Ray Kurzweil’s comments about the state of the world at last week’s Tune Postback conference, as reported by GeekWire, stirred up an interesting debate: Is the world really getting worse, as many people perceive, or is our information about what’s wrong simply getting better, as the futurist Kurzweil contends?
It’s an especially timely question in the context the current U.S. presidential race. Given the intense interest in Kurzweil’s comments, we went back and transcribed more of his remarks on this topic from his Seattle appearance last week.
Here are Kurzweil’s expanded comments from that portion of his talk.
I don’t want to talk too much about the political season, but I had an on-stage dialogue with Mitt Romney a few weeks ago, and one thing we noted is that 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. I go around the world giving talks, and 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.
It’s actually a good thing, though. I point out to people, this is the most peaceful time in human history. ‘What are you kidding, don’t you pay attention to the news?’ Well, if you read Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of our Nature, there’s an inverse exponential in violence. It’s the wealthiest time in human history. The World Bank reported a 90 percent drop in poverty in Asia over the last 15 years, and Africa and South America are not far behind. This is the healthiest time. Human life expectancy was 19 a thousand years ago, it was 37 200 years ago, it was 48 100 years ago, but we have an evolutionary predilection to wanting to hear bad news because when you were walking through the fields 1,000 years ago, if there was some danger, a little rustling in the leaves that indicated possible danger, you really wanted to be alert to that. That was really good for survival, so we have an orientation to focus on bad news and we have very good ways of getting bad news, because our social media are saturated by that.
But this is by far the best time in human history, and that progress is going to accelerate.
This was part of Kurzweil’s larger talk about the power of exponential growth in many areas of human life. Overall, he made the case that many people are underestimating the potential progress of humanity over the next few decades. See our earlier post for more highlights from his talk.