Raymond Kurzweil (born February 12, 1948) is an inventor and futurist. He has been a pioneer in the fields of optical character recognition (OCR), text-to-speech synthesis, speech recognition technology, and electronic keyboard instruments. He is the author of several books on health, artificial intelligence (AI), transhumanism, the technological singularity, and futurism.
Life, inventions, and business career
Ray Kurzweil grew up in the New York City borough of Queens
. He was born to secular Jewish
parents who had escaped Austria
just before the onset of World War II, and he was exposed via Unitarian Universalism
to a great diversity of different faiths during his upbringing. His father was a musician and composer and his mother was a visual artist
. His uncle, an engineer at Bell Labs
, taught young Ray the basics about computers
. In his youth, he was an avid reader of science fiction literature. In 1963, at age fifteen, he wrote his first computer program. Designed to process statistical data
, the program was used by researchers at IBM. Later in high school he created a sophisticated pattern-recognition software program that analyzed musical pieces of great classical music composers and then synthesized its own songs in similar styles. The capabilities of this invention were so impressive that, in 1965, he was invited to appear on the CBS
television program I've Got a Secret
, where he performed a piano piece that was composed by a computer he also had built. Later that year, he won first prize in the International Science Fair for the invention, and he was also recognized by the Westinghouse Talent Search and was personally congratulated by President Lyndon B. Johnson
during a White House
In 1968, during Kurzweil's sophomore year at MIT, Kurzweil started a company that used a computer program to match high school students with colleges. The program, called the Select College Consulting Program, was designed by him and compared thousands of different criteria about each college with questionnaire answers submitted by each student applicant. When he was 20, he sold the company to Harcourt, Brace & World for $100,000 (roughly $500,000 in 2006 dollars) plus royalties. He earned a BS in Computer Science and Literature in 1970 from MIT.
In 1974, Kurzweil started the company Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. and led development of the first omni-font optical character recognition system--a computer program capable of recognizing text written in any normal font. Up until that time, scanners had only been able to read text written in a very narrow range of fonts. He decided that the best application of this technology would be to create a reading machine for the blind, which would allow blind people to understand written text by having a computer read it to them out loud. However, this device required the invention of two enabling technologies--the CCD flatbed scanner and the text-to-speech synthesizer. Under his direction, development of these new technologies was completed, and on January 13, 1976, the finished product was unveiled during a widely reported news conference headed by him and the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind. Called the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the device covered an entire tabletop. It gained him mainstream recognition: on the day of the machine's unveiling, Walter Cronkite used the machine to give his signature soundoff, "And that's the way it was, January 13, 1976." While listening to The Today Show, musician Stevie Wonder heard a demonstration of the device and personally purchased the first production version of the Kurzweil Reading Machine, beginning a lifelong friendship between himself and Kurzweil.
Kurzweil's next major business venture began in 1978, when Kurzweil Computer Products began selling a commercial version of the optical character recognition computer program. LexisNexis was one of the first customers, and bought the program to upload paper legal and news documents onto its nascent online databases.
Two years later, Kurzweil sold his company to Xerox, which had an interest in further commercializing paper-to-computer text conversion. Kurzweil Computer Products thus became a subsidiary of Xerox formerly known as Scansoft and now as Nuance Communications, and he functioned as a consultant for the former until 1995.
Kurzweil's next business venture was in the realm of electronic music technology. After a 1982 meeting with Stevie Wonder, in which the latter lamented the divide in capabilities and qualities between electronic synthesizers and traditional musical instruments, Kurzweil was inspired to create a new generation of music synthesizers capable of accurately duplicating the sounds of real instruments. To this end, Kurzweil Music Systems was founded in the same year, and in 1984, the Kurzweil K250 was unveiled. The machine was capable of imitating a number of different types of instruments, and in tests even musicians were unable to discern the auditory difference between the Kurzweil K250 on piano mode from a normal grand piano. The recording and mixing abilities of the machine coupled with its aforementioned abilities to imitate a variety of different instruments made it possible for a single user to compose and play an entire orchestral piece.
Kurzweil Music Systems was sold to Korean musical instrument manufacturer Young Chang in 1990. As with Xerox, Kurzweil remained as a consultant at the larger company for several years more.
Concurrent with Kurzweil Music Systems, Ray Kurzweil created the company Kurzweil Applied Intelligence (KAI) to develop computer speech recognition systems for commercial use. The first product, which debuted in 1987, was the world's first large-vocabulary speech recognition program, allowing human users to dictate to their computers via microphone and then have the device transcribe their speech into written text. Later, the company combined the speech recognition technology with medical expert systems to create the Kurzweil VoiceMed (today called Clinical Reporter) line of products, which allow doctors to write medical reports by speaking to their computers instead of writing. KAI still exists today as Nuance.
Kurzweil started Kurzweil Educational Systems in 1996 to develop new pattern-recognition-based computer technologies to help people with disabilities such as blindness, dyslexia and ADD in school. Products include the Kurzweil 1000 text-to-speech converter software program, which enables a computer to read electronic and scanned text aloud to blind or visually-impaired users, and the Kurzweil 3000 program, which is a multifaceted electronic learning system that helps with reading, writing, and study skills.
Furthermore, during the 1990s Ray Kurzweil founded the Medical Learning Company. The company's products included an interactive computer education program for doctors and a computer-simulated patient. Around the time, Kurzweil started KurzweilCyberArt.com--a website featuring computer programs meant to assist the creative art process. The site offers free downloads of a program called AARON--a visual art synthesizer developed by Harold Cohen--and of "Kurzweil's Cybernetic Poet", which automatically creates poetry. During this period he started KurzweilAI.net, a website devoted towards showcasing news of scientific developments, publicizing the ideas of high-tech thinkers and critics alike, and promoting futurist-related discussion among the general population through the Mind-X forum.
In 1999, Kurzweil created a hedge fund called "FatKat" (Financial Accelerating Transactions from Kurzweil Adaptive Technologies), which began trading in 2006. He has stated that the ultimate aim is to improve the performance of FatKat's A.I. investment software program, enhancing its ability to recognize patterns in "currency fluctuations and stock-ownership trends. He predicted in his 1999 book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, that computers will one day prove superior to the best human financial minds at making profitable investment decisions.
In June 2005, Ray Kurzweil introduced the "Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader" (K-NFB Reader)--a pocket-sized device consisting of a digital camera and computer unit. Like the Kurzweil Reading Machine of almost 30 years before, the K-NFB Reader is designed to aid blind people by reading written text out loud, only the newer machine is portable and collects texts through captured digital camera images while the older machine is very large and obtains all text through flatbed scanning.
Ray Kurzweil is currently making a movie due for release in 2009 called The Singularity is Near: A True Story About the Future. Part fiction, part non-fiction, he interviews 20 big thinkers like Marvin Minsky, plus there is a B-line narrative story that illustrates some of the ideas, where a computer avatar (Ramona) saves the world from self-replicating microscopic robots. In an on-stage interview with Moira Gunn about the book on October 11, 2005, Dr. Gunn reluctantly allowed the question "How will the singularity help me to get more sex?" and Kurzweil and Gunn then engaged an elaborate and playful yet serious half-hour discussion of why "version 3.0" of the coming virtual reality or augmented reality will provide really good sex while avoiding some of the risks of traditional sexual intercourse as experienced circa 2000.
In addition to Kurzweil's movie, there is an independent, feature-length documentary being made about Ray, his life, and his ideas called Transcendent Man. Filmmakers Barry and Felicia Ptolemy follow the inventor and futurist around the globe documenting his world-wide speaking tour. Scheduled for release in 2009, Transcendent Man documents Ray's quest to reveal mankind's ultimate destiny and explores many of the ideas found in his New York Times bestselling book, The Singularity is Near, including his concept of exponential growth, radical life expansion, and how we will transcend our biology. The Ptolemys have documented Ray's stated goal of bringing back his late father using AI. The film also documents critics who argue against Kurzweil's predictions.
Kurzweil also said during a 2006 C-SPAN2 interview that he was working on a new book that focused on the inner workings of the human brain and how this could be applied to building AI.
