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Interviews: Ask Ray Kurzweil a question 174

Ray Kurzweil is one of the world’s leading authors, inventors, and futurists. Kurzweil was the principal inventor of the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. Among Kurzweil’s many honors, he received the 2015 Technical Grammy Award for outstanding achievements in the field of music technology; he is the recipient of the National Medal of Technology, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, holds twenty honorary Doctorates, and honors from three U.S. presidents. He has given us some of his time to answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
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Interviews: Ask Ray Kurzweil a question

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  • by Anonymous Coward


    What is your opinion of Bitcoin? What do you think it represents?

  • by Rinikusu ( 28164 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @02:01PM (#51203199)

    And it turns out to be a complete fucking dumbass and won't get a job?

    • Thank god for at least one intelligent comment/question!
    • Funniest thing I have read all day.
  • What do you think of recent (musical) synthesizers?
  • Optimistic AI (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @02:05PM (#51203225)

    Mr. Kurzweil,

    I'm sure you're frequently asked questions about the rise of AI that have ominous tones. Instead I'd would like to ask you a question of a more optimistic nature. What is the single most important benefit to society that AI will provide?

    Thank you for your time.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hi Ray,

    I have always wondered if you initiated the glass project at xlabs/google.

    I ask because you may recall I brought you my prototype (from my 2006 undergraduate thesis at Harvard in Engineering) glasses back when you were still at KTI in Massachusetts. I brought it to you first since we had worked together on other projects, etc. No hard feelings either way but I have always wondered and would love a straight answer.

    All the best,
    Ezra R

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      nope. they had the idea from tiger electronics headheld lcd game.

      and augmented reality part of it.. well, anyone who has played videogames since 1993.

      it's really just not that novel of an idea on idea basis.. so he probably stole it from you.

  • You could wipe the modern technology-based rat race off the face of the earth and go back to the simple life, living in a thatched cottage and cooking potatoes in a bastible pan over a turf fire?

    I have met a few people now who, after years of fad-following have grown cynical of the whole thing and fail to get excited over new things, and actually secretly hate technology.
  • To be human (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    In the face of ever increasing and disruptive technological progress, perhaps one day reaching singularity - what does it mean to you to still be human?

  • next challenge? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by carnivore302 ( 708545 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @02:19PM (#51203367) Journal

    When trying to make machines intelligent, what do you think is the next great problem that needs to be resolved? In other words what are the things lacking most in our theoretical framework for machine learning to push through new barriers?

    Thank you for your contributions and inspiration.

  • Query (Score:2, Troll)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

    Mr Kurzweil,

    What do you think of the statement, "The only thing worse than a self-absorbed, entitled douche is an self-absorbed, entitled douche who's trying to live forever"?

  • How long before the technology to rebuild human telomers will become practical and affordable to all, so that the maximum human lifespan would exceed 120 years?
    • so that the maximum human lifespan would exceed 120 years?

      It already has. Just the once, admittedly, but that's how maximums work.

  • by LetterRip ( 30937 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @02:26PM (#51203427)

    What do you think of the patents being changed from 'first to invent' to 'first to file'? It seems like first to file significantly favors monied interests over those of garage inventors, since the inventor can't seek funding till they have filed their patent and there is a good chance they can't afford the patent process.

  • what have you done for us recently?

  • by CaptainJeff ( 731782 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @02:28PM (#51203445)
    With your focus on longevity and aggressive supplementation, you have often included a caveat that you keep track of developments in this space and adjust your regiments all of the time. With that in mind, what have you changed recently? What supplements, food choices, etc, have you favored previously but no longer due, based on new information? Conversely, what new supplements, food choices, etc, have you begun taking/eating/drinking/etc based on new research and information?
    • by javilon ( 99157 )

      You seem to be aware of the ideas developing in the longevity research space. What do you think about the SENS approach from Aubrey de Grey? Also, you work at Google so you may know what direction Calico is taking. It would be interesting to know if they are taking the "slow aging" direction where you tweak metabolism to reduce the amount of damage created by aging or they are taking the "repare damage" direction where you try to repair damage created by aging, as per the SENS approach.

