The future is sooner than you think

By Mark O’Neill

Doctor Ray Kurzweil is no ordinary predictor of the future. He doesn’t just make up random predictions and cross his fingers, hoping they come true. He has actually made some predictions that have been mostly spot-on.

For example, back in the 1980’s, he predicted the rapid growth of the internet in the 1990’s and a computer chess champion by 1998 (it was actually 1997 with Deep Blue so he was one year off). He also predicted a handheld device for blind people by 2008. Last Thursday night at the World Science Festival, he produced it (I tried searching for it and it may be this but I am not sure).

But now he has made three new predictions that I have found fascinating and I wonder if they will come true :

  • Within 10 years, there will be a drug that lets you eat whatever you want without gaining weight.
  • Within 20 years all our energy will come from clean sources.
  • And the best one of all – “Are you depressed by the prospect of dying? Well, if you can hang on another 15 years, your life expectancy will keep rising every year faster than you’re aging. And then, before the century is even half over, you can be around for the Singularity, that revolutionary transition when humans and/or machines start evolving into immortal beings with ever-improving software”.

What do you think? Do the predictions sound credible to you?

Doctor Kurzweil – visionary or dreamer? You decide.

Via New York Times

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19 Responses to The future is sooner than you think

  1. I took a class on "the future" in college and we used Kurtzweil's book as a course text. He's really pretty crazy, but he data is very sound. Also, DARPA is working on pills that eliminate sleep and the need to eat for extended periods of time. Crazy stuff.

  2. Sweet, let's hope we haven't destroyed ourselves by then.

    His claims don't sound that far-fetched to me. With the constant development in nanotechnology, pretty much anything will be possible within a couple of decennia.

  3. While computer chess champions do exist nowadays, Deep Blue certainly wasn't one of them. It was designed specifically to beat Kasparov and based on Kasparov's past games. It wasn't the best chess player in the world, it was specifically better than Kasparov. And though Kasparov was the best in the world before Deep Blue, chess superiority isn't necessarily transitive when you're designing a program to strike specifically at a single player's skills.

    Other chess computers nowadays are designed to be more general, but those programs weren't designed until the early '00s.

    • The computerized chess champion prediction still holds, since the computer (actually the computerized algorithms) did beat the champion.

      After all, also, this is a technique used by all champions, and in all professional competitive activities where applicable, that is, studying your opponents' strategies, tactics, and patterns.

      • The difference is, though, that the computer itself didn't study its opponent to gain that knowledge. Its programmers put their knowledge of the opponent into its algorithms.

    • I aleady have eternal life, because when given the opportunity I received Jesus Christ, and I will never die. (I had to make sure it was factually and logically feasible first and found it so.)

      If he has had the same opportunity, Kurzweil will die at some point, of that I'm sure, unless he has done the same, if he has had the opportunity.

  4. He's definitely on the highly optimistic end of the spectrum but I wouldn't say he's nuts.

  5. Cynics *might* suggest that Mr Kurzweil has intentionally selected three topics – obesity, oil, technology – that consistently generate the most column inches of reportage (certainly on the Internet).

    I mean, not *me*, but some people might… ;)

  6. Actually, my early flippancy aside, I've just read his entry on Wikipedia and while some of his predictions seem further off than he suggests (i.e., he expects mobile phones to carry technology that translates all the major languages by the early 2000s, so you can speak to anybody from anywhere in the world) and there's a lot of vagueness about some other stuff, it makes for a fascinating read.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Kurzweil#Future_

    • I agree. In the mid-1970s I wrote to a manufacturer advertising optical-digitizer devices and suggested writing software to convert images of typewritten pages into coded text. The exec wrote back (I kid you not) saying "at the expense of sounding like IBM" when Asanatoff proposed a digital computer in the 1930's, it was not feasible or workable, and not worth trying.

      I also yearned to develop translator software, but I think it's one of the most difficult things, and considering the fickle nature of language, maybe not completely possible. Only the King James Bible has kept the English language as one of the most stable languages in the world…

      • The King James Bible has done little to keep English unchanged. I daresay most modern readers have quite a bit of difficulty with its language, unless they were raised reading it.

        French has preserved itself far better since the Middle Ages thanks to the Académie Française. Like all modern languages, it has been invaded by American terminology — but the basic syntax, grammar and most of the vocabulary remains relatively unchanged. Even though it is the sanctification of one of the worst bastardized forms of Latin.

  7. I read Fantastic Voyage, The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, and they changed my life. I even found some of his lectures on Itunes and I find myself impatiently awaiting his next book.

    Recently read another incredible book that I can't recommend highly enough, especially to all of you who also love Ray Kurzweil's work. The book is ""My Stroke of Insight"" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I had heard Dr Taylor's talk on the TED dot com site and I have to say, it changed my world. It's spreading virally all over the internet and the book is now a NYTimes Bestseller, so I'm not the only one, but it is the most amazing talk, and the most impactful book I've read in years. (Dr T also was named to Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People and Oprah had her on her Soul Series last month and I hear they're making a movie about her story so you may already have heard of her)

    If you haven't heard Dr Taylor's TEDTalk, that's an absolute must. The book is more and deeper and better, but start with the video (it's 18 minutes). Basically, her story is that she was a 37 yr old Harvard brain scientist who had a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, and thanks to her amazingly loving and kind mother, she eventually fully recovered (and that part of the book detailing how she did it is inspirational).

    There's a lot of learning and magic in the book, but the reason I so highly recommend My Stroke of Insight to this discussion, is because we have powerfully intelligent left brains that are rational, logical, sequential and grounded in detail and time, and then we have our kinesthetic right brains, where we experience intuition and peace and euphoria. Now that Kurzweil has got us taking all those vitamins and living our best ""Fantastic Voyage"" , the absolute necessity is that we read My Stroke of Insight and learn from Dr Taylor how to achieve balance between our right and left brains. Enjoy!