R.U. Sirius and Surfdaddy Orca interview Ray Kurzweil in the new issue of H+. The magnitude of Kurzweil’s accomplishments always floors me, the man really does deserve his title as “Edison’s heir.” They cover all sorts of ground, from problems of consciousness to global warming to the “rapture of the nerds” critique of the Singularity. His answer to the global warming question in particular impressed me:
The cost per watt of solar energy is coming down dramatically. As a result, the amount of solar energy is growing exponentially. It‘s doubling every two years, reliably, for the last 20 years. People ask, “Is there really enough solar energy to meet all of our energy needs?” It‘s actually 10,000 times more than we need. And yes you lose some with cloud cover and so forth, but we only have to capture one part in 10,000. If you put efficient solar collection panels on a small percentage of the deserts in the world, you would meet 100% of our energy needs. And there‘s also the same kind of progress being made on energy storage to deal with the intermittency of solar. There are only eight doublings to go before solar meets100% of our energy needs.
This brand of technological trend recognition is Kurzweil’s bread and butter. I’d put serious money on whichever energy companies are building their long term plans around Kurzweil’s predictions about solar.
That said, I was disappointed with his response to the questions about the Singularity as utopia. I remain a Singularity skeptic and, to be frank, believe Kurzweil and the Singularitians have not effectively dealt with the problem of technoconservatives. Transhumanism remains crippled by squeamishness with the human body, hundred year old science-fiction stories, and the lingering effects of dying religion. In short: people are going to resist out of fear and it will be bad.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope I’m naive. But Kurzweil’s arguments regarding the Singularity have not yet convinced me.
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