Ray Kurzweil is probably regarded as one of the most extraordinary people of our time. And it’s not hard to understand why.
He’s brilliant — he has 20 different doctorates and honorary awards from 3 different US Presidents. He’s resourceful and innovative — he’s made some useful inventions like the first CCD flatbed scanner and the print-to-speech reading machine for the visually impaired. He’s articulate — he has written 7 books so far, and 5 of those have become bestsellers. He’s extremely efficient — he co-founded Singularity Universe and is Google’s director of AI development. And most remarkable of all — Kurzweil, who longs to see a day when man merges with machine, has the gift for making uncanny predictions about technology. And many of what he has foreseen have already come true.
Although he has not been exactly right about the year — after all, this is not about the predictions but rather what they represent — some of his predictions that have come true include: a computer defeating a world chess champion by 1998 (IBM’s Deep Blue defeated in 1997 Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov); PCs having the ability to answer questions by connecting wirelessly to the Internet; PCs becoming available in different shapes and sizes, and embedding them in clothing, jewelry and other body ornaments will become common (iPods, FitBit, AppleWatch).
The disabled regaining the ability to walk through the use of prosthetic legs (Ekso Bionics); people using more portable PCs than stationary ones (laptops and smartphone sales surpassed desktop sales in 2008); users being able to give voice commands to computers (Siri, Google Now); seeing augmented reality through eyeglasses (Google Glass, Hololens, Magic Leap); and real-time translation from one language to another (Skype Translate, Google Translate).
And here are some that are still hanging in the balance, in other words — still waiting to happen (or not happen).
In the near future Kurzweil predicts…
By the 2020’s our immune system will be able to take a rest as nanobots, or the technology of creating robots at or close to the microscopic scale of a nanometer (10−9 meters), will take over its function of warding off diseases. With stronger resistance and gene editing capabilities, we’ll be able to live longer, perhaps even forever.
We’ll be able by year 2030 to adapt a type of technology known as the “Singularity, which will allow us to transfer the human mind/consciousness to a computer, not physically, but by uploading its inner workings to a computer. Think ‘Avatar‘ and imagine how immortality will look like as your mind continues to live on in a virtual body of your choosing.
And because forever is such a long time to live, we’ll figure out by 2040 how to expand our neocortex further (the first time we did — speech, art and science were the results) so we can have millions of virtual environments and realities to explore, and we will never ever get bored. And virtual reality will become as real as actual reality.
And when it comes to AI, the intelligence exhibited by machines….
They will be able by year 2045 to learn on their own and become conscious enough to ask for recognition of this consciousness. Then they will become billions of times more capable than human intelligence. Until they surpass our kind and become the smartest and most capable life form. And they will eventually attain legal status equal to what we humans currently enjoy.
As far-fetched as Kurzweil’s ideas may have seemed when he first voiced them out, it’s a totally different story now because the staggering advancements in technology are undeniable and inevitable. And it’s becoming more realistic to ask ‘when’ his predictions, which are are a byproduct of his understanding of the power of Moore’s Law will come true, and not ‘if’ they will come true.