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April 21, 2015

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Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts in-body computers and a potential war with machines



Author and inventor Ray Kurzweil, 56, speaks with a reporter during an interview in his office, in Wellesley, Mass., Jan. 12, 2005.

Ray Kurzweil

Author and inventor Ray Kurzweil, 56, appears in front of words projected on a screen from his Internet site in his office, in Wellesley, Mass., Jan. 12, 2005. Launch slideshow »

If you worry that the Internet, computers and other electronics play an outsized role in daily life, futurist Ray Kurzweil has one message for you:

This is only the beginning.

Kurzweil, who will speak Sunday night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts as part of the Audi Speaker Series, predicts a high-tech society that makes today's lifestyle look straight out of the Stone Age. As he sees it, people will have tiny computing devices in their bodies, more powerful brains and longer lives. Simply put, the world will be dominated by artificial intelligence.

The 64-year-old entrepreneur is the leading evangelist of “Singularity,” the idea that machines will spontaneously adopt humanlike characteristics, become vastly more intelligent than people and change mankind forever. One possibility is they'll turn on us and wipe out humanity.

Kurzweil has pegged the transformation for 2045.

“The nonbiological intelligence created in that year will be 1 billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today,” he says on

Kurzweil has written several books and founded a number of technology companies, including FatKat, which develops pattern-recognition systems for financial markets, and Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, which was launched in 1982 and developed a voice-activated word processor. He recently was hired as director of engineering for Google.

You have said that by the 2030s, people will have blood cell-sized computing devices in their bloodstreams and brains that connect directly to off-site computer data servers. What makes you think that?

We already have computerized devices that are placed inside the body and even connected into the brain, such as neural implants for Parkinson’s disease and cochlear implants for the deaf. These devices can already wirelessly download new software from the cloud. Technology is shrinking at an exponential rate, which I’ve measured at about 100 in 3D volume per decade. At that rate, we will be able to introduce blood cell-sized devices that are robotic and have computers that can communicate wirelessly by the 2030s.

How would such devices be regulated to ensure that outside forces can’t manipulate people’s thoughts and actions through the Internet?

Privacy and security are already very significant issues, considering the personal and intimate things that people do with their computers. This is an issue we will never be able to cross off our “concern list,” but we’re actually not doing that badly. Relatively few people today complain that they have been significantly damaged by privacy and security breaches. I believe we will be able to keep up with the increasing sophistication of the technology.

What kind of new capabilities could brain connectivity bring to humans? How would it affect people's intelligence, athletic abilities, life spans, reproductive capacity?

Click to enlarge photo

Kurzweil was dubbed the "restless genius" by the Wall Street Journal.

We are already much smarter and more productive because of the brain extenders we have, ranging from Google to Wikipedia. When these services went on strike for one day last year to protest the federal Stop Online Piracy Act legislation, I felt like a part of my brain had gone on strike. We are going to literally expand the scope and scale of our neocortex, which is where we do our thinking. Thinking bigger and bolder thoughts will ultimately enable us to overcome the major challenges that our civilization faces.

You have said that you want to bring your father, who died in 1970, back to life. How and when could that be accomplished?

The idea is to create an avatar that looks and acts like my father, based on the information we have about him, or anyone else. The more information we have about that person, the better the job we can do. The goal would be to pass a “Fredric Kurzweil Turing test,” that is for the avatar to be indistinguishable from the original person to the people who knew that person. In the case of my father, that is becoming an easier test as our memories of him are fading.

Do you believe that humans, using technological advances, could achieve immortality? If so, how? And when?

The goal is to achieve a tipping point where science is adding more time than is going by. That’s not a guarantee of immortality, but it would change the metaphor of the sands of time running out. I believe we are about 15 years away from such a tipping point.

Could there be a time, as Google co-founder Larry Page said in 2004, that people simply think of a question and their smartphone tells them the answer?

My project at Google is to help create a technology that will become familiar with your concerns and will find information that will meet your needs without your having to ask for it. For example, it might pop up and present — in your field of view using augmented reality — “you expressed concern about whether vitamin B12 is being absorbed by your cells, here is research released 12 seconds ago that shows a better way to do this.”

A December story in Bloomberg Businessweek described you as a “quasi-religious figure” because of your role as the leading advocate for Singularity. A May 2009 Newsweek article about you and Singularity said the “last thing humanity needs right now is an apocalyptic cult masquerading as science.” How do you respond to those descriptions and accusations?

My research has been a scientific study of technology trends, and my books, such as “The Singularity is Near,” have thousands of scientific citations. It is a thesis based on empirical data and analysis. Of course, any scientific insight will have philosophical implications, but that is not where I started. These sorts of accusations are content-free ad-hominem attacks by people who simply don’t like the conclusions but are unable to criticize my actual arguments.

Will the technological advances you predict change the way we are born? For instance, will be people be born smarter with computerlike brains already in place?

That’s not likely to be an early development, just as we wait now at least a little while before introducing computers to children. But eventually we will probably augment brains at an early age.

Do you think there could be a time when machines take on minds of their own and wage war with humans? If so, when? And who would win?

