Ray Kurzweil: Accelerating Tech Is Making Old Intellectual Property Laws Obsolete

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As technology and innovation move faster and faster, concerns over ownership and access continue to increase. In answer to a question at a Singularity University event, Ray Kurzweil suggested we need to rethink intellectual property laws to more realistically match today’s pace.

Intellectual property laws from the 19th century were envisioned with roughly 20-year cycles, he said, which was enough to give you a head-start on a new idea or invention and attract funding to see it through. But how relevant is a 20-year cycle today when a generation of technology can come and go in a year—and even that is set to speed up?

Attracting investment and capital is a critical function of intellectual property law. But the way things are currently structured, intellectual property laws are falling behind the pace of invention.

“Over the next 20 years, it’s going to be dozens of generations, and yet, we haven’t updated these laws at all. It’d be difficult to update them because it takes several years to actually issue a patent and have humans evaluate the novelness of an invention,” says Kurzweil.

Even as the laws lag, some businesses are changing their attitude toward IP. Many companies have begun open source initiatives, such as Google with TensorFlow, in part, to increase the quality of products via the feedback loops from users testing and verifying the software.

“Google has this great deep learning technology called TensorFlow, and it actually put the whole thing out in the public domain…It was controversial inside the company. These are the crown jewels: You’re going to give it to everybody? But it was actually felt that it would be better for everybody to use it and improve it.”


For years, Ray Kurzweil has been giving fireside chats at Singularity University. Now, some of his best questions and answers will be released every Thursday on Singularity University’s Ray K Q&A YouTube channel. Check back each week for the latest video.

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Andrew operates as a media producer and archivist. Generating backups of critical cultural data, he has worked across various industries — entertainment, art, and technology — telling emerging stories via recording and distribution.

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