Ray Kurzweil Response to “Ray Kurzweil’s Failed 2009 Predictions”

Today, I received an email from Ray Kurzweil responding to my January 5th post titled “Ray Kurzweil’s Failed 2009 Predictions”, where I said that I found a list of seven of his “1999 predictions for 2009″ that I thought were false. Below is the letter in its entirety. I have read the letter and am thinking about it. I will conduct further research on all the claims and produce a response with my new thoughts shortly.

—–

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. Mike

    Look at one of his charts from “The singularity is near”. It shows that CPU clock speed should be about 11.5 Ghz by 2010.
    singularity.com/charts/page61.html
    That’s obviously false. Most chips haven’t gone above 4 ghz.

    Do you really think Kurzweil has a new chart that shows how wrong his prediction was? My guess is that he doesn’t. I don’t think you could have a reasonable discussion about these things with him. He needs to be much more realistic about his misses.

  2. Steve

    @Mike,
    It may be mincing words, but could my 2.66 GHz quad core clocked to 3.6 GHz be effectively operating at 14.38 GHz? Kurzweil could not have known how these speeds would have been implemented (otherwise he’d be filling out patents and not writing books.)

  3. Jordan

    At Mike,

    That graph is obviously false, you’re right. But, seeings as Kurzweil’s response was that *most* of his predictions are right, and not all, could you provide more examples of obviously false graphs or predictions?

  4. Craig Blaylock

    @mike I don’t know, the Core i7-975 Extreme Edition has 4 cores, each operating at 3.3 Ghz. Four computes each cycle makes the effective speed 13.2 Ghz. While the literal prediction of clock speed is indeed false, I think the reality is probably close enough. Besides, who wants a 12 gigahertz processor if it’s single-core?

  5. Craig Blaylock

    @Steve,
    Heh, we were thinking the same thing.

  6. Steve

    The 2016 Prediction of 28.7 GHz is right on track for an 8 core chip @ 3.6 GHz.

  7. Spence

    eh…I don’t know. I think Kurzweil is partially to blame for the rigid interpretations of his predictions. In his TED talk he said, “In 2010 Computers disappear [into our clothing]”

    Well if he meant *some* computers/peripherals/gadgets become incredibly small and get embedded into clothing or are worn as clothing he should have said so.

    I think he chose (consciously or not) to use more evocative yet ambiguous language for emphasis.

    If he had said “In 2010 the trend towards wearable computing explodes” it would not have seemed so “out there” but perhaps that was the point.

    It’s funny, I’ve *never* been a critic of Kurzweil’s math or the concept of Accelerating Returns, just the manner in which he presents his case.

  8. “102 out of 108 predictions are either precisely correct or essentially correct.”

    To call that reasonably good prediction is a huge understatement. It’s an amazing achievement.

    @Spence: “Well if he meant *some* computers/peripherals/gadgets become incredibly small … he should have said so.” Do you really think he could have been saying that *all* computers would be worn? Data centers would be full of dudes in really baggy clothing…

    Kurzweil has explained on numerous occasions that his predictions are general in nature, out of necessity.

  9. Virgilic

    Ray is not a psychic, he makes educated guesses.

    this means that it is reasonbale to get some of the predictions wrong, slighlty or entirely.

    He likes to make predictions, what would you have him do, shut up? You honestly think that his hit rate is that bad as to make a joke out of him?

    Honestly!?

  10. Future predictions are like calling a pool shot, indicating what kind of dive you will make or calling and attempting a basketball shot for a game of HORSE.

    Not all predictions are equal. There is difficulty and relevance to what is being predicted.

    A double bank combinations shot is different than straight side pocket tap in shot.
    A triple twisting backflip is not the same as a cannonball.
    A half court shot hitting only net is different than a basic layup.

    IBM Power6 has 5.0 Ghz versions. Overclocking can easily exceed 6 GHz.
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/07/11/ibm_power7_ncsa/

    IBM Power 7 is also cranking up to 5.0 Ghz
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/10/16/ibm_power7_z11_rollout/

    plasmonic, graphene could transform chip speeds.

    silicon germanium (and other expensive formulations are also far faster now.

