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An Analysis of Ray Kurzweil’s Predictions

by Mark Dice

I thought it would be beneficial to analyze the predictions of the respected futurist Ray Kurzweil, especially since one of his books, The Age of Spiritual Machines, was published in 1999, and contains his technological forecasts for the decades to come.  At the time I’m writing this analysis, it is the year 2010, so we can look back at Kurzweil’s predictions for the year 2009 that he made ten years earlier in order to see how they pan out.  We will also look at his predictions for the future and discuss the likelihood of them being accurate.  His book contains chapters on his vision of the future and what technology we will have in the years 2009, 2019, 2029, and 2099.

 

Kurzweil’s Predictions For 2009

In 1999, Kurzweil looked ahead ten years and predicted that by 2009, “Personal computers are available in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and are commonly embedded in clothing and jewelry such as wristwatches, rings, earrings, and other body ornaments.  Computers with high-resolution visual interfaces range from rings and pins and credit cards up to the size of a thin book.”[1] Well, with the release of smart phones such as the Black Berry and the iPhone, one could argue that computers do come in all shapes and sizes, but as far as his prediction of them being “commonly” embedded in clothing and jewelry, this didn’t happen.

He was more accurate, though, when he stated, “Computer displays have all the display quality of paper—high resolution, high contrast, large viewing angle, and no flicker.  Books, magazines, and newspapers are now routinely read on displays that are the size of, well, small books.”[2]

Amazon.com released their e-book reader, Kindle, in 2007, which was later followed by Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and e-books could be read on iPhones and other smart phones as well.  In April 2010, Apple Inc. released the iPad, which they advertised as an e-book reader among other things.

The iPad also sounds a lot like what he described here, where he said, “Students of all ages typically have a computer of their own, which is a thin table-like device weighing under a pound with a very high resolution display suitable for reading.”[3] Most students in 2009 had laptop computers, and while they weighed more than a pound, they were certainly amazing creations that had wireless Internet access and could be used to watch videos or read e-books.

Back in 1999, Kurzweil also stated that in 2009, “Telephone communication is primarily wireless, and routinely includes high-resolution moving images,”[4] which, thanks to smart phones with video cameras and color screens, this is what we have.  Many people now don’t even have a “home phone” and only have their cell phones.  He also predicted, “Computers routinely include moving picture image cameras and are able to reliably identify their owners from their faces.”[5] Well, he was right again, because all laptops come standard with a tiny camera and microphone built into them, and any laptop can be installed with facial recognition software used as a security measure to only allow the owner to use it.  Tiny video cameras were also common in cell phones in 2009.

While we now take iTunes and downloadable mp3s for granted, in 1999 the music industry was running scared of people downloading their music on peer-to-peer networks like Napster.  Kurzweil predicted by 2009 that, “Most purchases of books, musical ‘albums,’ video games, and other forms of software do not involve any physical object, so new business models for distributing these forms of information have emerged.”[6]

While he may have been wrong by using the word “most,” he was certainly correct that an extremely large number of people purchase software, videogames, and music from websites and instantly download them, instead of having to physically go to a store and buy them on a disk.  Kurzweil also saw the future of On-Demand movies and services like Netflix, YouTube, and podcasts of popular radio shows, saying, “Users can instantly download books, magazines, newspapers, television, radio, movies, and other forms of software to their highly portable personal communication devices.” [7]

Not surprisingly, Kurzweil also mentioned that privacy would become a major concern for people, and as you know, identity theft became a popular fear as we relied more and more on technology.  “Privacy has emerged as a primary political issue.  The virtually constant use of electronic communication technologies is leaving a highly detailed trail of every person’s every move,” he said.[8]

It’s also interesting to read that Kurzweil foresaw a large portion of the population would become politically neutralized, saying, “Although not politically popular, the underclass is politically neutralized through public assistance and the generally high level of affluence.”[9]

Not all of his predictions for 2009 came true, however.  One such prediction was concerning the economy, which he was embarrassingly wrong about when he said, “Despite occasional corrections, the ten years leading up to 2009 have seen continuous economic expansion and prosperity due to the dominance of the knowledge content of products and services.  The greatest gains continue to be in the value of the stock market.”[10] Now it is understandable that he is a technology expert, not an economist, so his failed economic forecasting shouldn’t detract from his insight into technological advances.

Also, while he did foresee the use of unmanned flying drones to be used in wars, he believed that humans would be mostly far removed from the scene of battle, sadly, a prediction that was far from accurate with the fatalities and injuries to soldiers and innocent civilians in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He did, however, envision small UAVs (Unmanned Arial Vehicles) the size of birds or smaller,[11] which did come true in 2009 and 2010, although such devices were still in their infancy.

(Excerpt from Big Brother: The Orwellian Nightmare Come True by Mark Dice - Available on Amazon.com, Kindle and Nook.)

 

Kurzweil’s Predictions for 2019

Looking further ahead, he says by the year 2019 computers will be so small that they’ll practically be invisible and that we will have displays built into our eye glasses and contact lenses which will replace old fashioned LCD monitors.

He insists that reverse engineering of the human brain will have inspired the architecture of machine-based neural networks and says a $4000 computer will have the same computing power as a human brain (20 million- billion calculations per second).

