Late last Friday, Google announced a jaw-dropping hire: Ray Kurzweil will join the company as a Director of Engineering. Has the world's brainiest tech company suddenly bought into Kurzweil's "rapture of the nerds" b.s. They've just signed The Singularity's death warrant by putting its chief proselytizer to work doing what he does best: inventing better machines for the real world, not writing science fiction. For this, Larry Page should get some kind of medal. Ray Kurzweil is a genius inventor.
The singularity is that point in time when all the advances in technology, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI), will lead to machines that are smarter than human beings. Kurzweil's timetable for the singularity is consistent with other predictions,– notably those of Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, who predicts that the dawn of super-intelligent machines will happen by 2047. But for Kurzweil, the process towards this singularity has already begun.
In a recent interview with the New York Public Library, Amy Kurzweil described her cartoons as studies in "erudite silliness." Well, Kurzweil is certainly erudite--just check out those pencil-nub earrings (Blackwings, no less, favored by the likes of John Steinbeck, Truman Capote, Stephen Sondheim, Vladimir Nabokov, and Amy Kurzweil). Also, delightfully silly--just look at her earrings. Who better, then, than this fiction-M.F.A.-holding artist to offer a tutorial on drawing hilarious cartoons about characters from literature and about the literarily minded. It can be a dangerous endeavor--people don't always love to see how you think Mr. Darcy looks.
Ray Kurzweil's impact on my life in general but especially on what I have been doing for the past 3 or 4 years is hard to exaggerate. It is a simple fact that, if I haven't read his seminal book The Singularity is Near, I would be neither blogging nor podcasting about exponential technologies, not to mention going to Singularity University. And so it was with great excitement and some trepidation that I went to interview Dr. Kurzweil in his office in Boston. Part of my trepidation came from some technical concerns: I wish I could buy a better camera. I wish I could hire a team of audio and video professionals so that I can focus on the interview itself.