7 of 108 of Ray Kurzweil’s 1996-1997 Predictions for 2009 Which Seem Incorrect

Update: Ray Kurzweil’s January 17th, 2010 response to this is posted below my initial post. He said, “your review is biased, incorrect, and misleading in many different ways”.

In May 2008, a poster on ImmInst (the life extension grassroots organization I co-founded in 2002) pointed out that it looked like Kurzweil’s 1999 predictions for the year 2009 would fail. Now that 2009 is over, we can see that he was mostly correct.

Futurism should not be about storytelling, with overly specific scenarios and dates. Rather, scenarios should be offered as vague guesses at what the future might be like, not declarative prophesizing. I do believe that Kurzweil’s predictions for 2009 will come true, but maybe not until 2016 or 2018.

Here are the failed predictions:

1. Personal computers with high resolution interface embedded in clothing and jewelry, networked in Body LAN’s.

2. The majority of text is created using continuous speech recognition (CSR) software.

3. Computer displays built into eyeglasses project the images directly onto the user’s retinas.

4. In terms of circuitry, three-dimensional chips are commonly used.

5. Translating Telephone technology is commonly used for many language pairs.

6. Warfare is dominated by unmanned intelligent airborne devices. Many of these flying weapons are the size of small birds, or smaller.

7. Intelligent roads are in use, primarily for long-distance travel. Once your car’s computer guidance system locks onto the control sensors on one of these highways, you can sit back and relax.

All false! Sometimes Kurzweil’s predictions sound more like a visionary wish list of technological goodies than carefully calibrated technological forecasting. Useful for inspiration, certainly, but as far as correctness goes, the dates seem a little premature.

Update: I have absolutely nothing against Kurzweil, and I consider him a transhumanist role model, in a way. The only reason I point out that he got his predictions wrong is that basic idea of accountability. Why bother making predictions if you aren’t held accountable for them, and people like me don’t point it out? Of course some of the technologies exist today — the implication from Kurzweil is that they would now be commonplace. One commenter pointed out that people always ask “when?”, but it wouldn’t kill futurists to give probability distributions rather than discrete dates. The movement towards probability distributions in futurism rather than discrete dates is something that I and a few others are currently pioneering in a world irrationally biased towards specific dates (like 2012, for instance, which acquired fame without any scientific support whatsoever) and vivid narratives.

So far, I haven’t seen Kurzweil straight-up admit that he was wrong. I think he would benefit from doing so on some of these points. Perhaps the masses would take him less seriously if he acknowledged he was wrong, but it would make serious forecasters take him more seriously. If writing for a popular audience is a tradeoff where you necessarily sound less credible to serious forecasters, then a writer has to choose one or the other. It might not be possible to be popular and accurate at the same time. My role is to improve futurism by pointing out inaccurate predictions. I commend Kurzweil for making predictions at all, but we must raise the bar. Concrete date-centric predictions ought to be thrown out, and replaced by probability distributions.

Some futurism-oriented friends of mine have pointed out that you can say anything you want in futurism and it doesn’t matter, because you will never be held accountable for your predictions. Some of the comments on this blog post are proving that true — because people like Kurzweil for his thought-provoking books, they pretend as if the accuracy of his predictions don’t matter. They do. We can consider his works thought-provoking and still look at his predictions with a critical, rational eye. One example of a terribly failed futurist is Ian Pearson, who predicted human-equivalent AI in 2015, and was recently let go from British Telecom, where he was “resident futurist”. I feel bad that terrible futurists like Pearson exist because trashy newspapers like the Daily Mail then go and write up their predictions without knowing any better, thereby giving futurism a bad name.

