Building Better Minds - and What to Do with Them

Cynthia Wagner's picture

From the editor's desk: About the May-June 2013 issue of THE FUTURIST

As artificial intelligence technology advances, the event horizon known as the Technological Singularity draws near. Does that mean we must begin preparing for the inevitable domination of our robotic overlords?

Not exactly. While such science-fiction scenarios inspire us to imagine a variety of outcomes of our endeavors, there is much that the artificial—or, more accurately, nonbiological—intelligence needs to know. And so do we. As visionary inventor Ray Kurzweil argues in this issue, we need to build synthetic minds that enhance our own capabilities, and he explains just how we can do that. (See “How to Make a Mind.”)

Science fiction indeed has entertained us with both visions and cautionary tales of such technological advances. In “Asimov’s Embarrassing Robot: A Futurist Fable,” scholar Irving H. Buchen outlines the odyssey of “Andrew,” the android hero in Isaac Asimov’s seminal tale, “The Bicentennial Man.” As his ability to learn and to create made him more like his human creators, Andrew’s “fatal” flaw was his immortality. What Asimov failed to foresee in this story was the symbiosis of man and machine that Kurzweil envisions.

Another aspect of technological innovation considered in this issue is its role in tackling some of the critical problems of our time, including resource depletion and climate change. Computer scientist Ramez Naam argues that our innovations and new ideas can help us expand our existing resources, reduce waste, and build wealth. (See “How Innovation Could Save the Planet.”)

And how do we advance our own innovativeness? One place to start would be to do away with mediocre education, which may happen on its own, suggests economic futurist Rob Bencini. He argues that the soaring cost of higher education, which puts people into debt rather than jobs, is just one of the trends working against colleges that are not delivering the futures they once promised. (See “Educating the Future: The End of Mediocrity.”)

As the sluggish recovery from the most-recent global recession has illustrated, governments, too, are failing to deliver futures they once promised. However, several economic success stories in unexpected places, like Uruguay and Israel, offer hope for the rest of us. Associate editor Rick Docksai explains how, in “Five Economies That Work: Global Success Stories.”

See the table of contents here. WFS members, log on to view the full issue or download a PDF. Not a member? Sign up now or learn more.

Cynthia G. Wagner is Editor of THE FUTURIST. We encourage you to comment on the articles here at or send an e-mail (cwagner 'at' with your feedback.


"How to Make a Mind" - needed more references

The article "How to Make a Mind" by Ray Kurzweil is very comprehensive and thought provoking. However, it is not clear whether what is being talked of is near term (couple of decades away), a distant future or science fiction. I know that Ray believes in exponential growth and singularity arriving in not so distant future. My personal beliefs are also on the same lines. However, if we restrict ourselves exclusively to the contents of this article, it is difficult to make any such determination. Although there are references to some ongoing research, the statements like “We are now in a position to speed up the learning process by a factor of thousands or millions” still seem a bit far-fetched. The article would have benefited from some indication of time frame for different stages of artificial brain development, backed by pointers to supporting material. But for this, it indeed is an article of eye opening nature.