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Inventor / Futurist / Scientist
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Cybernetics Scholar & Intellectual
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February 12, 1948 (1948-02-12)
Queens, New York, United States
|Occupation||Author, scientist and futurist|
|Spouse(s)||Sonya R. Kurzweil|
|Children||Ethan and Amy Kurzweil|
Raymond Kurzweil (pronounced /kɚzwaɪl/) (born February 12, 1948) 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. He is the author of several books on health, artificial intelligence (AI), transhumanism, the technological singularity, and futurism.
Ray Kurzweil grew up in the New York City borough of Queens. He was born to secular Jewish parents who had escaped Austria just before the onset of World War II, and he was exposed via Unitarian Universalism to a great diversity of different faiths during his upbringing. His father was a musician and composer and his mother was a visual artist. His uncle, an engineer at Bell Labs, taught young Ray the basics about computers. In his youth, he was an avid reader of science fiction literature. In 1963, at age fifteen, he wrote his first computer program. Designed to process statistical data, the program was used by researchers at IBM. Later in high school he created a sophisticated pattern-recognition software program that analyzed musical pieces of great classical music composers and then synthesized its own songs in similar styles. The capabilities of this invention were so impressive that, in 1965, he was invited to appear on the CBS television program I've Got a Secret, where he performed a piano piece that was composed by a computer he also had built. Later that year, he won first prize in the International Science Fair for the invention, and he was also recognized by the Westinghouse Talent Search and was personally congratulated by President Lyndon B. Johnson during a White House ceremony.
In 1968, during Kurzweil's sophomore year at MIT, Kurzweil started a company that used a computer program to match high school students with colleges. The program, called the Select College Consulting Program, was designed by him and compared thousands of different criteria about each college with questionnaire answers submitted by each student applicant. When he was 20, he sold the company to Harcourt, Brace & World for $100,000 (roughly $500,000 in 2006 dollars) plus royalties. He earned a BS in Computer Science and Literature in 1970 from MIT.
In 1974, Kurzweil started the company Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. and led development of the first omni-font optical character recognition system--a computer program capable of recognizing text written in any normal font. Up until that time, scanners had only been able to read text written in a very narrow range of fonts. He decided that the best application of this technology would be to create a reading machine for the blind, which would allow blind people to understand written text by having a computer read it to them out loud. However, this device required the invention of two enabling technologies--the CCD flatbed scanner and the text-to-speech synthesizer. Under his direction, development of these new technologies was completed, and on January 13, 1976, the finished product was unveiled during a widely reported news conference headed by him and the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind. Called the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the device covered an entire tabletop. It gained him mainstream recognition: on the day of the machine's unveiling, Walter Cronkite used the machine to give his signature soundoff, "And that's the way it was, January 13, 1976." While listening to The Today Show, musician Stevie Wonder heard a demonstration of the device and personally purchased the first production version of the Kurzweil Reading Machine, beginning a lifelong friendship between himself and Kurzweil.
Kurzweil's next major business venture began in 1978, when Kurzweil Computer Products began selling a commercial version of the optical character recognition computer program. LexisNexis was one of the first customers, and bought the program to upload paper legal and news documents onto its nascent online databases.
Two years later, Kurzweil sold his company to Xerox, which had an interest in further commercializing paper-to-computer text conversion. Kurzweil Computer Products thus became a subsidiary of Xerox formerly known as Scansoft and now as Nuance Communications, and he functioned as a consultant for the former until 1995.
Kurzweil's next business venture was in the realm of electronic music technology. After a 1982 meeting with Stevie Wonder, in which the latter lamented the divide in capabilities and qualities between electronic synthesizers and traditional musical instruments, Kurzweil was inspired to create a new generation of music synthesizers capable of accurately duplicating the sounds of real instruments. To this end, Kurzweil Music Systems was founded in the same year, and in 1984, the Kurzweil K250 was unveiled. The machine was capable of imitating a number of different types of instruments, and in tests even musicians were unable to discern the auditory difference between the Kurzweil K250 on piano mode from a normal grand piano. The recording and mixing abilities of the machine coupled with its aforementioned abilities to imitate a variety of different instruments made it possible for a single user to compose and play an entire orchestral piece.
Concurrent with Kurzweil Music Systems, Ray Kurzweil created the company Kurzweil Applied Intelligence (KAI) to develop computer speech recognition systems for commercial use. The first product, which debuted in 1987, was the world's first large-vocabulary speech recognition program, allowing human users to dictate to their computers via microphone and then have the device transcribe their speech into written text. Later, the company combined the speech recognition technology with medical expert systems to create the Kurzweil VoiceMed (today called Clinical Reporter) line of products, which allow doctors to write medical reports by speaking to their computers instead of writing. KAI still exists today as Nuance.
