.

© 2006 Ray Kurzweil. Reprinted with permission.