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‘The future is better than you think:’ Predictions on AI and development from Ray Kurzweil

Inclusivity | Innovation & Creativity

In the past 20 years or so, extreme poverty has fallen by some 50% globally. But when people are surveyed and asked to guess the decline in poverty rates, only around 1% of people get it right.

Why is that? Why don’t people realize how much life has improved for the majority of people worldwide?

These were just some of the statistics and questions put to a rapt global audience by world-renowned inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil during his keynote presentation for the AI for Good Global Summit.

Mr Kurzweil explained to the audience of AI innovators and humanitarian leaders why — according to his more than 50 years of research, data collection and analysis — he thinks the future will be greatly improved, despite what people may believe.

Mr Kurzweil outlined some of the outstanding achievements of our human civilization.

In addition to the decline of extreme poverty worldwide, he noted that literacy rates have improved and total expenditures on education is rising. Electricity in homes in the world is on a steady increase. The same is true for years of life expectancy and the number of households with computers.

“GDP is rising, and it’s true around the world. But people don’t feel that way,” he explained.

There’s reason to believe Ray when he says the future will be better than you think.

Ray is renowned for his predictions on technological and social advancement. He said he’s made 147 predictions in the age of machines, and according to him, “86% were correct to the year.”

In 1990, he famously predicted that computers would beat the best human chess players “by the year 2000.” And in May of 1997, World Champion Garry Kasparov was defeated by IBM’s Deep Blue computer in a chess tournament.

Kurzweil also foresaw the explosive growth in the Internet at a time when there were only 2.6 million Internet users in the world. He also predicted the role of computers in classrooms, speech-to-text software and many other technological developments that have come to pass.

So where does Ray see the future heading?

He’s optimistic about renewable energy. According to his studies, the rise of renewable energy is seeing exponential growth, doubling every 4 years.

“In 2030 we will have [total] renewable energy, and it will be inexpensive,” he predicts.

He is also positive about improved health and well-being, with advancements in nanobots, new therapies and diagnoses extending life expectancy and lowering cost of treatments.

But what about the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning? What does the future hold in store?

“I’ve predicted that in 2029, we will pass the Turing test,” he said.

The Turing test is a measure of the power of artificial intelligence. It was developed by Alan Turing in 1950, as a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

Essentially, if we can interact with computer intelligence and not realize that it’s a computer, then it passes the test. “We’re not at that stage yet,” he explained.

Once AI passes the Turing test, “it will really master what all humans can do, and it will go beyond what humans can do” throughout the 2030s.

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Interestingly (and famously) the date he has set for ‘The Singularity’ is 2045.

As he describes in his book, ‘The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,’ this is the key moment when Artificial Intelligence far surpasses human intelligence.

At that stage, super-intelligent machines could conceive of ideas that no human being has thought about in the past, and could invent technological tools that will be more sophisticated and advanced than anything we have today.

While this idea might scare many people today (think: Terminator or Ex Machina), Ray sees it as the moment when “Human intelligence multiplies by a million.”

“We are going to have a greatly expanded brain. Right now we have a certain amount of neural processing power, we have about 300 million neurons. But if we connect to the cloud… we can expand our intelligence in our own bodies,” predicts Ray.

As predicted, his remarks provided food for thought as the audience headed into the rest of the Summit to discuss how best to work together to ensure AI serves as a positive force for humanity.

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