What happened to 2029?


Ray Kurzweil has been consistent over the years: he has these contrived graphs full of fudged data that tell him that The Singularity will arrive in 2029. 2029 is the magic date. We all just have to hang in there for 12 more years and then presto, immortality, incomprehensible wisdom, the human race rises to a new plane of existence.

Except…

2029 is getting kind of close. The Fudgening has begun!

The new date is 2045. No Rapture of the Nerds until I’m 88 years old. So disappoint.

Kurzweil continues to share his visions for the future, and his latest prediction was made at the most recent SXSW Conference, where he claimed that the Singularity – the moment when technology becomes smarter than humans – will happen by 2045.

Typical. You’ve got a specific prediction, you can see that it’s not coming true, so you start adjusting the details, maybe you change your mind on a few things (but it’s OK if you do it in advance, that way it doesn’t count against you), and you do everything you can to keep your accuracy score up, to fool the gullible.

Yeah, he’s got a score. 86%.

With a little wiggle room given to the timelines the author, inventor, computer scientist, futurist, and director of engineering at Google provides, a full 86 percent of his predictions – including the fall of the Soviet Union, the growth of the internet, and the ability of computers to beat humans at chess – have come to fruition.

Do any of those things count as surprising predictions in any way? They all sound rather mundane to me. The world is going to get warmer, there will be wars, we’ll have substantial economic ups and downs, some famous people will die, some notorious regimes will collapse, oceans rise, empires fall. Generalities do not impress me as indicative of deep insight.

Furthermore, that number is suspicious: you wouldn’t want to say 100%, because nobody would believe that. And you don’t want to say anything near 50%, because that sounds too close to chance. So you pick a number in between…say, somewhere between 75% and 90%. Wait, where did I get that range? That’s what psychics claim.

So, how accurate are psychics on an average? There are very few psychics who are 99% accurate in their predictions. The range in accuracy for the majority of real psychic readings are between 75% and 90%.

He’s using the standard tricks of the con man, ones that skeptics are supposed to be able to recognize and deal with. So how has Kurzweil managed to bamboozle so many people in the tech community?

I’m going to guess that being predisposed to libertarian fantasies and being blinded by your own privilege tends not to make one very skeptical or self-aware. Either that, or Kurzweil is very, very good at fooling people. I’m going to go with the former.

Comments

  1. Siobhan says

    Now was that The Singularity that was predicted, or The Rapture? I get all my doomsday scenarios mixed up these days.

  2. jerthebarbarian says

    The Singularity is kinda like a secular Rapture. Except for the folks who assume that it means Skynet, in which case its more like a secular Ragnarök.

  3. Artor says

    “The world is going to get warmer, there will be wars, we’ll have substantial economic ups and downs, some famous people will die, some notorious regimes will collapse, oceans rise, empires fall.”
    You got wars in there PZ, but you forgot rumors of wars too!

  4. says

    I have a rule of thumb I use regarding predictions: when someone predicts something to happen after they are likely to be safely dead, I treat them as “much more likely to be a scammer.” Note, there are some things (global warming, depleted fisheries, long-term radiation) that actually are likely to be a problem after the people warning about them are safely dead. So it doesn’t mean it’s not true, it just raises a red flag to look more closely for signs that they’re a scammer. And I use an extra super big red flag that I had handmade out of the hide of acupuncturists, if religion or the supernatural is involved.

    Kurtzweil is 70, so he’s predicting the immanentizing of the eschaton for when he’s 90. Wow, he’s going to miss the great uploading! I bet he’s pretty pissed at those AI researchers who’ve been slacking off the last couple decades, huh?

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    … being blinded by your own privilege tends not to make one very skeptical or self-aware. Either that, or Kurzweil is very, very good at fooling people. I’m going to go with the former.

    The two (or three) options presented have considerable overlap.

  6. says

    There are very few psychics who are 99% accurate in their predictions.

    I am 100% accurate in my predictions, by the simple expedient of predicting the past. Which is also one of the oldest tricks in the book. For example, I predicted yesterday that I would make a snarky comment about Ray Kurtzweil, today. Imagine my surprise when I saw PZ’s posting!

  7. jrkrideau says

    Why does Kurzweil remind me of Harold Camping?

    Or the proponents of commercial nuclear fission.

    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again?

  8. =8)-DX says

    I cam explain this! The Singularity is constantly 20+ years away, because the exponential advancement or technology is counteracted by the exponential increase in human stupidity!
    =8)-DX

  9. Dunc says

    So how has Kurzweil managed to bamboozle so many people in the tech community?

    Simple: he’s telling them what they want to hear, in a language they can relate to.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    That’s only four years before Blade Runner. How are we going to set up off-World colonies in such a short time?

  11. Ichthyic says

    I cam explain this! The Singularity is constantly 20+ years away, because the exponential advancement or technology is counteracted by the exponential increase in human stupidity!

    that… actually works.

  12. Ichthyic says

    How are we going to set up off-World colonies in such a short time?

    The singularity will exponentially increase both our knowledge and processing power.

    it will be a snap.

    hell, it likely will happen in mere MONTHS, I say, MONTHS!!!11!!

  13. Matthew Herron says

    I have a prediction: if Kurzweil is still around in 2033, the singularity will move to 2057.
    Look at me, I’m a futurist!

  14. Holms says

    He’s using the standard tricks of the con man, ones that skeptics are supposed to be able to recognize and deal with. So how has Kurzweil managed to bamboozle so many people in the tech community?

    This is the same old conceit that James Randi and others exposed long ago: being a scientist has no bearing on whether a person is proof against con artistry.

  15. alkisvonidas says

    The Singularity *was* to happen in 2029, but the timeline has been altered.

    (hey, did you actually think Trump was meant to be POTUS in the original timeline?)

  16. says

    Actually I never heard of 2029, I’ve always heard that 2045 was the year he came up with…

    Good time to once again share the hilariously outdated woo video that uses the same date for their cool futuristic technological metaphysical vision. Aaand just by searching for that 2045 video, I found that they had Ray Kurzweil talking at one of their “congress” thingies. So ya.

    The interfaith dialogue talk group at one of their events was also amusing to listen to.

  17. whywhywhy says

    Given the current occupant of the White House, it would appear that Kurzweil has the con-game skills to be pres.

  18. hemidactylus says

    The optimistic side to transhumanism puts too positive a spin on the alleged outcome. I’m more concerned with human worker replacement with tech which is more apt to happen, and beyond that the Terminator, Matrix, or Artilect war. Bring on Skynet.

    H+ got bad press in Dan Brown’s _Inferno_ where some nutter transhumanist bioengineers a virus that randomly sterilizes 1/3 of world population [SPOILER ALERT] to curtail overpopulation. Aside from *that* the art history tidbits about Florence, Venice, and Istanbul were kinda cool. The movie ended differently.

    The Johnny Depp movie _Transcendence _ seemed to take a very vicious swipe at Kurzweil’s rosy glasses worldview.

    On a more positive note what I read of Martine Rothblatt’s _Virtually Human_ was interesting. She has worked at some sort of “digital scrapbooking” akin to Kurzweil’s vision. I don’t buy the hype of the Singularity, but Rothblatt tried covering many of the issues in the book.

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