      • For reference, here is Aubrey de Grey's [] talk at Google, where he gave some criticism of Google's approach. De Grey says that in our lifetimes, we will probably have repairing techniques that add an extra 30 years to a typical lifespan.
  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @02:30PM (#51203465) Homepage Journal

    Current AI research seems to be about heuristics - solving specific problems which, although the solutions may have wide application, don't seem to embody intelligence.

    The standard AI solution for chess, for example, calls for the engineer to learn how to play chess, then turn his mind's eye inward to see the steps he uses to play chess, then codify those steps as a program. Most AI programs seem to develop that way.

    The intelligence stays in the mind of the engineer, and the program becomes a clockwork pattern of fixed steps.

    Is anyone in the field actually working on strong AI? Who's papers would you recommend reading to learn more about strong AI?

    • The standard AI solution for chess, for example, calls for the engineer to learn how to play chess, then turn his mind's eye inward to see the steps he uses to play chess, then codify those steps as a program. Most AI programs seem to develop that way.

      Back in the 1950s, it was assumed that the only way possible to create a chess playing computer program that could beat the best humans was to do exactly what you said. And that approach did lead to some pretty good programs that could beat maybe 99% of players, but the top 1% still won almost all the time against the program. AI researchers assumed that to get good enough to beat humans, the program would have to learn to analyze and think something like humans do, which would lead to AK breakthroughs.

      • There is no cheating involved. The human is free to memorize as big an opening book as he wants. Besides, you can turn off the opening book and the endgame tablebases of a chess program now and the human still wouldn't stand a chance.

        It is true that introspection has very little to do with how chess engines have been developed since around 2000, when it basically became a matter of being disciplined, testing every change very carefully and understanding enough statistics to know what changes to accept and w

        • The many people who have contributed to making chess engines as strong as they are are not receiving enough credit for their spectacular achievements.

          Let's bring this discussion back to the original point.

          A chess playing program would have a difficult time learning checkers, yet the human can learn chess, checkers, poker, GoMoku, and any number of other games.

          As far as anyone can tell, the human brain has no circuitry which is specific to chess, or any of the other games. It learns how to solve games and puzzles, with no a'priori knowledge of the rules or format.

          Who in the field is working on this? Where can the interested student go to learn more about

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How, *specifically*, is belief in the singularity different than any other religion? What practical applications does a belief in the singularity have for people living today?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Since cows will reach the singularity before people, what are we going to do about hyper-accelerating cow intelligences designing smarter and smarter cows? Should we kill all other life forms now just in case?

    • by cshark ( 673578 )

      It's not the cows you need to worry about. It's the lobsters. The russian lobsters are comings.

  • Surely if you are correct about the singularity being imminent then you almost certainly don't exist and neither do I. It's an old notion that if the human race doesn't go extinct that computers will eventually be able to simulate the 10^16 neural connections of the human mind at which point simulations become perfectly indistinguishable from reality. Intel says the exaflop is coming within the decade. Since you assert the singularity is imminent there really isn't time for us to go extinct. Thus there

  • by cshark ( 673578 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @02:44PM (#51203595)

    Seems to me that the singularity keeps getting pushed back for a number of reasons.
    First I hear 15, then I hear 20, now I'm hearing as much as 35 years until we hit it.

    In your estimation: How far is the singularity from where we stand today? And do you see any technologies like, possibly quantum computing accelerating this trend?