Kurzweil's first book, The Age of Intelligent Machines
, was published in 1990. The nonfiction work discusses the history of computer AI and also makes forecasts regarding likely future developments. Other experts in the field of AI contribute heavily to the work in the form of essays. The Association of American Publishers
' awarded it the status of Most Outstanding Computer Science Book
Next, Kurzweil detoured and published a book on nutrition in 1993 called The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life. The book's main idea is that high levels of fat intake are the cause of many health disorders common in the U.S., and thus that cutting fat consumption down to 10% of the total calories consumed would be optimal for most people.
In 1998, Ray Kurzweil published The Age of Spiritual Machines, which focuses heavily on further elucidating his beliefs regarding the future of technology, which themselves stem from his analysis of long-term trends in biological and technological evolution. Much focus goes into examining the likely course of AI development, along with the future of computer architecture.
Kurzweil's next book returned to the subject of human health and nutrition. Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever was co-authored by Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, a medical doctor and specialist in alternative medicine. While the book proffers conventional advice like avoiding unhealthy foods, getting regular exercise and keeping a positive outlook on life, it departs from the mainstream due to its advocacy of aggressive dietary supplementation, alkaline water and other measures.
The Singularity Is Near was published in 2005. The book is currently being made into a movie starring Pauley Perrette (NCIS), and scheduled for early 2009 release.
In February 2007, Ptolemaic Productions acquired the rights to The Singularity is Near, The Age of Spiritual Machines and Fantastic Voyage including the rights to Kurzweil's life and ideas for the film Transcendent Man. The feature length documentary is directed by Barry Ptolemy.
Recognition and awards
He has been called the successor and "rightful heir to Thomas Edison
", and was also referred to by Forbes
as "the ultimate thinking machine.
Moreover, Ray Kurzweil has received these awards, among others:
- First place in the 1965 International Science Fair for inventing the classical music synthesizing computer.
- The 1978 Grace Murray Hopper Award from the Association for Computing Machinery. The award is given annually to one "outstanding young computer professional" and is accompanied by a $35,000 prize. Ray Kurzweil won it for his invention of the Kurzweil Reading Machine.
- The 1990 "Engineer of the Year" award from Design News.
- The 1994 Dickson Prize in Science. One is awarded every year by Carnegie Mellon University to individuals who have "notably advanced the field of science." Both a medal and a $50,000 prize are presented to winners.
- The 1998 "Inventor of the Year" award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- The 1999 National Medal of Technology. This is the highest award the President of the United States can bestow upon individuals and groups for pioneering new technologies, and the President dispenses the award at his discretion. Bill Clinton presented Ray Kurzweil with the National Medal of Technology during a White House ceremony in recognition of Kurzweil's development of computer-based technologies to help the disabled.
- The 2000 Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology. Two other individuals also received the same honor that year. The award is presented yearly to people who "exemplify the life, times and standard of contribution of Tesla, Westinghouse and Nunn."
- The 2001 Lemelson-MIT Prize for a lifetime of developing technologies to help the disabled and to enrich the arts. Only one is meted out each year to highly successful, mid-career inventors. A $500,000 award accompanies the prize.
- Kurzweil was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002 for inventing the Kurzweil Reading Machine. The organization "honors the women and men responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible. Fifteen other people were inducted into the Hall of Fame the same year. Kurzweil's acceptance speech can be viewed by clicking on the link:
- Ray Kurzweil has also been given 15 honorary degrees from different universities.
Involvement with Futurism and Transhumanism
Ray Kurzweil first began speculating about the future when he was a child, but only later as an adult did he become seriously involved with trying to accurately forecast future events. Kurzweil came to realize that his success as an inventor depended largely on proper timing: His new inventions had to be released onto the market only once many other, supporting technologies had come into existence. A device issued too early and without proper refinement would lack some key element of functionality, and a device put out too late would find the market already flooded with a different product, or consumers demanding something better.
It thus became imperative for Kurzweil to have an understanding of the rates and directions of technological development. He has, throughout his adult life, kept close track of advances in the computer and machine industries, and has precisely modeled them. By extrapolating past trends into the future, Kurzweil has found a way to predict the course of technological development.
After several years of closely tracking these trends, Kurzweil came to realize that the innovation rate of computer technology was increasing in an exponential—as opposed to linear manner. As a computer scientist, Kurzweil also understood that there was no technical reason that this type of performance growth could not continue well into the 21st century.
Since growth in so many fields of science and technology depends upon the power of computers, improvements to computing power translate into improvements to human knowledge and to non-computer sciences like nanotechnology, biotechnology, and materials science. Considering the ongoing exponential growth in computer capabilities, this means fantastic new technologies will become available long before the vast majority of people—who intuitively think linearly about technological advance—expect. This core idea is expressed by Kurzweil's "Law of Accelerating Returns."
Touching on his most important predictions, Kurzweil believes that, between now and 2050, technology will become so advanced that new medicines and medical techniques will allow people to radically extend their lifespans while preserving and even improving quality of life. The aging process could at first be slowed, then halted, and then reversed as newer and better medical technologies became available. Kurzweil believes that much of this will be thanks to medical nanotechnology, which will allow microscopic machines to travel through one's body and repair all types of damage at the cellular level. But equally consequential developments will occur within the realm of computers as they become increasingly powerful, numerous and cheap between now and 2050. Kurzweil believes that they will gain the ability to think for themselves and will thus become Artificially Intelligent. An AI machine could handle the full range of human intellectual tasks and would be both emotional and self-aware. Kurzweil believes that AI's will inevitably become far smarter and more powerful than humans, and will come to dominate the world in many ways. But he also believes that humanity will be protected from extermination because machines will exhibit moral thinking and will respect humans as their ancestors, and because the line between humans and machines will have—by the time the machines become powerful enough to take over—blurred thanks to the widespread use of cybernetics among the human population. Cybernetic implants will greatly enhance human cognitive and physical abilities, and allow direct interface between humans and machines. Humans and machines will exist on a continuum instead of as two, distinct species. His beliefs regarding (among other things) the potential for human immortality and the peaceful rise of a supreme machine race place Kurzweil amongst the most personally optimistic of futurists.
Ray Kurzweil is now one of the world's leading futurists, and spends a great deal of time giving public lectures and making T.V. appearances to explain his ideas, which have only been very basically summarized thus far by this section. Kurzweil is also a Transhumanist because he believes it is ethical and beneficial for people to use technology—including radical technologies that don't yet exist—to improve their lives and to improve the world as a whole. For example, as a Transhumanist, Kurzweil sees no problem with allowing people to forever cheat death through the use of advanced technologies or to upgrade themselves to superhuman extremes through cybernetics, whereas most non-Transhumanists would reject these ideas on religious grounds or because they violate the laws of nature and the fundamental norms of human life. In fact, Kurzweil believes that radical, technology-based improvements to human beings will lead them to richer, more satisfying lives in which they may also better contribute to the rest of society.
Kurzweil's standing as a leading futurist and Transhumanist have gained him positions of prominence within pertinent organizations:
Futurism, as a philosophical or academic study, looks at the medium to long-term future in an attempt to predict based on current trends. Raymond Kurzweil states his belief that the future of humanity is being determined by an exponential expansion of knowledge, and that the very rate of the change of this exponential growth is driving our collective destiny irrespective of our narrow sightedness, clinging archaisms, or fear of change. Our biological evolution, according to Kurzweil, is on the verge of being superseded by our technological evolution. An evolution conjoined of cogent biological manipulation with a possible emerging self-aware, self-organizing machine intelligence. The rate of the change of the exponential explosion of knowledge and technology not only envelops us, but also irreversibly transforms us.
Accordingly, in Kurzweil's predictions, we are currently (as of the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty first century) exiting the era in which our human biology is closed to us, and are entering into the posthuman era, in which our extensive knowledge of biochemistry, neurology and cybernetics will allow us to rebuild our bodies and our minds from the ground up. Kurzweil believes that Strong A.I., advanced nanotechnology and cybernetics are enabling technologies that will initiate the Posthuman Era through a disruptive, worldwide event known as the Singularity. By extrapolating past and current trends of technological growth into the future, Kurzweil has concluded that the aforementioned technologies will be available in 2045, and that the Singularity will thus occur in the same year.
