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Even Ray Kurzweil is nervous about a future with hyper-intelligent machines

By Meghan Kelly | VentureBeat.com,

Ray Kurzweil is looking forward to the year 2029.

That’s the year he predicts that our technology will be able to think without us — aka the date that computers pass the Turing test. Our computers are growing more powerful at an exponential rate, and even Kurzweil is impressed by what we can do with artificial intelligence (AI) today. He’s been making the prediction that 2029 is the date for some time, and he repeated the date here multiple times. Still, even to someone who has seen it coming all along, progress in technology can still be impressive.

“We’re making very discernible progress in AI. It’s quite visceral,” said Kurzweil at the DEMO Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., yesterday.

Kurzweil is widely known for creating the musical synthesizer, the Kurzweil Reading Machine, other speech recognition technologies. In addition, he’s made a name for himself for his interest in robots, his study of the brain, and for promoting the concept of the “Singularity,” which is the point at which artificial intelligence exceeds human intelligence; he’s a cofounder (with Peter Diamandis) of Singularity University. He has 19 honorary doctorates and degrees, and wants to live forever. Most recently he wrote the book How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, which looks at how reverse engineering the brain helps us understand the how artificial intelligence fits in the broader world, and will be coming out in November, 2012.

He also made a comment about Apple’s Siri voice assistant and how far it still has to go. Kurzweil was directly involved in creating Nuance, which is the speech-recognition technology behind everyone’s favorite iPhone voice assistant.

“I think actually the natural language understanding of Siri is fairly weak,” he said. “That needs a lot of improvement. I think that’s feasible.”

Think of Iron Man (the movie version). Tony Stark made a friend out of his technology, Jarvis. He could talk to it and build a relationship with it. That’s what Kurzweil says we want out of our technology. We want a friend, and one day there will be a technology that can not only listen and understand what you’re saying, but reply.

Siri is definitely far from that mark, but it’s a start.

However, Apple’s competition, Google, got a tip of the hat from Kurzweil when he said, “Google self-driving cars actually work very well if you talk to anyone who has driven in them.”

He went on to say that Google Glass (Google’s experimental glasses-mounted display) is a good example of augmented reality, though he’d like to see these types of devices tell us the name of the person standing in front of them, or provide an answer to that actress who is on the tip of your tongue.

But we’ve heard it before, once we hit 2029, our technology will be able to grow on its own, according to Kurzweil. By then, our cell phones will be as small as a blood cell, he said, biotechnology will be able to supplement our brains, and we will treat our bodies as software waiting to be updated. And yes, it could be scary.

He explained that today cyber terrorists are already able to reprogram the flu to make it even more deadly than it is naturally.

“If you have an AI that’s more intelligent than you are, and it’s bent for you destruction? Then that’s a bad situation to be in,” he said.

Check back tomorrow for VentureBeat’s video interview with Ray where we talk about the Singularity, his fears, and how Apple can improve Siri.

Copyright 2012, VentureBeat

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