I’ve been disturbed by the most recent media articles covering Kurzweil that claim that immortality could be here within 20 years. It could, but maybe not, and when articles like that say, “The 61-year-old American, who has predicted new technologies arriving before, says our understanding of genes and computer technology is accelerating at an incredible rate”, and people don’t care about which new technologies he has predicted and what error rate he had, that is intellectually pathetic. We must know, and we must create records for accountability.

~~~~

Ray Kurzweil response:

January 17, 2010

Dear Michael,

I want to respond to your Blog post “Reviewing Kurzweil Predictions from 1999 for 2009.”

This starts out “Michael Anissimov notes that Ray Kurzweil had several predictions from 1999 for 2009 and those predictions are in general wrong.”

You also write “Ray Kurzweil’s Failed 2009 Predictions. In May 2008, a poster on ImmInst (the life extension grassroots organization I co-founded in 2002) pointed out that it looked like Kurzweil’s 1999 predictions for the year 2009 would fail. Now that 2009 is over, we can see that he was mostly correct.”

Your review is biased, incorrect, and misleading in many different ways.

First of all, I did not make “several predictions” for 2009. I made 108 predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines (TASM), which, incidentally, I wrote in 1996 to 1997. It takes a year to publish, so the book came out at the end of 1998. It is very misleading to take 7 predictions out of 108 and present that as all of my predictions for 2009.

I am in the process of writing a prediction-by-prediction analysis of these, which will be available soon and I will send it to you. But to summarize, of these 108 predictions, 89 were entirely correct by the end of 2009.

An additional 13 were what I would call “essentially correct” (for a total of 102 out of 108). You will note that the specificity of my predictions in TASM was by decades. There were predictions for 2009, 2019, 2029, and 2099. The 2009 predictions were providing a vision of what the world would be like around the end of the first decade of the new millennium. My critics were not saying “Kurzweil’s predictions for 2009 are ridiculous, they will not come true until 2010 or 2011.” Rather, they were saying that my predictions were off by decades or centuries or would never happen. So if predictions made around 1996 for 2009 come true a year or a couple of years after 2009, given that the specificity was by decade, and the critics were saying that they were wrong by decades or centuries, then I would consider them to constitute an essentially accurate vision of what the world would be like around now.

My critics are very quick to jump on and exaggerate the slightest issue with my predictions. For example, earlier this year, one critic wrote that my prediction (made in 1996) that by 2009 there would exist a supercomputer that would be capable of performing 20 petaflops (quadrillion operations per second)” was “not just a little bit wrong, but wildly, laughably wrong.” I wrote back that IBM’s 20 petaflop Sequoia supercomputer was already under construction and that IBM has announced that it will be operational in 2012. Since that time, another 20 petaflop supercomputer has been announced that will be operational next year, in 2011. Is it fair or reasonable to call this prediction “wildly, laughably wrong?”

I make this very point in my movie The Singularity is Near, A True Story about Future. One of my key (and consistent) predictions is that a computer will pass the Turing test by 2029. The first long-term prediction on the Long Now website (www.longnow.org) is a bet that I have with Mitch Kapor regarding this prediction. Mitch and I put up $20,000, and this amount plus interest will go to the foundation of the winner’s choice. I will win if a computer passes the Turing test by 2029 (and we have elaborate rules that we negotiated) and Mitch will win if that does not happen. In the movie, I create an AI-based avatar named Ramona and she fails the test in 2029 and Mitch wins the bet. However, she goes on to pass the test in 2033. If that is indeed what happens in the future, whose vision of the future can we say was correct?

From a strictly literal point of view and in terms of the rules of the bet, Kapor will have won the wager. But Kapor’s critique is not that “Kurzweil’s prediction of a computer passing the Turing test in 2029 is ridiculous, it won’t happen until 2033.” Rather he is saying I am off by centuries if it ever happens at all. My point is that if a computer passes the Turing test by 2033 rather than 2029 my vision of the future would be “essentially correct.” And so it is with the 13 predictions out of 108 that I made in TASM that are likely to come true in the next year or couple of years. By my calculation, 102 out of 108 predictions are either precisely correct or essentially correct.

Another 3 are partially correct, 2 look like they are about 10 years off, and 1, which was tongue in cheek anyway, was just wrong.

So for starters, your list of 7 predictions is misleading and is the result of severe selection bias. Moreover, most of these are not actually wrong. You have also changed the wording in ways that change the meaning of the predictions, or have just misinterpreted either the prediction or the current reality.

Take, for example, the first one you cite. The correct prediction was “Personal computers are available in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and are commonly embedded in clothing and jewelry…” When I wrote this prediction, portable computers were large heavy devices carried under your arm. Today they are indeed embedded in shirt pockets, jacket pockets, and hung from belt loops. Colorful iPod nano models are worn on blouses as jewelry pins or on a sleeve while running, health monitors are woven into undergarments, there are now computers in hearing aids, and there are many other examples. The prediction does not say that all computers would be small devices, just that this would be “common,” which indeed is the case.. And “computers” should not be restricted to the current category we happen to call “personal computers.” All of these devices – iPods, smart phones, etc. are in fact sophisticated “computers.” By a reasonable interpretation of the prediction and the current reality, it is correct, not “false.”

There are indeed “computer displays that project images directly onto the eyes.” The prediction did not say that all displays would be this way or that it would be the majority, or even common.

You cite the prediction that “three-dimensional chips are commonly used” as false. But it is not false. Many if not most semiconductors fabricated today are in fact 3D chips, using vertical stacking technology. It is obviously only the beginning of a broad trend, but it is the case that three-dimensional chips are commonly used today.

“Translating Telephone technology” was indeed available only in prototype form earlier in 2009, but now is a popular iPhone app and the technology is available on Symbian phones and on Google’s popular new Nexus One, using Google’s voice translation server. My prediction was that it would be “commonly used,” not that it would be ubiquitous. I suppose we could argue how “common” its use is, but it is already a popular app. Having been introduced late in 2009, it is likely to become quite popular on many phones worldwide in 2010.

“Warfare is dominated by unmanned intelligent airborne devices” is certainly true in Afghanistan. As Wired recently noted, “The unmanned air war … has escalated under McChrystal’s watch….” Also there are munitions that are about the size of birds that can be released from larger aircraft and that have their own intelligent navigation.

So even of this highly selective list, your interpretation of the predictions is rigid and idiosyncratic. You have a certain vision of how these types of developments will or should manifest themselves, but under a reasonable interpretation, most of your selected predictions are in fact not false.

The status of these predictions changes very quickly. In November 2009, the idea of large-vocabulary, continuous, speaker-independent speech recognition on a cell phone was still off in the future. Just one month later, this became one of the most popular free apps for the iPhone (Dragon Dictation from Nuance, which used to be Kurzweil Computer Products, my first major company) as well as the popular Google Search on iPhones and in Google Droid and Nexus One phones.

Two or three years from now is a very long way off, and the world will again be quite different, so for the handful of my 108 predictions for 2009 that are not literally true now, most will likely become true over that time.

So I agree with you that there should be accountability for predictions, but such reviews need to be free of bias, fair, and not subject to selection bias and myopic interpretations of both the words used and the current reality.

In this essay I am working on, I will also review my predictions written in the mid 1980s in The Age of Intelligent Machines, which were also very accurate.

I am not saying that there are no misses, but it I believe it is fair to say that the vision of the future that I have painted in the past for the current world is quite accurate, especially compared to the critics who at the time said that these predictions were off by decades or centuries.

Best,
Ray Kurzweil

Comments

  1. Personally, I think Kurzweil date because people will always ask “When?”. To me, the dates he points out are purely cosmetic and should be taken with +- 5yrs. Even then, feasibility studies must still be made. We must also study the usefulness and study the market to make sure its appropriate for the customer.

    His predictions are not necessarily false. They could be off. The market also changed drastically. Now people favor multitouch devices with big greasy screens and made miniaturization a minor aspect of portable device. So be it. It will continue to evolve in the next couple of years.

  2. A futurist that is never wrong is not worth the title. The courage of making measurable projections is first of all in front of oneself, and only then of others. The privilege of building a position where it is admissible to be repeatedly wrong is just one step from the recognition that this is necessary, and desirable…

    Let’s just wish for Ray to keep working towards this!

  3. Pan Covenant

    A few of those technologies are being developed as we speak, or in limited use (not common or widespread yet).
    Several of them will be in ‘common use’ within a few short years.
    Your post seems infantile and reactionary.
