Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ray Kurzweil revisits his 1999 predictions for 2009

In 1999 inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil published the book "The Age of Intelligent Machines" in which he made rather daring predictions for years 2009, 2019, 2029 and 2099.


Kurzweil is a considered to be one of the most accurate forecasters of technological advancement, which is the reason why today, in the beginning of 2009, it is extremely interesting to see how well his predictions have stood the test of time.


Most of Kurzweil's predictions are actually astoundingly accurate. Such predictions as "Individuals primarily use portable computers" and "rotating memories are on their way out" seem highly in place considering the extreme surge of notebook and flash memory sales have seen in recent years.


A prediction such as "There are services to keep one's digital objects in central repositories, but most people prefer to keep their private information under their own physical control" also seem to reflect the shifting paradigms occurring today with services such as Google Docs, Flickr and YouTube which exceedingly enable users to keep their digital objects online.


"Digital objects such as books, music albums, movies and software are rapidly distributed as data files through the wireless network and typically do not have a physical object associated with them" also sounds just right. So too do "Documents circa 2009 routinely include embedded moving images and sounds" and "learning at a distance is common place" and "virtual partners are popular as forms of sexual entertainment, but they're more gamelike than real".


However some of the Kurzweil's other predictions still seem a while ago. In June 2008 I interviewed Kurzweil for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and asked him to comment on some of his predictions which still seem a while away. Here is what he had to say regarding chosen quotes from his book.


Kurzweil's Response to his 1999 predictions

"People typically have at least a dozen computers on and around their clothes" (p. 189)

KURZWEIL: Consider someone sitting at their desk. In their pockets there may be a cell phone, a digital camera, an IPOD, a Bluetooth headset, their electronic car keys, each with one or more computers. On their desk is their desktop or notebook computer, a printer, various communication devices, each with one or more computers. So that's close to a dozen computers typically right now. With the advent of multiprocessor architectures, these devices are starting to have 2, 4, 8... computers each in them, so we'll exceed a dozen computers "on and around their clothes" by the turn of the decade.


"Cables are disappearing" (p. 190)

KURZWEIL: There is already increasing use of Bluetooth, WiFi and other wireless technologies to eliminate physical cables. There is technology emerging that allows wireless communication between pocket devices such as cell phones and cameras and desktop devices such as printers and desktop computers. This technology is becoming more ubiquitous. People are increasingly using notebook computers and pocket sized computers and using one form of wireless communication or another to communicate with printers and other devices.


"The majority of text is created using continuous speech recognition" (p. 190)

KURZWEIL: People are migrating to pocket sized computers, but these devices do not provide satisfactory keyboards, so this is now starting to create the need for effective large vocabulary speech recognition. Up until recently hand held devices such as cell phones have not had adequate computers to support large vocabulary speech recognition but that is now changing. New cell phones such as the Blackberry Bold from RIM have computers that are fast enough and with enough memory to support effective speech recognition for text creation. We will see speech recognition used in a widespread way on such pocket computers within the next couple of years.


"three dimensional chips are commonly used" (p. 190)

KURZWEIL: Chips in the latest high cell phones are already three-dimensional with multiple layers of circuitry. The number of layers will continue to increase.


"a 1,000 personal computer can perform about a trillion calculations per second" (p. 191)

KURZWEIL: There are many ways of achieving a teraflop for about a thousand dollars around 2009:

* Today, a NVIDIA Tesla C870 with .5 Teraflop peak computation is about $1,000, but computing is coming down in price by half every year.

* NVIDIA's GTX280, coming out the summer of 2008, is 933 GFLOPS peak for about $500 (adding the rest of the computer is about another $500).

* NVIDIA's GeForce 8800 Ultra provides about .5 Teraflops for about $500 (the rest of the computer is another $500).

* ATI's 4870X2 (2x480), coming out the summer of 2008 is 2 Teraflops peak for about $500.

* AMD FireStream 9170 board with .5 Teraflop is now coming out at around $2,000.

Supercomputers are expected to be built from boards such as the above.

Game computers is another approach, and supercomputers have been constructed from multiple game computers. The Playstation 3 provides 160 GFLOPS for about $300 which is about .5 Teraflops for $1,000 today. Price-performance doubles every year so that's about 1 Teraflop for $1,000 in 2009.

"Translating Telephone techonlogy is commonly used for many language pairs" (195)

KURZWEIL: We have two kinds of "translating telephone" technologies already from our company. We have a cell phone that can capture print documents in seven languages and then translate the documents into any of the seven languages. We are adding more languages. The cell phone that can capture print documents in the seven languages is already a shipping product, and the translation feature has been demonstrated at shows and will ship in a couple of months.

We also have a prototype of this technology that can capture speech with speaker-independent large vocabulary speech recognition and then translate to another language with voice output. This will be a shipping product in the next 1-2 years.

We are talking to multiple cell phone companies about building this technology into their cell phones.


"Human musicians routinely jam with cybernetic musicians" (p. 196)

KURZWEIL: There are many software packages that will accompany you with rhythm tracks that adjust to your playing, walking bass lines, and other accompaniments. Such software is also built into home digital keyboards.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

An article at The Fix came to some quite different conclusions.

http://thefix-online.com/features/looking-back/

Mark said...

"Human musicians routinely jam with cybernetic musicians"

sounds like Rock Band or Guitar Hero to me. haha

Ido Hartogsohn said...

Hi Anonymous,

I blieve the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Elhefnawy is right about Kurzweil being off with some of his predictions. However in some cases I believe the trends he was pointing are largely true and are just being postponed for a few years. Take, for example, the parts about rotating memory, automatic long distance driving and eyeglasses based displays. All these for are evidently not there yet, but have been advancing immensely in the last years.

Actually, the best time to judge Kurzweil predictions would probably be just 5 years into the future.

Ido

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