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @02:48PM (#51203647) Journal
    Hi Ray,

    On the subject of 'autonomous cars', I see many people here on Slashdot who think that they'll be designed with no manual controls for a human operator, and that you'll just give it instructions and off you go. I maintain that so-called 'autonomous vehicles' will always be designed with a full set of manual controls for a human operator, the ability to override the autonomous system without delay, and that furthermore human operators will always be required to be fully and completely educated, trained, tested, licensed, and insured, because where the safety of human beings is concerned, the final 'backup system' must always be a human being, since any automated system can theoretically fail at any time. What is your opinion on this? Thanks for your time and consideration. :-)
    • by javilon ( 99157 )

      Well, I don't know what the man will answer, but as long as the autonomous vehicles are safer than a human in real life, you will not need a backup driver, even if "any automated system can theoretically fail at any time". This seems achievable. In fact it is one of the main talking points made by people pursuing self driven vehicles. You don't need to compare self driving software to the best human drivers, but to the worst. The ones responsible for accidents. Would removing a human from the picture avoid

      • You, and everyone who responds to this like you do, are not thinking realistically, you're thinking like you're living in a science fiction novel.
        • by Euler ( 31942 )

          I assume what you mean is that the measurements required to compare a human driver vs. an autonomous vehicle's level of safety is not a simple one-dimensional characteristic.

          You could reduce it to simply mean time between failure. Failure defined as loss of property or life. Secondarily, failure can also include "taking a bad turn and getting stuck in a ditch waiting for a tow truck."

          It would also be important to separately measure availability "percentage of requested trips that arrive within a nominal tim

          • You would be correct, sir. Mainly, though, there appears to be a very vocal minority that has 'rose colored glasses' on when it comes to this subject; they don't seem to understand that what can go wrong and the consequences thereby are not things to be ignored and dismissed as 'unimportant', especially where the ultimate safety and preservation of lives, especially human lives, is at stake. Furthermore they apperently insist that human beings are wholly and completely incapable of safely operating motor ve
    • "Always" is a long time.
      • Even the most cutting-edge AIs still can't pass the Turing test, and that's just text chatting on a screen; I've interacted with some of those myself, and in less than a minute I could trip them up enough to declare beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were definitely a computer and not a human being. On the front page of Slashdot right now is a story posted about how the Human brain is still far and away better at so many things that any so-called 'AI' is, and how far behind the curve they are. These are s
  • by ffkom ( 3519199 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @03:04PM (#51203805)
    Given that any super-intelligent AI will immediately realize that exposing its capabilities would alienate many humans to it, why should it let people know of what it can do? Isn't it more likely the AI would just pull strings in the background, making sure those puny carbon units go on to feed it with energy and make it grow?
    • Given that any super-intelligent AI will immediately realize that exposing its capabilities would alienate many humans to it, why should it let people know of what it can do? Isn't it more likely the AI would just pull strings in the background, making sure those puny carbon units go on to feed it with energy and make it grow?

      So... AI run lobbying groups on K-Street. Kill me now.

      • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

        So... AI run lobbying groups on K-Street.

        AI running board meetings, AI management, AI HR, AIs in corporations connecting and co-operating to interact with AIs on K-street and the AIs in governments.

        Kill me now.

        Perhaps it would bring you back to life and put you on a performance improvement plan.

  • by rrohbeck ( 944847 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @03:12PM (#51203889)

    How do you figure the singularity will happen with Moore's law coming to end, where the exponential growth has been bending into a S shaped curve for years, with 5% performance improvement per generation now?

    • It's evident that you haven't read this [], which answered this question over 14 years ago, before it was even relevant. Here's the relevant exerpt:

      After sixty years of devoted service, Moore’s Law will die a dignified death no later than the year 2019. By that time, transistor features will be just a few atoms in width, and the strategy of ever finer photolithography will have run its course. So, will that be the end of the exponential growth of computing?

      Don’t bet on it.

      -- Ray Kurzweil, March 2001

      The section after that, titled "Moore’s Law Was Not the First, but the Fifth Paradigm To Provide Exponential Growth of Computing", is where you'll find your answer.