    RK is not a prophet, nor has he ever claimed to be, but when you look at just how difficult future prediction is (especially in an era of acceleration, where by it’s very definition prediction gets harder and harder!) he has an amazing track record.
    Are you just joining the ranks of those who want to take a jab at RK out of cynicism?
    This reminds me of a troll who occasionally pokes his head up at kurzweilAI.net: mysticmonkeyguru.
    I bet your going to delete this comment :)

  4. Carl Shulman

    I agree that Kurzweil should be praised for making predictions that he can be held accountable for, although if he had assigned probability values to them we would be able to draw more inferences about his reliability.

  5. Computer displays on eyeglasses exist, but are rare. Mostly a few military users.

    3D chips are around the question is what is meant by “common”

    The first 3-D integrated DRAM memories being shipped (2009): we (Memory Applications, Packaging & Integration Trends 2009 report) estimate that about 20 000 wafers of DRAM memory will be shipped with 3D TSV by the end of 2009, with production moving forward to higher volumes in 2010. By 2013, we expect that telecom and computing industries will drive more than 70% of the volume for 3-D TSV integrated memories.

    http://www.semiconductor.net/article/196911-3_D_Through_Silicon_Vias_Become_a_Reality.php

    there is stacked DRAM (3d)
    http://www.semiconductor.net/article/339622-Elpida_Develops_3_D_Stacked_8_Gb_DRAM.php

    Stacked flash and other stacked cmos is on the way

    ADVANCED PACKAGING: 3D IC, WLP & TSV : 3D TSV Interconnects – Devices & Systems 2008 Report : the Equipment Market for 3D-TSV manufacturing tools will rapidly expand above 1B$ by 2013.

    The airforce has completed weaponizing the WASP UAV. It is the size of a falcon. Article from Wired is on my site. so bird size UAVs yes. “Dominate warefare” prediction standard, well that standard could take decades to shift from AK47s and bombs.

    New Google Nexus One phone lets you talk to fill in search boxes. so speech recog is getting bigger and bigger but majority of text. what generates the majority of text now ? Probably not human input. So if we are only talking human generated text then maybe at some date in the future.

    that first one – will have problems with the personal computer definition and high def aspect. The way it is phrased then it looks like it has be some kind of OLED flex display and a modular computer device. Even when we can do both, then would the interfaces and interaction be to wear the display and the devices ?

    • Cus Bus

      Just a note, not sure if anyone else has pointed this out, but it should be noted that commercial companies are putting real-time-updating HUDs in snowboard glasses. Wired had an article about NASA looking into its application for future space suits.

  6. “A futurist that is never wrong is not worth the title.”

    A futurist that makes definite predictions but is better calibrated would both overestimate and underestimate progress. Consistently overestimating is less commendable, in addition to the folly of naming definite dates.

  7. Panda

    A futurist should not be in the business of making precise predictions. A futurist should especially not be in the business of making what Michael calls “vague guesses.” A futurist should evaluate the predictions of those intimately concerned with the technology in question. A good futurist book would resound with citations to actual researchers and interviews (and not news articles). There should never be a question of the futurist’s credibility in predicting dates in the first place. It should be a question of whether the futurist identified trends correctly and how well she evaluated the theories of researchers- examining their specialized knowledge in light of wider cross-disciplinary study.

    Right now, futurists tend to be self-referential. There’s a small community of names that talk about each other. Actual researchers- who are not self-identified as Singularians or futurists but whose work is very important to the questions at hand- tend to be ignored except when they come up in a news article…

    At least, that’s my perception. Please feel free to correct it.

  8. Pan Covenant, I’ve been frequenting KurzweilAI since 2001, am familiar with MysticMonkeyGuru, and I’m nothing like him. Your comment clearly shows that you are not familiar with this blog or my writing, so you are just leaping to conclusions. The only reason I can come up with for equating accountability-holding futurism with obvious trolling is pure stupidity.

    Brian, it’s all about the qualifying words he uses: “majority”, “commonly”, “dominated”, etc. These qualifiers make the sentences more interesting to read, but also more flat-out wrong. To some extent, interestingness and correctness are mutually exclusive. You either care about being accurate, or you care about being interesting. Having both at once is difficult, and if you start getting in the mentality of making compromises to be interesting, your accuracy is doomed.

  9. I often think the same thing about economic forecasters. Even the best are wrong more often then they are right (business and industry forecasters are better.)

    People need to realize: the dispersion of information and the sheer complexity of any economy is far too great to accurately predict.

    I imagine predicting the future has some of the same difficulties.

  10. Pan Covenant

    My apologies Michael.
    I agree with Simon Dufour in the sentiment that +/- 5 years is still good. Except that my margin for error is +/- 10 years.
    In the prediction business, I’d say being within 10 years is damn near right on target.
    I really enjoy your website and check it often, but when I read this post, I was reminded of the barrage of criticisms about RK that pop up constantly, especially this time of year, and I’m like ‘here we go again’, no offense intended.
    I’m actually far more than RK, I think his predictions are ‘conservative’ to protect his reputation, but that’s just me.
    Anyway, I can never quite figure out why so many people try to hold RK to the level of exactitude they do, the tech gets built whether he predicts it or not (though I did have a theory about whether his popularization of the sing’ has any effect on the LAR – but that’s another story).
    Please forgive me for comparing you to MMG, but it’s frustrating to see yet another “RK is wrong!” article.
    best wishes
    Pan

  11. Pan Covenant

    “I’m actually far more than RK”
    Corr:
    I’m actually far more optimistic than RK

  12. John Hunt

    How about taking RK’s specific predictions and multiplying them by a factor based upon his historic bias towards predicting prematurely.

    Also, what about creating a predictions market where those people who make the most accurate predictions have more “money” to “invest” in future predictions.

    Also, what I care about most is predictions (including probability ranges) for existential threats. Where is the best place for those?

    John

  13. A different perspective:

    Which of those predictions is the closest to being true? Well, you could argue that unmanned drones DO dominate warfare. (You could also argue they don’t, but I’m just running this).
    That is because of the priorities of (mainly) the U.S govt, and the more general point is that it makes a difference what kind policies are pursued. (It’s not totally open, but it does make a difference).

    I doubt this kind of argument is going to get a hearing, since it seems that in futurism circles, capitalism is taken as axiomatic, demand is a black box and it’s all just about predicting the market. (In other terms, you guys think that there is only one line of development, which we DISCOVER when it occurs (“Oh, so that’s what was always going to happen” – see, sounds wrong doesn’t it), and can make predictions about. Instead of there being many possible, depending on what policies are pursued).

    Under different social/economic conditions, you can see general uptake of those technologies having occurred by now, since the hardware exists. (The same could be said of predictions 40 years ago about a 3-day week, widespread robotics etc).

    So the argument is: of course probability distributions would be better than specific points, from a statistical/technical/forecasting perspective. But there’s a prior philosophical matter, about choice/policy.

  14. I agree it’s important to hold Kurzweil and others accountable for predictions that turn out to be wrong. Thanks for this post; it is very helpful. For purposes of understanding where technology is taking us, I wonder if it is helpful to distinguish between his predictions that are wrong because he misread human desires and those that are wrong because the technology did not develop as quickly as he thought they would.

    For example, his prediction that the majority of text would be created by speech to text technology seems to not have come true mostly because it is faster and easier to type then to speak. On the other hand, translation technology has not advanced enough to be used ubiquitously.

    • Kelly Anderson

      The fact that the majority of text is not created using speech recognition is not, IMHO because it is quicker to type. My lawyer uses Dragon to write letters, etc. and while it is irritating to watch him do it, I believe it is faster than his typing. If he used a lawyerly dictionary, I think he would go even faster. I think the real problem with speech recognition is not the technology, but that the environment for using it is so rare. The ubiquity of the cubicle makes speech recognition for input awkward. Imagine a cubicle farm where everyone is using speech recognition to input text. It’s ridiculous. People get upset at the idiot who yaks loudly on the phone all day in such farms. It would be too distracting to be listening to someone speak type all day.
      The reason that translation software is not used more is, IMHO, because the nature of the Internet has forced a huge number of people to learn enough English to get by. The nation with the most English speakers in the world today is not the US, but China! I think RK was wrong about the ubiquity of translation software because the need for it is less than he predicted. Ironically, the need to learn English is technology driven. There is nothing quite so unnerving as to watch a stadium full of Chinese learning English together. Nevertheless, as the technology gets better, I think translating software will be used more ubiquitously.

  15. Hi Pan,

