But here's the problem I have with Ray Kurzweil and other people like him - you can't just ignore them, you can't just write them off. He's like the Joker. A guy that makes proclamations on the edge of what's reasonable, and when he's right, he's really right - and the results of what he thinks are about to happen will really screw us all. I think this of all slightly off kilter people, Peter Thiel, Aubrey de Grey, Sean Parker, Elon Musk (the least off kilter of the bunch - most rational - but man, does this guy take insane risks - I'm long TSLA :), Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis (he is amongst one of the worst on the proclamations) - these are people who should be listened to, not because anything that they actually say makes any sense - because they often don't.
No, they should be listened to because of the very nature of their personalities. The way their personalities are set up makes them act like early black swan detection devices. This allows them to call the black swans out well before they're apparent to the rest of us. More often than not, they're wrong though.
They're like the canaries in the coal mine. Vigilant, plenty of false alarms, and usually ignored most of the time.
But sometimes these people, they are just so fucking right - that you better hope you are on the right side of the wave they just called out.
Too many people have been screwed thinking that the crazy fool talking about crazy things should be ignored. The counterfactual is also true:
> All prophets are false prophets.
So watch these guys out of the corner of your eye, don't take them too seriously most of the time, but if things come up, again and again and again - take notice, think carefully and make your own decisions.
They are just early warning detection systems - it's up to you to make the final decision as to whether or not it's time to fire the nuke (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Petrov).
I think Ray Kurzweil would agree with you. That's why he uses language like "the intuitive linear view" and "the historical exponential view" 
The whole POINT is that the predictions sound crazy. But the reason why he gathers such a following is because, unlike most "futurists", who make bold predictions for decades in the future only to slink away and hide when the time comes to for a test, Kurzweil welcomes rigorous evaluation of his past predictions. 
You can read through second link there and decide for yourself. He laboriously goes point for point and evaluates (in 2010) how he did in his earlier predictions from decades before. I gotta say, it's pretty impressive.
So the reason people listen to him is because his future predictions are even MORE crazy, but it's hard to argue with an 87% accuracy rate. Even his failures aren't WAY off the mark.
1 - http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns
2 - http://www.kurzweilai.net/predictions.php
Some of those predictions were a year or two late, in 2010 or 2011, but does a couple of years really matter in the grand scheme of things?
Predicting that self-driving cars would occur in ten years in the late 90s is pretty extraordinary, especially if you go to youtube and load up a commercial for Windows 98 and get a flashback of how primitive the tech environment actually was back then.
Kurzweil seems to always get technological capabilities right. Where he sometimes falls flat is in technological adoption - how actual consumers are willing to interact with technology, especially where bureaucracies are involved- see his predictions on the adoption of elearning in the classroom, or using speech recognition as an interface in an office environment.
He was on the ground getting his hands dirty with the first commercial applications of AI. He made quite a bit of money selling his various companies and technologies, and was awarded the presidential Medal of Technology from Clinton.
As I was growing up, there was a series of "Oh wow!" moments I had, associated with computers and what they were now capable of.
"Oh wow, computers can read printed documents and recognize the characters!"
"Oh wow, computers can read written text aloud!"
"Oh wow, computers can recognize speech!"
"Oh wow, computer synthesizers can sound just like pianos now!"
I didn't realize until much later that Kurzweil was heavily involved with all of those breakthroughs.
I had the synth music bug for a while, and the K2xxx series was something that definitely made me drool. Couldn't afford it, though.
You sure about that? I thought most business plans were thrown out upon any contact with the customer and morphed in feedback to the customer, after a crazy idea was attempted.
Of course I could be wrong - but it feels like a false division between business and science. Most businesses when they do come out don't have a scientific basis as to why they succeed at the time - just like many theories. You can of course use hindsight bias to make it so.
It should be noted that Einstein was mostly ignored until he was verified by the Mercury orbit measurements.
- 1859: Mercury's precession is recognized as not fitting Newtonian predictions.
- 1887: The Michelson-Morley experiment shows the speed of light not varying as expected with motion.
- 1905: Einstein publishes several groundbreaking papers, including his special theory of relativity, and an explanation of the photo-voltaic effect (which he eventually received the Nobel for)
- 1908: Einstein becomes a professor, is widely recognized in scientific circles.
- 1911: Einstein comes up with his general theory, explains the precession of Mercury, and predicts gravitational lensing.
- 1916: Einstein appointed president of the German Physical Society.
- 1919: An Englishman, Eddington, confirms the gravitational lensing prediction during an eclipse, the press seizes on this sign of international cooperation in the aftermath of WW I, Einstein soon becomes a household name.
- 1921: Einstein receives the Nobel award in physics.
In 1905 the theories published then all fit experiment.
1919 was special because it was the confirmation of a prediction that contradicted widely accepted theory. It was made more special because it came at an extremely fortuitous time for the news cycle.
However, it should be known - I'm long TSLA and have been since the IPO - so don't think I don't know anything. I also know Musk's background inside and out (due diligence and all).
