Ray Kurzweil is dead

Carmel, California. 25 March 2018

Ray Kurzweil’s death was a bombshell. The media went wild. Conservative columnists ran ironic pieces on the high priest of transhumanism dying at only seventy years old. In France, Le Monde devoted two columns on its front page to his demise: The man who would be immortal: the Singularity dies ... young”. His death was attributed to the shock to his system brought on by vitamin supplements, the capsules he guzzled by the handful. The transhumanist media saluted the memory of the most famous popularizer of the grand NBIC convergence. “See you again,” headlined the Wall Street Journal.

A week after his death, crowds of loyal followers still gathered outside his home. The Singularity University, of which he was dean, changed its name. At the initiative of Sergey Brin and NASA, its two main shareholders, it was renamed Kurzweil University amid much pomp and ceremony.
Ray’s family had organized a last tribute to him. The entire city of Carmel was cordoned off. The crème de la show-biz crème were expected, as were the President, representatives from the Senate and the House, corporate bosses, and foreign heads of state. Not a single reporter or camera was allowed into the Californian Institute of Cryogenics. Squadrons of police kept the crowds at bay to let the limousines through. The most important guests arrived by helicopter, landing on the institute’s roof.
Marine One, an impressive VH-71 Kestrel, landed shortly after Google’s small hybrid helicopter. Surrounded by secret service goons, the President of the United States swept into the VIP suite. He was as handsome, charismatic and spectacular in real life as he was on TV. Jet-black hair, tall, athletic, and tanned, he looked like an urbane Antonio Banderas. A walking sex symbol with a top lawyer’s gift of the gab. That was why the people had voted for him: he was the ideal son-in-law. A model integrated immigrant. Fernandez liked golf, attended church with his family, was in favor of the death penalty and tracking down undocumented immigrants. Politically, though, his program was a mystery. He knew how to press the right buttons at the right time. He had come to power by reconciling chalk and cheese and won the election by reiterating a few sound bites that had hit home: “Technology means growth, but within reasonable limits.” People feared the future. NBIC convergence both fascinated and frightened them: “Our great future must be steered by biopolitical governance that puts humankind and nature first.” Joe public needed reassuring. During his second term Obama had gone far too far too fast. People had voted Republican too slow things down: “Our great future is everybody’s business. I say ‘no’ the apocalyptic discourse of the conservatives, and I say ‘no’ to the way the scientific and industrial lobbies worship technology.” With his Latin lover’s looks and reassuring discourse Jeff Fernandez had even won Europe over.

Sergey stood behind Ray’s wife and children. He had come with Wayne. Anne had been delayed in Europe an enormous deal was at stake. The European Commission in Brussels was on the verge of giving ground on gene therapies. The wall was about to fall. Nearly thirty years after the Berlin Wall came down, the genetics tsunami would sweep transhumanist globalization home.
President Fernandez was led to the widow. He assumed the air of gravity he used when he spoke of the fight against poverty or terrorism on TV. He took her hands in his.
– Please accept my condolences. Ray was an exceptional man.”
– Thank you, Mr. President.”
America owes him much. Speaking for myself, I read all his books when I was still just an ordinary lawyer. I had the opportunity of telling him so in Washington once.”
– He told me about that meeting.”
– Ray didn’t vote for me,” he joked, “but I believe that we were in agreement on essentials.”
– You’ll get the chance to continue your discussion with him when science brings him back.”