    In general, I think Kurzweil is right about many things, just that he’s somewhat overoptimistic. If we don’t hold him accountable for failed predictions, though, then why bother with futurism? Some predictions that futurists make are actually accurate. In fact, one article I saw that was published in 1900 did a decent job of predicting many advancements in the year 2000.

  16. I agree with the idea of accountability of predictions. I did not finish my first comment (as I was heading out). Basically I am trying to analyze specifically where things stand as regards to each of the predictions, so as to retroactively write what a correct prediction would be and rewrite better predictions. What will or will not happen/ why or why not and when and how.

    Personal computers with high resolution interface embedded in clothing and jewelry, networked in Body LAN’s.

    This should be possible in 5-8 years if the OLED roadmap is correct. Wearable electronics exist now. My sister has a memory card earring. Roadblocks – Fundamentally not very useful design for a wearable high def display, perhaps has some fad potential. The high def display is showing something to other people. Picoprojectors are about half the volume of an iphone. A high res version of that makes sense and could shrink and be made wearable. A thick bracelet/watchband attachment would work now. Issue is to get the power usage down and battery or other power up or wireless power.

    easily carried – belt clips etc… make sense. As part of clothing ? antennas that need to be big and flat and solar cells etc… yes. but some devices makes no sense in that config.

    The majority of text is created using continuous speech recognition (CSR) software.

    this needs the human inputted text caveat. Don’t think it ever happens. the Majority of spoken words could be recorded and CSRd for easier search but typing can be more straightforward for most purposes. I do not see that much value in automatic dictation. The technical inconveniences and inaccuracies should be overcome and it will be done more but I do not see behavior changing that much for using it. Reading lips and subvocalizations would be better so that an alternate form of quiet entry could be used when a keypad is not good for the form factor.

    Computer displays built into eyeglasses project the images directly onto the user’s retinas.

    Again not as useful as some would think. Even if this was a currently available option, seems like a niche product. Overlaying virtual reality via smart display contact lenses etc…
    Needs more reasons/applications to drive adoption.

    In terms of circuitry, three-dimensional chips are commonly used.

    As noted this is happening, just not as quickly being adopted.

    Translating Telephone technology is commonly used for many language pairs.

    How often would I need to talk to someone when we did not already speak the same language ? How did I get their phone number ? How often are human translators used ? There are the devices for helping soldiers get out foreign phrases in war zones.

    Warfare is dominated by unmanned intelligent airborne devices. Many of these flying weapons are the size of small birds, or smaller.

    Pakistan operations are using a lot of UAVs.

    WW2 dominated by tank combat and propellor planes and aircraft carriers

    Vietnam by helicopters, B52s, and bombs

    Iraq War 2 was starting to go towards special forces and lighter warfare under Rumsfeld but that was discredited. Now the trend is to MRAPs. There is UAV and UGV supplementation.

    The culture in the Airforce, Army, Marines and Navy and procurement skews toward traditional systems. the active wars and financial drain is putting most funds to resupplying bombs, bullets, making more body armor and MRAP variants. Slightly lighter MRAPs for afghan mountains. Long term procurement contracts still have new fighters and big ships etc…

    Hopefully the US and other militaries will not have the reason to actually get efficient. Things stay mainly economic competition instead of shooting wars.

    Intelligent roads are in use, primarily for long-distance travel. Once your car’s computer guidance system locks onto the control sensors on one of these highways, you can sit back and relax.

    Some automatic parking, roadtrains – follow a skilled driver with smart control is being developed in Europe and if things go smooth could be deployed in 2020 timeframe. Making highways smart is a lot of infrastructure refresh and will take a lot of testing and development to make sure it works. Years of operation of a smart test section of highway. Then small scale trials. Need to make sure it is foolproof or the lawsuits … Some semi-smart roads would be useful and less challenging. Do not see any deployments of sensors and devices for driver and car assistance. careful and phased deployments need to happen. Masdar City will have automatically driven pods. (about 2015 for a whole city.) More use of robotic vehicles in very large warehouses and factories. there are large controlled grounds where robotic driving can occur first with less challenging conditions. Airports for towing planes. Robotic driving should be done but my hurry up plans and the plans that I see will take many years/decades before any national scale deployments. Phasing in to city centers makes more sense.

    • Kelly Anderson

      I saw deployed automatic vehicles in warehouses when I was in college, circa 1990. Autonomous vehicles on our roads was revealed as Google announced recently that they had logged some 140,000 miles driven in California with human backups. I think that this is coming sooner than anyone thinks. Car manufacturers are notorious for working under tight security. I would not be surprised at all if they were all working on this area, and I predict that autonomous luxury vehicles that can cruise the highway on a sunny day will be with us by 2014 (with the same kind of human backup the Google cars have). The only thing that could slow it down are the lawyers. :-)

  17. Prosumer

    We’re actually going BACKWARDS with the CPUs in netbooks, the good-enough-tops.

    Kurzweil consistently ignores and underestimates the meh-factor of GET, Good Enough Technology. If the masses go meh, the tech is not getting developed at the rate that it could be. If everyone was as enthusiastic about tech as Kurzweil, we’d probably have most ifn not everything he said we would.

    We’ve reached an unprecedented plateau in information technology. Just about everything’s getting good enough – bandwidth, mobility, storage, CPU, display sizes, graphics quality, interfaces. The current quad cores are insanely overpowered for almost anything but the most demanding content production.

    It will take some killer apps and interfaces that can only be enabled by 10-1000x CPU speed and storage to get us to the next step.

  18. Panda: “Actual researchers- who are not self-identified as Singularians or futurists but whose work is very important to the questions at hand- tend to be ignored except when they come up in a news article…”

    Key researchers should – and some if not most probably do – stay off the radar. They’re usually funded by deep enough pockets. Receiving media exposure only increases the risk of being forcibly retired by a lone nutter from ‘the past is better & humans are the best’ crowd while offering nothing you require.

    The most advanced and promising (precursors to) ultratechnologies being developed aren’t public knowledge. There is a parallel future (and present) being developed, one that may not become public knowledge for decades, if ever. The NSA is an obvious example: they do their chip dev in-house. What do we know about it? Their energy bill, that’s about it.

  19. Yes, it’s good to review how people’s predictions are adding up — especially well known people like Kurzweil. Still, predicting the future is a hairy business and being out by just a couple of years is good in my opinion. My suggestion: go over the failed 2009 predictions in 2012.

    He might still be right about body LANs. Indeed, is my phone talking to my bluetooth earpiece a body LAN? Almost. What if it was talking to two things on my body with bluetooth? He’s pretty close on the airborne devices too. These have seen plenty of development over the last 5 years, including ones the size of a large bird that can be launched by hand for recon. There are some 3D chips around. Maybe they will go mainstream in the next couple of years in things like smart phones?

  20. Naming dates is OK. Kurzweil is rather slack on pointing out that they are median points in probability distributions – and almost never seems to give any standard deviations. Maybe he figures that such material would distract people from the supplied date, and dilute his message.

  21. Mehnologist

    Because humans aren’t getting faster nor consuming exponentially increasing amounts of data the current silicon serves us well indefinitely. It is already far beyond the average person’s skills and imagination to utilize it.

    Until I see some applications that put even today’s silicon to useful, novel use, I’m not upgrading. It may take a decade until we see something really interesting happening again. I’d like to hear reasons as to why something ubercool will happen in tech between now and, say, 2015. And why anything would change radically between 2015-2020.

    When is it exactly that we’ll see teraflops on the desktop (or in the pocket)? Will it matter? This desktop gigaflop era is so 1990′s supercomputing.

    16 cores? 16 gigs? 16 teras? Meh indeed.

    • Kelly Anderson

      Software is a gas. It will expand to use the CPU available to it. For example, if I had the software capacity to do so, I would generate realistic video in real time similar to that used in Benjamin Button, so that Brad Pitt could be my avatar. So much for clippy… :-)

      Of course he would have to be much more intelligent than clippy too…

      I can think of applications that would use nearly infinite amounts of computation. For example, if I could simulate entire civilizations to produce great works of art, I might do so. Is our civilization just a very good sim run to generate Mozart concertos and the Mona Lisa? Why couldn’t it be? Now that’s a lot of megaflops and TeraBytes.

  22. One example of a terribly failed futurist is Ian Pearson, who predicted human-equivalent AI in 2015, and was recently let go from British Telecom, where he was “resident futurist”. I feel bad that terrible futurists like Pearson exist because trashy newspapers like the Daily Mail then go and write up their predictions without knowing any better.

    I disagree. Pearson informs the Daily Mail reader that human-equivalent AI is possible, is a worthy engineering goal, and will be achieved someday. If Pearson is wrong by 5, 10, or 50 years, does it really matter so much? Of course the article could contain thousands of valid qualification, but the Daily mail reader would not read it. The Daily mail reader wants to start and finish an article in a short subway ride.

