Arnold Kling on Kurzweil vs. Hawkins

I wrote a bit earlier about Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity, as well as about Jeff Hawkin’s On Intelligence. In this short article on Tech Central Station, I think Arnold Kling gets to the heart of the matter, and I agree with his conclusions about Kurzweil’s shortcomings.


My sense is that Kurzweil basically thinks of the brain as disembodied. Although he frequently refers to our bodies, it is almost as an afterthought. In terms of an old mainframe computer, Kurzweil treats the body is if it were the punch-card reader, i.e., a rather quaint device for receiving input, but not nearly as significant as the Central Processing Unit.

Instead, after I read Jeff Hawkins (inventor of the Palm Pilot and author of On Intelligence), I became convinced that our bodies and our sensory experiences are an integral part of our intelligence. Kurzweil thinks of your brain as a computer programmed with a fancy pattern-recognition algorithm. Eventually, he predicts, scientists and engineers will “reverse engineer” this wonderful algorithm. On the other hand, I think that you have been exploring patterns ever since you played with your toes in the crib. It is this cumulative experience, rather than an algorithm, that constitutes your intelligence. The phrase “reverse engineer the brain” may sound plausible if one thinks of the brain as hardware plus software. But the phrase “reverse engineer your cumulative lifetime experience” may be more apt, and such wording carries with it no hint of plausibility.

No doubt Kurzweil is correct about the general technology pattern, but I think he goes far beyond what’s likely and reasonable.

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