GDC 2008

GDC 2008: Ray Kurzweil: The Magic Man

Russ Pitts | 22 Feb 2008 18:00
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Then he stepped to the podium and produced an oblong Nokia cell phone. With it, he took a picture of the papers at his podium, and waited a few seconds while the phone chewed on the image, then spat it back to him, in a computerized voice, as clear, plain and exact spoken English. He'd just used a cell phone to read a piece of paper. In 2002 he predicted it'd take 4 years to make such a device - and it had. Two years later, it's being mass produced. Kurzweil is always in the right place at the right time. Again, it's not magic, and it's not luck. He just has a better map and a better watch.

"Telephones ... took 50 years to be adopted by a mass audience (about a quarter of the population)," he said. "TV and radio took decades. Cell phones took seven years. The web took only a few."

Kurzweil surmises that this is indicative of a pattern. He calls it an evolution. Each technological innovation creates momentum, making the next one more easily adopted, and so on and so on and so on. The adoption time for each successive innovation decreases exponentially because each revolution, standing on the shoulders of giants, has less ground to cover.

The first computers, for example, were designed on paper and took years to build by guys with screwdrivers. Now, computers are designed with the help of other computers, and - in some cases - built by them as well. Where this will lead us is anyone's guess, but Kurzweil has plenty of ideas. In the next 20 years, he says, the machines will be so small they'll be able to make even smaller machines. Which brings us back to the computer the size of a blood cell.

According to Kurzweil, a version of this machine will be able to deliver oxygen to your body faster and more efficiently than your own blood. He says this will enable you to run an Olympic miles without breaking a sweat, or sit at the bottom of your swimming pool without drowning. I think of what all else such a machine would make possible and my mind stops processing. It's too sci-fi. I must think linearly.

Kurzweil is currently (among other things) working with one of the Google founders to create cheap, sustainable solar energy technology. He says that within 20 years we'll be free of our dependence on fossil fuels, tapping into the abundant energy of the Sun. Kurzweil says a lot of things will happen in the next 20 years. And I believe every one of them. It's not magic, it's genius.

Russ Pitts is the Acquisition and Production Manager for The Escapist. His blog can be found at

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