Sci-fi or sci-future? Hollywood technology scrutinised (part two)

Cochrane and Kurzweil on future high-tech, as seen in the movies...

Cochrane and Kurzweil on future high-tech, as seen in the movies...

We asked two of the world's top tech thinkers to cast judgement on concepts seen in some well-known films. Here, Peter Cochrane and Ray Kurzweil continue their analysis of science fiction and the shape of things to come... STAR TREK Film sequence: A universal language translator on starship bridge/uniforms enables Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) or Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) to conduct negotiations with alien life forms. Concept: The idea of software which can easily and accurately translate language, including nuance and expression. Now we have: Software that can automatically translate documents from one language to another e.g. AltaVista's Babel Fish, named after the fish in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that fed off brain waves and could translate any language in the universe. Although this type of software makes mistakes, the quality is often better than people expect. PC: This works right now at a very basic level for text and speech - but not at the level of natural language spoken interchange. Computer speech recognisers are better than humans today on a word-by-word basis, but they lack cognition and contextualisation. Until machines become fully sentient we will not be able to realise the Babel Fish. Look at the trouble human translators have. Ultimately I think machines will be better but will fall short of the ideal Babel Fish.
Credibility rating: 7/10
How many year's time?: 0-25 RK: We have speech recognition, language translation, and synthetic speech today. The quality is far from perfect, but getting better every year. The quality demonstrated in these movies requires human level intelligence, which I expect by the year 2029.
Credibility rating: 10/10
How many year's time?: 30 BLADERUNNER Film sequence: Opening sequence where bladerunner Holden (Morgan Paull) tries to identify replicant Leon (Brion James) as an android by testing his emotional response to questions. Roy (Rutger Hauer) later demonstrates emotions in his desire for life. Concept: The ability for artificially intelligent devices to feel emotions. Now we have: Current research at MIT, Carnegie Mellon University and elsewhere to develop software programs and robots that have emotional awareness and can provide appropriate responses to emotional cues e.g. the robot Kismet, developed by Cynthia Breazeal at MIT Media Lab, which can recognise the emotional state of a person through their speech patterns and then responds with an appropriate 'emotional' facial expression. PC: This is only likely to be a matter of time. My guess is that once a machine is truly sentient, connected to our world through adequate sensors, with fully adaptive hardware and software, with an evolutionary (replication/reproductive) capacity, it will follow naturally. All animals show emotion of varying degrees and we can expect machines to follow. There appears to be nothing special about carbon life - it is just that we have never seen any other forms.
Credibility rating: 9/10
How many year's time?: 50 RK: Our ability to recognise and respond appropriately to emotion is part of our intelligence. Indeed, it is the most complex and most intelligent thing that we do. Mastering emotion by machines will require machines with human-level intelligence, which will occur by 2029.
Credibility rating: 10/10
How many year's time?: 30 Peter Cochrane is the co-founder of ConceptLabs and spends his time around the world getting innovative start-ups off the ground and evangelising technology, among other things. He is well known as the former head of BT Labs, Martlesham, when he was CTO at the telco, and is a writer on various technology issues. Ray Kurzweil is the founder, chairman and CEO of Kurzweil Technologies, known for a print-to-speech reading machine for the blind as much for his piano synthesiser and other breakthroughs. He wrote The Age of Intelligent Machines while at MIT and was awarded the 1999 National Medal of Technology by Bill Clinton.