Stand on nanotechnology
Kurzweil is on the Army Science Advisory Board
, has testified before Congress on the subject of nanotechnology
, and sees considerable potential in the science to solve significant global problems such as climate change, viz. Nanotech Could Give Global Warming a Big Chill (July, 2006)
He predicts nanobots will be used to maintain the human body and to extend human lifespan.
Kurzweil has stressed the extreme potential dangers of nanotechnology, but argues that in practice, progress cannot be stopped, and any attempt to do so will retard the progress of defensive and beneficial technologies more than the malevolent ones, increasing the danger. He says that the proper place of regulation is to make sure progress proceeds safely and quickly. He applies this reasoning, to biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and technology in general.
The Law of Accelerating Returns
In his controversial 2001 essay, "The Law of Accelerating Returns", Kurzweil proposes an extension of Moore's law
that forms the basis of many people's beliefs regarding a "Technological Singularity
Accuracy of predictions
The Age of Intelligent Machines
Arguably, Kurzweil gained a large amount of credibility as a futurist from his first book The Age of Intelligent Machines
. Written from 1986 to 1989 and published in 1990, it forecast the demise of the Soviet Union
due to new technologies such as cellular phones and fax machines disempowering authoritarian governments by removing state control over the flow of information. In the book Kurzweil also extrapolated preexisting trends in the improvement of computer chess software performance to predict correctly that computers would beat the best human players by 1998, and most likely in that year. In fact, the event occurred in May 1997 when chess World Champion Garry Kasparov
was defeated by IBM's Deep Blue
computer in a well-publicized chess tournament. Perhaps most significantly, Kurzweil foresaw the explosive growth in worldwide Internet use that began in the 1990s. At the time of the publication of The Age of Intelligent Machines
, there were only 2.6 million Internet users in the world, and the medium was unreliable, difficult to use, and deficient in content, making Kurzweil's realization of its future potential especially prescient given the technology's limitations at that time. He also stated that the Internet would explode not only in the number of users but in content as well, eventually granting users access "to international networks of libraries, data bases, and information services". Additionally, Kurzweil correctly foresaw that the preferred mode of Internet access would inevitably be through wireless systems, and he was also correct to estimate that the latter would become practical for widespread use in the early 21st century.
Kurzweil also accurately predicted that many documents would exist solely on computers and on the Internet by the end of the 1990s, and that they would commonly be embedded with animations, sounds and videos that would prohibit their transference to paper format. Moreover, he foresaw that cellular phones would grow in popularity while shrinking in size for the foreseeable future.
Kurzweil's views regarding the future of military technology were likewise supported by the course of real-world events following the publication of The Age of Intelligent Machines. His pronouncement that the world's foremost militaries would continually rely on more intelligent, computerized weapons instead of, say, increasingly large, low-tech armies, was illustrated spectacularly just a year later during the Gulf War, which served as a showcase for new weapons technologies. The trend towards greater computerization of weapons systems is further demonstrated by the increased use of precision munitions since the publication of Kurzweil's book. For example, 10% of all U.S. Naval ordnance expended during the Gulf War (1991) were guided weapons. During the Kosovo campaign (1999), that quantity climbed to 70%, and it reached 90% during the 2001-2002 Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. As he also predicted, remotely controlled military aircraft were developed, beginning with the Predator reconnaissance plane in the mid-90s, and an armed version of the aircraft was first used in combat in November 2002.
Kurzweil also described the future of computer-controlled, driverless cars, claiming that the technology to build them would become available during the first decade of the 21st century, yet that due to political opposition and the general public's mistrust of the technology, the computerized cars would not become widely used until several decades hence. In fact, considerable progress has been made with the technology since 1990, and General Motors is scheduled to unveil a new electronic car system called "Traffic Assist" in its 2008 Opel Vectra model. "Traffic Assist" uses video cameras, lasers and a central computer to gather and process information from the road and to make course and speed changes as needed, and is supposedly capable of driving itself without any input from the user in speeds below 60 mph, making it a true driverless car "Traffic Assist" will not be exclusive to the 2008 Opel Vectra for long as GM has announced plans to offer the system for several other types of cars before the end of the decade. Due to stricter U.S. product liability laws, the system will not be available in America for the foreseeable future and will only be offered in Europe.
Kurzweil predicted that pocket-sized machines capable of scanning text from almost any source (a piece of paper, a road sign, a computer screen) and then reading the text out loud in a computerized voice would be available "In the early twenty-first century" and would be used to assist blind people. In June 2005, Ray Kurzweil himself unveiled the "Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader" (K-NFB Reader), which is a reading machine possessing the aforementioned attributes. However, he also claimed back in 1990 that the readers would be able to recognize and describe symbols, pictures and graphics in addition to words, read multiple languages, possess wireless Internet access, and be in use with "most" blind and dyslexic people, and perhaps among some normal people as well. While the K-NFB Reader does not have these final attributes, it is possible that the device may be upgraded to the necessary level before the nebulously defined "early twenty-first century" expires. Kurzweil stated during a speech to the 2006 Singularity Summit that his company's current efforts are focused on increasing the pattern recognition abilities of the K-NFB Reader so that the device could identify animals, objects and people, also utilizing facial recognition programs for the final task. Presumably, a machine complex enough to handle such tasks would also be able to read much simpler written symbols and traffic signs.
The Age of Spiritual Machines
In 1999, Kurzweil published a second book titled The Age of Spiritual Machines
, which goes into more depth explaining his futurist ideas. The third and final section of the book is devoted to elucidating the specific course of technological advancements Kurzweil believes the world will experience over the next century. Titled "To Face the Future", the section is divided into four chapters respectively named "2009", "2019", "2029", and "2099". For every chapter, Kurzweil issues predictions about what life and technology will be like in that year.
While the veracity of Kurzweil's predictions for 2019 and beyond cannot yet be determined, 2009 is near enough to the present to allow many of the ideas of the "2009" chapter to be scrutinized. To begin, Kurzweil's claims that 2009 would be a year of continued transition as purely electronic computer memories continued to replace older rotating memories seems to be vindicated by the current growth in the popularity and cost-performance of Flash memory. He also correctly foresaw the growing ubiquity of wireless Internet access and cordless computer peripherals. Perhaps of even greater importance, Kurzweil presaged the explosive growth in peer-to-peer filesharing and the emergence of the Internet as a major medium for commerce and for accessing media such as movies, television programs, newspaper and magazine text, and music. He also claimed that three-dimensional computer chips would be in common use by 2009 (though older, "2-D" chips would still predominate), and this appears likely as IBM has recently developed the necessary chip-stacking technology and announced plans to begin using three-dimensional chips in its supercomputers and for wireless communication applications.
In The Age of Spiritual Machines, Kurzweil also spent time discussing future increases in computing use in education. He predicted that interactive software and electronic learning materials would be used by 2009. Indeed, smartboards, interactive whiteboards with a connection to the Internet and learning software and activities are commonly used in schools in developed nations.
Kurzweil went further to say that students would commonly have portable learning computers in the form of a "thin tablet-like device weighing under a pound." While students increasingly use portable laptops in schools, they tend to be of traditional configuration and of greater weight. But supporting Kurzweil's prediction is the emergence of the One Laptop Per Child Project, which aims to provide low-cost laptop computers (often called the "$100 Laptop") to students in developing nations across the world. The computer can be quickly reconfigured from traditional laptop layout to a tablet-like "e-book reading" layout. However, the $100 Laptop also weighs over three pounds. The first batch of 5 million laptops is expected to ship sometime in 2007. The government of Uruguay was the first to make a major order, buying 100,000 of the laptops in October, 2007 and announcing plans for the possible purchase of 300,000 more units by 2009.