    Same for Kurzweil. I, for one, don’t take his quantitative predictions too seriously, and I think he is very often over-optimist.

    So what? Kureweil tells us that beautiful things are possible in principle and will someday be achieved in practice, by engineering instead of mystic vitalist crap. He is worth listening to, even when his quantitative predictions are off the mark.

  23. MZ

    Kurzweil has responded to criticisms of his predictions, for example here: http://digitalmindsblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/ray-kurzweil-revisits-his-1999.html

    Mostly he is in denial, or like a typical prophet, moves the goal posts. Consider this response:

    “People typically have at least a dozen computers on and around their clothes” (p. 189)

    KURZWEIL: Consider someone sitting at their desk. In their pockets there may be a cell phone, a digital camera, an IPOD, a Bluetooth headset, their electronic car keys, each with one or more computers. On their desk is their desktop or notebook computer, a printer, various communication devices, each with one or more computers. So that’s close to a dozen computers typically right now.

    So the goal post was moved from a specific claim about chips in clothes to merely having computer chips within viewing distance. But cell phones, digital cameras, electronic car keys, laptops and printers existed 10 years ago, so while there are *some* more chips around us today, it’s not significantly different, and the central claim about clothes is false.

  24. Pablo Stafforini

    Kurzweil should be praised for making falsifiable predictions and criticized for making falsified predictions. But if his predictions are false due to a systematic bias such as overconfidence or overoptimism, then such predictions could still be useful if corrected appropriately. Indeed, the fact that all his predictions for 2009 are false confirms that a bias is present. A useful exercise would be to go through all of Kurzweil’s past predictions and see whether the events predicted for a given year took place later, but all around the same year. If so, we could then apply the relevant discount factor to his current predictions about superintelligence or superlongevity.

  25. I think you’re absolutely right on this one, Michael. I had forgotten how outlandish some of Kurzweil’s 2009 predictions were. Or perhaps they just seemed more reasonable when we stood years away. In either case, props for raising this issue.

  26. Andrew Shevchuk

    I think the prediction about 3D chips is largely a moot point. So long as Moore’s Law continues to hold, we don’t really lose anything by having 2D chips.

    As for holding Kurzweil accountable, these predictions were made at the height of the dot-com bubble. Given our economic woes since 2000, we should have expected them to be optimistic.

  27. How many of his predictions have almost come true if you only consider Japan?

  28. Valkyrie Ice

    One thing I will give RK credit for is he is quite good at forecasting TRENDS. It’s only in specifics that he runs into trouble. He’s better than anyone else at understanding the directions we are heading, but like any forecaster, he can’t see all the bumps in the road.

    In my opinion, Kurzweil’s biggest flaw is he’s got far less grasp of the realities of human nature than he has of technological development. The hardware and infoware has been kicking right along, but humans keep tossing wrenches in the works.

    Another thing I think he often overlooks is that many technologies he predicts have multiple factors involved. Take the Networked Body Lan.

    In order for the NBL to be practical it has to:

    A: be flexible, durable, and washable if it’s embedded in clothing.
    B: be cheap, disposable, and mix and matchable for fashion choice.
    C: be maintenance free, possess long battery life, and not require complicated recharging procedures.

    Fashion is not the same field as electronics… yet. In part because Xerox has only just recently perfected electronics printing capability. Until now, embedding electronics into clothing has been a matter of fitting small circuit boards in unobtrusive places in clothes, running wires through them, and almost none of it has been wash and wear.

    But that is going to change. Electronics can now be printed directly into cloth. Ultracapacitance batteries can be made from CNT’s mixed in ink. Quantum Dot solar cells are being developed. The first commercial FLEXIBLE display has just hit the market.

    Give it five to six years, and I do think we will begin seeing the integration of our electronics with our clothes. The “Smartphone” will be the primary component, linked to cloth that is nothing BUT a flexible display, with an ultracap-battery that is the thin lining between the inner and outer layers, quantum dot solarcells to keep the whole thing constantly charged by any ambient light source, and connected to the SP via a bluetooth like wireless net. It’s even possible that smart muscle fibers might allow clothing with variable degrees of fit.

    But to get to that point, we had to develop ways to move displays from glass to flexible substrates, find ways to remove the fiberglass and discrete component electronics from the equation via electronics printing, and make it all cheap enough to sell for 10 bucks at the Walmart.

    We aren’t there yet, but we are well on our way.

    So basically, we could be said to be in the “very expensive/only kinda works” stage, but for many of the SPECIFIC technologies RK talks about until they actually reach the “Really Cheap/Works incredibly well” stage, they simply will not be adopted by the general public.

    And btw, those “video glasses” are going to be coming too. That’s another thing that won’t make a big splash until they reach “cheap/well” stage, at which point, they’re probably going to become the replacement for those Smartphones. They’ve figured out a means to make transparent VLSI chips now. Mate those with flexible cheap displays, and the continuing rise of AR apps for smartphones, I don’t think it will be terribly long before iGlasses hit the market as the iPhone replacement. Your “hands free” always active communications device/AR interface/VR device. Once Project Natal get out, we’re likely to see it’s motion capture technology migrating to Smartphones too. You’ll simply put on your glasses, tuck in your earphones, and control your SP via a “virtual console” suspended in space before you as the built in cameras not only provide AR overlays, but motion capture as well.

    We’ll be walking down the street, our iGlasses on, our iWear set to whatever display we want, fully immersed in the real world and the web at one and the same time.

    It’ll just take a few years longer than Ray thought it would.

  29. And btw, those “video glasses” are going to be coming too. That’s another thing that won’t make a big splash until they reach “cheap/well” stage, at which point, they’re probably going to become the replacement for those Smartphones.

    Not a replacement, but an add-on. Smart glasses permit overcoming the main limitation of smartphones, ie the small screen size. Once this technology reaches consumer outlets, there is no stopping it.

    In Halting State, Charlie Stross sees 2020 consumer computing done on a combination of smartphones and smartglasses, replacing the then obsolete notebooks.

  30. Sulfur

    Michael, do you actually know any futurist which is or was well known and in the same time he was able to admit that he got his predicitons wrong? No, there aren’t and weren’t. For some reason they are unable to do so. The same goes to Kurzweil-and personally I think his credibility would increase when he would admit that he i That just doesn’t work.

  31. Sulfur

    that he got some of his stuff wrong.

  32. Valkyrie Ice

    @giulio

    At first, yes, but why bother with two separate units when we will be able to integrate them into a single device?

    Electronics printing is going to allow the complete circuitry of a smartphone to be printed directly onto the flexible plastic substrate that also contains the OLED display. The Development of ever smaller, faster chips combined with the ability to make them transparent will likely lead to the entire device being contained in a single pair of lenses. Combine this with new developments in ferropaper speakers, positional sound developments, nano Ultracap-batteries, improved versions of the emotiv Epoc, and tunable polarization for ambient light control, and you have the potential to integrate a complete VR/Communications system into a single pair of glasses. While this won’t be soon, it does seem possible to develop all of the various elements to this point in the foreseeable future of 10 to 15 years. And most of the technology I’ve mentioned is very recently developed tech.

    And simply put, we’re a lazy species. Why carry around a half dozen items if we can integrate them into one? By the time we well be able to, the cost per pair is likely to be a lot less than an iPhone today, and we can likely fit them into a variety of form factors just like current sunglasses.

    The Phone/glasses combo is just the first few gens.

  33. Your analysis is dead-on, Valkyrie. But human choices about how to use technology matter as much as theoretical abilities. A little more attention to social and cultural factors would benefit futurism.

    I doubt Kurzweil was expecting the U.S. invasion of Iraq, though it stands fully consistent with the history of this country’s foreign policy. His military prediction might have come true if Clinton’s policy of avoiding boots on the ground had continued. But you can’t assume with much confidence that such things will remain constant.

  34. Thomas

    Three things Ray didn’t take into account when making his predictions in 1999: (1) Dotcom bust, (2) 9/11, (3) housing bust and banking collapse. All those ingredients would certainly affect individual choices, as consumers and investors, on a very large scale. Some roads weren’t taken – or they were delayed – because the major events listed above dramatically changed millions of minds concerning priorities. That’s a huge fudge-factor.

  35. Valkyrie Ice

    @summerspeaker

    Thats the point I try to make fairly often. Nothing can be evaluated in a vacuum. Every technology has an ecosystem that is associated with it, and one major factor involved in all of them is human caprice. A useful device can fail for no other reason then that it’s design was not aesthetically pleasing. Human use and misuse is part and parcel of how any technology develops or doesn’t.