But why do you know who Elon Musk is? Because he succeeded. Let's say he didn't. Now do you think what you do now?
What if the GFC had continued into a depression - who'd buy a an unproven, $5K reserve priced Model S (a veblen good) during a recession, with falling gas prices? He'd be out of capital within the year without cap-ex funds from Panasonic, Toyota, Daimler and the public markets to lever up and be set to produce 20K cars next year (~$1 billion in revenue).
What if the 4th Falcon launch failed and Musk ran out of cash (COTS pays only after hitting each milestone)?
What then huh? You must always look at the probabilistic alternatives, because confirmation bias and the survival bias will fuck your thinking up.
By the way - I do have strong opinions. But I hold them weakly.
I am liable to change them at any moment based upon empirical evidence.
Of all the launcher designs I've seen over the years, the Falcon / Dragon program is one of the most sensible ever. Every aspect of the design that I've seen fulfills the twin goals of reliability and low operational cost. They didn't try to create an awesome/cool system with unproven concepts (space plane, scramjet, rotors for re-entry, etc.). Instead, they took the best exisiting and well proven concepts, wrapped them in a nice package, tested it well, and made it work.
The existing large players like LockMart optimize for performance and their own profit; the small players all seem to be trying unproven (and in most cases rather dubious) concepts. Compared to how the orbital launch industry normally works, SpaceX is a refreshing dose of sanity. I salute their hard work and engineering prowess, and I wish them much success and profits.
"There's a difference between a person having an unconventional idea, e.g. for a business, and an unconventional theory, which they claim has a sound scientific basis."
Unlike a business proposal, no degree of bizarre circumstance or incredible luck can transform the underlying operation of the brain.
Ironically, you're using a human bias (pushing an analogy outside it's original domain) to argue about human bias. I'm pretty sure 99% of folks involved in this debate are well aware behavioural psychology and the like, so you can spare the "fuck you up" histrionics.
He quit a PhD in physics at Stanford to go chase the internet with ~$2K in his bank account. He then invested the $20 million (all in) he got from Zip2 straight back into X.com which later became PayPal through what can only be described as a series of random accidents that lead to its eBay sale. That's insane risk for someone who essentially had fuck you money.
He then subsequently plowed the $300 or so million from the sale of PayPal to eBay, and pushed it directly into both SpaceX and Tesla - well before NASA or the world really had any need for either one of them - there was no guarantee that NASA would need SpaceX, or that COTS would continue to have government support (SpaceX bootstrapped on these contracts), or that any launch vendor would go with him over proven tech.
And with Tesla, there was no guarantee that laptops/smartphones/tablets would explode from 2005-2010, driving down the cost of Li-on batteries by an order of magnitude as South Asia's factories came online with their economies of scale, hundreds of millions of people and hundreds of billions in surplus capital that all combined to help make electric cars and an upstart car company price competitive with established luxury car brands.
There can be no doubt about it - Elon Musk takes huge risks, he is very lucky, and these are not the actions of a normal person. Normal people do not do these things - the risks he took were abominations on a risk adjusted scale (if the recession continued to decimate the economy and kill demand for veblen goods and SpaceX didn't get that 4th launch - Musk would be done - as in out of money and out of luck).
Which reminds me - the best investors are mentally damaged in some way, especially in terms of emotion (a distinct lack of empathy and emotion).
Because, if they weren't, well, they'd do what everyone else did, and be just like them.
To be contrarian, is to be damaged.
This does not mean that any of the people are mentally damaged - I merely found the studies on the relative percentages of functional psychopaths in leadership and investing positions highly curious (http://sgforums.com/forums/2092/topics/154210).
I suspect that he just values things differently from you -- that he's less averse to losing large sums of money, and more averse to regretting opportunities passed by, than you are. You can call him crazy if his actions are a spectacularly bad way of getting what he wants, but if he just wants differen things than you do, that's a matter of taste rather than sanity.
> Which reminds me - the best investors are mentally damaged in some way, especially in terms of emotion (a distinct lack of empathy and emotion).
I wonder, if you raised the subject with some of these guys, what they would say to this.
Truth. Same argument can be applied to terrorists and soldiers - they value the respect of their group and their families (in some cases this is monetary) over their own lives.
But then again - I presume most people think most terrorists would be damaged in some way (brain washed/delusional/lost parents) and soldiers in another way (PTSD/lose a friend/people die in front of you).
I'm not stating Elon Musk is, or is not, this - however I do find the parallels highly curious.
> I wonder, if you raised the subject with some of these guys, what they would say to this.
Kind of irrelevant if it's empirically correct.
2. Terrorists are mentally damaged.
3. Elon Musk values things differently
4. Ergo, Elon Musk is mentally damaged (or more likely to be damaged, or this is an indication that he might be damaged, as is implied).
Total analogy fail.
EDIT: Since I can't seem to be able to reply to your reply (too nested): Bringing up the analogy in the argument and finding it curious indicates that there is some reason as to why it even applies, when in fact it is completely irrelevant.
