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Ray Kurzweil’s Predictions for the Next 25 Years

In late 2014, Ray Kurzweil, one of the most forward-thinking scientists alive today, published some of his predictions for the next 25 years.
SingularityHub wrote an excellent piece in January of 2015 outlining past predictions that came true as well as new predictions he sees coming in the near future.

If you have followed Kurzweil’s career, you know that he invented the flat panel scanner and the first text-to-speech synthesizer and many other inventions and is currently a director of Engineering at Google.

What Makes Kurzweil’s predictions of the future so important is the accuracy of the predictions he has made in the past. In 1990 he predicted that a computer would defeat a world chess champion and then in 1998, IBM’s Deep blue defeated Gary Kasparov. That year he also predicted that PC’s would be capable of answering queries by accessing information wirelessly via the Internet by 2010.

In 1999 he predicted that People would talk to the computers and give them commands by 2009. And in 2005 he predicted that by the 2010’s virtual solutions would be able to do real-time language translations in which words spoken in a foreign language could be translated into text that would appear as subtitles to users wearing glasses.

Peter Diamondis, who knows Kurzweil well, outlined some of his favorite Kurzweil predictions for the next 25 years. Here are a few that he called out in his 2015 SingularityHub article:

“By the late 2010s, glasses will beam images directly onto the retina. Ten terabytes of computing power (roughly the same as the human brain) will cost about $1,000. By the 2020s, most diseases will go away as nanobots become smarter than current medical technology. Normal human eating can be replaced by nanosystems. The Turing test begins to be passable. Self-driving cars begin to take over the roads, and people won’t be allowed to drive on highways.
By the 2030s, virtual reality will begin to feel 100% real. We will be able to upload our mind/consciousness by the end of the decade.
By the 2040s, non-biological intelligence will be a billion times more capable than biological intelligence (a.k.a. us). Nanotech foglets will be able to make food out of thin air and create any object in the physical world at a whim. By 2045, we will multiply our intelligence a billionfold by linking wirelessly from our neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud.”

I think that glasses beaming directly onto the retina by the end of the 2010’s are way too optimistic and perhaps at least 5-10 years still in the future. And I think that Virtual Reality may feel real well before 2030. But it is the last two predictions that both fascinate me and scare me at the same time.
Given my age, I won’t probably be around to see non-biological intelligence be billions of times more capable of biological intelligence but that concept is pretty frightening in itself.

The vision of robotic overlords being smarter than us could be problematic on their own but if their intelligence supersedes ours without tight controls and checks and balances, you can see why Gates, Musk, and Hawkings are deeply concerned with AI if left to its own devices. And as a serious foodie, I am not sure I like the idea of nanotech foglets creating food out of thin air although that sure could help solve the world’s food crisis.

Although the idea that by 2045 we will multiply our intelligence a billionfold by linking our neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud is something, I could use now. If this works, imagine what it could do for students and how it could impact their learning programs as well as its impact on all levels of business. The big question here is what competitive advantage this gives a person and at what costs? If this is an expensive technology, imagine the gulf between the haves and have-nots that would arise because it would give those who have access to this technology quite an advantage.

But again, if we don’t control this with serious oversight and ethics checks and balances built into to this or any technology of the future, we are inviting many unforeseen problems even if these technologies provide great value to all. As I have written here before, I am deeply concerned that our tech creators do not look hard enough at the possible downside their technology can have on humankind and stay too focused on its merits alone.

The result of this myopic thinking is that we now are seeing the serious governmental interest and legitimate queries into the impact of technology for good and evil. In talking with many major high-tech companies, they are not equipped to deal with any governmental intervention let alone the new level of scrutiny that they are starting to receive because the role of technology and its impact on all sectors of business and society is coming to a forefront now.

Kurzweil’s predictions are fascinating, and anytime Ray speaks one must listen and consider these types of predictions seriously. However, I would suggest that from now on when you view any tech prediction of the future, you do it through a prism of its impact for both good and evil and apply the ethical and societal questions to its role in the world. I think that for Silicon Valley to continue to drive our tech world, these types of deep thinking exercises must become part of their DNA. If not, our future might not be as bright as some think it will be.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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