It's appropriate that a man who often talks about the democratizing effects of technology can be seen for free on the Internet. Ray Kurzweil visited Google campus in Mountain View in July as part of the Authors at Google series. His hour long presentation is available to watch after the break. For those of you who have never had a chance to see Kurzweil speak about the Singularity and what it will mean for humanity, this is a great opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.
How do I summarize Kurzweil's thesis? Predictable exponential growth. While humans tend to think of their world on a linear scale (where's that baseball going to be in two seconds? ...better duck!), information technology develops at an exponential pace. This leads us to misunderstand how large trends develop: the Cold War seemed like it would go on forever, the popularity of the Internet seems to come out of nowhere, etc. Kurzweil predicted these developments, and many others, and wants to talk to you about the future. It's coming a lot sooner than you think: we could have machines with human level intelligence by 2029.
For those of you who have watched Transcendent Man, or read the Singularity is Near, you may want to skip the first half of the Google presentation. There's not a lot that is new there. Kurzweil's latest book, The Web Within Us: When Minds and Machines Become One, is mentioned but only in passing.
If I could offer a highlight reel:
- Skip ahead to around 29:22, Kurzweil demonstrates his handheld mobile reader, part of knfb Reading Technology. With just a single picture, the tiny device can read a page of text in any of 16 languages. Very cool.
- 33:03 Kurzweil addresses complaints that his exponential graphs don't include data points that would offset his proposed exponential growth curve. Here we see a wide collection of points added in to his graph without a huge variance. He goes on to explain how individual paradigms may end, but larger trends continue steadily and support his claims.
- Around 35:00 - Many different fields are becoming information technology. Medicine (with DNA), art, literature, and even physical objects may one day be transferred through emails.
- 44:00 - A discussion on nanotechnology and respirocytes.
- Artificial intelligence is a big theme when discussing the Singularity. Kurzweil explores the strengths and weaknesses of the human brain starting around 46:50. Humans, he says, are very good at pattern recognition and hierarchical structure. In the next 20 years, brain scans into the neocortex and cerebellum will enhance our understanding of how we accomplish these feats.
- There's a great translation demonstration at 54:00 that leads directly into the presentation summary at 54:35.
All of the presentation slides are available as a download by following this link.
While many of the concepts Ray Kurzweil discussed at Google have been repeated in other settings, this presentation does a great job of summarizing. As always, I'm impressed by his track record, but not completely willing to accept his future predictions. That's a sentiment shared in some of the recent and upcoming movies about the Singularity. Maybe it's just our linear brains rejecting the concept of exponential growth? I'd like to hear more about how you view Kurzweil's futurist thoughts, so make sure to add a comment below.