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Why Ray Kurzweil is Wrong: Computers Won’t Be Smarter Than Us Anytime Soon

Why Ray Kurzweil is Wrong: Computers Won't Be Smarter Than Us Anytime Soon“When Kurzweil first started talking about the “singularity”, a conceit he borrowed from the science-fiction writer Vernor Vinge, he was dismissed as a fantasist. He has been saying for years that he believes that the Turing test – the moment at which a computer will exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human – will be passed in 2029.”

Sorry, but Ray Kurzweil is wrong. It’s easy to understand why computers are nowhere near close to surpassing humans… And here’s why.

Intelligence is one thing. But it’s probably the pinnacle of human narcissism to believe that we could design machines to understand us long before we even understood ourselves. Shakespeare, after all, said, “Know thyself.”

Yet, here it is squarely in 2014, and we still have only an inkling of how the human brain works. The very font of out intelligence and existence is contained in the brain — a simple human organ like the heart. Yet we don’t know how it works. All we have are theories.

Let me reiterate this: We don’t know how the human brain works.

How can anyone in their right mind say that, after a century of study into how the brain operates, we’re suddenly going to crack the code in the next 15 years?

And crack the code one must. Without understanding how the brain works, it’s ludicrous to say we could design a machine to replicate the brain’s near-instantaneous processing of hundreds of different sensory inputs from dozens of trajectories. That would be akin to saying we could design a space craft to travel to the moon, before designing — and understanding how to design — the computers that would take the craft there.

It’s a little backwards to think you could create a machine to replicate the human mind before you understand the basics of how the human mind makes so many connections, so easily.

Human intelligence, as any psychologist can tell you, is a complicated, complex thing. The standard tests for intelligence aren’t just paper-and-pencil knowledge quizzes. They involve the manipulation of objects in three-dimensional spaces (something most computers can’t do at all), understanding how objects fit within a larger system of objects, and other tests like this. It’s not just good vocabulary that makes a person smart. It’s a combination of skills, thought, knowledge, experience and visual-spatial skills. Most of which even the smartest computer today only has a rudimentary grasp of (especially without the help of human-created GPS systems).

Robots and computers are nowhere close to humanity in approaching its intelligence. They are probably around an ant in terms of their proximity today to “outsmarting” their makers. A driving car that relies on other computer systems — again, created by humans — is hardly an example of computer-based, innate intelligence. A computer than can answer trivia in a game show or play a game of chess isn’t really equivalent to the knowledge that even the most rudimentary blue-collar job holder holds. It’s a sideshow act. A distraction meant to demonstrate the very limited, singular focus computers have historically excelled at.

The fact that anyone even needs to point out that single-purpose computers are only good at the singular task they’ve been designed to do is ridiculous. A Google-driven car can’t beat a Jeopardy player. And the Jeopardy computer that won can’t tell you a thing about tomorrow’s weather forecast. Or how to solve a chess problem. Or what’s the best way to retrieve a failed space mission. Or when’s the best time to plant crops in the Mississippi delta. Or even the ability to turn a knob in the right direction in order to ensure the water turns off.

If you can design a computer to pretend to be a human in a very artificial, lab-created task of answering random dumb questions from a human — that’s not a computer that’s “smarter” than us. That’s a computer that’s incredibly dumb, yet was able to fool a stupid panel of judges judging from a criteria that’s all but disconnected from the real world.

And so that’s the primary reason Ray Kurzweil is wrong — we will not have any kind of sentient intelligence — in computers, robots, or anything else — in a mere 15 years. Until we understand the foundation of our own minds, it’s narcissistic (and a little bit naive) to believe we could design an artificial one that could function just as well as our own.

We are in the 1800s in terms of our understanding of our minds, and until we reach the 21st century, computers too will be in the 1800s of their ability to become sentient.


Read more: Why robots will not be smarter than humans by 2029 in reply to 2029: the year when robots will have the power to outsmart their makers

Why Ray Kurzweil is Wrong: Computers Won’t Be Smarter Than Us Anytime Soon

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Why Ray Kurzweil is Wrong: Computers Won’t Be Smarter Than Us Anytime Soon. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 8 Mar 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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