Kurzweil started Kurzweil Educational Systems in 1996 to develop new pattern-recognition-based computer technologies to help people with disabilities such as blindness, dyslexia and ADD in school. Products include the Kurzweil 1000 text-to-speech converter software program, which enables a computer to read electronic and scanned text aloud to blind or visually-impaired users, and the Kurzweil 3000 program, which is a multifaceted electronic learning system that helps with reading, writing, and study skills.
Furthermore, during the 1990s Ray Kurzweil founded the Medical Learning Company. The company's products included an interactive computer education program for doctors and a computer-simulated patient. Around the time, Kurzweil started KurzweilCyberArt.com--a website featuring computer programs meant to assist the creative art process. The site offers free downloads of a program called AARON--a visual art synthesizer developed by Harold Cohen--and of "Kurzweil's Cybernetic Poet", which automatically creates poetry. During this period he started KurzweilAI.net, a website devoted towards showcasing news of scientific developments, publicizing the ideas of high-tech thinkers and critics alike, and promoting futurist-related discussion among the general population through the Mind-X forum.
In 1999, Kurzweil created a hedge fund called "FatKat" (Financial Accelerating Transactions from Kurzweil Adaptive Technologies), which began trading in 2006. He has stated that the ultimate aim is to improve the performance of FatKat's A.I. investment software program, enhancing its ability to recognize patterns in "currency fluctuations and stock-ownership trends." He predicted in his 1999 book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, that computers will one day prove superior to the best human financial minds at making profitable investment decisions.
In June 2005, Ray Kurzweil introduced the "Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader" (K-NFB Reader)--a pocket-sized device consisting of a digital camera and computer unit. Like the Kurzweil Reading Machine of almost 30 years before, the K-NFB Reader is designed to aid blind people by reading written text out loud, only the newer machine is portable and collects texts through captured digital camera images while the older machine is very large and obtains all text through flatbed scanning.
Ray Kurzweil is currently making a movie due for release in 2009 called The Singularity is Near: A True Story About the Future. Part fiction, part non-fiction, he interviews 20 big thinkers like Marvin Minsky, plus there is a B-line narrative story that illustrates some of the ideas, where a computer avatar (Ramona) saves the world from self-replicating microscopic robots. In an on-stage interview with Moira Gunn about the book on October 11, 2005, Dr. Gunn reluctantly allowed the question "How will the singularity help me to get more sex?" and Kurzweil and Gunn then engaged an elaborate and playful yet serious half-hour discussion of why "version 3.0" of the coming virtual reality or augmented reality will provide really good sex while avoiding some of the risks of traditional sexual intercourse as experienced circa 2000.
In addition to Kurzweil's movie, there is an independent, feature-length documentary being made about Ray, his life, and his ideas called Transcendent Man. Filmmakers Barry and Felicia Ptolemy follow the inventor and futurist around the globe documenting his world-wide speaking tour. Scheduled for release in 2009, Transcendent Man documents Ray's quest to reveal mankind's ultimate destiny and explores many of the ideas found in his New York Times bestselling book, The Singularity is Near, including his concept of exponential growth, radical life expansion, and how we will transcend our biology. The Ptolemys have documented Ray's stated goal of bringing back his late father using AI. The film also documents critics who argue against Kurzweil's predictions.
Kurzweil also said during a 2006 C-SPAN2 interview that he was working on a new book that focused on the inner workings of the human brain and how this could be applied to building AI.
Kurzweil's first book, The Age of Intelligent Machines, was published in 1990. The nonfiction work discusses the history of computer AI and also makes forecasts regarding likely future developments. Other experts in the field of AI contribute heavily to the work in the form of essays. The Association of American Publishers' awarded it the status of Most Outstanding Computer Science Book of 1990.
Next, Kurzweil detoured and published a book on nutrition in 1993 called The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life. The book's main idea is that high levels of fat intake are the cause of many health disorders common in the U.S., and thus that cutting fat consumption down to 10% of the total calories consumed would be optimal for most people.
In 1998, Ray Kurzweil published The Age of Spiritual Machines, which focuses heavily on further elucidating his beliefs regarding the future of technology, which themselves stem from his analysis of long-term trends in biological and technological evolution. Much focus goes into examining the likely course of AI development, along with the future of computer architecture.
