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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.


At November 21, 2005 at 2:08 PM Anonymous said...

Mr Ben,

I think it would be interesting for you to take into consideration a certain technology 'divide' in the emerging internet and citizens access to it, and especially in your articles.

All the things Kurzweil and others are predicting may be true, but there is a footnote that should be added to any such ponderings, which is that, if correct, they will apply only to those who choose (and/or who can afford) to participate. In other words, as these technologies develop, there will emerge two distinctly separate 'realities:' a carbon based one, and a silicon (or other) based one.

Many people will remain in the former for many, many years to come, either because they can't afford access, because the personal ROI isn't there, or becasue it's just too creepy.

Of course, some of the more ubiquitous aspects of culture (bank accounts, credit cards, etc), will increasingly require some level of 'new-world' tech participation, but I think it will be a long, long, time before these kinds of predictions are anywhere close to ubiquitous.

Also, the 'ghost in the machine' factor will become increasingly important. Take the gargantuan blunder by Sony last week, in it's embedded DRM 'intelligence'. Imagine something analogous happening with a widespread medical technology (which is becoming more and more likely, with the increasing privatization of the medical and bio-tech industries). There would be such a drop in patient trust that you'd have people in droves demanding older medical technologies: perhaps in the same way that more educated, and health-conscious people demand foods that are free of technologies such as GMO, or RBST dairy, for example.

Keep up the good work!

At November 21, 2005 at 2:38 PM Ben said...

Wow, great comment!

There's a lot to think over here. Let me kind of absorb this and feed back to you. Thanks for writing.


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