Science, Not Fiction; We Take for Granted How Much Artificial Intelligence Has Permeated Our World. Soon Tiny Machines Will Be Enhancing Our Brains
Byline: Ray Kurzweil (Kurzweil is an inventor, futurist and author, most recently, of "TheSingularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.")
When I entered MIT as a freshman in 1965, computers were remote machines that only skilled engineers could interact with. Scientists had started talking about one day building machines endowed with "artificial intelligence," which conjured up images of robots with the ability to interact with humans. These days we're all interacting with a panoply of computerized devices that fit in our pockets. But what happened to the artificial-intelligence capabilities we heard so much about decades ago?
One answer is that artificial intelligence, or AI, is all around us. Today intelligent programs perform many vital tasks that used to require human intelligence: they scour billions of financial transactions looking for irregularities, automatically diagnose medical data such as electrocardiograms and blood-cell images, guide autonomous weapons, fly and land airplanes and conduct a substantial portion of each day's hundreds of billions of dollars of financial investments. These were all research projects in artificial-intelligence laboratories one or two decades ago.
As technology improves, AI will continue to transform our lives. Within the next decade, many billions of tiny computers will permeate our tables, walls and clothing. Images will be written to our retinas from our eyeglasses and contact lenses, providing full-immersion visual-auditory virtual reality, which will allow people to "be together" even if geographically far apart. Augmented-reality displays will provide information in your field of vision about the people, buildings and objects that you encounter. Internet search engines will have an understanding of natural language and won't wait to be asked for information you appear to need. When it comes to our brains, the comparisons are even more dramatic. According to the semiconductor industry's road map, computer chips will match the brain's raw computational ability by about 2020. We still need to learn the software of human intelligence, but we're gaining on this goal. Spy agencies use advanced speech recognition to find key phrases being spoken on monitored communication lines. Large-vocabulary speech recognition over the phone is now ubiquitous. Computers are recognizing faces and fingerprints and automatically cataloging photographs. …