Kurzweil's next book returned to the subject of human health and nutrition. Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever was co-authored by Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, a medical doctor and specialist in alternative medicine. While the book proffers conventional advice like avoiding unhealthy foods, getting regular exercise and keeping a positive outlook on life, it departs from the mainstream due to its advocacy of aggressive dietary supplementation, alkaline water and other measures.
In February 2007, Ptolemaic Productions acquired the rights to The Singularity is Near, The Age of Spiritual Machines and Fantastic Voyage including the rights to Kurzweil's life and ideas for the film Transcendent Man. The feature length documentary is directed by Barry Ptolemy.
Ray Kurzweil has received these awards, among others:
|Type of degree||College||Year awarded|
|Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters||Hofstra University||1982|
|Honorary Doctorate of Music||Berklee College of Music||1987|
|Honorary Doctorate of Science||Northeastern University||1988|
|Honorary Doctorate of Science||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||1988|
|Honorary Doctorate of Engineering||Merrimack College||1989|
|Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters||Misericordia University||1989|
|Honorary Doctorate of Science||New Jersey Institute of Technology||1990|
|Honorary Doctorate of Science||Queens College, City University of New York||1991|
|Honorary Doctorate of Science||Dominican College||1993|
|Honorary Doctorate in Science and Humanities||Michigan State University||2000|
|Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters||Landmark College||2002|
|Honorary Doctorate of Science||Worcester Polytechnic Institute||2005|
|Honorary Doctorate of Science||DePaul University||2006|
|Honorary Doctorate of Science||Bloomfield College||2007|
|Honorary Doctorate of Science||McGill University||2008|
Ray Kurzweil 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.
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 has found a way to predict the course of technological development.
After several years of closely tracking these trends, Kurzweil came to realize that the innovation rate of computer technology was increasing in an exponential—as opposed to linear manner. As a computer scientist, Kurzweil also understood that there was no technical reason that this type of performance growth could not continue well into the 21st century.
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."
Touching on his most important predictions, Kurzweil believes that, between now and 2050, technology will become so advanced that new medicines and medical techniques will allow people to radically extend their lifespans while preserving and even improving quality of life. The aging process could at first be slowed, then halted, and then reversed as newer and better medical technologies became available. Kurzweil believes that much of this will be thanks to 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 believes that they will gain the ability to think for themselves and will thus become Artificially Intelligent. An AI machine could handle the full range of human intellectual tasks and would be both emotional and self-aware. Kurzweil believes that AI's will inevitably become far smarter and more powerful than humans, and will come to dominate the world in many ways. But he also believes that humanity will be protected from extermination because machines will exhibit moral thinking and will respect humans as their ancestors, and because the line between humans and machines will have—by the time the machines become powerful enough to take over—blurred thanks to the widespread use of cybernetics among the human population. Cybernetic implants will greatly enhance human cognitive and physical abilities, and allow direct interface between humans and machines. Humans and machines will exist on a continuum instead of as two, distinct species. His beliefs regarding (among other things) the potential for human immortality and the peaceful rise of a supreme machine race place Kurzweil amongst the most personally optimistic of futurists.
Ray Kurzweil is now one of the world's leading futurists, and spends a great deal of time giving public lectures and making T.V. appearances to explain his ideas, which have only been very basically summarized thus far by this section. Kurzweil is also a Transhumanist because he believes it is ethical and beneficial for people to use technology—including radical technologies that don't yet exist—to improve their lives and to improve the world as a whole. For example, as a Transhumanist, Kurzweil sees no problem with allowing people to forever cheat death through the use of advanced technologies or to upgrade themselves to superhuman extremes through cybernetics, whereas most non-Transhumanists would reject these ideas on religious grounds or because they violate the laws of nature and the fundamental norms of human life. In fact, Kurzweil believes that radical, technology-based improvements to human beings will lead them to richer, more satisfying lives in which they may also better contribute to the rest of society.
Futurism, as a philosophical or academic study, looks at the medium to long-term future in an attempt to predict based on current trends. Raymond Kurzweil states his belief that the future of humanity is being determined by an exponential expansion of knowledge, and that the very rate of the change of this exponential growth is driving our collective destiny irrespective of our narrow sightedness, clinging archaisms, or fear of change. Our biological evolution, according to Kurzweil, is on the verge of being superseded by our technological evolution. An evolution conjoined of cogent biological manipulation with a possible emerging self-aware, self-organizing machine intelligence. The rate of the change of the exponential explosion of knowledge and technology not only envelops us, but also irreversibly transforms us.
