In a review of Kurzweil's most recent book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, Colin McGinn notes that the Law of Accelerating Returns, Kurzweil's famous theory that as computing power doubles ever year information technology grows exponentially, is not a natural law but a psychological one. Kurzweil admits there is a not-too-distant endpoint for the law, where the structure of atoms themselves will prevent computers from becoming any faster. "Once the information capacity of one medium has been exhausted," McGinn writes, "engineers come up with a new medium, with even more potential states and yet more tightly packed. But then the 'law' depends on a prediction about human ingenuityâ€”that we will keep inventing ever more powerful physical systems for computation." The law really says that human ingenuity improves exponentially, a temporary phenomenon that will expire as rapidly as it appeared, an "interesting, historical fact, not written into the basic workings of the cosmos."
If there is an ultimate material limit to our pursuit of technological advancement through microprocessors, there is also a limit to the advancement of human experience had through them. As we are becoming more familiar with life surrounded by computers, it is inevitable that we will soon reach a point where the technically new experiences they can give will start to seem like variations on the same theme. And the more one variates the same theme, the more opportunity the user has to wonder about its merits. Do we really want access to emails, Internet searches, and the digital interlocutions of loosely held acquaintances to be strapped to our wrist at all times? Is there not a relieving effect of being able to see the hard and clear border between technology and environment, which the user has unambiguous control over?
If Apple makes a watch it will be a complete circle of irony in that cell phones gradually obviated the functional need of the wristwatch in the first place. Once Apple came to dominate the smartphone market, the next step in its product line could be a backward one, attempting to revive an outmoded technology. Kurzweil has meanwhile become director of engineering for Google. The early results of this partnership between the world's biggest Internet company and a man who is actively trying to become immortal have been a general plan to train the search engine to be users' "cybernetic friend." Speaking at Singapore University's NASA campus earlier this year, Kurzweil foresaw a future where "the majority of search queries will be answered without you actually asking." This is perhaps the most anticlimactic vision for the future yet proposed, one where computers present us with answers to questions we haven't even asked, like how can I get email and text messages into my wrist watch? Inevitably the answer to every question will be "computers," a response we will, at some point, tire of hearing.