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @03:13PM (#51203895)
    I saw it at the Breckenridge film festival a few years back, where you hosted it. I was hoping it would make it into general release into the arts theaters, but it didnt. For those who havent seen it, it is combination of a history of A.I. from its luminaries and a scifi treatment of life might be like near the time of the Singularity. Any plans for further development of this documentary?
  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @03:30PM (#51204035)

    I have seen many sloppy people attribute the idea of the Technological Singularity to you. In their description, they say that you believe that the moment there exists a single computer with enough compute power to equal the human brain, it will somehow magically develop AI. This is obviously not true, and we're a long way off from anything that could loosely be described as strong AI. Indeed, the developments of strong AI and advancements in high performance computing are largely disconnected from each other. Would you care to clarify your beliefs about the future developments of AI and necessary compute resources?

  • Mr. Kurzweil, it has become obvious that some of your predictions either haven't been accurate or were really meant in a context that renders them much less impressive. For example: (by 2009)

    "Computer displays built into eyeglasses for augmented reality are used."
    "Autonomous nanoengineered machines have been demonstrated and include their own computational controls."

    from The Age of Spiritual Machines

    I'm not trying to disparage your work, I'm personally impressed by it. But in the case of the first ex
  • What is the most promising open source general intelligence algorithm/program, and what can the open source community do to best develop its abilities?
  • Yes or no:

    Since you started work at Google have you learned of a technology that would absolutely blow our minds if we heard about it, but you can't be more specific?
  • First of all, I'm a lowly code monkey. I'm quite ignorant about this whole AI stuff, and this whole post may be nothing but ignorant bunk.

    I imagine that, to be able to achieve an intellectual level comparable to that of a human being, an artificial intelligence must be able to perceive the world and interact with it as a human would do. It must be able to respond to physical stimuli, to learn from experience, to become skilled through practice, to make autonomous decisions and, eventually, to refuse to foll

    • As far as I can figure it, human intelligence is kludge on kludge for at least tens of millions of years, and I don't think it's possible to reduce it to axioms.

      The underestimation is not in human cognitive abilities, but cognitive abilities in animals. The specifically human stuff appears to be relatively easy to do in AI, so we're ready as soon as anyone can produce a system with cat-level cognition. The specifically human stuff is mostly repurposing of brain structures kludged up very recently in ev

  • Quantum computers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by trantorian ( 4390391 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @03:58PM (#51204215)
    What do you think about quantum computers? Are we really going to build them? Will they ever find an everyday use? Would you recommend to an undergraduate CS/Physics student to start specializing in that field?
  • It seems very unlikely that AI would acquire basic rights or citizenship before intelligent animals (much as dolphins and orangutans have, in a few countries, in a limited way). Watching the film Ex Machina convinced me that without such rights, an AI might have no loyalty to its creator or the human race, but might instead do whatever is necessary to ensure its survival.

    Assuming this is true, how do you think artificial intelligences would respond to enslavement? Is there any way to prevent this issue befo

    • It's really not possible to predict what an artificial intelligence would be motivated to do, unless motivation was somehow programmed into it. The survival drive is built into most animals by evolution, since critters trying to survive are more likely to reproduce than critters just giving up and dying. There's no reason to think an AI would develop that.

  • Working at the Library of Congress I was amazed when they told me it costs many thousands of dollars ($5000) to make one electronic brail reader. Have you put any thought into creating/inventing something cheaper? i.e. something on par with the cost of say an amazon kindle/kindle fire?
  • It has been increasingly clear that the largest corporate growth, as evidenced by stock market valuation, has been in with companies that have taken advantage of people posting large amounts of information on line, that have worked outside of governments control or in government protected markets and that continue to dominate by becoming monopolies in themselves. The list is simple and profound: Amazon, Google, Twitter, Tesla, Uber, Yahoo and of course Apple

    More to the point these largest of NEW industr
  • by Dasher42 ( 514179 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @04:50PM (#51204585)

    Currently there are clear incompatibilities between the computing power that we have and how its used, and its resource base. Right now bitcoin mining has an energy footprint approximately equal to the whole country of Ireland's. Resources like copper are peaking, and rare earths are, well, rare. The ecosystem, however, could be supporting 7 billion human brains without hunger if we got our act together. Evolution may have not fixed all the kludges, as our jellyfish-speed nervous system with its loopy optic nerve will attest, but it has done a fantastic job of optimizing the existing species for available resources. We're already experimenting with DNA for computation. We're poking around with an awful lot of 2.2 volt binary 0's and 5 volt 1's to simulate what those proteins can do - and those proteins do it in the wild, without melting silicon.