I think human and computer intelligence will be mixed together just as it is now. We have conflicts today between groups of humans that are both enhanced by intelligent technology. A war between a group that used the latest technology and a group of humans who eschewed modern technology would be a very short war.

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  1. As human beings travel through the sands of time here on planet Earth (a tiny speck in the great universe), many, not all, evolve with what is in THEIR present reality and dimension. Not everyone will understand what futurist Ray Kurzweil is saying. No problem and no harm done. We all live and experience what is within our personal realms or scopes of the universe to experience. This is a neutral zone, neither right nor wrong exists. Whatever your personal destiny is, it is. All are entitled to their opinions: it is where they are at in the now/present and may or may not change.

    I view this article as informational, putting it out there. Over two decades ago, I had questions, and sometime later just happened to stumble on Ray Kurzweil being on a television show explaining "The Singularity of the Machine". This caught my attention and resonated with me, with the test of time verifying things that at that time were being said and suggested. What did not exist then, now does....the test of time. The writer of this article, titled his writing in such a way to introduce controversy and catch your attention so that you would be drawn to read it. Nothing here implies that humanity will be "fixed" and that everyone will live a perfect life.

    Throughout the Earth's history, there have been prophets, seers, visionaries, and remote viewers co-existing with science, religion, and philosophy. People pick and choose what fits into their individual/personal, and collective belief system(s). That is a part of your "hard wiring" folks. Forever, there are believers, skeptics, and naysayers. WE are all of those sometime in our lives. It is what it is, so, as the song goes, "Let it be..."!

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. Should be a interesting show, with a audience of crack pots

  3. So some guy rehashes some Sci Fi plot lines, and he's supposed to be some sort of guru or expert that people are going to pay money to see?


  4. I don't think Kurzweil's ideas are especially far flung, but I tend to agree with the Penrose camp ("The Emperor's New Mind") that says we will not achieve true AI until we understand quantum gravity. With that in mind, I think Kurzweil's timeline is a bit optimistic.

    That said, all bets are off if we develop quantum computers that operate on a scale that is as superior to what we have today as that is to the first Univac.

    The last truly revolutionary advance we have had was when it was realized that ALL forms of information are digital in nature to one extent or another (dual slit experiments not withstanding.) A fully functional quantum computer, with trillions of elements, will be a similar breakthrough. (Sorry folks, the iPhone and the Internet are nothing more than logical extensions of the fact that 1 + 1 = 0 with a half-carry.)

    However, until such technology is mature, I do expect to see tremendous strides being made in human augmentation, just not at the pace Kurzweil predicts. Cochlear implants not withstanding, we will not be able to say we have achieved a reasonable understanding of a man-machine interface until we can produce Gordie La Forge's visor. I would put that at about 50 - 65 years from now.

  5. For Boftx: Don't you think that we are taking " baby steps" though, even with "cloud" computing? It is moving forward, there is a profoundly slow integration of Artificial Intelligence with current advances as human augmentation through brain interfaces and in the ever-growing prosthesis industry for those who have varying needs.

    Even the 2014 Corvette Stingray has "intuitive" components integrated within its systems (I can't wait to play with one!). It's been a while since I picked up a copy of Popular Mechanics or Popular Science, but we are seeing tiny moves in the direction of AI, and it is my humble opinion, that currently much of that technology is under wraps, in safe keeping, with the US Department of Defense.

    Years ago, many innovations were present at COMDEX, then it went to a mere pedestrian trinkle at CES. The thrill is gone, with little prospect of mingling with the latest and greatest tech sleepers, now will remain nonpublic and quietly developing. So, Commenters are right about the timeline being ambitious, since there exists barriers to protect intellectual property, claims, and patents. It is miles before we'll ever see AI innovations in our hands, homes, and bodies, or anytime soon. The potential exists, and hope we must!

    Blessings and Peace,

  6. Star,

    No, I would not say that yet. The closest approach that has been made has been with Watson, and even that machine is nothing more than a search engine at its core. Watson is not capable of changing its programming as needed.

    There are two distinct areas in the discussion: 1) self-aware, cognitive computers, and 2) the man-machine interface. The latter will be far easier to achieve (we are making strong progress already) than the former. Watson is a member of the second category, not the first, as is "the Cloud."

    I will grant that the Cloud model might be able to mimic to some extent the holographic model of data storage that some people think our brain uses. But again, that is not cognitive thought.

    The best hope for achieving that, in my opinion, is tied to quantum computing and the role that gravity (quantum or not) plays in quantum uncertainty. Quantum computers inherently operate on a scale similar to, and even smaller than, that which our brain does in terms of connections which makes them responsive to quantum effects.

    So while I think what we call science fiction today is quite achievable, I still think that the AI side of it is still quite some time away.

    By the way, I attended and exhibited at COMDEX for several years. It was always an amazing experience.

  7. Computers should be regulated, no person should be allowed to have a computing device with more than 2G of RAM and hard drive storage should be limited to no more than 5G.
    Violators should be prosecuted and the fines should be extreme.
    We have to stop the production and distribution of these high capacity computing devices before they get out of control.
    LMFAO, then I am going to watch a movie