Nov 242011
 

Raymond Kurzweil

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He has been called everything from a “restless genius” to a “highly sophisticated crackpot”

 
There’s a certain poise to Raymond Kurzweil as he delivers his words, a confident smirk that comes from an implicit belief that mankind is on the verge of a transcendental breakthrough, where a marriage of technology and humans will usher in an age of unlimited prosperity and change the way we are going to live and die.

The American futurist has been called everything from a “restless genius” to a “highly sophisticated crackpot” but there is no denying the fact that when Kurzweil speaks people listen and judging from the wave of optimism that it elicited from the listeners at last week’s Creative Innovation summit his message of a technological wonder age provides a potent panacea for the faithful.

That message is composed of taking Moore’s Law, which postulates the rate of innovation of computer technology is increasing not linearly but exponentially, and applying the resultant increase of computing power to a number of fields, such as biotechnology, material sciences and nanotechnology.
As far as Kurzweil is concerned we have already seen the paradigm in action in the rapid rise of mobile devices, social networks and the way they have changed the way we interact with each other.

According to Kurzweil, innovation may be unpredictable but there is one aspect that is inherently predictable, the exponential growth in processing power, which is driving the rampant development and adoption of smartphones and tablets.

“It took 400 years for print to become part of everyday life, it took telephones 50 years, mobile phones seven years and social networks two years,” Kurzweil says.

This is just one of the many compelling metrics that Kurzweil uses to highlight his law of accelerating returns which paints a picture of limitless technological growth, the so called “singularity” – a phase characterised by incredible rapid technological change driven by computers that can improve themselves without human intervention.
This growth trajectory transcends beyond gadgets and Kurzweil predicts that exponential growth in technology is going to transform everything from medicine to manufacturing. Indeed, Kurzweil is compelling on the subject of human longevity. As you can see from the video above, in converstation with Business Spectator managing editor James Kirby, his theories if even partially true will be causing headaches for the actuarial industry very soon.

According to Kurzweil, the healthcare sector is poised to make the make the leap from the linear growth model to an exponential one and the implications of this are profound.

After all, the human DNA is nothing but software, software wrapped in protein, and the secret of upgrading that program may soon be within our grasp. Gene therapy, stem cell technology and nanobots, capable of replicating the actions of human white cells, are all set to become a part of everyday medicine within a couple of decades, potentially eliminating diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Nanobots inside our bodies, limitless energy, and sentient computers, all of this may sound like science fiction but Kurzweil says that every aspect of human life and every industry will be irreversibly transformed by 2029, and the pace of this change will be fed by growth in the information industries, irrespective of the vagaries of the global financial markets.

According to Kurzweil, mass consumption, as evidenced by the mobile revolution, will keep the juggernaut rolling and as price performance reaches a certain level new applications will explode on to the scene to keep the consumption rate chugging along.

It’s a neat theory which understandably has its critics, many of whom baulk at the use of the term exponential to pretty much gloss over any complexity. While Moore’s Law has held true so far, there are some who believe that we are getting closer to strict physical limitations that will break the pattern.

Future-proofing businesses

But Kurzweil does have a good track record  when it comes to predictions and if he is even partially right businesses need to pay attention.

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