  11. My article following Michael’s original post did have a more thorough analysis and emphasized the qualifying words aspect.

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/01/reviewing-kurzweil-predictions-from.html

  12. Some of the quibbles about dates could be solved by Ray making probabilistic predictions, e.g. by providing a simple set of probabilities peaked around a certain year and with a certain spread.

    The definitional quibbles could be solved by having precise definitions of terms like “Jewelery”, “3D chip”, “popular”, etc.

    For futurism to come of age, it has to move beyond the primitive technology of vague English terms and get quantitative.

  13. Matt Perry

    Michael I honestly think he has you bested here. I don’t buy a couple of his explanations but it is true that you can hardly nail him for being a couple years off in a couple of areas in a couple of predictions.

    I don’t see the obsession with clock speed. Ray was irrefutably wrong here but this isn’t a good measurement of computation power and when it comes to actual performance chips are progressing along Ray’s graphs quite nicely. And yes as other people have said, if you want clock speed to be a relevant stat you should multiply it by the number of cores present.

    One thing I will say is I just don’t buy Ray’s (and many other’s) idea of sensors embedded in our clothing. I very much doubt this will ever happen – a product like this is likely but I imagine it will be more in the shape of Nike+ where sensor and clothing are essentially separate. There’s no good having shirts with different versions! However I do think that augmented reality will sound the deathlnell of many hardware manufacturers, especially of displays. The monitor and television will all but disappear and then we will have a real case of computers becoming clothing.

  14. Panda

    I think we will see how credible Mr. Kurzweil is when he publishes his detailed analysis of his predictions. Until then, I withhold judgment.

  15. Most of Kurzweils predictions are vague in the extent to which the technology is said to have spread by the given date.

    Most “recent” technologies have actually been floating around in nascent form for decades.

    So, saying that they will be “common” by 2009 is hard to validate. We need numbers, like “50% of the US population will own one.”

  16. Dave

    @Joshua: Who cares how many people own one?

    @Roko: “For futurism to come of age, it has to move beyond the primitive technology of vague English terms and get quantitative.”

    I think 90% of Kurzweil’s predictions are quantitative, i.e. his ubiquitous charts. If you mean probabilistic, that’s another thing. I think for prediction markets or futures traders that might be useful, but it isn’t all that great for popular futurism.

    @Everyone: We mustn’t forget Kurzweil’s intent here. It is to generally convince people that technology is exponentially growing, and that that concept has great implications. He gives dates only to demonstrate his growth claims. This isn’t horse betting.

    I think he gives guesses as to what technologies will be adapted just so people can get a sense for the impact these changes will have, but its really hard to say which exact products people will like. His most fundamental claims are about trends in computation, which, as they have for the last 30 years, continue to be borne out.

  17. Mike

    @Steve 4 cores operating at 3 Ghz does not equal 12 Ghz. I’m sorry but it doesn’t work that way. There is also not a linear increase in processing power with more cores either. There are already limitations that Kurzweil never addresses.
    gotw.ca/publications/concurrency-ddj.htm

    @Brian Wang I understand that there are faster GHZ processors. Most chips are not 6 Ghz though and even that speed is half what Kurzweil thought they would be by now.

    @Matt Perry, I’m not obsessed with clock speed. Kurzweil is the one who made the chart. A lot of his charts do not actually predict the future. They stop at 2000 or 2005. So on one of the few charts that he does continue the trend 10 years into the future, he gets it wrong.

  18. I’m torn here. Like Michael, I think that Kurzweil’s vision is essentially correct overall. At the same time, he seems to be bending over backwards to defend the validity of some of his predictions. For example, while important, UAVs don’t dominate warfare in Afghanistan or anywhere else. There’s still plenty of old-fashioned combat, as evidenced by the over three hundred Americans killed there last year. Kurzweil deserves props for seeing the coming power of drones back in the 1990s, but he overestimated how rapidly they would take over. Honestly, I bet boots on the ground will stay critical through 2019, though that depends entirely on what type of military operations nations decide to pursue.

