By Kevin McLaughlin, CRN
10:12 AM EST Wed. Nov. 16, 2005
Visionary Kurzweil Touts Technologies Of Tomorrow
By Kevin McLaughlin, CRN
Computer visionary Ray Kurzweil examined the effects of accelerating growth of technologies on the present and future of human technological innovation during a speech at the ninth annual CRN Industry Hall of Fame, held Tuesday in Santa Clara, Calif.
Much of Kurzweil's speech centered around how innovation is driving the engines of technological and economic growth. For example, adoption of e-commerce has followed a smooth exponential growth curve, despite the lower levels of online activity that characterized the dot-com downturn. "Generally, the 'boom and bust' psychology is a true harbinger of what will ultimately be a true revolution," said Kurzweil.
With regard to how solution providers use technology to tackle everyday business tasks, Kurzweil explained why he feels it's necessary to make predictions and models for the future. "It's very important to track technological trends. People assume the technology will be essentially the same in five years, but contemplating what things will be like--that's why we model for the future," said Kurzweil.
The bulk of human intelligence is pattern recognition, which Kurzweil said is the quintessential example of a self-organizing system. This will be instrumental in the development of future Web-based applications, he added. For example, he said that Google has developed a speech tool for English-Arabic and Arabic-English translation, despite the fact that no one on the development team spoke Arabic. "I think this type of feature will be a standard feature on mobile phones by the next decade," he said, giving a demonstration of the tool.
As proof that these types of evolutions will take place, Kurzweil used the example of artificial intelligence that is embedded everywhere in today's society, from medical devices such as electrocardiogram machines and credit card fraud detection software. "If these narrow [artificial intelligence] programs suddenly stopped working, it would cripple the economic infrastructure," he said.
By 2010, Kurzweil said, computers will begin to disappear, instead becoming embedded in the environment and into materials such as clothing and eyeglasses. Images will be written directly on human retinas, said Kurzweil, adding that the military uses this technology today in modeling virtual reality environments. "Search engines of the near future won't wait to be asked for information," he said.
"2029 is where technology really gets interesting because we'll have had all of this exponential growth taking place over the next 25 years," said Kurzweil. By this time, computation will move from the device and become Web-centric. "There is going to be a worldwide mesh consisting of tiny devices, nodes in clothing and in the environment, each sending and receiving their own messages, as well as passing on other peoples' messages," Kurzweil said. Organization on the massive worldwide mesh will be much like that of the traditional Internet, in terms of being self-organizing and every device being a node, he added.
Driving this worldwide mesh will be exponentially speedier bandwidth, according to Kurzweil. Most important of all will be not the devices, but the software that will be designed to harness this exponentially increased power of the network, he said.
[I forwarded the above item to DH, who posted it to the Dewayne-Net Technology List, which received this reply from Thomas Leavitt, and which was then forwarded to the IP list. -JW]
Begin forwarded message:
From: Dewayne Hendricks
Date: December 2, 2005 1:19:40 PM EST
Subject: [Dewayne-Net] re: 2029, A Worldwide Mesh?
[Note: This comment comes from reader Thomas Leavitt. DLH]
From: Thomas Leavitt
Date: December 2, 2005 9:53:02 AM PST
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] 2029, A Worldwide Mesh?
The "world wide mesh" will arrive in Asia about 2019, and in the U.S. in
about 2039, due to frenetic lobbying and regulatory manipulation by
incumbent telco oligopoly components eager to avoid having their
existing revenue streams undermined.
In 2019, the average Asian "broadband" connection will exceed 100 mpbs,
and the average American "broadband" connection won't exceed 10 mpbs...
and 5-10% of the American public will still dialing into the 'net at
56kbps via POTS lines.
Given that, in 1999, an aunt of mine in Missouri was still connecting to
the world via a party line that required operator assistance to place a
long distance telephone call (I discovered this when attempting to dial
into my server during an emergency), I don't feel I'm being particularly
Source: IP list here
An Adventurous Thinker
December 12, 2004
DevSource: In The Age of Spiritual Machines, which came out in 1999, you predicted that by 2009 computers would be embedded in clothing, most routine business transactions would take place between a human and a virtual personality, and translating phones would be in common use. Do you think we're halfway there? If not, what's keeping those innovations from arriving (or reaching an "unremarkable" status)?
DevSource: The people reading this interview are the software developers charged with writing the applications we'll be using in the futures you've envisioned. What do you think those developers need to know? What are you afraid they're not thinking about?
Ray: As point to point communication becomes more ubiquitous, reliable, and high bandwidth, we will be migrating to grid computing in which we can readily access the unused computes on the Internet. Each device, whether in a fixed location, a device in a pocket, or embedded in clothing or the environment, will not just be a "spoke" into the Internet, but will be a node passing on messages from other machines. So communications will be constantly reconfiguring itself and self-organizing with every device part of the network. In addition, every device will make its "computes" available in the same way. So there will be less concern with peak computational needs. If you need a supercomputer for a few milliseconds (or more), you'll have instant access to it.
To make this fully effective, however, applications will need to be optimized to run in a massively parallel way. This is how the human brain works (with about a hundred trillion simultaneous processes in the interneuronal connections). So developers need to think how their applications can take advantage of the inherently massively parallel nature of the computations that will be available to them on the Internet.
DevSource: You've created a wide range of inventions, and have been involved in everything from OCR to speech recognition to nanotechnology. What — if anything — do they have in common? Is there a central theme to your endeavors? (Surely, many people who think of you as "the guy that invented all those computer things" would be surprised to know your latest book, Fantastic Voyage, is about life extension.)
Ray: My primary area of technical interest and expertise is pattern recognition, which, incidentally, comprises the primary strength of human intelligence. We're not very good at analytical or logical analysis. Computers can already outperform us in those areas. But we retain an edge in recognizing patterns. So most of my major inventions — omni-font optical character recognition, speech synthesis, music synthesis, speech recognition, financial pattern analysis — involve pattern recognition, or at least the study of patterns. Typically we use self-organizing methods, and it is in this area that brain reverse-engineering will be particularly helpful.
I realized that my inventions had to make sense when the project was finished, rather than for the world that existed when the research project began, and invariably the world was a different place three or four years later. Most technology projects fail not because the inventors are unable to get the thing to work, but because the timing is wrong. So I became an ardent student of technology trends. I now have a group of ten people assisting me to gather data on key trends, and we develop mathematical models of technology evolution that have proven remarkably accurate over the last couple of decades. So this enables me to essentially invent with the technologies of the future.
While I can't build a device using computers circa 2020 today, I can envision what they will be capable of doing. A lot of my technology writing is driven by this approach.
I came to health through my own health issues (cured my own type II diabetes twenty years ago after the conventional treatment proved counterproductive, and wrote a best-selling health book about this in the early 1990s). Today, my ongoing interest in health issues has now merged with my interest in technology because we are in the early stages of the biotechnology revolution in which we are learning to understand, and to control, the information processes underlying our biology.