Accordingly, in Kurzweil's predictions, we are currently (as of the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty first century) exiting the era in which our human biology is closed to us, and are entering into the posthuman era, in which our extensive knowledge of biochemistry, neurology and cybernetics will allow us to rebuild our bodies and our minds from the ground up. Kurzweil believes that Strong A.I., advanced nanotechnology and cybernetics are enabling technologies that will initiate the Posthuman Era through a disruptive, worldwide event known as the Singularity. By extrapolating past and current trends of technological growth into the future, Kurzweil has concluded that the aforementioned technologies will be available in 2045, and that the Singularity will thus occur in the same year.
Kurzweil is on the Army Science Advisory Board, has testified before Congress on the subject of nanotechnology, and sees considerable potential in the science to solve significant global problems such as climate change, viz. Nanotech Could Give Global Warming a Big Chill (July, 2006).
Kurzweil has stressed the extreme potential dangers of nanotechnology, but argues that in practice, progress cannot be stopped, and any attempt to do so will retard the progress of defensive and beneficial technologies more than the malevolent ones, increasing the danger. He says that the proper place of regulation is to make sure progress proceeds safely and quickly. He applies this reasoning, to biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and technology in general.[citations needed]
In his controversial 2001 essay, "The Law of Accelerating Returns", Kurzweil proposes an extension of Moore's law that forms the basis of many people's beliefs regarding a "Technological Singularity".
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Arguably, Kurzweil gained a large amount of credibility as a futurist from his first book The Age of Intelligent Machines. Written from 1986 to 1989 and published in 1990, it forecast the demise of the Soviet Union due to new technologies such as cellular phones and fax machines disempowering authoritarian governments by removing state control over the flow of information. In the book Kurzweil also extrapolated preexisting trends in the improvement of computer chess software performance to predict correctly that computers would beat the best human players by 1998, and most likely in that year. In fact, the event occurred in May 1997 when chess World Champion Garry Kasparov was defeated by IBM's Deep Blue computer in a well-publicized chess tournament. Perhaps most significantly, Kurzweil foresaw the explosive growth in worldwide Internet use that began in the 1990s. At the time of the publication of The Age of Intelligent Machines, there were only 2.6 million Internet users in the world, and the medium was unreliable, difficult to use, and deficient in content, making Kurzweil's realization of its future potential especially prescient given the technology's limitations at that time. He also stated that the Internet would explode not only in the number of users but in content as well, eventually granting users access "to international networks of libraries, data bases, and information services". Additionally, Kurzweil correctly foresaw that the preferred mode of Internet access would inevitably be through wireless systems, and he was also correct to estimate that the latter would become practical for widespread use in the early 21st century.
Kurzweil also accurately predicted that many documents would exist solely on computers and on the Internet by the end of the 1990s, and that they would commonly be embedded with animations, sounds and videos that would prohibit their transference to paper format. Moreover, he foresaw that cellular phones would grow in popularity while shrinking in size for the foreseeable future.
Kurzweil's views regarding the future of military technology were likewise supported by the course of real-world events following the publication of The Age of Intelligent Machines. His pronouncement that the world's foremost militaries would continually rely on more intelligent, computerized weapons instead of, say, increasingly large, low-tech armies, was illustrated spectacularly just a year later during the Gulf War, which served as a showcase for new weapons technologies. The trend towards greater computerization of weapons systems is further demonstrated by the increased use of precision munitions since the publication of Kurzweil's book. For example, 10% of all U.S. Naval ordnance expended during the Gulf War (1991) were guided weapons. During the Kosovo campaign (1999), that quantity climbed to 70%, and it reached 90% during the 2001-2002 Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. As he also predicted, remotely controlled military aircraft were developed, beginning with the Predator reconnaissance plane in the mid-90s, and an armed version of the aircraft was first used in combat in November 2002.
Kurzweil also described the future of computer-controlled, driverless cars, claiming that the technology to build them would become available during the first decade of the 21st century, yet that due to political opposition and the general public's mistrust of the technology, the computerized cars would not become widely used until several decades hence. In fact, considerable progress has been made with the technology since 1990, and General Motors is scheduled to unveil a new electronic car system called "Traffic Assist" in its 2008 Opel Vectra model. "Traffic Assist" uses video cameras, lasers and a central computer to gather and process information from the road and to make course and speed changes as needed, and is supposedly capable of driving itself without any input from the user in speeds below 60 mph, making it a true driverless car "Traffic Assist" will not be exclusive to the 2008 Opel Vectra for long as GM has announced plans to offer the system for several other types of cars before the end of the decade. Due to stricter U.S. product liability laws, the system will not be available in America for the foreseeable future and will only be offered in Europe.
