Ray Kurzweil at GDC 2008
Of all the talks I attended at GDC this year there is one future-looking keynote by Ray Kurzweil that I'd like to mention on this blog. He is a famous author/inventor. His talk was about how progress has been a smooth exponential curve for a long time (his graphs started with the origin of life on earth) and his claim is that this exponential progress will not stop. He made predictions like human lifespans will start growing by more than one year per year in 15 years (meaning people will no longer die from old age). Computer processing power will keep doubling and we will have hardware capable of simulating the human brain by 2013 and the software by 2029. He also talked about how we'll use computers to augment our intelligence. Eternal life, truly smart AIs, and computers in our brains to make us smarter. That's three huge changes in the next 20 years. Over the past twenty years we've seen computers and the internet dramatically change our lives, and these three things could lead to even bigger changes. Kurzweil's main message is that the rate of change is growing exponentially and I tend to agree with that point. Think about how fast change occurred a million years ago, ten thousand years ago, a hundred years ago, and during the past 20 years.
He talked a lot about past success he's had with predictions, but he never talked about how past successes in this area aren't a good indication of future successes. Think about it this way. If you have a million people predicting what will happen in the future some are bound to be right up until this point, but just because they got lucky up until now doesn't mean they'll be right from this point forward. That said he is a very smart fellow and I'm pretty sure his predictions aren't just luck, but I do think it's important to remember luck does play some part in it. I'm quite sure some of his detailed predictions will be wrong. My initial feeling was that I wouldn't really like to see a lot of the changes he talked about, but that is just an initial feeling that such fast and large changes could destabilize society and result in less happiness instead of more. Maybe as we get closer to these changes they won't feel so big and I'll feel more neutral towards them. I don't see anything here making humanity happier though and I don't think he's really considering that aspect (or at least his talk at GDC didn't mention the happiness side of things). No matter whether I decide these huge changes that are coming are good or bad; my beliefs aren't going to change human progress. I can either hide from change or accept it, but I can't prevent it.