Ray Kurzweil: Technology and the New, Improved You

Ray Kurzweil: Technology and the New, Improved You

Ray Kurzweil says technology will make us smarter, healthier and more productive

Feb. 10, 2014 4:47 p.m. ET

Author, Google engineer and futurist Ray Kurzweil tells Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker that advancing technologies will be integrated into ourselves. He speaks at the Journal’s CIO Network conference in San Diego.

Machines will soon be as smart as we are, says Ray Kurzweil. But not to worry.

The engineering director of Google Inc. GOOG +1.47% and founder and CEO of Kurzweil Technologies Inc. argues that as computers get smaller and more powerful, we won’t face a sci-fi nightmare. Instead, these machines will help us expand our capabilities.

Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker spoke with Mr. Kurzweil about what the future holds. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation.

The Singularity Awaits

MR. BAKER: Would you explain what the singularity is and how machine intelligence is going to overtake human intelligence?

MR. KURZWEIL: The underlying theme is what I call the law of accelerating returns, which is the exponential growth of the price performance and capacity of information technology.

Both the hardware and the software of human-level intelligence will be in place by 2029.

MR. BAKER: That means that computers, machines, will make all of the billions of computations that the human brain can make?

MR. KURZWEIL: The best definition was articulated by Alan Turing in 1950 when he designated his eponymous test, the Turing test. If a computer is indistinguishable from a human based on language, and if you can’t tell the difference between the AI and a human foil, then we say the AI has passed the Turing test. No computer has done that yet, although they’re getting better every year.

There’s actually a growing group of people that think I’m too conservative in predicting 2029. If you were to take Watson and apply it to a Turing test, it probably would do pretty well. But I’m maintaining my 2029 projection. That’s one step in terms of understanding the singularity.

The other is that we’re integrating with this technology. When I was at MIT, the computer was across campus. It took up a floor of a building. Now we carry it in our pockets, on our belts. They’re moving onto our eyes and our ears. Some people have them in their brains, like Parkinson’s patients. A Parkinson’s patient can actually download new software to the computer connected into their brain from outside the patient. It’s pea-sized, so it requires minimally invasive surgery.

Another exponential trend is the shrinking of technology. We’ll have millions, billions of blood-cell-sized computers in our bloodstream in the 2030s, keeping us healthy, augmenting our immune system and also going into the brain, putting our neocortex on the cloud.

In 2035, if I see somebody approaching me and want to impress them, and I need to think of something clever, I’ve got two seconds. The 300 million pattern recognizers in my neocortex aren’t going to cut it. Just the way today I can access 10,000 computers in the cloud, I’ll be able to access additional neocortex and think of something clever.

And we will expand our neocortex. Two million years ago, humanoids came on the scene. We had this frontal cortex, which is where we do our high-level thinking. The frontal cortex is actually no different than the other parts of our neocortex; it’s an additional quantity of neocortex. But that additional quantity was the enabling factor for us to invent language, art and science.

We’re going to expand the quantity again by basically expanding our neocortex into the cloud. And that will be another quantitative expansion, which will lead to another qualitative leap.

If you go out to 2045, we will have expanded our unenhanced intelligence a billionfold. That’s such a profound expansion that we borrow this metaphor from physics and call it a singularity.

An Enhanced World

MR. BAKER: So what does the singularity produce?

MR. KURZWEIL: We’re smarter, more productive, more effective because of the brain expanders we have. My view is that this is not creating machines and it’s going to be us versus them; we are expanding our own capability. That’s why we created these tools. I couldn’t reach that fruit at that higher branch 2,000 years ago, so we created a tool that extended our physical reach. We can now create skyscrapers. We can command all of human knowledge with a few keystrokes. We expand our reach, and we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to integrate with these technologies.

Author, Google engineer and futurist Ray Kurzweil says he isn’t worried about future technology that could allow the reading of people’s thoughts and that current invasions of privacy can actually be democratizing. He speaks at the Wall Street Journal’s CIO Network conference.

MR. BAKER: Before we get to the year 2045 or 2029, let’s look at some of the advances that we can expect to refine and develop over the next 10 years or so.

MR. KURZWEIL: One is that we’re transforming medicine from kind of a hit-or-miss affair where we find something, hit something, lower his blood pressure, don’t really know why this works, to where we can actually reprogram our biology as software. We have 23,000 little software programs inside us called genes. That’s not a metaphor. They are strings of data. They evolved when conditions were very different.

Somewhere between 10 and 15 years from now, we’re going to see a very profound transformation in our ability to reprogram biology away from cancer, heart disease and diseases in general, and aging.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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