Kurzweil predicted that pocket-sized machines capable of scanning text from almost any source (a piece of paper, a road sign, a computer screen) and then reading the text out loud in a computerized voice would be available "In the early twenty-first century" and would be used to assist blind people. In June 2005, Ray Kurzweil himself unveiled the "Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader" (K-NFB Reader), which is a reading machine possessing the aforementioned attributes. However, he also claimed back in 1990 that the readers would be able to recognize and describe symbols, pictures and graphics in addition to words, read multiple languages, possess wireless Internet access, and be in use with "most" blind and dyslexic people, and perhaps among some normal people as well. While the K-NFB Reader does not have these final attributes, it is possible that the device may be upgraded to the necessary level before the nebulously defined "early twenty-first century" expires. Kurzweil stated during a speech to the 2006 Singularity Summit that his company's current efforts are focused on increasing the pattern recognition abilities of the K-NFB Reader so that the device could identify animals, objects and people, also utilizing facial recognition programs for the final task. Presumably, a machine complex enough to handle such tasks would also be able to read much simpler written symbols and traffic signs.
In 1999, Kurzweil published a second book titled The Age of Spiritual Machines, which goes into more depth explaining his futurist ideas. The third and final section of the book is devoted to elucidating the specific course of technological advancements Kurzweil believes the world will experience over the next century. Titled "To Face the Future", the section is divided into four chapters respectively named "2009", "2019", "2029", and "2099". For every chapter, Kurzweil issues predictions about what life and technology will be like in that year.
While the veracity of Kurzweil's predictions for 2019 and beyond cannot yet be determined, 2009 is near enough to the present to allow many of the ideas of the "2009" chapter to be scrutinized. To begin, Kurzweil's claims that 2009 would be a year of continued transition as purely electronic computer memories continued to replace older rotating memories seems to be vindicated by the current growth in the popularity and cost-performance of Flash memory. He also correctly foresaw the growing ubiquity of wireless Internet access and cordless computer peripherals. Perhaps of even greater importance, Kurzweil presaged the explosive growth in peer-to-peer filesharing and the emergence of the Internet as a major medium for commerce and for accessing media such as movies, television programs, newspaper and magazine text, and music. He also claimed that three-dimensional computer chips would be in common use by 2009 (though older, "2-D" chips would still predominate), and this appears likely as IBM has recently developed the necessary chip-stacking technology and announced plans to begin using three-dimensional chips in its supercomputers and for wireless communication applications.
In The Age of Spiritual Machines, Kurzweil also spent time discussing future increases in computing use in education. He predicted that interactive software and electronic learning materials would be used by 2009. Indeed, smartboards, interactive whiteboards with a connection to the Internet and learning software and activities are commonly used in schools in developed nations.
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Kurzweil went further to say that students would commonly have portable learning computers in the form of a "thin tablet-like device weighing under a pound." While students increasingly use portable laptops in schools, they tend to be of traditional configuration and of greater weight. But supporting Kurzweil's prediction is the emergence of the One Laptop Per Child Project, which aims to provide low-cost laptop computers (often called the "$100 Laptop") to students in developing nations across the world. The computer can be quickly reconfigured from traditional laptop layout to a tablet-like "e-book reading" layout. However, the $100 Laptop also weighs over three pounds. The first batch of 5 million laptops is expected to ship sometime in 2007. The government of Uruguay was the first to make a major order, buying 100,000 of the laptops in October, 2007 and announcing plans for the possible purchase of 300,000 more units by 2009.
While text-to-speech converters, which Kurzweil imagined in widespread use by 2009, remain uncommon as of early January 2008, such technologies are rapidly becoming more and more widely used; for example, the strategy game EndWar, scheduled for release in 2008, features an extremely robust voice command interface. Computerized distance learning, also, is already fairly common at sites such as open.yale.edu, youtube.com/ucberkeley, and Second Life.
Kurzweil also restates his earlier prediction from The Age of Intelligent Machines regarding the advent of pocket-sized, text-to-speech converters for the blind. The "Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader" (K-NFB Reader) was introduced in 2005, though a significant reduction in price would be required by 2009 to reasonably classify the device as "cheap" -- one quality Kurzweil claimed they would possess.
Kurzweil predicted that warfare in 2009 would be dominated by unmanned combat planes. While combat in 2007 is still dominated by soldiers, ships, and aircraft, unmanned aircraft have nevertheless advanced considerably since 1999 and are more widely used. These include the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper planes currently on active duty in the U.S. military.
Kurzweil predicted privacy emerging as a political issue (see CCTV: Privacy).