EDIT: Not necessarily. The relative percentage of CEOs, traders and investors who are psychopaths are much higher than the general population. We normally label such people as mentally damaged. Musk is both a CEO and an investor who doesn't think like normal people and fits into this group.
This does not mean he is part of the group though. It is merely interesting.
One of the weird things that happened to me when I was living in Las Vegas as a young man was that it really warped my sense of 'money'. People would roll into Vegas, lose a few hundred thousand and drive out with a 'see you next year' attitude. People would walk into a casino with a couple of hundred dollars and walk out with several thousand. Basically "money you had" was completely disassociated from "your work product" because if you won or lost was just random chance. So there was no confusion about having "worked" for this money, or "scrimped and saved" this money, it was just "Oh look, here is a bag of money where no money was before."
If you were living off a modest to low burn rate (like practically nothing) then you knew you could 'lose it all' and not a whole lot would change in your life. So betting everything you had on the next roll of the dice wasn't crazy, it was fun, either you'd keep playing or your fun was over for the night.
A number of people in the early days of the dot.com explosion were stunned at how 'easy' it was to 'make' a ton of money. There was even a cartoon about it where the CEO of some startup says "And the police never show up?" and the VC/Investor is saying "That's the beauty of it, its all totally legit!" When you're in that mode, and you've made your first few million, I could see thinking "Doesn't matter if I lose it all, I'll just make more. It's not that hard." When the music stopped if you were currently 'up' by a large margin you did a double take perhaps.
Having known people who are that agnostic to 'money', it just doesn't mean that much to them, it doesn't present like sociopathic behavior. The sociopaths I've known have always had some sort of 'score' system running as a way of evaluating whether or not they were 'winning' and money is a very attractive scoring system.
I wonder if this relates to the discovery that the two systems in the brain responsible for empathy and reason are mutually exclusive (that is, in the study I read about but can no longer find, activating one system always deactivated the other).
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/24/090824fa_fact_... (full article is for subscribers only unfortunately)
Elon: "I think I probably am a bit crazy. But I think maybe that’s sort of a healthy sign. Because there’s a point at which you can conclude that you're not crazy at all, then you probably are. It's sort of a recursive thing."
At the risk of invading Elon's personal life, one could go further and investigate his father Errol Musk, who was an electrical & mechanical engineer back in South Africa, to see if there is a biological explanation for any potential personality disorders.
Elon said this about his father: "Quite an astute engineer, although he's gone a little crazy later in life. I don't think he has all his cookies in the jar." Source: http://www.gq.com/news-politics/newsmakers/200901/elon-musk-...
Does this mean that Elon is crazy? I have no idea, but I think that he's a very logical person with life experiences that makes him a huge risk taker. For example, he tweeted briefly about the benefits of near death here: https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/152394000857448448 On his google plus about page, he wrote "Not dead yet" on his bragging rights section.
So really, his worst case scenario is dying. That's his mental trick of making so many crazy risky decisions, as long as they are based on logic. That mindset cannot simply be attained by anyone, you have to experience near-death to truly get it. Mike Lazerow is another good example of such an entrepreneur. Background Story: http://www.lazerow.com/2012/06/a-new-beginning.html#tpe-acti...
Also he thinks that people should be less risk averse (8m10s) because even if they fail, it's not like they're going to starve. Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nMQ0-1jqFs#t=5m55s This is probably based on his college experiment of eating for just $1 a day without getting scurvy, or perhaps his direct observations of starvation in South Africa. I honestly have no idea, just pure speculations.
So yeah, I hope that helps enlighten a little bit of how Elon can be such a risk-taker.
I'm not a fan of Elon Musk - that would be making a fundamental attribution error - and it is a logical fallacy to think that one person is perfect. No body should be respected irrespective of action - and merely by name - that's simply foolhardy and cognitively incoherent.
All I have merely stated is thus:
These people are early warning detection systems for future black swans that can fuck us all, and they come with high number of false positives.
So don't get sucked in with their rhetoric - but don't ignore them either - because if you do, you'll get fucked.
As history would have it, one (or many people) shouting at the top of their lungs about the future does not have a huge impact on the future typically. He has a lot of interesting theories, and plenty of uninteresting or outright dubious ones (I suspect he is accelerating his own death with his over-the-top vitamin consumption). The people who make history are the ones who make it, not speculate about the future. Be wary of anyone who charges $25,000 an hour to make speeches - the line between oracle and scam artist is pretty thin these days.
But I keep a wary eye on them and their ideas from the periphery - lest I be on the the wrong side if they ever become right and start walking.
You never want to be on the wrong side of a wave - it really sucks.
Just look at genetic engineering: this is what the futurists used to talk about. Now in popular culture genetic engineering has a negative connotation due to Gattaca and eugenics and people talk often about bioethics and socioeconomics in this context. However, even now we can do in vitro fertilization while selecting against fertilized eggs that contain a specific gene (such as for Wilson's or Huntington's disease). The beginnings of genetic engineering are already here but it has snuck up on the public, just like technologies will sneak up from behind the futurists.
I am going to have to start using that citation format in legal briefs when a proposition seems uncontroversial.