  19. Dante

    My Uncle used to work on chip design. He didn’t work on it, but one of his workmates did; a 30-core chip. A prototype was even constructed…

    Intel showed off an 80-core chip in 2007…

    We’re dealing with a futurist here. A very good futurist, but still just a futurist. I would prefer it if everyone didn’t take his word as the gospel and treated it like a general rule, mkay?

  20. Spence

    @Brien

    he said, “Computers disappear” which brings me back to my main problem with Kurzweil’s predictions. It’s not his vision, I emphatically agree with it.

    What I have a (relatively small) problem with is his use of language. To say something disappears means that what you once saw, you no longer see. We still see them. That the marketplace is now augmented by the devices he describes may validate his prediction, but doesn’t validate his choice of words.

    Please don’t get me wrong. I offer up these criticisms with the intent to be constructive. Because as someone who shares his vision, I think it would be better if he communicated it in less evocative terms. To that end, I would prefer see him move from dramatic speech to something more like a confidence interval. I think it would get more attention and cause more people to take him seriously.

    I think Ray deserves better that the criticisms he’s be on the receiving end of, but I don’t put the blame *solely* on the incredulity born from a lack of vision that constitutes the bulk of the criticisms he’s received. Obviously that’s a problem, but there are things he can do to mitigate it and taking on a more statistical tone would help.

    On the other hand…I absolutely understand his desire to be dramatic, because the future will be dramatically different. In an objective sense, his dramatic tone is justified. But if his goal is to get people thinking about the future so they can prepare for it, I strongly believe he needs to be more subtle.

  21. Got future?

    I’d like to see a list or just one prediction (that came true) that was predicted by someone else and wasn’t predicted by Kurzweil.

    I’d also like to see a list of current or just-around-the-corner tech that no predictions ever existed for.

  22. Extrapolator, not a visionary

    The predictions of Kurzweil are generally mid to high probability events. That’s why they generally do not fail, and as a futurist he is considered a success.

    It would be interesting to see a list of highly uncertain, highly speculative, low probability (yet non-zero, i.e. actually physically possible) Black Swan technologies and events, if any are considered by Mr. Kurzweil or other futurists. A “Futurism goes Sci-Fi” or “Low Probability Future” list. A list of “could plausibly happen but probably won’t (ever)”. Aren’t the current predictions about uploading, FAI, and MNT, a bit like that already?

    Not just vague predictions like “During this century physical reality can be manipulated and controlled in increasingly powerful and precise ways blurring and ultimately removing the lines between reality, augmented reality, and full simulation.” but exact, precisely defined tangible tech, like “in 2020-2030, we’re extremely unlikely to see x which has the features and capabilities a, b, and c, but it just might happen.”

    What about the deep future? Can anyone say anything about the year 20010?

  23. hey very nice information buddy keep posting such a nice information.

  24. Dave

    @Extrapolator, not a visionary: “What about the deep future? Can anyone say anything about the year 20010?”

    By the year 20010 Democrats may pass a health care bill.

  25. I made about 156 technology predictions back in 2006. I have an article with a link to the predictions and links to a series of articles that discuss the background and reasoning of the predictions. I have followup articles where I review the status of the predictions.

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2006/03/summary-information-supporting-my.html

    I have a long now bet that a 100+ qubit system will be commercially sold as product or service by Dec 31 ,2010. Critical to this at this point is if Dwave Systems is able to generate revenue from their 128 qubit system by the end of this year and how quantum their system is or is not. They have published papers on the quantumness aspect.

    I have predictions that china will pass the USA economy on a exchange rated basis in 2015-2020.

  26. Obinhi

    @Summerspeaker: Being in the AF, and being in the Afghan AOR I can tell you that the trend of UAV making kill is rising fast. When I was there in 07 the kill rate was about 1/5 of what it is today. I am sorry that I cannot get you numbers, as that is classified, but I can tell you that UAVs score about as many confirmed kills as manned aircraft now, and should exceed that this year or the next. This will not replace boots on ground, sure, but if you look at results and scare value, i.e. if you scare someone in to not fighting, and thus not having to die for a cause, UAVs are cheaper and more effective then a human already. A robot does not have life insurance or dependence, it does not need a MWR program…yet.

