How to Tell a Good Story: Lessons from Outspoken Scientific Storyteller Ray Kurzweil

December 15, 2016 Nicola Brown

Ray Kurzweil

When it comes to talking about the future of science and technology, Ray Kurzweil is not one to tread lightly. He has a natural propensity for sparking a good story. Case in point: “Artificial intelligence will reach human levels by around 2029. Follow that out further to, say, 2045, we will have multiplied the intelligence, the human biological machine intelligence of our civilization a billion-fold.”

Even through his childhood, Kurzweil was pushing boundaries and staying ahead of the curve. From the age of five, he knew he wanted to be a scientist and inventor. He spent hours reading sci-fi novels and building inventions—such as a robotic puppet theatre—and later on, computing devices and statistical programs. At age 14, Kurzweil wrote a paper talking about his theory of the neocortex. At 15, he wrote a computer program that learned the patterns in classical music compositions then produced its own novel creations based on the patterns it had learned. Kurzweil’s program not only placed first in the International Science fair, but also was among the 40 Westinghouse Science Talent Search winners who were congratulated in person by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Kurzweil Wired

Kurzweil’s Biggest Passions: Science and Writing

Ray Kurzweil is an outspoken force in the science and technology community; a modern-day Nostradamus of the future of artificial intelligence. Wide-ranging descriptors have been attached to the man: inventor, computer scientist, entrepreneur, author, futurist. While some value his predictions for the future in a semi-prophetic fashion, others consider him a kooky eccentric. Either way he tends to leave a lasting impression on those who encounter him. The Wall Street Journal has called him “the restless genius,” while Forbes referred to him as “the ultimate thinking machine.”

In a quick search of the site, he is the only person on Wikipedia to have a section called “postmortem life” which details his plans to be cryogenically frozen in the hopes that future medical technology will find a way to revive him.

But in addition to all the science- and tech-driven passions in his life, Kurzweil has a significant creative streak. In his university days, he considered becoming a writer and pursued a double major in computer science and creative writing at MIT. As he told Morgan Michaels:

My parents were unhappy about that—my parents were both struggling artists. Even at that time science seemed to be the wave of the future and considering a more artistic career was upsetting to them. But I kept up an interest in both. Through writing nonfiction I was able to invent with material and technological resources that don’t exist today; they exist in the future.

Kurzweil realized that communication and knowing how to tell a good story are just as important as technology in shaping our society. His approach to communicating his passion for science and technology offers valuable lessons in creative thinking.


5 Ways to Kurzweil-ify Your Communication Strategy

1. Exude Confidence

Kurzweil is not lacking in confidence when it comes to putting forth his often radical and far-reaching prophecies. He never shies away from his convictions, whether they be studying literature in university against his parents wishes or claiming that the singularity will happen in the 2020s. In the book The Brain Makers, authors David Perlmutter and Kristin Loberg wrote: “Born with the same gift for self-promotion that was a character trait of people like PT Barnum and Ed Feigenbaum, Kurzweil had no problems talking up his technical prowess…Ray Kurzweil was not noted for his understatement.”

2. Be Controversial

Kurzweil could easily be described as one of the most controversial thinkers of our time, with many renowned scientists divided in their opinion of him and his ideas. But this has also led to a great deal of discussion and publicity, as is the way with provocative content in a world that can only be baited—it often seems—with sensationalism.

3. Share Your Vision

The thing that’s so compelling about Kurzweil is that he is always looking toward the future in a big way. He provides us with a narrative that helps us envision what life might be like in the next 5, 10, or even 20 years. He is not afraid to extrapolate on current trends, and he brings a somewhat positive perspective to topics that can be quite daunting to contemplate. The New York Times described the tone he uses in his most popular book The Singularity is Near as “buoyant optimism,” a book that is “startling in scope and bravado”:

[In his book,] Mr. Kurzweil envisions breathtakingly exponential progress, and he is merely extrapolating from established data. To his way of thinking, “when scientists become a million times more intelligent and operate a million times faster, an hour would result in a century of progress (in today’s terms).” The underpinnings of this logic go beyond the familiar to suggest that the pace of evolution (he has no doubts about Darwin) is logarithmic—another indication that the future is almost here.

4. Let Facts Guide Your Vision

As the passage above suggests, Kurzweil never makes a point without reference to facts, scientific evidence, experiments, patterns, experiences, or with examples and anecdotes that help support his arguments. The only way to help convince people about claims you are making about the future (which can’t be empirically tested) is to make ample reference to patterns of the past. Kurzweil is a master of this kind of creative thinking, which makes him a very convincing communicator.

5. Embrace Your Passion

Even in youth, Kurzweil immersed himself in projects that captured his imagination. As a result, his passion for science and technology is clear in every form—from the way he speaks to the way he lives his life. His passion is a huge part of why he is so fascinating to listen to and to read about, whether or not you agree with his point of view.

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The post How to Tell a Good Story: Lessons from Outspoken Scientific Storyteller Ray Kurzweil appeared first on The Content Standard by Skyword.

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