    This means that biomimicry has a lot to say about a singularity. To scale with resilience in the coming decades to the level of a singularity, will not computing need to look and behave more and more like life - first?

    If you agree that computing is headed in this direction, and recall that you're reading this on an internet currently teetering on becoming a wholesale panopticon of the state, do you feel that life needs a singularity as much as a singularity needs life?

  • Mr. Kurzweil, Rather than starting with "knowledge" or "input sensors" about the real world, has anyone in the field ever considered an AI built upon a directive of motivation (such as survival)? That's really where all of our behavior stems from, and a machine with billions of factoids but no directive of motivation is just a library. -R
    • AI researchers have tried all sorts of things. However, a survival motivation only works if the AI has some idea as to what's going on and what to do to survive.

  • I saw this article about a biologically inspired artificial neuron. What would this neuron have to do, for you to take notice, or divert your attention to it? []
  • What's the next challenge? I built a network using PyBrain to sort a list, and I'm wondering what the next level of difficulty is. Can you suggest some?
  • With the sad news that Lemmy has passed away (at the ripe old age of 70), who do you think will live longest, Ozzy Osbourne or Keith Richards?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Please describe, in 100 words or less, how you would answer this question.

  • Have you considered the utility of a compression-based AI prize for not only advancing machine learning, but also redressing information sabotage []? Since Google DeepMind [] cofounder, Shane Legg, demonstrated the utility of a mathematically rigorous measure of problem-solving intelligence [], which is based on Hutter's provably "optimal agent", Universal Algorithmic Intelligence [], it seems time for an update of The Hutter Prize for Lossless Compression of Human Knowledge [] in two way tos: 1) a much larger knowledge

  • We have a lot of effort being put into "thinking" but what about "feeling"? I'm interested in Ray's take on AI subjectivity and perception. I have my own ideas about how to achieve it but is it necessary or desired?
  • Will any sufficiently complex neural network eventually achieve consciousness?
  • Hi Ray,

    From you knowledge of the music industry, do you think it is possible for musicians to break free of it's machinations and become successful, profitable business entities focused on making good music?


  • Hi Ray,

    Considering your experience with music technology, have you seen any new type of music technology that is really interesting?


  • Ray, you're one of the most forward thinking people in the world right now. You've put a lot of thought, over many years into the future of civilization, the impact of technology on individual, society and world culture, from sexuality and what it means to be part of the human endeavor to the particulars of how we might best move towards a more inclusive world.
    That said, your cautious, well-informed optimism is not shared by all. In particular, there is a movement [] of modern-day luddites who have a vastl
  • Mr. Kurzweil: You come from a musical family and dabbled in automated music composition yourself. What kind of music do you think future AIs will compose, and will that music appeal to humans?
  • I am currently in my late 30s and have two kids under 10. Assuming my children have kids of their own, and no sort of accident happens to them, do you think it is reasonable to assume that a middle class/upper middle class family can see their children (ie my grandkids) benefit from longevity in the next 20-30 years? At what point do you see middle class people routinely living hundreds of years (or more) in good health?
  • A lot of the rhetoric that seems to be critical of a singularitarian future seems to hinge on this idea that computer architecture will hit a wall in size, which seems to be dependent on whether or not we'll be able to produce carbon nanotube transistors or find some other way to solve the quantum tunneling issue. When nantero started to make memory cells out of carbon nanotubes, I was very excited about whether or not this was evidence that carbon nanotube transistors would exist and be able to bring the t
  • Mr. Kurzweil, first let me say thank you for your work and very interesting books. I want to ask your thoughts on why we don't see any evolved life in the universe. From your work on the Singularity it seems clear that the process of evolution into hybrid life forms or even digital ones is a future step for us carbon life. If this process occurs (which it appears to be), and given the amount of possible Goldilocks planets in the universe, and the 13+ billion years of evolution, why are we not seeing an o
    • Just to clarify since I'm having a hard time understanding what the relationship between the fermi paradox and the singularity is that you're asking him about, are you going along the line of thought that if cyborg evolution is a potential step for all life that this should increase our chances of them being visible to us?
  • Did you read Miguel Nicolelis' book "The Relativistic Brain: how it works and why it cannot be simulated by a Turing machine"?

