Raymond Kurzweil 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.
Ray Kurzweil, as wikipedia explains, 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.
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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 formed a method of predicting the course of technological development.
After several years of closely tracking these trends, Kurzweil came to a realization:
the innovation rate of computer technology was increasing not linearly but rather exponentially.
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.”
Stay alive until the year 2029 or forever
Ray’s intention, as neoteo explains, is to stay alive until the year 2029. Estimates say that it should then be more or less possible to transfer his brain to a much more intelligent and longer-lasting computer, hence allowing him to live for ever after. Kurtzweil does not think that medical progress would yet be able to avoid his body dying by then, making this transfer a good opportunity to insure immortality. The result would be a computer thinking like Ray and believing it is the actual Ray, the original Ray however being no longer alive.
Kurzweil is one of the most powerful brains of our times and would be even more so with this experiment, continuing to build and expand knowledge for thousands of years living inside a computer.
Technologies that continue as market leaders
Ray Kurzweil was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. Ray has successfully founded and developed nine businesses in OCR, music synthesis, speech recognition, reading technology, virtual reality, financial investment, cybernetic art, and other areas of artificial intelligence . All of these technologies continue today as market leaders.
Ray Kurzweil was inducted in 2002 into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, established by the U.S. Patent Office. He received the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the nation’s largest award in invention and innovation. He also received the 1999 National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest honor in technology, from President Clinton in a White House ceremony. He has also received scores of other national and international awards, including the 1994 Dickson Prize (Carnegie Mellon University’s top science prize), Engineer of the Year from Design News, Inventor of the Year from MIT, and the Grace Murray Hopper Award from the Association for Computing Machinery. He has received twelve honorary Doctorates and honors from three U.S. presidents. He has received seven national and international film awards. Ray’s books include The Age of Intelligent Machines, The Age of Spiritual Machines, and Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. Four of Ray’s books have been national best sellers and The Age of Spiritual Machines has been translated into 9 languages and was the #1 best selling book on Amazon in science. Ray Kurzweil’s new book, published by Viking Press, is entitled The Singularity is Near, When Humans Transcend Biology.
Read the rich history of his entrepeneur adventures.
Computers: increasingly powerful, numerous and cheap
Ray’s best-selling book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, extends Ray’s prophetic blueprint to what George Gilder calls the “metamorphic moment” when computers exceed the full range of human intelligence, which Ray sees as only a few decades away. This book has been published in nine languages and achieved the #1 best selling book on Amazon.com in the categories of “Science” and “Artificial Intelligence.”
Kurzweil projects that between now and 2050 technology will become so advanced that medical advances will allow people to radically extend their lifespans while preserving and even improving quality of life as they age. The aging process could at first be slowed, then halted, and then reversed as newer and better medical technologies became available. Kurzweil argues that much of this will be a fruit of advances in 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 predicts that a computer will pass the Turing test by 2029, by demonstrating to have a mind (intelligence, self awareness, emotional richness) undistinguishable from a human’s. He predicts that the first AI is built around a computer simulation of a human brain, which are made possible by previous, nanotech-guided brainscanning. An AI machine could handle the full range of human intellectual tasks and would be both emotional and self-aware.
Kurzweil suggests that AI’s will inevitably become far smarter and more powerful than un-enhanced humans. He suggests that AIs will exhibit moral thinking and will respect humans as their ancestors. According to his predictions, the line between humans and machines will blur as a natural part of technological evolution. Cybernetic implants will greatly enhance human cognitive and physical abilities, and allow direct interface between humans and machines.
Learn form Kurzweil
In February 2009, Kurzweil, in cooperation with Google and the NASA Ames Research Center, announced the creation of the Singularity University. The University’s self-described mission is to: “assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity’s grand challenges.” Using Kurzweil’s Singularity concept as a foundation, the University plans to provide students the skills and tools to guide the process of the Singularity “for the benefit of humanity and its environment.”
Futurism, as a philosophical or academic study, looks at the medium to long-term future in an attempt to predict based on current trends. His predictions are based on the ‘Law of Accelerating Returns’