September 22, 2005 SDF Ray Kurzweil

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On Thursday September 22, 2005, Ray Kurzweil spoke at a special SDForum event at SAP’s Palo Alto headquarters. Introduced by Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Kurzweil talked about his latest book, The Singularity Is Near.

Since the 1970s, Kurzweil has pushed at the frontiers of technological development. He developed optical character readers, print-to-speech readers for the blind, music synthesizers and large-vocabulary speech recognition products. Combining his own direct experience and observing the rapid technological innovation around him, he wrote a series of books detailing his view of the future. Kurzweil believes that machine intelligence will someday be greater than human intelligence, resulting in what he calls the Singularity.

Moore’s Law is only part of the process he sees coming together. There will be exponential and synergistic growth beyond the limits of price, performance and bandwidth. He thinks nanotechnology and assistive technology will augment the way humans perform. He considers the understanding of DNA as software as an important breakthrough in extending human life. DNA is an example of self-organizing systems becoming complex from a few simple rules. Artificial intelligence could develop along the same lines by studying the human brain.

Scanning brain activity will help map out and create software models of the human mind. Reverse engineering of the brain will create blueprints for artificial intelligence. By 2020, there might be enough computing power to simulate a single human brain, but eventually there will be enough power to exceed the capacity of every person on the planet.

When will this happen? Predicting the success of a specific technology or product is difficult, but Kurzweil casts a wide net and can come back with some general predictions.
He made his argument using a series of charts with exponential lines and cascading S-curves marching inevitably toward Singularity. While the Agricultural Revolution took thousands of years and the Industrial Revolution took hundreds, the Information Revolution will take only a generation or two. Kurzweil says Singularity is near, possibly by 2045.

In the near future, he showed a demonstration of a simultaneous language translator from Europe. Google is working on a data driven model that would equal professional human translators. Such technology could easily transform doing business on a global scale. Nanotubes could be used to create three-dimensional circuits to add speed. Neurological implants can download software to treat Parkinson’s disease. Nanotechnology could create artificial red blood cells called respirocytes to carry oxygen or microbovores to fight infection.

Farther into the future, people will be able to immerse themselves in virtual realities and share them with others with what he called experience beamers. Virtual versions of people could be backed up on a network and downloaded when needed. Of course, this opens the possibility of employees being downloaded and downsized.

When asked if such software would be Windows or Linux, he said there would be a future for both open source and proprietary software. My advice? Start backing up your files, the Singularity is near.

DJ Cline
Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.