Kurzweil also predicted that unused processing power from idle computers would be harvested via the Internet, pooling the computational resources of many ordinary PCs to create "virtual parallel supercomputers." When Kurzweil wrote The Age of Spiritual Machines in 1998, distributed computing was unknown to the general public, and the two biggest projects—the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search and Distributed.net—had about 8,000 and 100,000 computers contributing idle-time processing power, respectively. The popularity of distributed computing exploded in May 1999 with the release of the SETI@home program, which attracted 200,000 users within a week of initial Internet release, and by July 2002, 3.83 million people had downloaded and run the client. Today, the vast majority of distributed computing projects fall under the auspices of either United Devices or BOINC. As of November 2007, BOINC has more than 1.1 million active users and almost 2.4 million hosts. Sony also offers users of the Internet-capable PS3 game console the option to donate their machines' idle processing power to Folding@home–an online distributed computing project that seeks to understand the process of protein folding. More than 600,000 PS3 users have agreed to lend their game consoles to the task, resulting in a record-breaking petaflop (1015calculations per second) of processing power in November 2007. This makes the Folding@home project only slightly less powerful (in terms of raw calculating power) than the human brain, which Kurzweil estimates to be capable of 20 x 1015 calculations per second. Kurzweil predicted that in 2009, these networks will have more raw power than a human brain.
Kurzweil's prediction that portable computers will shrink in size and take on nontraditional physical forms (i.e. - very different in design from a laptop or desktop computer) by 2009 is supported by the emergence of devices such as the portable media players and advanced cell phones, as well as by newer PDAs. All meet Kurzweil's aforementioned criteria, being small to the point of wearability, possessing the power and range of function of older computers, and featuring designs that radically depart from normal computers. Kurzweil's forecast that these devices would store information without the use of rotating disk style hard drives was also right.
However, his claim that such portable computers will be commonly embedded in clothing and jewelry by 2009 seems unlikely to pass, as does his prediction that people will typically be wearing "at least a dozen" such computers in the same year. Most "portable computers" as they are defined here also have built-in keyboards or accessible keyboard functions (such as a digital keyboard that can be manipulated through a touchscreen), putting reality again at odds with Kurzweil's belief that most computers would lack this feature by 2009, with users instead relying on continuous speech recognition (CSR) to communicate with their PCs.
Similarly, Kurzweil's claim that, by 2009, "the majority of text" will be created through continuous speech recognition (CSR) programs instead of through keyboards and manual typing seems highly unlikely. In that vein, he also implied in The Age of Spiritual Machines that CSR software should in fact have already replaced human transcriptionists years before 2009 (i.e. - 2007 or earlier) due in part to its projected superiority in understanding speech compared to human listeners. CSR is not yet this advanced, and the total replacement of human transcriptionists did not happen.
His prediction that there are 100 computers in the average household is debatable, as it depends upon one's definition of a computer. If one considers microchips and the like computers, then it is quite likely, between all the clocks, microwaves, washing machines, televisions, and other devices in the household. Any other way doesn't seem to work, however. This links into his prediction of domestic robots being around but not mainstream (see Domestic robots).
Since the publication of The Age of Spiritual Machines, Kurzweil has even tacitly admitted that some of his 2009 predictions will not happen on schedule. For instance, in the book he forecast that specialized eyeglasses that beamed computer-generated images onto the retinas of their users to produce a HUD-effect would be in wide use by 2009. However, the computerized voice translating services he predicted, allowing people speaking different languages to understand one another through a phone, are available.
The Age of Spiritual Machines also features a "Timeline" section at the end, which summarizes both the history of technological advancement and Kurzweil's predictions for the future.
While this book focuses on the future of technology and the human race as The Age of Intelligent Machines and The Age of Spiritual Machines did, Kurzweil makes very few concrete, short-term predictions in The Singularity is Near, though longer-term visions are present in abundance.
Kurzweil predicts that, in 2005, supercomputers with the computational capacities to simulate protein folding will be introduced. However, he does not say that an adequate scientific understanding of the forces behind protein folding will come into being in the same year, meaning that the supercomputers might lack the software to mimic accurately the biochemical process. In fact, protein folding is still (as of 2008) a poorly understood phenomenon, and even supercomputer simulations remain inaccurate outside of simulating the folding of basic proteins.
In an October 2002 article published on his website, Kurzweil stated that "Deep Fritz-like chess programs running on ordinary personal computers will routinely defeat all humans later in this decade."
Deep Fritz is a computer chess program--generally considered superior to the older Deep Blue--that has defeated or tied a number of human chess masters and opposing chess programs. Due to advances in personal computer performance, the Deep Fritz program can now run on ordinary personal computers, and different versions of it are available for purchase. While this makes the first part of Kurzweil's prediction true, it is unknown whether the Deep Fritz programs are currently defeating all humans in all games played, though considering the impressive professional record of Deep Fritz, it would be reasonable to assume that only the very best human players can beat the program with consistency.
