Madison
78° F
Mostly Cloudy
Mostly Cloudy
Advertisement

Meet Google's futurist-in-chief

By By James O'Toole
Published On: Jun 27 2014 07:08:33 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 27 2014 10:46:25 AM CDT
Ray Kurzweil

Courtesy Ray Kurzweil

SAN FRANCISCO (CNNMoney) -

Ray Kurzweil has made a name for himself in the past few decades as an inventor, futurist and best-selling author. Now, he's heading Google's artificial intelligence efforts.

Kurzweil appeared before a standing-room only crowd at Google's annual software developer conference on Wednesday to discuss his work for the search giant.

He's currently leading a team that's trying to develop artificial intelligence by modeling the functioning of the human brain. The goal is to create software that can recognize language, communicate with users and understand books and documents.

Kurzweil ended up at Google in late 2012 after meeting with CEO Larry Page to give him an advance copy of his book, "How To Create A Mind." Kurzweil was looking for an investment in a company he was planning to launch that would focus on reverse-engineering the brain.

Page invited him to do it at Google instead.

"It's been terrific," the 66-year old Kurzweil said of his time with Google. "It's really the only place I could do this project."

Kurzweil is known for provocative statements about how technology will shape our future, and critics have accused him of being long on hype and short on substance.

He didn't disappoint his fans (or critics) at Google I/O. He said Wednesday that we'll be 3D-printing our clothing by 2020, and he hopes to live long enough to achieve "functional immortality" by uploading his consciousness to a computer.

Kurzweil clearly has a tendency toward the grandiose, but there's no doubting his technical chops.

In addition to his best-selling books, he's developed pioneering technologies ranging from music synthesizers to a print-to-speech reading machine for the blind.

Kurzweil said Wednesday that supercomputers can already provide the processing power required to match the raw number of calculations the brain makes each second. The challenge his team is facing is figuring out how to model the development of hierarchical ideas that depend on one another.

Current search technology "is not fully modeling the ideas that you have when you write an article or a blog post," he said. "That's what we'd actually like to understand, and then you'd be able to dialogue with your search engine to give it complex tasks and interact with it the way you would with a human assistant."

Kurzweil said his current work at Google, while cutting edge, is just the latest development in a decades-long project.

"I've been thinking about thinking for 50 years," he said.

Advertisement
  • Airplane

    No-fly zones: Where can planes fly?

    The crash of Malaysian airlines flight 17 in eastern Ukraine and a recent ban on flights to Israel due to violence near the airport in Tel Aviv has raised questions about which conflict-riddled areas of the world it is safe for commercial jets to travel. Take a look at strict no-fly zones as well as conflict zones, over which it's up to the airlines to decide whether or not to fly.

  • Taiwan plane crash wreckage

    Wong Yao-wen/Reuters

    Deadliest plane crashes in history

    Dozens are feared dead after a TransAsia Airways plane crashed on one of Taiwan's Penghu islands Wednesday. Take a look at the deadliest plane crashes in history.

  • Cruise ship night 2

    Costa Concordia disaster remembered

    The Costa Concordia set sail on its final voyage after running aground off the coast of Italy more than two years ago. Look back on the disaster that killed 32 people.

Advertisement