While text-to-speech converters, which Kurzweil imagined in widespread use by 2009, remain uncommon as of early January 2008, such technologies are rapidly becoming more and more widely used; for example, the strategy game EndWar, scheduled for release in 2008, features an extremely robust voice command interface. Computerized distance learning, also, is already fairly common at sites such as open.yale.edu, youtube.com/ucberkeley, and Second Life.
Kurzweil also restates his earlier prediction from The Age of Intelligent Machines regarding the advent of pocket-sized, text-to-speech converters for the blind. The "Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader" (K-NFB Reader) was introduced in 2005, though a significant reduction in price would be required by 2009 to reasonably classify the device as "cheap" -- one quality Kurzweil claimed they would possess.
Kurzweil predicted that warfare in 2009 would be dominated by unmanned combat planes. While combat in 2007 is still dominated by soldiers, ships, and aircraft, unmanned aircraft have nevertheless advanced considerably since 1999 and are more widely used. These include the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper planes currently on active duty in the U.S. military.
Kurzweil predicted privacy emerging as a political issue (see CCTV: Privacy).
Kurzweil also predicted that unused processing power from idle computers would be harvested via the Internet, pooling the computational resources of many ordinary PCs to create "virtual parallel supercomputers." When Kurzweil wrote The Age of Spiritual Machines in 1998, distributed computing was unknown to the general public, and the two biggest projects—the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search and Distributed.net—had about 8,000 and 100,000 computers contributing idle-time processing power, respectively. The popularity of distributed computing exploded in May 1999 with the release of the SETI@home program, which attracted 200,000 users within a week of initial Internet release, and by July 2002, 3.83 million people had downloaded and run the client. Today, the vast majority of distributed computing projects fall under the auspices of either United Devices or BOINC. As of November 2007, BOINC has more than 1.1 million active users and almost 2.4 million hosts. Sony also offers users of the Internet-capable PS3 game console the option to donate their machines' idle processing power to Folding@home–an online distributed computing project that seeks to understand the process of protein folding. More than 600,000 PS3 users have agreed to lend their game consoles to the task, resulting in a record-breaking petaflop (1015calculations per second) of processing power in November 2007. This makes the Folding@home project only slightly less powerful (in terms of raw calculating power) than the human brain, which Kurzweil estimates to be capable of 20 x 1015 calculations per second. Kurzweil predicted that in 2009, these networks will have more raw power than a human brain.
Kurzweil's prediction that portable computers will shrink in size and take on nontraditional physical forms (i.e. - very different in design from a laptop or desktop computer) by 2009 is supported by the emergence of devices such as the portable media players and advanced cell phones, as well as by newer PDAs. All meet Kurzweil's aforementioned criteria, being small to the point of wearability, possessing the power and range of function of older computers, and featuring designs that radically depart from normal computers. Kurzweil's forecast that these devices would store information without the use of rotating disk style hard drives was also right.
However, his claim that such portable computers will be commonly embedded in clothing and jewelry by 2009 seems unlikely to pass, as does his prediction that people will typically be wearing "at least a dozen" such computers in the same year. Most "portable computers" as they are defined here also have built-in keyboards or accessible keyboard functions (such as a digital keyboard that can be manipulated through a touchscreen), putting reality again at odds with Kurzweil's belief that most computers would lack this feature by 2009, with users instead relying on continuous speech recognition (CSR) to communicate with their PCs.
Similarly, Kurzweil's claim that, by 2009, "the majority of text" will be created through continuous speech recognition (CSR) programs instead of through keyboards and manual typing seems highly unlikely. In that vein, he also implied in The Age of Spiritual Machines that CSR software should in fact have already replaced human transcriptionists years before 2009 (i.e. - 2007 or earlier) due in part to its projected superiority in understanding speech compared to human listeners. CSR is not yet this advanced, and the total replacement of human transcriptionists did not happen.
His prediction that there are 100 computers in the average household is debatable, as it depends upon one's definition of a computer. If one considers microchips and the like computers, then it is quite likely, between all the clocks, microwaves, washing machines, televisions, and other devices in the household. Any other way doesn't seem to work, however. This links into his prediction of domestic robots being around but not mainstream (see Domestic robots).
Since the publication of The Age of Spiritual Machines, Kurzweil has even tacitly admitted that some of his 2009 predictions will not happen on schedule. For instance, in the book he forecast that specialized eyeglasses that beamed computer-generated images onto the retinas of their users to produce a HUD-effect would be in wide use by 2009. However, the computerized voice translating services he predicted, allowing people speaking different languages to understand one another through a phone, are available.
The Age of Spiritual Machines also features a "Timeline" section at the end, which summarizes both the history of technological advancement and Kurzweil's predictions for the future.
The Singularity is Near
While this book focuses on the future of technology and the human race as The Age of Intelligent Machines
and The Age of Spiritual Machines
did, Kurzweil makes very few concrete, short-term predictions in The Singularity is Near
, though longer-term visions are present in abundance.
Kurzweil predicts that, in 2005, supercomputers with the computational capacities to simulate protein folding will be introduced. However, he does not say that an adequate scientific understanding of the forces behind protein folding will come into being in the same year, meaning that the supercomputers might lack the software to mimic accurately the biochemical process. In fact, protein folding is still (as of 2008) a poorly understood phenomenon, and even supercomputer simulations remain inaccurate outside of simulating the folding of basic proteins.
In an October 2002 article published on his website, Kurzweil stated that "Deep Fritz-like chess programs running on ordinary personal computers will routinely defeat all humans later in this decade.
Deep Fritz is a computer chess program--generally considered superior to the older Deep Blue--that has defeated or tied a number of human chess masters and opposing chess programs. Due to advances in personal computer performance, the Deep Fritz program can now run on ordinary personal computers, and different versions of it are available for purchase.
While this makes the first part of Kurzweil's prediction true, it is unknown whether the Deep Fritz programs are currently defeating all humans in all games played, though considering the impressive professional record of Deep Fritz, it would be reasonable to assume that only the very best human players can beat the program with consistency.
In September 2002, Chessmaster 9000, a widely available chess playing game from Ubisoft, defeated the then U.S. Chess Champion and International Grandmaster Larry Christiansen in a four-game match.
The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990)
- Translating telephones allow people to speak to each other in different languages.
- Machines designed to transcribe speech into computer text allow deaf people to understand spoken words.
- Exoskeletal, robotic leg prostheses allow the paraplegic to walk.
- Telephone calls are routinely screened by intelligent answering machines that ask questions to determine the call's nature and priority.
- "Cybernetic chauffeurs" can drive cars for humans and can be retrofitted into existing cars. They work by communicating with other vehicles and with sensors embedded along the roads.
Early 21st century
- The classroom is dominated by computers. Intelligent courseware that can tailor itself to each student by recognizing their strengths and weaknesses. Media technology allows students to manipulate and interact with virtual depictions of the systems and personalities they are studying.
- A small number of highly skilled people dominates the entire production sector. Tailoring of products for individuals is common.
- Drugs are designed and tested in simulations that mimic the human body.
- Blind people navigate and read text using machines that can visually recognize features of their environment.
Note: Since the "Early 2000s" and "Early 21st century" predictions are both listed before the "2010" predictions in the technology Chronology, it can be assumed that the timeframe for the first two is 2000-2010.
- PCs are capable of answering queries by accessing information wirelessly via the Internet.
- Phone calls entail three-dimensional holographic images of both people.
- By 2020, there will be a new World government.
- A computer passes the Turing Test, becoming the first true Artificial Intelligence.
Note: Kurzweil put his money where his mouth was on the Long Bets website, wagering that this prediction will come true. Betting against Mitchell Kapor, founder of Lotus Software Corporation for a payout of $20,000, or $10,000 each.
- Computer intelligence becomes superior to human intelligence in all areas.
The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999)
- A $1,000 personal computer has as much raw power as the human brain.
- The summed computational powers of all computers is comparable to the total brainpower of the human race.
- Computers are embedded everywhere in the environment (inside of furniture, jewelry, walls, clothing, etc.).