In September 2002, Chessmaster 9000, a widely available chess playing game from Ubisoft, defeated the then U.S. Chess Champion and International Grandmaster Larry Christiansen in a four-game match.
Note: Since the "Early 2000s" and "Early 21st century" predictions are both listed before the "2010" predictions in the technology Chronology, it can be assumed that the timeframe for the first two is 2000-2010.
Note: Kurzweil put his money where his mouth was on the Long Bets website, wagering that this prediction will come true. Betting against Mitchell Kapor, founder of Lotus Software Corporation for a payout of $20,000, or $10,000 each.
Kurzweil said the following in a November 2007 Computerworld interview:
Kurzweil said in a 2006 C-SPAN2 interview that "nanotechnology-based" flying cars would be available in 20 years.
Ray Kurzweil admits that he cared little for his health until age 35, when he was diagnosed with a glucose intolerance, an early form of type II diabetes (a major risk factor for heart disease). Dissatisfied with the conventional treatments prescribed by his doctor, Kurzweil began studying the disease along with human metabolism, and based on what he learned, he created and adopted his own dietary and health regimen. His condition improved to such an extent that Kurzweil today shows no signs of the disease.
But Kurzweil didn't settle for a lifestyle that merely cured his pre-diabetes; he wanted one that would keep him alive forever. As mentioned earlier, Kurzweil believes that radical technological advances will be made throughout the 21st century, and that many of those advances will benefit the field of medicine. This will ultimately culminate with the discovery of the means to reverse the aging process, cure any disease, and repair presently unrepairable injuries, which together translate into medical immortality. Kurzweil has thus focused himself towards following a maximally healthy lifestyle to heighten his odds of living to see the day when science can make him immortal. Kurzweil calls this the "Bridge to a Bridge to a Bridge" strategy: The first bridge to longer life is Kurzweil's regimen--which is based on current technology--whereas the second- and third bridges are based on advanced biotechnologies and nanotechnologies, respectively, that have not yet been invented. They will allow for progressively longer human lifespans to the point of immortality. Successfully implementing the first "bridge" now allows one to reach the second in the future, which then allows one to reach the third.
Some elements of Kurzweil's health-focused lifestyle are conventional. He exercises frequently, does not eat to excess, and does not use drugs. Many others, however, are controversial and are explained by his obsession with living as absolutely long as possible and by his Transhumanist enthusiasm for using cutting-edge technologies and knowledge to extend human life. Kurzweil ingests "250 supplements, eight to 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea" daily and drinks several glasses of red wine a week in an effort to "reprogram" his biochemistry.  Lately, he has cut down the number of supplement pills to 150.
Consuming large amounts of water is necessary for flushing toxins out of the body, and alkaline water allows the body to preserve important enzymes used for neutralizing acidic metabolic wastes. For this reason, Kurzweil abhors soft drinks and coffee, which are both acidic and drain detoxifying enzyme reserves. Kurzweil has taken criticism from nutritionists and scientists for his advocacy of alkaline water's health benefits, and he responded to this over the Internet. Green tea and red wine contain antioxidants that neutralize free radicals--a different type of toxin found within the body. Kurzweil also consumes red wine because it contains the compound resveratrol, which extends human lifespan according to some evidence. Kurzweil also takes pills containing high concentrations of the chemical.
On weekends, Kurzweil also undergoes intravenous transfusions of chemical cocktails at a clinic to further reprogram his biochemistry. He routinely measures the chemical composition of his bodily fluids to ensure balance, undergoes preemptive medical tests for many diseases and disorders, and keeps detailed records about the content of all the meals he eats. On that last note, Kurzweil only eats organic foods with low glycemic loads and claims it has been years since he last consumed anything containing sugar. Kurzweil considers foods rich in sugars and carbohydrates to be unhealthy since they spike the levels of glucose and insulin in the bloodstream, leading to health problems in the long term. He instead eats mainly vegetables, lean meats, tofu, and low glycemic load carbohydrates, and only uses extra virgin olive oil for cooking. Kurzweil also diligently consumes foods rich with Omega-3 fatty acids (including small, wild salmon) and antioxidants.
