This past weekend Stanford University hosted the Accelerating Change 2005 conference, bringing together visionaries, academics, and forward-thinking executives to share thoughts on Artificial intelligence (AI)—in the broadest sense of the word—and Intelligence amplification (IA), which, according to the conference Website, "empowers human beings and their social, political, and economic environments." Among the key speakers was visionary, inventor, and author, Ray Kurzweil, who has a new book coming out on the 22nd of this month called The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. It has over 600 pages of his latest perspectives on artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, and, you guessed it, how we are fast approaching a future where humans and machines merge into a super-intelligent civilization. (See JD Lasica's review).
Much of the discussion that flowed throughout the conference incorporated some aspect of Kurzweil’s mind-bending but well-argued tech predictions. Even before Kurzweil got up to give his keynote Saturday morning, mathematician and fiction writer Vernor Vinge talked about some possibilities for how the singularity will unfold; one being the "soft takeoff" which can take a few decades to play out, and two, the "hard takeoff" which can be a catastrophic event of just a few days.
In his keynote, Kurzweil clicked through many logarithmic-exponential charts illustrating how processor speed, Internet hosts, number of cell phone subscribers and so on, has been doubling about every two years since they were first introduced. David Berlind covered a similar presentation a few months back and there wasn't that much new this time around apart from some of the latest developments in biotechnology, miniaturization, and reverse-engineering the brain -- which you can read about in the book. His argument to those who find his ideas hard to swallow is that most people have a linear perspective of the future. "People simply extrapolate today's progress to the future…people are surprised to learn that the last 95% of a technological trend happens as quickly as the first 5%," he said. Kurzweil also said that technology evolution, which took after biological evolution, is much faster and is accelerating to the point where we will use it more and more to enhance our own bodies.
Here are Ray Kurzweil's predictions:
2010: Computers Disappear
- Images written directly to our retinas
- Ubiquitous high bandwidth connection to the Internet at all times
- Electronics so tiny it's embedded in the environment, our clothing, our eyeglasses
- Full immersion visual-auditory virtual reality
- Augmented real reality
- Interaction with virtual personalities as a primary interface
- Effective language technologies
2029: An intimate merger
- $1,000 of computation = 1,000 times the human brain
- Reverse engineering of the human brain completed
- Computers pass the Turing test
- Non-biological intelligence combines the subtlety and pattern recognition strength of human intelligence, with the speed, memory, and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence
- Non-biological intelligence will continue to grow exponentially whereas biological intelligence is effectively fixed
[Editor's note: In his Emerging Technology Trends blog, Roland Piquepaill explores a broad range of new technologies that are modifying our way of life.]