Ray Kurzweil Defends His 2009 Predictions
RAY KURZWEIL DEFENDS HIS 2009 PREDICTIONS
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Ray Kurzweil Defends His 2009 PredictionsMar 23
RAY KURZWEIL DEFENDS HIS 2009 PREDICTIONS
By Ray Kurzweil
March 21, 2012
The title of Alex Knapp’s blog post is “Ray Kurzweil’s Predictions for 2009 Were Mostly Inaccurate” is itself blatantly inaccurate. I made 147 predictions for 2009 in my book The Age of Spiritual Machines (ASM) which I wrote in the mid to late 1990s and which was published at the end of 1998. You can read a detailed and carefully researched 148 page report on all of these predictions (in fact on all of the predictions I’ve made over the past quarter century in a number of different books and publications) here.
To summarize the report, I made 147 predictions for 2009 in ASM. Of these, 115 (78 percent) are entirely correct as of the end of 2009, and another 12 (8 percent) are “essentially correct” — a total of 127 predictions (86 percent) are correct or essentially correct. Since the predictions were made with a specificity of decades (that is, for 2009, 2019, 2029, and so on), a prediction was considered “essentially correct” if it came true in 2010 or 2011. Another 17 (12 percent) are partially correct, and 3 (2 percent) are wrong.
Even the predictions that were considered “wrong” in this report were not all wrong. For example, the prediction that we would have self-driving cars was regarded as wrong even though Google self-driving cars have logged over 200,000 miles in traffic from Mountain View to Santa Monica and back in California. In October 2010, four driverless electric vans successfully concluded a 13,000-kilometer test drive from Italy to China, Nevada has issued the first set of regulations for driverless cars, and WIRED magazine recently ran a cover story anticipating driverless cars in your life in the near future. Ironically I have received praise for this “prescient” prediction because when I made it in the late 1990s driverless cars were considered crazy and centuries away. Nonetheless, I rated this prediction as wrong because the technology is still experimental today.
In particular, the predictions that were concerned with basic measurements of the capacity and price-performance of information technologies were very accurate.
Even on the 12 predictions that Knapp reports on, his analysis is idiosyncratic and biased. He is confusing his own limited observations with the reality of what is going on in the field.
For example, in my report I rate the speech recognition prediction as partially correct. Knapp says it is “not even close.” Perhaps he has never seen (or heard) people dictating their text messages, IM’s and emails using speech recognition on their iPhones and Droids. This is very common. Perhaps Knapp considers text creation to only pertain to a formal word document, but that is not a reasonable interpretation. Text is text. For that matter, speaking to Siri is creating a text input to Siri.
Both continuous speech recognition and language translation software work quite well so apps that combine these two capabilities to provide a “translating telephone” are popular apps today.
Knapp mentions music accompanist software that he finds impressive but still rates this prediction as “wrong.” I cite many more popular applications (in the predictions essay cited above) where people jam with their computers. For example, anyone hear of guitar hero?
He cites bioengineered treatments for cancer and heart disease having reduced mortality as “wrong” and goes on to define bioengineering as gene therapy which is simply not correct. As just one example of many, half of all heart attack survivors have a damaged heart and suffer from heart failure, a condition my father had and died from some decades ago. That used to be a permanent and fatal condition, but today you can fix that condition with a stem cell therapy that is definitely regarded as bioengineering. Many if not most of the new cancer drugs are based on personal genetic triggers. There are many other advances. I could write a book on these developments (in fact I have).
Yes, people still love their gadgets, a point I make quite frequently, but it is also true that the neo-Luddite movement is growing in adherents. If Knapp is making the point that this does not make sense I would agree with him, but my prediction that the neo Luddite moving is growing is not wrong.
Knapp writes that my prediction on the impact of the advance of information technology on the economy is “wrong in every way,” which again ignores the salient facts. Just as measured in constant dollars the economy is bigger today than it was in 1996 (when I wrote most of the book) or 1999. The full wording of the prediction is that “despite occasional corrections, the ten years leading up to 2009 have seen continuous economic expansion and prosperity due to the dominance of the knowledge content of products and services.” Given the modifier, “Despite occasional corrections,” this is clearly correct. U.S. real gross domestic product (real GDP shown in constant 2005 dollars) grew every year except for a small decline in 2009. It grew by 21 percent in constant dollars over the decade.
But even this ignores the most important factor, namely that a thousand dollars today buys literally a million dollars of information technology circa 1999. And “information technology” does not just refer to these neat gadgets we carry around but includes now the cutting edge of health and medicine, and many other fields. Even the world of physical things will soon become an information technology with the advent of 3D printing (The Economist Magazine recently had a picture of an actual violin that was printed out on a 3D printer). Consider that in the late 1990s when I wrote these predictions there was no Wikipedia, no social networks, no blogs, very primitive search engines that few people used, no usable language tools, very primitive and expensive mobile phones, and so on. It is easy to forget what life was like even a decade or so ago.
Overall, Knapp’s analysis of these prediction is based on his own unresearched and incomplete impressions and biased judgments. But the real measure of the accuracy of my predictions is to look at all of the predictions, not just a small subset of them. The vast majority are unarguably accurate and they were not at all obvious when I wrote them 14 to 17 years ago. The real point is that I was attempting to paint a picture of where technology was headed and what the world of capability of information technology would look like around the end of the first decade of this century (and then at the end of subsequent decades). My most important thesis is that the fundamental measures of information technology (such as the power of computing measured in calculations per second per constant dollar) follow remarkably predictable trajectories. I had the curve pertaining to computation from 1890 to 1980 in 1981 and extended the trajectory to 2050. Now, thirty years later, we are precisely where that projection said we would be. The same true for many other fundamental measures of information technology.
• Wikipedia on Ray Kurzweil
• Pulse on The Singularity
• Singularity University
• Kurzweil New Book: “Transcend: Nine Steps To Living Well Forever”
• Transcendent Man (movie)
• The Singularity Is Near (movie)