    I will however say that the whole weapons the size or birds thing is a bit off, unless you mean stuff that is being tested. Air to ground weapons are not quite bird size, unless you count ostridges.

  27. Sorry Michael, but Ray whooped your ass on this one..

  28. @Ray K

    That comment about computers disappearing into your clothing just makes you sound crazy.

    What I don’t think your thinking on the singularity takes into account is that the conceptual side of things will be easier to improve than we thought.

    You over focus on pure hardware. Almost a brute force attack. The quad core is a good example, Intel could have built a faster single core, but it turned out to be easier and better to develop laterally and simply have many cores. The overall prediction is still good in my opinion.

    I think an obviously Epic Fail prediction is the 3D chips. For you to say that chips use layering is ridiculous. Chips used layering at the time of the prediction and it hasn’t changed much. In the same vain, I’d like to predict that in 10 years, TVs will be 3D. Oops, that’s already true. Doh!

    I myself predicted 3D chips 15 years ago based on the speed of electron issues and heat issues – ideally the chip would be spherical, or perhaps a spherical fractal lattice to allow heat dissipation. Unlike you, Ray, I didn’t announce that it would happen in 2009. I actually think its unlikely to happen for another ten or twenty years.

    I noticed something one day in 1992. I was looking out my dorm room window and there was a hill. It had rained that day. There was a trail down the hill. Part of the trail went down a steeper part of the hill. The trail split into many lesser worn paths across the steep area as people tried to find the easiest way down without falling. This is very similar concept to Punctuated Equilibrium. Its not a smooth staircase curve, the upward trends are really chaotic and would better be demonstrated with a 3D graph , were the 3rd dimension was the number of alternative paths upwards.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punctuated_equilibrium

    I think you are trying to do exactly what you claim is impossible, namely predict a single event versus your own dogma that only statistical predictions will be accurate.

    Ray, stop picking the dots out of your charts, be happy that you predicted the line.

    And please, don’t predict anything else about computers in clothes. Its like the 50s and flying cars. It isn’t going to happen.

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  31. Nkateko

    Michael,why did you only talk about a few of the ones you thought were “misses”? And why did you change the wording. Don’t you think you were biased? I mean even 89 out of 108 correct predictions is phenomenal! Please give Ray credit for that. Surely you must be impressed.

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    So now it’s mid 2012 and Siri is listening and talking to me from my iPhone (or is that actually via my iPhone considering the servers and all). And in September the next iPhone will probably be announced, no doubt with better Siri integration and understanding.

    Drones are everywhere now and they’re not only built for the military or other agencies, but by normal people tinkering away, fueled by collaborative knowledge and technology from sites like diydrones.com (started by Wired editor Chris Anderson).

    Was Kurzweil wrong? Nope. Was he totally accurate? Nope. Does he need to evaluate his presentation skills and cut some bullshit from his charts? Definitely.

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  65. Myself, Marilyn Woodley and my husband Brian Woodley have volunteered at almost all of our Regionals (B.C.) and have volunteered at several Nationals and would like to volunteer for your 2013 Nationals for all 3 or 4 days. Haven’t worked out yet when we will be there but it is still early. One thing we wanted to know was whether or not there is camping on site. We have been hearing that there is not and if so, we would like to know as soon as possible so that we can make alternate arrangements. Thank-you looking forward to hearing from you and also taking part in this great event. Marilyn W.

  66. The subsequent time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I imply, I do know it was my option to read, however I actually thought youd have something fascinating to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you may fix should you werent too busy on the lookout for attention.some tips here!

  67. Buggati Veyron Super Sport it’s the fastet car in the world there’s no point of debating it, I mean the car was tested three years ago and no car has ever beat it’s 267 mph.

  68. Didn’t think that it was a big secret that RVCA is actually pronounced “RUCA” and is the word for clothes in Greek.

  69. Hi again It seems I can’t read, as I just checked your site and saw your notice on on-site camping. Sorry about that. Will check in later in the year for all the registration information. Thanks again.

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