Ray Kurzweil, the acclaimed inventor and futurist, believes that humans and technology are merging
Kurzweil on portentous sci-fi fears about computers: "I don't see it as them vs. us"
He spoke to a crowd of more than 3,000 at the South by Southwest Interactive conference
Any author or filmmaker seeking ideas for a sci-fi yarn about the implications of artificial intelligence – good or bad – would be smart to talk to Ray Kurzweil.
Kurzweil, the acclaimed inventor and futurist, believes that humans and technology are blurring – note the smartphone appendages in almost everyone’s hand – and will eventually merge.
“We are a human-machine civilization. Everybody has been enhanced with computer technology,” he told a capacity crowd of more than 3,000 tech-savvy listeners Monday at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. “They’re really part of who we are.
“If we can convince people that computers have complexity of thought and nuance … we’ll come to accept them as human.”
A pioneer in the field of speech recognition, Kurzweil is perhaps best known for his bestseller, “The Singularity is Near,” which predicts that in the future we will augment our bodies with technology, including robotics and artificial intelligence.
“We created these tools to extend our reach,” he said – something we’ve been doing as humans “ever since we first picked up a stick to reach a tree branch.”
Asked by interviewer Lev Grossman whether artificial intelligence will lead to malevolent machines that will come to dominate humans, he said he was more concerned about what humans will do to themselves. “I don’t see it as ‘us vs. them.’ I see it as ‘us vs. us.’ “
Kurzweil believes technology is advancing at exponential speed – so fast that previously unimaginable inventions will be a reality within decades. He cited nanotechnology – microscopic computers – that will be 1,000 times more powerful than human blood cells and injected in people’s bloodstreams to give them superhuman endurance.
He also believes computer technology is democratizing society by empowering anyone with creativity and and a broadband connection.
“You can start world-changing revolution with the power of your ideas and the tools that everyone has,” he said. “A kid in Africa has access to more information than the president of the United States did 15 years ago.”
The 64-year-old author made a few other bold predictions in his hourlong talk:
– “It’s an amazing threshold that people are talking to computers [in natural language],” he said, when asked about Apple’s Siri. “Siri is only going to get better.”
– Moore’s Law, the rule of thumb that the pace of innovation in computer technology doubles every 18 months to two years, will come to an end by 2020.
– “As we go through this decade, search engines aren’t going to wait to be asked. They’ll be listening [to humans] in the background. And [the search results] will just pop up.”