    One factor I mentioned only peripherally above, Project Natal, is in fact one of the reasons I see a very massive push towards the Video Glasses unit. I suspect Microsoft is making the first steps towards shifting from an OS centric model to being the big pusher behind the creation of a VR market. Project Natal uses a clever lidar scheme to merge visual cues and 3D ranging data into a motion capture device usable in a living room by normally clothed people. No data gloves, no body suits. This device will also be usable by Windows for gaming and VR apps like Secondlife. In addition, MSFT has a strong push going on to create Avatar based games, such as their new Avatar Arcade. Project Natal is also being pushed as a “videophone” alternative, with both visual, and Avatar based interactivity.

    This push to associate the end user with their Avatar is looking very much like MSFT is working towards immersive A/V VR, which means I suspect their next project AFTER Natal will be a 3d stereoscopic display, likely also usb based, possibly in conjunction with a graphics card maker, or Intel. MSFT lenses are likely to goad Apple into making a version as well, especially in an attempt to fight against the growing Android market.

    The push towards A/V immersive VR is likely going to be the next big console war, with Apple and Google joining in as they all make a bid to become the main game/VR/communications/web device for the next decade.

    Any number of other events could affect this though. Military funding could become a factor, with a desire for rugged HUDs with AR overlays that can double as lowlight IR and targeting enhancements. Privacy concerns over the level of detail the lidar unit on the Natal has might surface depending on how penetrating it is of cloth, delaying it’s deployment in netbooks, smartphones, and eventually in glasses. A new technology may come along and supersede it, like a contact lens display run via bluetooth that is already being experimented with. A fundamentalist uprising against VR as “reality escapism” might come along… who knows.

    No prediction can ever be perfect, but the more factors you take into account, and the better you understand general human psychology, the higher the probability of accuracy. I personally favor a range of dates from earliest to latest, with the understanding that this covers a range of probability from least likely to highest, given currently known factors I am aware of.

  36. @Valkyrie – At first, yes, but why bother with two separate units when we will be able to integrate them into a single device?

    Sure! But then I prefer the zero-device option: integrating everything in the brain, or in future better computational substrates for our consciousness.

    That will take some time though, and we have to get there step by step. In this decade, I see a lot of advances coming, but the ergonomic problems of smartphones’ small screens and keyboards seem difficult to overcome, when the device is supposed to fit in a pocket.

    Smart glasses interfaced by wireless to smart phones can display the phone screen on a large virtual screen, see http://lumusvision.com/ – so you have the computing hardware in your pocket and the display hardware on your eyes.

  37. Valkyrie Ice

    @giulio

    Agreed, but that’s prolly 20-40 years away still. It might come sooner, but that’s more or less a wildcard event. With the advances in stemcells and therapeutic cloning being able to now print organs, we might actually see a temporary decline in research for cybernetic tech as regeneration takes a leap ahead. If you can print an internal organ, eventually you’ll be able to print any part of the human body, including a lost limb, or a damaged section of vertebra. We might actually be able to restore ourselves organically before we can artificially, especially now that we even have software like Tinkercell which could be used to design custom DNA for use in organ printing.

    But until we develop 2 way BCI devices, the Phone/Glasses 1st gens will give way to much more integrated 5th and 6th gen all in one lenses. Or it may remain phone centric and incorporate video contacts powered via wireless connects to the main phone body. It really depends on how quickly the contact displays get developed. Personally, I think the lenses will develop first, as the contacts are currently where tiny LCD screens were a decade ago, but as fast as things are moving in the electronics world, we’ll see.

  38. Wes

    This was very insightful blog Michael. Thank you. It is worth mentioning, however, how correct his predictions actually are on your list. He seems to be able to predict when a particular technology will be available, but less able to predict when it will become popular amongst the population. Nonetheless, If this is truly the worst of his predictions, then I believe this list actually reveals how good at predicting he actually is.

    1. “Personal computers… embedded in clothing” Calculator watches, bluetooths, iphones, smartphones, and all other manner of gadgets currently being developed are now worn like clothing and are far more interesting pieces of “jewelry” than gold rings and necklaces to many people.

    2. “…continuous speech recognition (CSR) software.” Kurzweil got this one right too, however, it is not yet common (although auto complete is almost equivalent/convenient). This technology and the relevant software can be found all over the web and its usage is growing at an exponential rate. Once again Kurzweil is able to predict when the technology will exist, but is a little off in popular usage. This is most likely because one cannot predict the popularity for a technology without first having at least some price performance and popular usage data on it. Obviously, he did not have this data for technologies that did not yet exist. It is interesting to note, however, that for technologies that do exist, Kurzweil is able to predict their price performance and popularity perfectly.

    3. “Computer displays built into eyeglasses project the images directly onto the user’s retinas.” Again, Kurzweil knew exactly when this technology would be developed (http://singularityhub.com/2010/01/06/retail-head-mounted-displays-getting-better-vuzix-wrap-920/). One could argue that smart phones and other similar technologies are about the size of “movie glasses” and are pretty much equivalent to them. In other words, there technologies are essentially equivalent as the link above will show. At the moment, people are content to watch movies and get GPS on their hand held gadgets than on glasses.

    4. “…three-dimensional chips are commonly used.” I would say they’re making good use of the third dimension with all of the quad cores and dual quad cores and so forth. In other words, Moore’s Law is remaining constant (or shall I say “exponential”) just as Kurzweil predicted.

    5. “Translating Telephone technology…” Just as Kurzweil predicted, this technology is around as of the late 2000s although it is not in common use.

    6. “…unmanned intelligent airborne devices.” The reconnaissance and intelligence aspect of warfare is indeed dominated by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles including satellites (http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/uav.htm), although they do not fit the definition of intelligent. They do run some pretty complex programs though. Perhaps that is what he meant by intelligent? Or perhaps he means autonomy? After all, chess computers are considered intelligent in a sense because of the calculations they can do, just like a modern smart missile does in a different way.

    7. “Intelligent roads are in use, primarily for long-distance travel.” Again, Kurzweil predicts when this technology will become practical but fails again to predict when it will become popular. Or did he? This prediction reminds me of my GPS. Nowadays, the GPS does more of the work than the driver does. I know I’m being naive here, but automatic driving cars do exist now like Kurzweil said they would. They’re just not yet common as you have already established.

    Summary:

    Kurzweil appears to have a 100 % success rate at predicting when a technology will become available. He also seems to have a 100 % success rate at predicting the price performance and popular usage of technologies in the future for the technologies which already exist during the time of his predictions. Kurzweil appears to be slightly less accurate about determining when a particular fad will start to become popular for certain technologies which do not yet exist, simply because he cannot create a predictable and reliable log graph to determine these things until they have been invented. Of course this kind of accuracy can be considered trivial.
    Overall, if these are truly the “worst” of his predictions, then I would call the man a modern technological prophet with an incredible track record. Virtually all of his lifetime predictions have indeed come true in some form or another.

  39. crystl37

    Thank you Wes. I was beginning to wonder if most people on this list had been living under a rock or something. Just glancing over the predictions initially I had to go back and recheck how I got there because I failed to see anything there that in some variation had not come true.

  40. Wes

    I wish to elaborate on my use of the words “technological prophet” in post 38. The use of those words are a figure of speech which is meant to be a compliment to a man who is exceptionally good at predicting the future. Unfortunately, those who are unfamiliar with futurism or transhumanism may be lead to believe that the entire futurist community is a religious one. It is not. Religious metaphors are merely a convenient way for us to express something enlightening and profound.

  41. Keith Norbury

    It looks as though Kurzweil and Annisimov are both quibbling. I had similar thoughts as Annisimov did when I scrolled through the predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines. But I also thought, well, Kurzweil is just a little hasty in his enthusiasm. Yes, there’s a danger in setting firm dates for predictions of technological progress. However, because he makes them, Kurzweil gets people’s attention. Even when he is wrong on the exact date, he is still able to point to a trend that indicates he will be right soon enough (in most cases). So far, though, the dates have passed for the easier predictions. It gets harder going ahead.