- People experience 3-D virtual reality through glasses and contact lenses that beam images directly to their retinas (retinal display). Coupled with an auditory source (headphones), users can remotely communicate with other people and access the Internet.
- These special glasses and contact lenses can deliver "augmented reality" and "virtual reality" in three different ways. First, they can project "heads-up-displays" (HUDs) across the user's field of vision, superimposing images that stay in place in the environment regardless of the user's perspective or orientation. Second, virtual objects or people could be rendered in fixed locations by the glasses, so when the user's eyes look elsewhere, the objects appear to stay in their places. Third, the devices could block out the "real" world entirely and fully immerse the user in a virtual reality environment.
- People communicate with their computers via two-way speech and gestures instead of with keyboards. Furthermore, most of this interaction occurs through computerized assistants with different personalities that the user can select or customize. Dealing with computers thus becomes more and more like dealing with a human being.
- Most business transactions or information inquiries involve dealing with a simulated person.
- Most people own more than one P.C., though the concept of what a "computer" is has changed considerably: Computers are no longer limited in design to laptops or CPUs contained in a large box connected to a monitor. Instead, devices with computer capabilities come in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes.
- Cables connecting computers and peripherals have almost completely disappeared.
- Rotating computer memories are no longer used.
- Three-dimensional nanotube lattices are the dominant computing substrate.
- Massively parallel neural nets and genetic algorithms are in wide use.
- Destructive scans of the brain and noninvasive brain scans have allowed scientists to understand the brain much better. The algorithms that allow the relatively small genetic code of the brain to construct a much more complex organ are being transferred into computer neural nets.
- Pinhead-sized cameras are everywhere.
- Nanotechnology is more capable and is in use for specialized applications, yet it has not yet made it into the mainstream. "Nanoengineered machines" begin to be used in manufacturing.
- Thin, lightweight, handheld displays with very high resolutions are the preferred means for viewing documents. The aforementioned computer eyeglasses and contact lenses are also used for this same purpose, and all download the information wirelessly.
- Computers have made paper books and documents almost completely obsolete.
- Most learning is accomplished through intelligent, adaptive courseware presented by computer-simulated teachers. In the learning process, human adults fill the counselor and mentor roles instead of being academic instructors. These assistants are often not physically present, and help students remotely.
- Students still learn together and socialize, though this is often done remotely via computers.
- All students have access to computers.
- Most human workers spend the majority of their time acquiring new skills and knowledge.
- Blind people wear special glasses that interpret the real world for them through speech. Sighted people also use these glasses to amplify their own abilities.
- Retinal and neural implants also exist, but are in limited use because they are less useful.
- Deaf people use special glasses that convert speech into text or signs, and music into images or tactile sensations. Cochlear and other implants are also widely used.
- People with spinal cord injuries can walk and climb steps using computer-controlled nerve stimulation and exoskeletal robotic walkers.
- Language translating machines are of much higher quality, and are routinely used in conversations.
- Access to the Internet is completely wireless and provided by wearable or implanted computers.
- Devices that deliver sensations to the skin surface of their users (i.e.--tight body suits and gloves) are also sometimes used in virtual reality to complete the experience. "Virtual sex"--in which two people are able to have sex with each other through virtual reality, or in which a human can have sex with a "simulated" partner that only exists on a computer--becomes a reality.
- Just as visual- and auditory virtual reality have come of age, haptic technology has fully matured and is completely convincing, yet requires the user to enter a V.R. booth. It is commonly used for computer sex and remote medical examinations. It is the preferred sexual medium since it is safe and enhances the experience.
- Worldwide economic growth has continued. There has not been a global economic collapse.
- The vast majority of business interactions occur between humans and simulated retailers, or between a human's virtual personal assistant and a simulated retailer.
- Household robots are ubiquitous and reliable.
- Computers do most of the vehicle driving—-humans are in fact prohibited from driving on highways unassisted. Furthermore, when humans do take over the wheel, the onboard computer system constantly monitors their actions and takes control whenever the human drives recklessly. As a result, there are very few transportation accidents.
- Prototype personal flying vehicles using microflaps exist. They are also primarily computer-controlled.
- Humans are beginning to have deep relationships with automated personalities, which hold some advantages over human partners. The depth of some computer personalities convinces some people that they should be accorded more rights.
- Public places and workplaces are ubiquitously monitored to prevent violence and all actions are recorded permanently. Personal privacy is a major political issue, and some people protect themselves with unbreakable computer codes.
- The basic needs of the underclass are met. (Not specified if this pertains only to the developed world or to all countries)
- Computers are also found inside of some humans in the form of cybernetic implants. These are most commonly used by disabled people to regain normal physical faculties (i.e. - Retinal implants allow the blind to see and spinal implants coupled with mechanical legs allow the paralyzed to walk).
- Most roads now have automated driving systems--networks of monitoring and communication devices that allow computer-controlled automobiles to safely navigate.
- Human-robot relationships begin as simulated personalities become more convincing.
- Virtual artists--creative computers capable of making their own art and music--emerge in all fields of the arts.
- While a growing number of humans believe that their computers and the simulated personalities they interact with are intelligent to the point of human-level consciousness, experts dismiss the possibility that any could pass the Turing Test.
- Ubiquitous connectivity high bandwidth communications connection to the Internet at all times
- Interaction with virtual personalities as a primary interface
- Effective language technologies (natural language processing, speech recognition, speech synthesis)
- A $1,000 personal computer is 1,000 times more powerful than the human brain.
- The vast majority of computation is done by computers.
- Further progress has been made in understanding the secrets of the human brain. Hundreds of distinct sub-regions with specialized functions have been identified. Some of the algorithms that code for development of these regions have been deciphered and incorporated into neural net computers.
- Massively parallel neural nets, which are constructed through reverse-engineering the human brain, are in common use.
- The eyeglasses and headphones that used to deliver virtual reality are now obsolete thanks to computer implants that go into the eyes and ears. The implants are either permanent or removable. They allow direct interface with computers, communications and Internet-based applications. The implants are also capable of recording what the user sees and hears.
- Computer implants designed for direct connection to the brain are also available. They are capable of augmenting natural senses and of enhancing higher brain functions like memory, learning speed and overall intelligence.
- Computers are now capable of learning and creating new knowledge entirely on their own and with no human help. By scanning the enormous content of the Internet, some computers "know" literally every single piece of public information (every scientific discovery, every book and movie, every public statement, etc.) generated by human beings.
- Direct brain implants allow users to enter full-immersion virtual reality--with complete sensory stimulation--without any external equipment. People can have their minds in a totally different place at any moment. This technology is in widespread use.
- Most communication occurs between humans and machines as opposed to human-to-human.
- The manufacturing, agricultural and transportation sectors of the economy are almost entirely automated and employ very few humans. Across the world, poverty, war and disease are almost nonexistent thanks to technology alleviating want.
- The rise of Artificial Intelligence creates a real "robot rights" movement, and there is open, public debate over what sorts of civil rights and legal protections machines should have. The existence of humans with heavy levels of cybernetic augmentation and of larger numbers of other people with less extreme cybernetic implants lead to further arguments over what constitutes a "human being."
- Although computers routinely pass the Turing Test, controversy still persists over whether machines are as intelligent as humans in all areas.
- Artificial Intelligences claim to be conscious and openly petition for recognition of the fact. Most people admit and accept this new truth.
- Reverse engineering of the human brain completed
- Non-biological intelligence combines the subtlety and pattern recognition strength of human intelligence, with the speed, memory, and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence
- Non-biological intelligence will continue to grow exponentially whereas biological intelligence is effectively fixed
- Food is commonly "assembled" by nanomachines. This food is externally indistinguishable from "natural" food, but it can be made more wholesome since production can be controlled at the molecular level. This technology decouples food production from climate conditions and the availability of natural resources. [An implication of this is that meat production will no longer require the slaughter of animals.]
- The distinction between virtual reality and "real" reality becomes confounded as foglets come into common use, allowing immediate assembly or disassembly of all sorts of physical objects.
- Picoengineering (technology on the scale of trillionths of a meter) becomes practical.
