Futurist Kurzweil discusses acceleration of intelligent technology

  • 22-Apr-2015 11:41 EDT

Ray Kurzweil, Google's Director of Engineering, was the Tuesday morning keynote speaker at the SAE 2015 World Congress.

Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil sees a remarkable century with autonomous vehicles transporting smarter, healthier persons to various destinations.

“We’re already smarter by the fact that we can access all of human knowledge with a few keystrokes. A kid in Africa with a smartphone has access to more intelligent information than the President of the United States did 15 years ago,” said Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering since 2012.

Kurzweil colorfully extolled his predictions to the SAE 2015 World Congress audience during a Tuesday morning keynote address inside the AVL Technology Leadership Center at Detroit’s Cobo Center.

The speed of change is on an exponential path.

“We’re very close to being able to actually emulate all the computation of the human brain for $1000, and that will be about 2022. The software will take a little longer,” said the author of several best-sellers, including “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” a nonfiction book about artificial intelligence.

Kurzweil said that human bodies and brains eventually will carry ‘nano-bots’, small devices the size of blood cells. “They will augment our immune system and keep us healthy. They’ll go into our brains and provide virtual and augmented reality.

“My brain will get the signals (as if) it were in the virtual environment or the augmented environment. So we can have another person standing here and it would look just like she’s there, but it would actually be just kind of created in our nervous system.

“And we will make ourselves smarter by directly connecting to intelligence in the cloud. At that point, we’re a hybrid of biological and non-biological intelligence.”

As soon as the 2040s, it is possible that humans will be “predominantly non-biological. And the non-biological part will be so smart it will fully understand and be able to model and simulate the biological part,” according to Kurzweil.

The notion of having virtual-reality bodies that are as realistic as real reality is not any more far-fetched than being able to ‘backup’ brain activities.

“People 100 years from now will think it remarkable that we actually went through the day without backing up our mind file—kind of like not backing up your notebook computer,” said Kurzweil, the principal inventor of several technologies, including the first charge-coupled device (CCD) flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, and the first text-to-speech synthesizer.  

Revolutionary technologies will alter all sorts of things, from what we wear to what drives us.

“We really need sub-micron resolutions for the most exciting applications in three-dimensional printing,” said Kurzweil, “We’ll be at sub-micron in about 2020, then you’ll be able to print-out—for example—clothing. There will be an open-source market where you can download for free cool designs for clothing and print them out at pennies per pound.”

Automobiles will also be transformed by 3-D printing. “It’s really not economic yet—2020 is, I think, when this will be revolutionary (technology),” said the visionary with 20 honorary doctorates.

Vehicle manufacturers and automotive suppliers as well as Google are testing driverless cars.

“Someday an autonomous car will cause an accident, and it will be big news. But while we’ve been talking, several people have died from human drivers. There are 1.2 million deaths a year from human drivers worldwide. So (autonomous vehicles) are going to be a lot safer,” said Kurzweil, who noted that Google’s self-driving demonstration cars have tallied close to a million miles without an incident.

Change is a given, but whether change is better is a matter of interpretation.

“Technology has always been a double-edged sword. Fire kept us warm and cooked our food, but it also burned down our houses,” said Kurzweil.

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