– I hope I do,” smiled the president. “Amen.”
The president did the rounds, slapping shoulders and shaking hands. He shook Sergey’s and winked at him at the same time. Nick Borstrom, the new boss of In-Q-Tel, was standing to one side having a drink. Eric Schmidt was next to him, hopping nervously from one foot to the other. Borstrom regarded Google’s number two as a fat slob devoid of interest. Nothing but a physically repulsive management man. He had benefitted from Obama’s largesse by licking his boots. And it had worked. The antitrust legislation had spared Google. But the new Republican administration worried Schmidt. A fat man who spent his life lobbying in Washington backrooms and restaurants, he had put on even more weight. He wanted information and hassled Borstrom even at funerals. Schmidt was Sergey Brin’s pitbull. He had the telephone numbers of the whole world and hassled, hassled, then hassled some more.
Nick was passing comment on the physiques of the show biz stars that science kept alive through gene therapy and stem cell injections. Robert de Niro looked about a thousand and had trouble walking. Mick Jagger couldn’t have weighed any more than 90 pounds but was about to go back on tour with the Rolling Stones. They had all booked their liquid nitrogen tank at the California Institute of Cryogenics. A million dollars for each promise of eternity chicken feed for the rich and famous. Rumor had it that David Letterman was no longer responding to his leukemia treatment. Eric Schmidt bet a crate of Château Petrus that he would be joining Larry King and Jay Leno in the deep freezer department before the year was out. Nick Borstrom said: “You got a bet.”
– We need to know what the president’s got on his mind, Nick.”
Borstrom shrugged.
– Nobody knows whether there’s anything in his mind. He’s a pragmatist. He governs by opinion poll.”
– Obama thinks he’s a public menace, Nick.”
Obama did some good work for us. But when he quit the White House, the attempt on his life had made him bitter and weak.”
– When there are no cameras, he gets around on crutches.”
– Obama hates the Mexican because he’s younger and more handsome than he
is. Am I right?”
– Right.”
– He use to like having you around, Eric, because you’re on the plump side. You
made him look good.”
The fat man sneered.
– Borstrom, you’re one son of a bitch. Am I right?”
– Right.”

The ceremony was not due to start for another ten minutes. The governor’s helicopter had been delayed by an electric storm. And with no reporters or cameras around, impromptu conversations started up.

The president loved big stars. He was chuckling with Katie Holmes. Madonna laughed at all his jokes. She dug handsome Latinos. The Material Girl was still a fine figure of a woman. The president had a soft spot for mature women. The secret service people knew the encounter with Madonna would have a sequel. La isla bonita, si si si señor.

Transhumanist funerals were odd gatherings. Few tears were shed. The most fervent believed firmly that one day nanorobots would bring the dead back to life. Others were reluctant to rule themselves out of the future. The exponential rise of scientific progress was a fact of life. Nobody had anything to lose. A long sleep in liquid nitrogen was better than rotting in a coffin, even if it was gold plated.

Sergey held Mrs. Kurzweil in his arms. He had known the Kurzweils since he had founded Google. Ray was a visionary. Sergey venerated him. The old man had been a second father to him. He had guided him as an entrepreneur, had advised him. He had saved him time. He had come up with the idea of hiring Eric Schmidt to handle backup matters. “The fat man will help Google earn billions in advertising revenue,” he had said. “He’ll push up Google’s stock. Larry and you will be able to concentrate on what matters: changing the world through artificial intelligence.” Sergey was shattered by his death. He would never see the old man alive again. Cryogenics caused irreversible molecular damage. Secretly he didn’t believe in it. Only consciousness uploads would one day bring immortality. Of that he was convinced. Uploading awareness probably wasn’t that remote a prospect. Ray Kurzweil had missed out by only a few years.
Kurzweil’s widow was exhausted by several sleepless nights. The hubbub in the VIP lounge was a strain. They were now moving to the prayer room. Wayne followed in their footsteps. Sergey motioned to him to leave them. The institute was more heavily guarded than the Federal Bank. He ran no risk.
– Obama cried off at the last minute,” she said.
– He hardly goes out any more,” sighed Sergey. “Especially when he could run into Fernandez.”
– I still can’t believe Ray’s gone. I can still smell him in the house.”
– I understand.”
I look for him in every room. When I wake up nights and put out my arm I hope I’m going to touch his warm body. When I go into his lab, I think I’m going to see him there with his nose in his experiments.”
They proceeded along Neil Armstrong Alley. The place was both glacial and superb. Pink marbled floor and personalized headstones at each aluminum container. In the six years since it had been founded, the institute had received into its care the remains of nine hundred people from the Who’s Who of business, politics, and entertainment. It was a lucrative affair. A subsidiary of General Electric, the institute had branches pretty much all over the world. The imposing California building had plenty of room for thousands more would-be eternals. Its reinforced concrete structure could withstand the impact of a jetliner. A powerful auxiliary generator sixty feet underground was poised to kick in at the slightest hitch. The corpses could sleep peacefully.
– Be patient. He’ll be back,” Sergey felt impelled to add.
– I want to join him, Sergey. I can’t live without Ray.”
– Don’t say that.”
I want to be preserved whole, I want us to be together again. I want us to meet again unscathed in ten, twenty years. I want our story to pick up again where it got cut off.”
– What are you talking about?”
– What’s the point of being with Ray again one day if I’m an impotent old lady. You know exactly what I’m saying.”
He held her to him and kissed her on the cheek. She sat there, no reaction. Her eyes empty.
– You need to get your spirits up. You’re still feeling the shock. Anne and I will help you get through this.”
She didn’t answer. They sat for a while on the bench, in front of the last
aluminum container in the aisle. René Angelil. The name rang a bell.
– This bunker and these metal coffins give me the creeps,” she sighed.
Industrial aesthetics has its enthusiasts. Ray used to love this place. We went up and down all the aisles on the day of Steve Jobs’s funeral.”
– Ray loved you like his own son.”
– And I love you like my own mother.”
He took her hand. It was cold.
– Promise me you won’t do anything stupid. Ray wouldn’t want that.”
– I’ll do as I see fit, Sergey.”
No resurrection can work if awareness isn’t uploaded. It’s a question of years, maybe months,” he lied.
– I don’t want to ride in the new history train if Ray isn’t in it, too.”
– I’ll take you home to our place after the ceremony. I won’t let you brood. We’ll take my plane and fly to Hawaii. Anne will join us there.”
She breathed in deeply. Shook her head slowly.
– I need to be alone.”