- The human brain has been completely reverse engineered and all aspects of its functioning are understood.
- Natural human thinking possesses no advantages over computer minds.
- Machines have attained equal legal status with humans.
- Humans and machines merge together in the physical and mental realms. Cybernetic brain implants enable humans to fuse their minds with AI's.
- In consequence, clear distinctions between humans and machines no longer exist.
- Most conscious beings lack a permanent physical form.
- The world is overwhelmingly populated by AI's that exist entirely as thinking computer programs capable of instantly moving from one computer to another across the Internet (or whatever equivalent exists in 2099). These computer-based beings are capable of manifesting themselves at will in the physical world by creating or taking over robotic bodies, with individual AI's also being capable of controlling multiple bodies at once.
- Individual beings merge and separate constantly, making it impossible to determine how many “people” there are on Earth.
- This new plasticity of consciousness and ability for beings to join minds seriously alters the nature of self-identity.
- The majority of interpersonal interactions occur in virtual environments. Actually having two people physically meet in the real world to have a conversation or transact business without any technological interference is very rare.
- Organic human beings are a small minority of the intelligent life forms on Earth. Even among the remaining Homo sapiens, the use of computerized implants that heavily augment normal abilities is ubiquitous and accepted as normal. The small fraction of humans who opt to remain "natural" and unmodified effectively exist on a different plane of consciousness from everyone else, and thus find it impossible to fully interact with AI's and highly modified humans.
- "Natural" humans are protected from extermination. In spite of their shortcomings and frailties, humans are respected by AI's for giving rise to the machines.
- Since knowledge and skills can be instantly downloaded and comprehended by most intelligent beings, the process of learning is compressed into an instantaneous affair instead of the years-long struggle normal humans experience. Free from this time-consuming burden, AI's now focus their energies on making new discoveries and contributions.
- AI's are capable of dividing their attention and energies in countless directions, allowing one being to manage a multitude of endeavors simultaneously.
- Femtoengineering (engineering on the scale of one thousandth of a trillionth of a meter) might be possible.
- AI's communicate via a shared electronic language.
- Artwork and music created by machines encompasses areas of the light spectrum and frequencies of sounds that normal humans cannot perceive.
- Money has deflated in value.
- Some humans at least as old as the Baby Boomers are still alive and well.
- Computer viruses are a major threat since most intelligent beings are software-based.
- AI's frequently make "backup copies" of themselves, guaranteeing a sort of immortality should the original AI be killed.
- The concept of "life expectancy" has become irrelevant to humans and machines thanks to medical immortality and advanced computers.
- The pace of technological change continues to accelerate as the 22nd century nears.
Thousands of years from now
- "Intelligent beings consider the fate of the Universe." Presumably, this means that the AI's created by humans will have the ability to control the entire Universe, perhaps keeping it from dying.
The Singularity is Near (2005)
- Supercomputers will have the same raw computing power as human brains (though not yet the software to emulate human thinking).
- Computers will disappear as distinct physical objects, meaning many will have nontraditional shapes or will be embedded in clothing and everyday objects.
- Full-immersion audio-visual virtual reality will exist.
- Computers become smaller and increasingly integrated into everyday life.
- More and more computer devices will be used as miniature web servers, and more will have their resources pooled for computation.
- High-quality broadband Internet access will become available almost everywhere.
- Glasses that beam images onto the users' retinas to produce virtual reality will be developed. They will also come with speakers or headphone attachments that will complete the experience with sounds.
- The VR glasses will also have built-in computers featuring "virtual assistant" programs that can help the user with various daily tasks. (see Augmented Reality)
- Virtual assistants would be capable of multiple functions. One useful function would be real-time language translation in which words spoken in a foreign language would be translated into text that would appear as subtitles to a user wearing the glasses.
- Cell phones will be built into clothing and will be able to project sounds directly into the ears of their users.
- Advertisements will utilize a new technology whereby two ultrasonic beams can be targeted to intersect at a specific point, delivering a localized sound message that only a single person can hear. This was depicted in the movie Minority Report.
- Automatic house cleaning robots will have become common.
- 1013 bits of computer memory--roughly the equivalent of the memory space in a single human brain--will cost $1000.
- Personal computers will have the same processing power as human brains.
- Computers less than 100 nm big will be possible.
- As one of their first practical applications, nanomachines are used for medical purposes.
- Highly advanced medical nanobots will perform detailed brainscans on live patients.
- Accurate computer simulations of the entire human brain will exist due to these hyperaccurate brainscans, and the workings of the brain will be understood.
- Nanobots capable of entering the bloodstream to "feed" cells and extract waste will exist (though not necessarily be in wide use) by the end of this decade. They will make the normal mode of human food consumption obsolete.
- By the late 2020s, nanotech-based manufacturing will be in widespread use, radically altering the economy as all sorts of products can suddenly be produced for a fraction of their traditional-manufacture costs. The true cost of any product is now the amount it takes to download the design schematics.
- By the later part of this decade, virtual reality will be so high-quality that it will be indistinguishable from real reality.
- The threat posed by genetically engineered pathogens permanently dissipates by the end of this decade as medical nanobots--infinitely more durable, intelligent and capable than any microorganism--become sufficiently advanced.
- A computer passes the Turing test by the last year of the decade (2029), meaning that it is a Strong AI and can think like a human (though the first A.I. is likely to be the equivalent of a very stupid human). This first A.I. is built around a computer simulation of a human brain, which was made possible by previous, nanotech-guided brainscanning.
- The most likely year for the debut of advanced nanotechnology.
- Some military UAV's and land vehicles will be 100% computer-controlled.
- Mind uploading becomes possible.
- Nanomachines could be directly inserted into the brain and could interact with brain cells to totally control incoming and outgoing signals. As a result, truly full-immersion virtual reality could be generated without the need for any external equipment. Afferent nerve pathways could be blocked, totally canceling out the "real" world and leaving the user with only the desired virtual experience.
- Brain nanobots could also elicit emotional responses from users.
- Using brain nanobots, recorded or real-time brain transmissions of a person's daily life known as "experience beamers" will be available for other people to remotely experience. This is very similar to how the characters in Being John Malkovich were able to enter the mind of Malkovich and see the world through his eyes.
- Recreational uses aside, nanomachines in peoples' brains will allow them to greatly expand their cognitive, memory and sensory capabilities, to directly interface with computers, and to "telepathically" communicate with other, similarly augmented humans via wireless networks.
- The same nanotechnology should also allow people to alter the neural connections within their brains, changing the underlying basis for the person's intelligence, memories and personality.
- Human body 2.0 (as Kurzweil calls it) is incrementally accumulated into this decade. It consists of a nanotechnological system of nourishment and circulation, obsolescing many internal organs, and an improved skeleton.
- Human body 3.0 is gradually implemented during this decade. It lacks a fixed, corporeal form and can alter its shape and external appearance at will via foglet-like nanotechnology.
- People spend most of their time in full-immersion virtual reality (Kurzweil has cited The Matrix as a good example of what the advanced virtual worlds will be like, without the dystopian twist).
- Foglets are in use.
2045: The Singularity
- $1000 buys a computer a billion times more intelligent than every human combined. This means that average and even low-end computers are vastly smarter than even highly intelligent, unenhanced humans.
- The Singularity occurs as artificial intelligences surpass human beings as the smartest and most capable life forms on the Earth. Technological development is taken over by the machines, who can think, act and communicate so quickly that normal humans cannot even comprehend what is going on. The machines enter into a "runaway reaction" of self-improvement cycles, with each new generation of A.I.s appearing faster and faster. From this point onwards, technological advancement is explosive, under the control of the machines, and thus cannot be accurately predicted.
- The Singularity is an extremely disruptive, world-altering event that forever changes the course of human history. The extermination of humanity by violent machines is unlikely (though not impossible) because sharp distinctions between man and machine will no longer exist thanks to the existence of cybernetically enhanced humans and uploaded humans.
Post-2045: "Waking up" the Universe
- The physical bottom limit to how small computer transistors (or other equivalent, albeit more effective components, such as memristors integrated into Crossbar latches) can be shrunk is reached. From this moment onwards, computers can only be made more powerful if they are made larger in size.