    Kurzweil’s main point is that technology is improving exponentially not linearly. That’s a difficult point to grasp. However, we still don’t know if even exponential growth is enough to tackle some sticky problems, such as simulating human intelligence. Nobody knows where the goal posts are yet. Nor do we understand yet the principles involved in uploading a human mind to computer, never mind the engineering it would require. The answers might be just around the corner, or they might be a long way away. Time travel, for example, is possible under the laws of physics. However, the huge energies required pose a giant obstacle to making it a reality.
    I’m now reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s excellent Red Mars, which points out the difficulties in making predictions. It’s speculative fiction but also hard science fiction. The trouble is, though, that the hard science in Red Mars is the science of 1993 when it was written. In the book, the voyage to Mars took nine months, as predicted using the technology that was proven in 1993. Since then, an ion propulsion system is well along the road to development that promises to shorten the trip to about 40 days — when it happens. That certainly doesn’t look like it will be by 2026, as in Red Mars. One could argue that Robinson wasn’t being a futurist when he wrote Red Mars. However, at the time he was striving to imagine as accurately as he could, based on the knowledge available, what that future mission would look like. Unfortunately, he didn’t imagine that humans would develop a better technology for getting to Mars, even though the principles of ion propulsion were already well known back in the 1990s.
    My guess is that Robinson, in writing Red Mars, was thinking too linearly about technological progress and not in the exponential way that Kurzweil does. That’s what sets Kurzweil apart from other intelligent people who speculate about the future.

  42. Steven Hales

    Predictions are fraught with problems not the least of which is subjective assignment of probabilities. Economists make projections not predictions and as one economic forecaster said about accuracy of forecasting, forecast often. Perhaps all futurists should be making projections not predictions. Projections would take existing technologies and make projections of future combinations of these technologies to create a new technology. All successful new technologies solve some problem and perform a particular function. Speech recog is used where it is useful like in an IVR system. Doctors and Lawyers use speech recog for dictation. Time and labor saving drive these applications. Where speech recog would combine with advanced computer AI systems would be a new technology where humans communicate with an AI in real time to accomplish a task faster and with fewer labor inputs. Projections such as this are dependent on uncertain combinations of existing technologies to produce a just good enough AI interface. I would not want to make such a projection because I couldn’t be certain whether a context sensitive “search engine” could mimick a just good enough AI to produce the new technology. Is this tech 5 years, 10 years away? Most of Kurzweil’s predictions seem dependent on new knowledge in the form of fundamental breakthroughs but this is not how new technologies emerge. The combination of existing technologies to create a new technology is often not dependent on new knowledge but an insight into how existing knowledge can be rearranged to create something new. It is that new combination that could lead to new fundamental knowledge. But that new fundamental knowledge is not necessary to create the new tech it just explains why it works the way it does. The principles of radar were widely known and deployed before wwii but it was the devolpment of the cavity magnetron assembled from separate technologies and combined with several other technologies, transmitters, receivers, oscilloscopes, etc. that made RADAR truely useful. The fundamental knowledge flowed directly from experiment and testing not the other way around. Brian Arthur calls this combinatorial technological evolution. This combinatorial aspect seems to be where a probability function might be able to project future combinations of existing technologies to create the new technology but as soon as you are able to project you have already created the new technology, projection and creation in this sense are the same thing. So, the futurist can’t be just a futurist the futurist must have knowledge, detailed knowledge of all existing technology and must know the origins of this technology through past combinations and how they came together to create the new technology. It is only then that the futurist can speculate but in that speculation the futurist can create the future.

  43. Mark

    “Your review is biased, incorrect, and misleading”

    Mr Kurzweil sounds a bit like Jacky Chiles, the lawyer from Seinfeld :-)

    http://bit.ly/7CGQXo

  44. James

    RK PWND you Michael. But he was really nice about it, that was cool.

  45. Sean

    “Overall, if these are truly the “worst” of his predictions, then I would call the man a modern technological prophet with an incredible track record. Virtually all of his lifetime predictions have indeed come true in some form or another.”

    The above, quoted comment, is all that really matters with regards to this topic.

  46. Arie

    Michael, thanks for mentioning my list from Imminst, Kurzweil makes some interesting points in his response.

    Ofcourse, he is absolutely right that we should judge his credibility in forecasting by a balanced overview of all his predictions. I’m very interested to see his take on the complete list.

    And if he’s off only by a few years, it still makes him a great forecaster.

    I do however not admit to “severe selection bias”, it was very quickly compiled from this list, and in early 2008 i did not have the benefit of hindsight.

    Furthermore, i’d like to mention the fact that Kurzweil himself recently shifted some predictions from 2009 to 2020: devices inegrated in clothing, images projected on retina, and self driving vehicles.
    This should be taken as a quiet admission that these predictions were too optimistic , as far as i am concerned.

    I’ll leave the rest of his response to judge by yourself, but i will make one response to Ray’s assertion that warfare in Afghanistan is already dominated by drones: deploying 30,000 extra troops to the battlefield looks an awful lot like traditional warfare to me.

  47. Bill Daul

    Michael,

    I agree with your point about accountability. I want to note your comment, “I do believe that Kurzweil’s predictions for 2009 will come true, but maybe not until 2016 or 2018.”

    Well, I think you pretty my covered all possibilities…it will happen, it won’t happen, it might happens. I must admit you were specific to a year when it MIGHT happen. I wonder what is so significant about 2016 and 2018? I guess poor little 2017 is just packed with other stuff the MIGHT happen.

    I just like to read closely what people write…I AM NOT PERFECT…not even in the ballpark of perfection!

  48. calvin

    you list 7 of Kurzweil’s predictions that are “wrong”. How many did Kurzweil get right? Is it that he made 102 correct predictions (as he claims) or did he make no correct predictions?

    surely he made at least one right prediction. which predictions are correct?

    your assertion that Kurzweil should be accountable for the accuracy of his predictions is a valuable point. But it begs the question of how accurate he actually was.

    How many predictions did Kurzweil make in 1999? How many do you believe proved correct? how many do you believe are incorrect? What is the percentage of accuracy?

    Based on the numbers presented by you and Kurzweil here. You claim 7 are incorrect. Kurzweil claims there are 108 total predictions. he claims 102 are correct. Settling the disputed claim in your favor, Kurzweil made 101 of 108 predictions correctly.

    Which means Kurzweil has a 94% accuracy rating when making predictions a decade in advance.

    Can you provide a better analysis?

  49. Wearable computer with high rez display and LAN sounds a lot like a smartphone with a bluetooth headset.

    The only one of those predictions that seems far from true is the smart roads, and actually the new aviation navigation technologies seem pretty darn close to that, also the winners of the DARPA autonomous vehicle challenge show that the tech is very possible. I think the part that Ray may have gotten wrong is the legal hurdles that something like ubiquitous smart roads would involve, but the tech is definitely here now.

  50. Peter G.

    Having just now read the full list of 2009 predictions in TASM, I say he got about 95% of them dead wrong, and not just by a few years. Very few of them are even arguably correct.

    Some of them are physically impossible, notably the idea of a display that “projects the images directly onto the user’s retinas.” That can’t be done without bypassing the lenses, and I have no interest in a display that requires poking holes through the sides of my eyeballs.

    Kurzweil’s grossly deceptive response here shows us a man who refuses to accept the evidence of his own fallibility.

  51. Peter G.

    I took a few minutes to go through the predictions individually. I identified a total of 111 distinct, meaningful predictions (splitting up some compound predictions and omitting some trivial predictions such as trends that were already recognized as true in the 1990s) and I say that 93 of them (84%) were false.

    That’s better than I thought at first, but still a pretty poor result.

  52. Dear Michael,

    I personally believe there’s a subtle difference between “existence” and “usefulness”. The latter is generally measured by the level of interest within a group of individuals towards new technologies.

    The fact is that, virtually, we have now all the capabilities to come up with any innovation we want from RK’s list for 2009. Just give us enough time, budget and an experienced team of engineers. So, in terms of “usefulness”, I would not take any of RK’s predictions for granted but rather point out that the the vast majority of his predictions either have been already implemented (even as incipient prototypes) or are potentially plausible within a few years, albeit those may slightly vary on the fundamental principles governing them.

    But then, it will most probably require some marketing efforts to convince people to actually consume such innovations. We still have to demonstrate what the benefits are for those who eventually would be willing to trying such new inventions and radical changes.

    Unfortunately, there is still much room for us to improve socially and politically before we can set up the scenario wherein the different range of plural societies will be able to fully benefit from such technologies. Globalization and economical development would indeed help for that matter. However, this might not be so simple as it seems. We must first solve the conflict of interest which remain among many cultures.