“Keyboards are rare, although they still exist.  Most interactions with computing is through gestures using hands, fingers, and facial expressions and through two-way natural-language spoken communication.  People communicate with computers the same way they would communicate with a human assistant, both verbally and through visual expression,” he says.[12]

“Paper books and documents are rarely used or accessed….Most learning is accomplished using intelligent software-based simulated teachers.  To the extent that teaching is done by human teachers, the human teachers are often not in the local vicinity of the student.”[13]

He also says that people will be hooked up to virtual reality systems that can simulate pressure, temperature, textures, and moistness, and says that “sexual interactions with other human partners or simulated partners” will be the “preferred mode of interaction, even when a human partner is nearby.”[14]

He goes on to say that people will begin having relationships with automated personalities, including automated lovers, and writes that “automated personalities are superior to humans in some ways, such as having very reliable memories, and if desired, predictable (and programmable) personalities.”[15]

He forecasts that the military will widely use very small flying weapons, some the size of insects, a concept that the military has already budgeted for, and is working towards. (See Orwellian Weapons)

By 2019, Kurzweil believes that some reports will claim that computers have passed the Turing Test, but he insists that these systems will not meet all the criteria of an artificially intelligent system for a few more years.

“Public and private spaces are routinely monitored by machine intelligence to prevent interpersonal violence,” he says, and “privacy continues to be a major political and social issue with each individual’s practically every move stored in a database somewhere.”[16] It’s interesting to read his forecast of “machine intelligence” that he says will prevent violence, because as you may recall from the chapter on surveillance cameras, in 2010 these systems were already in their early stages with pre-crime cameras that detect “hostile” speech based on the volume, speed, and pitch of conversations the microphones pick up.

He also writes that in this period of time the “human underclass” will continue to be an issue and that the difference between those “productively engaged” in the economy and those who aren’t, will be complicated.

 

Kurzweil’s Predictions for 2029

This is where his predictions start to get scary.  Much of them sound like science fiction or fantasies coming from an over-active imagination, but Kurzweil is supposedly an expert, and was able to fairly accurately predict the kinds of technology that would be used in the year 2009 when he wrote his book ten years earlier.  While some of these predictions for 2029 may seem fanciful, some of them are certainly extremely likely to occur.

Instead of people wearing a blue tooth piece on their ear to talk on their phone, Kurzweil believes that, “Cochlear implants, originally used just for the hearing impaired, are now ubiquitous.  These implants provide auditory communication in both directions between the human user and the world wide computing network.”[17] This is certainly believable, but what is even more disturbing is that he says similar devices will be implanted in our eyes.

“Displays are now implanted in the eyes, with a choice of permanent implants or removable implants (similar to contact lenses).  Images are projected directly onto the retina providing the usual high-resolution three-dimensional overlay on the physical world.”[18]

He also envisions neural interfaces will be as common as cell phones were in the beginning of the twenty-first century, saying, “neural implants based on machine intelligence are providing enhanced perceptual and cognitive functioning to humans.  Defining what constitutes a human being is emerging as a significant legal and political issue.  The rapidly growing capability of machines is controversial, but there is no effective resistance to it.”[19]

If this isn’t unsettling enough, he also alludes to the fact that the majority of humans on earth will not even be needed anymore, and will be completely replaced by machines.  “There is almost no human employment in production, agriculture, and transportation,” he says.[20]

If there is no human employment in production, agriculture, or transportation, as Kurzweil predicts, then what kinds of jobs are those people going to have?  What he doesn’t mention is that elite politicians, environmentalists, and businessmen have a strong desire to massively reduce the world’s population in order to (as they believe) preserve the earth’s natural resources.  Wealthy elitists like Ted Turner and Prince Philip have publicly stated their desire to reduce the population by several billion people.  The elite’s ideologies behind population reduction are discussed at length in my book, The New World Order: Facts & Fiction.

 

Kurzweil’s Predictions for 2099

If you thought his predictions for the year 2029 were far-fetched, or just plain disturbing, what Kurzweil believes life will be like in 2099 is truly bizarre.  “A software-based intelligence is able to manifest bodies at will: one or more virtual bodies at different levels of virtual reality and nanoengineered physical bodies using instantly reconfigurable nanobot swarms.”[21] What he is saying, basically, is that billions of tiny nanorobots that all communicate with each other, will be able to work together to assemble themselves in the shape of whatever they want, similar to the T-1000 Terminator robot from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Terminator 2.

He also says that computer systems will be completely artificially intelligent, and will even be smarter than the entire human race’s intelligence combined.[22]

Humans, he says, will almost all have computers implanted in their brains and will all be cyborgs.  “Even among those human intelligences still using carbon-based neurons, there is ubiquitous use of neural implant technology, which provides enormous augmentation of human perceptual and cognitive abilities.  Humans who do not utilize such implants are unable to meaningfully participate in dialogues with those who do.”[23]

Only time will tell just how accurate these predictions are.  While his visions of the year 2009 were very accurate, this could be in part because much of the technology that became popular around that time was already in the works when he wrote his book in 1999.  It’s not that difficult to see how emerging technology will become commonplace in the near future, but extrapolating accurate predictions thirty years and one hundred years into the future are likely much more difficult.  Depending on what year you are reading this book, you will be able to make a more accurate assessment of the timeline Kurzweil outlines in his writings.

Even if Kurzweil is dramatically wrong in his visions of future technology, the kinds of invasive and dehumanizing systems that will undoubtedly be created in the coming decades should be a cause for alarm, and precautions should be made today to ensure that we do not become a mindless species of cyborgs, or the slaves of artificially intelligent robots.

(Excerpt from Big Brother: The Orwellian Nightmare Come True by Mark Dice - Available on Amazon.com, Kindle and Nook.)



[1] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 189

[2] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 190

[3] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 191

[4] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 193

[5] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 190

[6] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 195

[7] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 193

[8] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 195

[9] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 196

[10] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 194

[11] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 197

[12] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 203

[13] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 204

[14] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 206

[15] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 206

[16] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 206-207

[17] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 221

[18] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 220

[19] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 222-223

[20] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 222

[21] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 234

[22] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 105

[23] Kurzweil, Ray - The Age of Spiritual Machines page 234

 
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