- Because of this, A.I.s convert more and more of the Earth's matter into engineered, computational substrate capable of supporting more A.I.s. until the whole Earth is one, gigantic computer.
- At this point, the only possible way to increase the intelligence of the machines any farther is to begin converting all of the matter in the universe into similar massive computers. A.I.s radiate out into space in all directions from the Earth, breaking down whole planets, moons and meteoroids and reassembling them into giant computers. This, in effect, "wakes up" the universe as all the inanimate "dumb" matter (rocks, dust, gases, etc.) is converted into structured matter capable of supporting life (albeit synthetic life).
- Kurzweil predicts that machines might have the ability to make planet-sized computers by 2099, which underscores how enormously technology will advance after the Singularity.
- The process of "waking up" the universe could be complete as early as 2199, or might take billions of years depending on whether or not machines could figure out a way to circumvent the speed of light for the purposes of space travel.
- With the entire universe made into a giant, highly efficient supercomputer, AI and human hybrids (so integrated that, in truth it is a new category of "life") would have both supreme intelligence and physical control over the universe. Kurzweil suggests that this would open up all sorts of new possibilities, including abrogation of the laws of Physics, interdimensional travel, and a possible infinite extension of existence (true immortality).
Some indeterminate point within a few decades from now
- Space technology becomes advanced enough to provide the Earth permanent protection from the threat of asteroid impacts.
- The antitechnology Luddite movement will grow increasingly vocal and possibly resort to violence as these people become enraged over the emergence of new technologies that threaten traditional attitudes regarding the nature of human life (radical life extension, genetic engineering, cybernetics) and the supremacy of mankind (artificial intelligence). Though the Luddites might, at best, succeed in delaying the Singularity, the march of technology is irresistible and they will inevitably fail in keeping the world frozen at a fixed level of development.
- The emergence of distributed energy grids and full-immersion virtual reality will, when combined with high bandwidth Internet, enable the ultimate in telecommuting. This, in turn, will make cities obsolete since workers will no longer need to be located near their workplaces. The decentralization of the population will make societies less vulnerable to terrorist and military attacks.
Kurzweil said the following in a November 2007 Computerworld
- Speech-to-speech translation features will be available in cell phones in either 2009 or 2010.
- By 2017, computers will have become even more ubiquitous in the environment, largely owing to smaller size. Some will be woven into clothing and will be "self-organizing.
- By the same year, practical virtual reality glasses will be in use. The devices will work by beaming images directly onto the retinas of their users, creating large, three-dimensional floating images in the person's field of view. Such devices would provide a visual experience on par with a very large television, but would be highly portable, combining the best features of the iPod and a widescreen TV. The glasses will deliver full-immersion virtual reality.
- By 2017, "augmented reality" will exist: The V.R. glasses previously mentioned will have advanced computers and sensors built into them that will be able to recognize elements within the user's environment and then provide appropriate information and assistance through visual or auditory means. If the user looks at a building or a person's face, the computer will provide information through a "heads-up-display" beamed onto the person's retinas. The devices could also be used for keeping track of schedules, navigating, and querying for general information.
- By 2022, medical technology will be more than a thousand times more advanced than it is today (unclear by what measure of advancement), and the "tipping point" of human life expectancy will have been reached, with every new year of research guaranteeing at least one more year of life expectancy. Kurzweil also states that 3-4 months of life expectancy were added in 2007 due to the development of new medicines and treatments.
- The world energy crisis will be resolved within 20 years (2027) once cheap, high-efficiency solar panels can be synthesized by nanomachines and produced for mass use. [See Kurzweil's Al Gore comment in the Quotes section]
- By 2027, nanomachines will be capable enough to assemble virtually any type of object (food, clothing, construction materials, etc.).
- Cell phones and PCs will be increasingly woven into a global grid of computers wirelessly connected to the Internet. Instead of each device just sending and receiving its own data, more and more of the machines will be tasked with processing foreign data, creating a huge, interconnected network with millions of nodes.
- By 2027, accurate computer simulations of all parts of the human brain will exist.
Kurzweil said in a 2006 C-SPAN2 interview that "nanotechnology-based" flying cars would be available in 20 years.
Ideas about nutrition, health and lifestyle
Ray Kurzweil admits that he cared little for his health until age 35, when he was diagnosed with a glucose intolerance, an early form of type II diabetes (a major risk factor for heart disease). Dissatisfied with the conventional treatments prescribed by his doctor, Kurzweil began studying the disease along with human metabolism, and based on what he learned, he created and adopted his own dietary and health regimen. His condition improved to such an extent that Kurzweil today shows no signs of the disease.
But Kurzweil didn't settle for a lifestyle that merely cured his pre-diabetes; he wanted one that would keep him alive forever. As mentioned earlier, Kurzweil believes that radical technological advances will be made throughout the 21st century, and that many of those advances will benefit the field of medicine. This will ultimately culminate with the discovery of the means to reverse the aging process, cure any disease, and repair presently unrepairable injuries, which together translate into medical immortality. Kurzweil has thus focused himself towards following a maximally healthy lifestyle to heighten his odds of living to see the day when science can make him immortal. Kurzweil calls this the "Bridge to a Bridge to a Bridge" strategy: The first bridge to longer life is Kurzweil's regimen--which is based on current technology--whereas the second- and third bridges are based on advanced biotechnologies and nanotechnologies, respectively, that have not yet been invented. They will allow for progressively longer human lifespans to the point of immortality. Successfully implementing the first "bridge" now allows one to reach the second in the future, which then allows one to reach the third.
Some elements of Kurzweil's health-focused lifestyle are conventional. He exercises frequently, does not eat to excess, and does not use drugs. Many others, however, are controversial and are explained by his obsession with living as absolutely long as possible and by his Transhumanist enthusiasm for using cutting-edge technologies and knowledge to extend human life. Kurzweil ingests "250 supplements, eight to 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea" daily and drinks several glasses of red wine a week in an effort to "reprogram" his biochemistry. Lately, he has cut down the number of supplement pills to 150.
Consuming large amounts of water is necessary for flushing toxins out of the body, and alkaline water allows the body to preserve important enzymes used for neutralizing acidic metabolic wastes. For this reason, Kurzweil abhors soft drinks and coffee, which are both acidic and drain detoxifying enzyme reserves. Kurzweil has taken criticism from nutritionists and scientists for his advocacy of alkaline water's health benefits, and he responded to this over the Internet. Green tea and red wine contain antioxidants that neutralize free radicals--a different type of toxin found within the body. Kurzweil also consumes red wine because it contains the compound resveratrol, which extends human lifespan according to some evidence. Kurzweil also takes pills containing high concentrations of the chemical.
On weekends, Kurzweil also undergoes intravenous transfusions of chemical cocktails at a clinic to further reprogram his biochemistry. He routinely measures the chemical composition of his bodily fluids to ensure balance, undergoes preemptive medical tests for many diseases and disorders, and keeps detailed records about the content of all the meals he eats. On that last note, Kurzweil only eats organic foods with low glycemic loads and claims it has been years since he last consumed anything containing sugar. Kurzweil considers foods rich in sugars and carbohydrates to be unhealthy since they spike the levels of glucose and insulin in the bloodstream, leading to health problems in the long term. He instead eats mainly vegetables, lean meats, tofu, and low glycemic load carbohydrates, and only uses extra virgin olive oil for cooking. Kurzweil also diligently consumes foods rich with Omega-3 fatty acids (including small, wild salmon) and antioxidants.
Moreover, Kurzweil is a firm believer that good health requires sufficient sleep, and he maintains low stress levels in part by meditating and getting massages weekly. He exercises daily with walking, bike-riding and use of workout machines, but advises against high-impact forms of exercise. Kurzweil claims that his rigorous efforts have yielded positive results, which are partly proved by the fact that his body chemical profiles show his biological age to be more than a decade younger than his chronological age. In fact, Kurzweil believes that his personal health regimen has actually slowed down his rate of aging. He also advocates maintaining a slightly below-average body weight on the grounds that it imparts some of the life-extension benefits of full-blown caloric restriction.