    That said, I attribute the small mistakes done by RK in terms of dates (for + or -) to the lack of (or surplus of) interest from all societies on the technologies that we are, without doubt, ultimately and fully capable of manufacturing.

    Please, let me know whether this makes any sense for you.

    Sincerely,
    Carlos R. B. Azevedo
    Recife, Brazil

  53. Carlos, I disagree. Feel free to do a point-by-point analysis of Ray’s predictions.

  54. Futurists are great at making bold statements and sexing up technologies that are coming soon, and everyone goes ‘Wow! I want that’. When tech slowly creeps towards reality, we just say ‘oh yeah that’s quite good’. The wow factor is lost. High Def DVD… ‘Is it that much better?’ Hey how about USB3 it’s much quicker you know… ‘Oh okay then’. 3D cinema… ‘It’s alright I suppose’. Very few new technologies are gonna knock your socks off, but once in a while they might (Like VCR’s and the internet for example). I remember seeing Lawnmower Man and everyone was saying that soon we will be wearing the immersive headset and body suit. It just never went mainstream though… The closest we got to it was Second Life or perhaps Nintendo WII, but it’s still on a flat monitor and is sluggish to use. I think it’s fair to say that the statements we hear from the likes of Kurzweil and Michio Kaku paint an over-optimistic view. It’s still nice to listen to and dream about those things. Maybe it will inspire some of the people who work every day to get those products on the shelf.

  55. Miguel Antonio

    It was about time. This transhumanist movement was turning into a cult, there didn’t seem to be critical thinking any more.

    Michael made the greatest offense possible, question his mentor.

    It’s not surprise Mr. Kurzweil tends to rationalize his mistakes with confusing dialectics.

    Well done, Michael!

  56. Abashed

    I cant believe all the crap, really CRAP , coming out of some people’s comments, Ray K DID predict with incredible accuracy in most case if you take into account that some told him he was CENTURIES OFF!@!! and yet in the worse cases Ray was off by A FEW YEARS AT WORST!!!!! So who is laughable???? Can you even predict how much money you will have to retire on with any accuracy???? or if you will even have any? I mean if you bet it all against Ray its obvious you wont have a cent left to your name I can tell you that much with 100% accuracy. But predicting a specific field of technology will be attained during a specific decade is already serious predictions if it happens within a decade of whatever date he specified then I am sorry but he was 100% accurate and shame on you for being such a bullshit seeking retard especially if you are one of the ones who laugh at him while yet having missed YOUR prediction by at least 90 years by saying he would be off by a century. For in such a case who is more accurate the one who is off by a few years or the retard who said he would be off by far much?

    A lot of the time spend accusing others would be much better spent furthering a cause of your own, at least the guy has as accomplished a shitload more already than most here will ever accomplish put together. Again who is laughing……

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  59. wasamatawichu

    I think what we are seeing is two common traps for futurists. The first is the time horizon. I can easily predict what will happen in a few minutes(I’m off to dinner) I can easily make a prediction about what will happen in 2050 (not my problem, I’m dead by then) The six to ten year forecast is the most dangerous. It is just close enough that I may be held to it and that idiosynchratic things like the business cycle may interfere. The second is the temptation to stray outside their area of expertise. Ray’s 1996 predictions suggest that computers have fundamentally altered the dynamics of the economy. This was a fashionable idea about then, but has been discredited a bit sence about 2001. This is how he missed the bursting of the tech bubble. He is also not an expert in how to wage warfare and may have missed the “dominate” bit. I think a lot of guys coming back from Iraq would say the AK-47 and the IED dominate warfare as they experience it. As to the wearable computer prediction, his response mentions the ipod shuffle-like devices. We have a tendency to reinterpret vague predictions after-the-fact when we judge their accuracy. This is why people still see something in Nostradamus. When both making predictions and reading them critically, these are important traps to avoid.

    I would not worry about predictions that are wrong plus or minus ten years of the direction is essentially correct. In the 1950s people were predicting that nuclear energy would make electricity too cheap to meter. The thing to watch out for is breakthroughs that never come or scientific achievements that become less plausible over time as we discover more about how to achieve it. An AIDS vacine for example.

  60. The embedded in clothes thing really bothered me.

    Yes, people do wear ipod nano’s as jewelry, but that’s different then a peace of jewelry that has a computer in it.

    The Nike + iPod thing is pretty close to what he was talking about, (2 computers networked wirelessly). But I wouldn’t call that common place.

    Now what he said about “pocket sized computers” is true, but that’s been true for 30 + years.

    A walkman maybe a “small computer”, a discman almost certainly is, not to mention gameboys, gamegears, virtual pets, digital watches and cell phones.

    Also, MP3 players came out in 1998, and PDA’s came out in 1996. (TASM was published in ’99). So if he’s pointing to things like that as “wearable computers”, then he really didn’t say anything new.

  61. christophe

    I think that predictions at ten years is not very hard (exaflops supercomputers…). But at 20 or 30 years is more difficult and less accurate.

  62. H. Dufort

    I think Kurzwell is off by just a few years, which isn’t bad after all. On the other hand, looking 10 years ahead is not so difficult. Here’s the “state of the art” for the 7 technologies:

    1. Wearable computers are just around the corner, the first building blocks being Bluetooth earphones (which can also transmit vocal commands or offer interactive audio services), smartphones with powerful CPUs and graphical capabilities, and augmented reality goggles. Once we manage to de-couple the processing power, camera, audio, video, memory storage and wifi antenna, we get small enough units that we can embed into clothing or accessories. I like to call it the “personal network” or “wearable network” because nodes will need to communicate wirelessly and because it will be a component-made and not monolithic system.

    2. Speech recognition (most notably for search functions) is currently offered by the latest generation of BlackBerry phones. Well it’s not like you can have a conversation with your electronic assistant, but it’s a start. You can also use Dragon Speech to control your computer and even dictate text, but this tool is tedious to configure, costly and not well integrated in the system. However speech recognition and synthetic speech, coupled with touchscreens, will start a revolution in human-computer interaction.

    3. Not quite there yet, but augmented reality goggles offer an interesting technology. See the Vuzix Wrap920AR, which is the current state-of-the-art. And expect prices, sizes and functionality to change very quickly (at around 500$ these goggles would start to appeal to the gadget enthusiast). “Augmented reality” is currently the buzzword in the smartphone industry, and we expect a very fast growth and adoption as of 2011-2012. Currently there are usable AR applications in gaming, shopping, social networking, arts, tourism, etc. Expect having a status floating over your head (virtually) in a year or so!

    4. This prediction is hard to defend, although we have seen lots of innovations recently, such as flexible circuit boards, flexible displays, spintronics, DNA computing, memristor, and even some building blocks for a future nanotech toolkit (see Rotaxane for instance). The only 3D technology that should become available on the short term is holographic memory. We’re still waiting for photonics, quantum computing and other radical technologies to emerge commercially. And we might not even need “true” layered 3D circuits on the long run… anyway, computronium is not related to classical semiconductor circuits.

    5. This is currently an emerging technology, but the results aren’t very good. You can still use “instant” translation to get a rough understanding of a foreign language or to translate utilitary sentences (“Where is the nearest restaurant?”) But the currently level in this technology is far from functional.

    6. There has been a shift towards drones since Gulf War 2, and many countries are developing drones with various capabilities. This is a perfect technological storm, with cheap CPUs, cellphone circuit boards, wi-fi, satellite tracking/GPS, digital cameras, real-time video protocols, better onboard batteries, and other components easily available.

    7. As of 2011, some car models offer automated parking, crash mitigation brake systems, and limited assisted driving. But they’re still not driving and flocking automatically on the highways.

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  76. Neil Juggins

    I first read Ray’s book “The Age of Spiritual Machines” in 1999 and was blown away by the predictions. As he argues, he is essentially correct for most that he made for 2009. However, a number of the predictions he makes going forward centre around the assumption of very high speed networks being available. These are mostly being built by the telcos. The reason that some of his 2009 predictions do not appear as accurate as all that is because the pervasiveness of 3G networks is not as widespread as we all expected 10 years ago, due to underinvestment by the telcos, which in turn is due to many operators overpaying for spectrum. If Ray misses his predictions by a few years here or there, it will be because of economics, not what is possible in the lab. Telco operators are poor at anticipating future trends, especially in what consumers are prepared to pay for, and may underinvest in high-speed networks. Of course, many of these telcos may themselves have disappeared by 2019 and the high speed data networks may be built and owned by the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook.

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