BOSTON Using deliberately provocative predictions, speech-recognition pioneer Ray Kurzweil said that by 2030 nanosensors could be injected into the human bloodstream, implanted microchips could amplify or supplant some brain functions, and individuals could share memories and inner experiences by "beaming" them electronically to others.
Virtual reality can already amplify sensory experiences and spontaneously change an individual's identity or sex, Kurzweil said in a keynote entitled "The Rapidly Shrinking Sensor: Merging Bodies and Brain," at the Fall Sensors Expo conference and exhibition here.
Recently inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his work in speech synthesis and recognition, Kurzweil has also invented an "omni-font" optical character recognition system, a CCD flat-bed scanner and a full text-to-speech synthesizer.
Noting the accelerating rate of technological progress, Kurzweil said, "There is a much smaller time for 'paradigm shifts' what took 50 years to develop in the past won't take 50 years to develop in the future." One-hundred years of progress might easily be reduced to 25 years or less, he said.
"Moore's Law is just one example: All the progress of the 20th century could duplicate itself within the next 14 years," Kurzweil said. By some measures, perhaps, the 21st century will represent 20,000 years of progress, he said. With such acceleration it becomes possible to visualize an interaction with technology that was previously reserved to science fiction writers, he said.
Current trends will make it possible to "reverse engineer" the human brain by 2020. And "$1,000 worth of computation," which barely covered the cost of a 8088-based IBM PC in 1982, will offer 1,000 times the capability of the human brain by 2029.
Kurzweil was enthusiastic about his own experiments with virtual reality and artificial intelligence. "People say of AI, 'Nothing ever came of that,' yet it keeps spinning off new things," he said. For example, British Airways has combined speech recognition and synthesis technology with virtual reality to create an interactive reservation system that allows a user to interact with a "virtual personality" to build a travel itinerary.
Via the Internet, Kurzweil demonstrated "Ramona," a woman's face that serves as an interactive interface to Kurzweil's Web site.
By projecting a virtual reality onto the Internet, it is possible to exchange personalities or don another personality. A video clip presented during the Sensors Expo keynote demonstrated how Kurzweil became Ramona on another user's screen. As Ramona, he performed a song and dance among a toe-stepping chorus of fat men in tutus. "That heavy set man behind me was my daughter," Kurzweil said.
"AI is about making computers do intelligent things," Kurzweil said amid laugher and applause. "In terms of 'common sense,' humans are more advanced than computers . . . Yet the human brain makes only about 200 calculations per second." The computing machinery available in 2030 will be able to make 100 trillion connections and 1026 calculations per second, he said. And the memory footprint 12 million bytes; Kurzweil could resist the jest would be smaller than Microsoft Word.
Even now, manufacturers and research groups are experimenting with wearable computers utilizing magnetic and RF sensors embedded in clothing. Just as MIT's wearable computers enable business users to exchange business cards simply by shaking hands, Kurzweil believes it will be possible to "beam" someone your experience, tapping all five senses.
With so much intelligence embodied in sensors and microchips, Kurzweil speculated that between 2030 and 2040 non-biological intelligence would become dominant. But his conjecture rejected the common image of the science-fiction cyborg: Instead of mechanically bonding with micromachines or "nano-bots," might it be possible to swallow them like pills?, he ashed. Or to inject them directly into the bloodstream? Why not explore how such human-computer pairings could increase life expectancy?
Cochlea implants are already rebuilding the hearing of previously deaf patients, and implanted chips have been shown to aid the muscle control of patients with Parkinson's disease.
Kurzweil also offered a possible downside to his images of humans merged with computing machinery, reminiscent of computer viruses: "Think of this: some year, self-replicating nanotechnology could be considered a form of cancer."