Modern Day Prophets: How Ray Kurzweil predicted the Future
For those who don’t know, Ray Kurzweil is an American author, computer scientist, inventor, and director of engineering at Google. He has been involved in the development of many technologies, including optical character recognition (OCR), text-to-speech synthesis, and the first CCD flat-bed scanner. He is also a futurist and has been described as “the rightful heir to Thomas Edison” by Inc. magazine. But how accurate are his predictions? Let’s take a look at some examples.
Kurzweil’s first big predictions were made in the late 1990s about the Singularity — the moment when artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to a future where machines can design and improve upon themselves, potentially leading to exponential gains in intelligence. While this idea may have seemed far-fetched at the time, it is now taken seriously by many researchers in the field of AI.
In 2001, Kurzweil predicted that a computer would beat a world champion chess player by 2018. This actually happened in May of 1997, when IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer defeated Garry Kasparov.
In 2005, Kurzweil predicted that computers would pass the Turing Test — a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour indistinguishable from that of a human — by 2029. While this has not yet happened, it is worth noting that in June of 2014, a chatbot named Eugene Goostman fooled 33% of judges into thinking it was human during the Loebner Prize Turing Test Competition — the highest percentage ever achieved by a machine in this contest.
Finally, Kurzweil predicted that by 2025 we would have cyborgs — humans with biological brains enhanced with artificial intelligence — and that these cyborgs would be capable of doing “a million times more computation” than unaugmented humans. While this prediction may seem outlandish, it is important to remember that we are already seeing preliminary steps towards this goal with implantable devices such as cochlear implants and deep brain stimulation devices becoming more common. In addition, Elon Musk has founded Neuralink — a company aimed at developing brain-computer interfaces — with the goal of creating working prototypes within four years.
Predictions Ray has gotten Right in the Past
In 1990 (twenty-five years ago), he predicted that a computer would defeat a world chess champion by 1998. Then in 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov. Today, Deep Blue is considered the most powerful computer in the world. In 2007, at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Ray said, “I have one prediction to make: Within 10 years, I think that artificial intelligence will have a higher IQ than any human being.” (The Economist).
Other predictions include:
- PCs would be capable of answering queries by accessing information wirelessly via the Internet by 2010. He was right, to say the least. PCs have become ubiquitous and Internet access has become more affordable.
- By the early 2000s, exoskeletal limbs would let the disabled walk. Companies like Ekso Bionics and others now have technology that does just this, and much more. In the last few years, Ray predicted that such exoskeletal technology would be available for only a few thousand dollars, and today he was right. In 2014, Ekso Bionics released a prototype exoskeleton that can help people walk for up to 20 miles at a time.
- In 1999, people would be able talk to their computer to give commands by 2009. While still in the early days in 2009, natural language interfaces like Apple’s Siri and Google Now have come a long way. Many people dictate texts and emails instead of typing. The technology has come a long way in the last decade, and in the next few years, we will see an increase in these types of interfaces. Kurzweil himself was actually a pioneer in developing this technology. In 1991, he developed a machine that could understand and translate Chinese, and by the mid-1990s, the technology was advanced enough to translate English. Kurzweil Education pioneered the way in making text-to-speech software more accessible, customizable, and integrated for students.
- Computer displays would be built into eyeglasses for augmented reality by 2009. Labs and teams were building head mounted displays well before 2009, but Google started experimenting with Google Glass prototypes in 2011. Now, we are seeing an explosion of augmented and virtual reality solutions and HMDs. Microsoft just released the Hololens, and Magic Leap is working on some amazing technology, to name two. In the near future, we will see even more amazing technology being released.
- In 2005, Ray predicted that by the 2010s, virtual solutions would be able to do 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. Well, Microsoft (via Skype Translate), Google (Translate), and others have done this and beyond. One app called Word Lens actually uses your camera to find and translate text imagery in real time. You can use this app in other languages to read the text that you see. This is only the beginning of the possibilities that can be created through this technology.
Predictions Ray has made about the Future
- By the late 2010s, glasses will beam images directly onto the retina. Ten terabytes of computing power (roughly the same as the human brain) will cost about $1,000. Eventually, humans will have the ability to control computers with their minds. In the far future, we will be able to travel at high speeds and interact with the world around us through the use of holograms and teleportation. As a result, we will have the ability to experience the world in a completely new way.
- By the 2020s, most diseases will go away as nanobots become smarter than current medical technology. Normal human eating can be replaced by nanosystems. Our food will be stored in a very small number of locations and we will be able to digest and absorb more nutrients than ever before. We will also be able to create new types of clothing and machines that can do more than just work.
- The Turing test begins to be passable. Self-driving cars begin to take over the roads, and people won’t be allowed to drive on highways. In the 2030s, we will be able to build machines that can think for themselves. Earlier in 2022,a Google engineer claimed an A.I. chatbot was sentient.
- Robots will become more advanced and help us with work that is currently being done. By the 2030s, virtual reality will begin to feel 100% real. We will be able to upload our mind/consciousness by the end of the decade. We will be able to download our brain into a computer and control it with our mind. We will be able to do things that are currently impossible.
- By the 2040s, non-biological intelligence will be a billion times more capable than biological intelligence (a.k.a. us). Nanotech foglets will be able to make food out of thin air and create any object in physical world at a whim . We will have to change our thinking about what is possible. In the 21st century, we will develop the ability to reanimate dead tissue with nanotechnology. We will develop a way to cure all diseases by the end of the decade.
- By 2045, we will multiply our intelligence a billionfold by linking wirelessly from our neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud. Our brains will be uploaded to the cloud and our bodies will be able to interact with the cloud in real time. We will be able to upload our memories and our personality into a machine so that we can access them at will. We will develop AI-controlled virtual companions and robotic servants.