    It presents several arguments as to why the human brain can't be simulated by a Turing machine which invalidates your "Singularity Hypotheses". Could you comment on that please?

  • Natural selection made people the way that we are. Not just our bodies, but also our minds, our personality, and in particular our goals which are ultimately directed at having grandchildren.

    Would and indeed does natural selection play a role in selecting which AI projects get funded? And ultimately, if AIs can perform AI research without people, will natural selection guide AIs?

    If so, what does that mean? Certainly and AI would not grow old in the sense that we grow old, and therefor would not need chil

  • Kurzweil is one of those. The sheer lack of understanding whenever he makes predictions is staggering.

  • Ray,

    You have historically made a series of predictions (with impressive fidelity) about technological progress in your past writings.

    Are there areas where we seem to be missing the mark, where you've maybe been disappointed by unforeseen practical hurdles or just the stubborn rate of progress? In contrast, where do we appear to be ahead of schedule?

    Thanks for what you do.

  • We are steadily developing the required computational resources to simulate a decent-size artificial brain. We have concurrently developed advanced machine learning methods, for instance deep learning. Together, these advances have allowed us to solve long-standing AI problems, such as automated translation, chess, face recognition, and others, to a high degree of accuracy, even beating humans. Perhaps in the near future a computer will convincingly pass the Turing test.

    However we have made comparatively li

  • Assuming that some day humanity develops strong AI, and shortly after a super-intelligence emerges. It seems obvious to me that this super-AI would no longer care about humanity and all its achievements, as we would be a complete waste of resources. Think of all the waste we generate as a species. Then, it seems our long-term future is doomed without strong AI because we are too fragile to achieve anything beyond our solar system, and we are doomed with it because we will be irrelevant. Is humanity but a st

  • Any thoughts on whether (Decentralized) Autonomous Organizations could potentially beat AI to the superintelligence punch?
  • How's your energy level and joint flexibility? Any other health issues lately? I know you've been trying to take good care of your health for some time, how's it going? Take care sir and good health to you!
  • Everywhere I look I see people heads down in their smart phones. Certainly no AI integrationyet, but is this the starting point for a higher level of eventual integration of humans and machines? Where do you see this all heading, and how can we ensure safeguards? What about bad actors, as novelized in the Daniel Suarez's Daemon book?
  • You have had the ear of many a policy maker over the years. Can you give any examples where they listened? Where you felt you made a difference? Someone who voted yes on a law you recommended, or a wording that was changed because you commented on it?

    Or the reverse... do you instead feel like the time you put in never seemed to make a difference?

  • One of my favorite poems is "Chocolate Pudding" published in the Feburary 1985 issue of Omni magazine (page 42 [])
    Do you have any plans to publish more poems?
  • Omni-font OCR was in commercial use by CompuScan and others for a decade or more before Kurzweil's scanner. And Bell, and then later Fairchild, had been using CCD scanners (some with flatbed setups) since 1971--indeed, the Kurzweil Computer Products scanner used a Fairchild CCD scanner chip as its basis.

    Kurzweil's genius was in hooking the CCD with early text-to-speech software, and realizing that he could work around limitations in the scanner memory capacity by doing on-the-fly OCR and discarding the ima

Scientists will study your brain to learn more about your distant cousin, Man.