Moreover, Kurzweil is a firm believer that good health requires sufficient sleep, and he maintains low stress levels in part by meditating and getting massages weekly. He exercises daily with walking, bike-riding and use of workout machines, but advises against high-impact forms of exercise. Kurzweil claims that his rigorous efforts have yielded positive results, which are partly proved by the fact that his body chemical profiles show his biological age to be more than a decade younger than his chronological age. In fact, Kurzweil believes that his personal health regimen has actually slowed down his rate of aging. He also advocates maintaining a slightly below-average body weight on the grounds that it imparts some of the life-extension benefits of full-blown caloric restriction.
Kurzweil has further hedged his bets against permanent death by joining the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, which is a company that provides human cryonics services. In the event of his death, Kurzweil's body will be chemically preserved, frozen in liquid nitrogen, and stored at a safe Alcor facility until a point in the future when medical technology can revive him safely.
Kurzweil has authored two books on the subjects of nutrition, health and lifestyle: The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life and Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. In both, he recommends that other people emulate his health practices to the best of their abilities.
Though Kurzweil's parents were Jewish, they raised him as a Unitarian and exposed him to many different faiths during his youth. Kurzweil is tight-lipped about his religious affiliation today, though he gave a 2007 keynote speech to the United Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut alongside Presidential candidate Barack Obama. In The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil refuses to endorse any single religion, yet remains very thoughtful on the matter. He expresses a need for a new religion based on the principle of mutual respect between sentient life forms, and on the principle of respecting knowledge. The new religion should also lack any focus on mitigating human fears of death since immortality will render death irrelevant, and should not have a clerical hierarchy, instead being purely personal to adherents. Kurzweil also believes that, once the human/machine race has converted all of the matter in the Universe into a giant, sentient supercomputer it will have created a supremely powerful and intelligent being which will be Godlike in itself. Humans and machines could then upload their consciousnesses into the giant supercomputer, achieving transcendence.
Philosophical arguments over whether a machine can "think" aside (see Philosophy of artificial intelligence), Kurzweil's ideas have generated some criticism within the scientific community. Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corporation, has called the notion of a technological singularity "intelligent design for the IQ 140 people...This proposition that we're heading to this point at which everything is going to be just unimaginably different—it's fundamentally, in my view, driven by a religious impulse. And all of the frantic arm-waving can't obscure that fact for me."
VR pioneer Jaron Lanier has been one of the strongest critics of Kurzweil’s ideas, describing them as “cybernetic totalism”, and has outlined his views on the culture surrounding Kurzweil’s predictions in an essay for Edge.org entitled One Half of a Manifesto.
Pulitzer Prize winner Douglas R. Hofstadter, author of Godel, Escher, Bach, has said of Kurzweil's and Hans Moravec's books: "It’s as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can't possibly figure out what's good or bad. It's an intimate mixture of rubbish and good ideas, and it's very hard to disentangle the two, because these are smart people; they're not stupid."
Although the idea of a technological singularity is a popular conceit in science fiction, some authors such as Neal Stephenson and Bruce Sterling have voiced scepticism about its real-world plausibility. Sterling expressed his views on the singularity scenario in a talk at the Long Now Foundation entitled The Singularity: Your Future as a Black Hole. Other prominent AI thinkers and computer scientists such as Daniel C. Dennett, Rodney Brooks, and David Gelernter have also criticized Kurweil’s projections.
Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, agrees with Kurzweil's timeline of future progress, but believes that technologies such as AI, nanotechnology and advanced biotechnology will create a dystopian world.
"And ultimately these computers will be in our bodies and brains...so it really is one civilization. I object to the word 'Transhumanism' because—or 'Posthumanism'—because it implies we’re going beyond humanity. I think this is the human—maybe 'Postbiological' ultimately—but it's a part of the human civilization. --Response to a question regarding future competition between human- and artificial intelligence. Early 2005 Harvard conference
"These slides that Gore puts up [in his film An Inconvenient Truth] are ludicrous. They don't account for anything like the technological progress we're going to experience." --CNN Money interview. May 2, 2007
"...death is a tragedy. That is our instinctive reaction and that reaction is correct. In my view it is not death that gives life meaning. Life gives life meaning. The creation of knowledge in all its forms (art, music, science, etc.) and relationships gives life meaning. And death is disruptive of that." --Washington Post interview. June 19th, 2006 
|Lists of miscellaneous information should be avoided. Please relocate any relevant information into appropriate sections or articles. (August 2008)|
Kurzweil's most recent book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (2005), ISBN 0670033847, deals with the fields of genetics, nanotech, robotics, and the rapidly changing definition of humanity.
Other works by Kurzweil:
|SHORT DESCRIPTION||Author, Scientist, & Futurist|
|DATE OF BIRTH||February 12, 1948|
|PLACE OF BIRTH||Queens, New York, United States|
|DATE OF DEATH|
|PLACE OF DEATH|
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