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Google’s Ray Kurzweil Provides Insight on How Technology Will Continue Enhancing the Human Experience

April 1, 2015

Kurzweil Interacting With Students

Schmidt Lecturer: Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, exchanged ideas with the campus community during the Oscar C. Schmidt Lecture on the topic The Web Within Us: When Minds and Machines Become One. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

World-renowned technology innovator Ray Kurzweil provided students, faculty, and staff members an intriguing glimpse into the future during the institute’s Oscar C. Schmidt Lecture on campus this spring.

As director of engineering at Google, Kurzweil’s ideas are catalyzing the development of areas in artificial intelligence (AI), such as a machine’s understanding of natural language. His innovations have featured the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary for speech recognition, and the first text-to-speech synthesizer for the visually impaired.

So, it wasn’t surprising that Kurzweil’s presentation, The Web Within Us: When Minds and Machines Become One, brought a standing-room-only crowd to the Hatfield Hall Theater.

Kurzweil’s Google team is developing machine intelligence and natural language understanding, enriching the very nature of what it means to be human. As the species breaks the shackles of its genetic legacy, he states it will achieve inconceivable heights of intelligence, material progress, and longevity.

“The paradigm shift rate is now doubling every decade. So, the 21st century will see 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate,” he cites.

Computation, communication, biological technologies (DNA sequencing), brain scanning, knowledge of the human brain, and human knowledge, in general, are all accelerating at an even faster pace, generally doubling price-performance, capacity, and bandwidth every year.

Three-dimensional molecular computing will provide the hardware for human-level "strong" AI well before 2030, Kurzweil asserts. He adds that the more important software insights will be gained in part from the reverse-engineering of the human brain, a process well under way. 

Kurzweil Giving Presentation 2

Popular Speaker: Students, faculty, and staff members filled the Hatfield Hall Theater for the opportunity to hear Ray Kurzweil’s Oscar C. Schmidt Lecture on a variety of topics. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

“While the social and philosophical ramifications of these changes will be profound, and the threats they pose considerable, we will ultimately merge with our machines, live indefinitely, and be a billion times more intelligent...all within the next three to four decades,” he says.

Kurzweil has a 30-year track record of accurate predictions about technology, many of which he has shared through five national best-selling books, including The Singularity is Near, Transcend, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, The Age of Spiritual Machines, and How to Create a Mind.

Called "the restless genius" by The Wall Street Journal and "the ultimate thinking machine" by Forbes magazine, Kurzweil was selected as one of the top entrepreneurs by Inc. magazine, which described him as the "rightful heir to Thomas Edison." PBS selected him as one of the "sixteen revolutionaries who made America." He was the principal inventor of the first CCD flat-bed scanner,

Among Kurzweil’s many honors, he received the 2015 Technical Grammy Award for his achievements in music technology, earned the National Medal of Technology, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and has been recognized by three United States presidents. He has written five national best-selling books: The Singularity Is Near (2005) and How To Create A Mind (2012). 

The Oscar C. Schmidt Lecture brings national leaders to discuss issues important to the campus community.  The lecture was established 50 years ago through the generosity of the Cincinnati Butcher's Supply Company in memory of the late Oscar C. Schmidt, a pioneering manufacturer of machinery for the packing industry. His son, Milton, is a 1974 Rose-Hulman mechanical engineering alumnus.