Kurzweil has further hedged his bets against permanent death by joining the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, which is a company that provides human cryonics services. In the event of his death, Kurzweil's body will be chemically preserved, frozen in liquid nitrogen, and stored at a safe Alcor facility until a point in the future when medical technology can revive him safely.
Kurzweil has authored two books on the subjects of nutrition, health and lifestyle: The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life and Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. In both, he recommends that other people emulate his health practices to the best of their abilities.
Stance on religion
Though Kurzweil's parents were Jewish, they raised him as a Unitarian and exposed him to many different faiths during his youth. Kurzweil is tight-lipped about his religious affiliation today, though he gave a 2007 keynote speech to the United Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut alongside Presidential candidate Barack Obama
. In The Singularity is Near
, Kurzweil refuses to endorse any single religion, yet remains very thoughtful on the matter. He expresses a need for a new religion based on the principle of mutual respect between sentient life forms, and on the principle of respecting knowledge. The new religion should also lack any focus on mitigating human fears of death since immortality will render death irrelevant, and should not have a clerical hierarchy, instead being purely personal to adherents. Kurzweil also believes that, once the human/machine race has converted all of the matter in the Universe into a giant, sentient supercomputer it will have created a supremely powerful and intelligent being which will be Godlike in itself. Humans and machines could then upload their consciousnesses into the giant supercomputer, achieving transcendence.
Philosophical arguments over whether a machine can "think" aside (see Philosophy of artificial intelligence
), Kurzweil's ideas have generated some criticism within the scientific community. Mitch Kapor
, the founder of Lotus Development Corporation
, has called the notion of a technological singularity "intelligent design
for the IQ
140 people...This proposition that we're heading to this point at which everything is going to be just unimaginably different—it's fundamentally, in my view, driven by a religious impulse. And all of the frantic arm-waving can't obscure that fact for me.
VR pioneer Jaron Lanier has been one of the strongest critics of Kurzweil’s ideas, describing them as “cybernetic totalism”, and has outlined his views on the culture surrounding Kurzweil’s predictions in an essay for Edge.org entitled One Half of a Manifesto.
Pulitzer Prize winner Douglas R. Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, has said of Kurzweil's and Hans Moravec's books: "It’s as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can't possibly figure out what's good or bad. It's an intimate mixture of rubbish and good ideas, and it's very hard to disentangle the two, because these are smart people; they're not stupid.
Although the idea of a technological singularity is a popular conceit in science fiction, some authors such as Neal Stephenson and Bruce Sterling have voiced scepticism about its real-world plausibility. Sterling expressed his views on the singularity scenario in a talk at the Long Now Foundation entitled The Singularity: Your Future as a Black Hole. Other prominent AI thinkers and computer scientists such as Daniel C. Dennett, Rodney Brooks, and David Gelernter have also criticized Kurweil’s projections.
Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, agrees with Kurzweil's timeline of future progress, but believes that technologies such as AI, nanotechnology and advanced biotechnology will create a dystopian world.
"And ultimately these computers will be in our bodies and brains...so it really is one civilization. I object to the word 'Transhumanism' because—or 'Posthumanism'—because it implies we’re going beyond humanity. I think this is the human—maybe 'Postbiological' ultimately—but it's a part of the human civilization.
--Response to a question regarding future competition between human- and artificial intelligence. Early 2005 Harvard conference
"These slides that Gore puts up [in his film An Inconvenient Truth] are ludicrous. They don't account for anything like the technological progress we're going to experience."
--CNN Money interview. May 2, 2007
"...death is a tragedy. That is our instinctive reaction and that reaction is correct. In my view it is not death that gives life meaning. Life gives life meaning. The creation of knowledge in all its forms (art, music, science, etc.) and relationships gives life meaning. And death is disruptive of that."
--Washington Post interview. June 19th, 2006
- Of all his inventions, Ray Kurzweil is proudest of the Kurzweil Reading Machine because he has seen how dramatically it can change the lives of blind people.
- He visits Slashdot.org, Foresight.org and Singinst.org every day.
- With regards to musical preferences: "I like artists from many genres, ranging from Carrie Underwood and Alanis Morissette to Eminem. For classic rock, I like the Beatles and Jefferson Airplane. My favorite classical composer is Beethoven."
- Kurzweil finds Alien and The Matrix to be two of the most thought-provoking movies he's seen, the first because it shows "the organic nature of advanced technology" and the second because it depicts the nature of future full-immersion virtual reality.
- Kurzweil is a skilled practitioner of lucid dreaming, and he often uses the technique to find creative solutions to difficult work problems.
- Kurzweil's father died of a heart attack in 1970 at the age of 58. Kurzweil was 22. Kurzweil's grandfather also died of heart disease. This family history of chronic health problems and premature death convinced Kurzweil of the need to drastically improve his own lifestyle once he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Kurzweil's most recent book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
(2005), ISBN 0670033847, deals with the fields of genetics
, and the rapidly changing definition of humanity.
Other works by Kurzweil:
- The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990)
- The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life (1994)
- The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (1999)
- Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (2004)
- The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (2005)
- The Ray Kurzweil Reader: The Ray Kurzweil Reader is a collection of essays by Ray Kurzweil on virtual reality, artificial intelligence, radical life extension, conscious machines, the promise and peril of technology, and other aspects of our future world. These essays, all published on KurzweilAI.net from 2001 to 2003, are now available as a PDF document for convenient downloading and offline reading. The 30 essays, organized in seven memes (such as "How to Build a Brain"), cover subjects ranging from a review of Matrix Reloaded to "The Coming Merging of Mind and Machine" and "Human Body Version 2.0."
- Kurzweil is the co-author (and subject) of the 2002 book Are We Spiritual Machines?: Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong A.I.. He also wrote the introduction to the 2003 artificial personality book Virtual Humans and collaborated with the Canadian band Our Lady Peace for their 2000 album Spiritual Machines.
- Kurzweil Companies web site
- KurzweilAI.net - a vast resource, including some of his books for free
- Ray and Terry's Longevity Program
- Machine Dreams - CIO Magazine interview, October 15, 2004
- Warfighting in the 21st Century - The Remote, Robotic, Robust, Size-Reduced, Virtual Reality Paradigm - Keynote address, 24th Army Science Conference, November 29 2004
- Ray Kurzweil lecture at the TED Conference in Monterey, CA, February 2005. (24 minutes)
- Robot Wars - news@nature site interview, February 8 2005
- The future, just around the bend, The Economist, [[10 March] 2005]
- Interview about The Singularity is Near - Instapundit, September 2 2005
- The Council on Foreign Relations; An Exponentially Expanding Future From Exponentially Shrinking Technology, [[November 30] 2005]
- Interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday - December 23 2005
- Ubiquity interview with Ray Kurzweil, January 2006
- The Singularity Summit at Stanford, May 2006
- Human v 2.0: Ray Kurzweil vs. Hugo de Garis October 24 2006
- 25th Annual Army Science Conference November 27 2006 Web Hosted Presentation, Slides, Video
- Debate between Ray Kurzweil and David Gelernter at MIT on [[November 30] 2006]
- Web 3.0 - How the next version of the Web will prepare us for the Singularity December 11 2006
- - The Edge Annual Question - 2007; What are you Optimistic About? Why?
- Interview with Ray Kurzweil and Sample of Ray Kurzweil keynote from Interwoven's GearUp Podcast
- Ray Kurzweil interview on C-SPAN2 Book TV, 3 hours in length
- The smartest futurist on earth - CNN Money article May 2 2007
- Accelerating Change presentation from Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), Third Conference, Queens' College, Cambridge, England, 9th September, 2007
- Glenn Beck interview of Ray Kurzweil, May 30, 2008 and transcript of the interview
- An interview of Ray Kurzweil by Denis Failly about de the book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, which deal with Singularity
- Interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday - June 6 2008
- Singularity is Near Movie (2009) - Official Site