I’m not the only one who thinks Ray Kurzweil is an ignorant buffoon — here’s a post dissecting his latest foolishness:
People think the world’s getting worse, and we see that on the left and the right, and we see that in other countries. People think the world is getting worse. … That’s the perception. What’s actually happening is our information about what’s wrong in the world is getting better. A century ago, there would be a battle that wiped out the next village, you’d never even hear about it. Now there’s an incident halfway around the globe and we not only hear about it, we experience it.
The big problem with this? It’s not true. Like, at all.
Let’s start with the time period he’s talking about: A century ago. One hundred years. That would put us smack dab in the middle of 1916.
Do you know what was going on in 1916? The world was tearing itself to bits with destructive technology. The United States wouldn’t enter the war until the following year, but World War I was the war that would see men being annihilated with tanks, machine guns, mustard gas, the works. And everybody knew about it. How do I know this, sitting here in 2016? I just walked three feet behind me to a bookshelf and looked for some of my magazines from World War I.
The author is pointing out that one problem with Kurzweil’s claim is that it is simply false; Kurzweil wants to argue that we think the world might be getting worse is that we’re just aware of what’s going on, but clearly, almost everyone had a crystal clear idea of the horrors that were going on a century ago.
But I think there are other problems, as well. The world might be getting worse, it might be getting better, but this is a question about people’s perception of the world, and I suspect most of us think we’re better off than we were a century ago (with significant exceptions for bombed-out nations in the Middle East, or people victimized by terrorist groups, like ISIS or Boko Haram). I know I’d rather live in the 21st century than the 19th or earlier. So his initial premise is wrong, or at least misleading.
Another problem: when was this mythical time that a village could get wiped out and one a few miles away wouldn’t know about it? Communication was slower, but the information would get there eventually. Europe had a series of continent-wide wars in the 17th century; Rome controlled everything from Syria to Britain. Information might have flowed via boat or horseback rather than fiber optic cables, but it’s simply not true that people in the Middle Ages or the ancient world were sitting about only aware of the local dungheap.
It is also egregiously absurd to claim that
we not only hear about it, we experience events around the world. We don’t. For instance, the latest news from Nigeria is that Boko Haram is still holding 200 girls captive. Are you experiencing it? Have you felt even a tiny fraction of the pain the families of those girls have felt over the last two years?
And finally, I have to point out that his definition of ‘better’ is unstated and implicit — he assumes that a better world is one where people have more and faster information about events in the next village or the next continent. Why? In particular, if we do nothing with the information we have about the next town over, how does that improve the planet?
But then, this is Kurzweil all over: ignorant of history, ignorant of science, but mumbling words of technological wish-fulfillment and making his fans happy.