One after the other, the big shots delivered their addresses. The ceremony was webcast live. They all paid their conventional little tribute. A film was shown, a few minutes long. Ray at the White House. Ray in 2012 addressing Congress, defending Obama’s NBIC economic program. Ray explaining the principles of the Singularity in universities all over the world. Ray having stones thrown at him in Paris. Ray under police protection from attacks by Bioluddite protesters outside France’s National Assembly. Ray, the indefatigable mouthpiece of the transhumanist cause, preaching the same concepts year after year in the desert: Moore’s Law, exponential growth, nanorobots, DNA, virtual reality, digitizing human awareness, AI, cognitive sciences, gene therapy ... Ray topping book sales worldwide in 2016 with his best seller, "Immortality is Inevitable".
Sergey spoke after the president. Fernandez shook his hand before leaving the lectern to him. Sergey pressed his palm against the aluminum tank with its GE logo that stood on the altar.
“If Ray is lucky enough to emerge one day from his liquid nitrogen bath, which I hope with all my heart he will, he’ll have a considerable advantage over all the
other cryogenized people at rest in the institute. He won’t be surprised by the world he wakes up in. Whether he returns in ten, twenty, or fifty years won’t make much difference to him. For he had already broadly outlined the way world will be in ten, twenty, or fifty years ... We loved Ray because he was an altruist. He loved people and humanity. He never worked for money or power. He devoted his life to science because he had understood that it could be the way to a better future for humankind. Ray was one of those people who put America on the right track. Thanks to heavy investment in the new technologies early this century, our country enjoys fabulous economic growth today. If Ray had earned just one cent from each dollar his intuition earned America, he would be even richer than I am.”
The audience smiled broadly.
“But Ray didn’t care about money. Ray railed against money that slept in bank accounts. For him money was just fuel for funding research and working on the future. He used to say: ‘Why have five pairs of pants when four are enough?” All that mattered to him were our country’s economic success, the spread of its ideas across the world, and the freedom of the individual. All his life Ray fought for the rights of individuals to do with their bodies what they saw fit. He fought for women’s right to abortion if that was their choice. He fought for the right of deaf children to have cochlear implants and the blind to have artificial retinas. European bioconservatives caricatured the transhumanism which he stood for as if it was some kind of sectarian folly. The Polish president, whose religious stances have marginalized his country economically, has spoken about the ‘totalitarianism of machines’. In spite of the attacks, Ray stayed the course. He always put human beings and human rights above all other considerations. If, today, we live in a world that is free, prosperous, and at peace, where we can choose to repair our genes and augment our capacities, we owe it in part to the great Ray Kurzweil. See you soon, friend.”

The thunderous applause lasted until Sergey was back in his seat. Madonna and Elton John climbed on stage for a duo of Candle in the Wind. The deceased’s favorite song. Ray’s musical tastes had always been dodgy. 

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