Fisher Investments CEO heralds 'the singularity'

He says vast technology, societal changes ahead

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Global financial asset manager Ken Fisher swept into Camas on Thursday, but if you expected him to talk about emerging markets or U.S. central bank policy, forget it.

Instead, the founder of Woodside, Calif.-based Fisher Investments visited the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce evidently to blow people's minds about the fact that their minds won't be able to comprehend what's coming.

And what's coming, Fisher said, is the "singularity."

The concept, popularized by futurist Ray Kurzweil, says in 20 years or so we'll have computers that are powerful enough to simulate the human brain.

Eventually, those computers will become far more powerful than the human brain. As a result, information will be shared at hyperspeed. National borders and institutions will fall. The singularity, Fisher said, will knock doctors out of the process of obtaining medicine and render media as we know it nonexistent.

Got that?

Or, as Fisher interjected often during his speech: "You follow me?"

At times, Fisher, who's building a collection of office towers on 120 acres in Camas, was flippant. "I don't take what I say that seriously," he said at one point.

But mostly he gave off a laser-eyed seriousness. He told the estimated 100 attendees who munched on grilled chicken and salad at Camas Meadows Golf Club that the singularity is coming and that they'd better get on board.

Because it doesn't matter if you live in Camas or Washougal or halfway across the globe, Fisher said during the luncheon event sponsored by the Port of Camas-Washougal. And it doesn't matter whether you like rapid-fire technological change or not.

It's coming, he said.

"All power shifts to those who are creative consumers of technology," he said.

If you don't accept the singularity and go with it, others from other places will. "The place that resists loses," Fisher said. "You either go with it or get left behind."

Public education as we know it is going away in 20 to 30 years, he said. "It will disappear because of the singularity."

Socio-economic disparities will only worsen, Fisher said. Conversely, some people will succeed at faster speeds.

National borders will increasingly become economically porous, he said. The U.S. government won't be able to "control its borders in the world of the singularity."

In the singularity, Fisher said, the medicine you need will be made in another country, tailored to your DNA and shipped back to you, and you won't have to see a doctor.

No one asked -- and Fisher did not address -- the moral and ethical questions that naturally arise from such predictions of rising socio-economic disparities, vaporized borders and vanquished institutions.Fisher said he's not judging whether any of the stuff that he believes will happen in the singularity is good or bad. "I'm just telling you what I think will happen," he said.

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ;http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.