8 minutes reading time (1638 words)

Ray Kurzweil's predictions for 2019: how accurate will they be?

Ray Kurzweil's predictions for 2019: how accurate will they be? JD Lasica, CC licence https://www.flickr.com/photos/jdlasica/271056457

In 1999’s The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil predicted technological achievements which would be commonly available within first-world societies every ten years. Kurzweil’s predictions go up to 2099, so as it’s coming up to a year with a 9 at the end, now is time to revisit his predictions for 2019, and to see where we are with them at the moment. (Here’s the source.) Out of 48 predictions, 25 are already complete, which is an admirable hit rate. (NB: our definition of “completed” is a technological achievement which is reasonably commonplace).


​The computational capacity of a $4,000 computing device (in 1999 dollars) is approximately equal to the computational capability of the human brain (20 quadrillion calculations per second). ​PCs are capable of around 50 million floating point operations per second (FLOPs), although supercomputers have significantly exceeded 20 quadrillion.
​The summed computational powers of all computers is comparable to the total brainpower of the human race. ​There is some way to go with this one.
​Computers are embedded everywhere in the environment (inside of furniture, jewelry, walls, clothing, etc.). ​Embedded circuits, whether for IOT or RFID, are now commonplace.
​People experience 3-D virtual reality through glasses and contact lenses that beam images directly to their retinas (retinal display). Coupled with an auditory source (headphones), users can remotely communicate with other people and access the Internet. ​VR offerings from Google, Oculus et al.
​People communicate with their computers via two-way speech and gestures instead of with keyboards.​Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant.
​Most business transactions or information inquiries involve dealing with a simulated person. ​Chatbots.
​Most people own more than one PC, though the concept of what a "computer" is has changed considerably: Computers are no longer limited in design to laptops or CPUs contained in a large box connected to a monitor. Instead, devices with computer capabilities come in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes. ​Phones, watches, tablets, televisions, consoles, IOT devices.
​Cables connecting computers and peripherals have almost completely disappeared. Bluetooth.
​Rotating computer hard drives are no longer used. ​SSD hard drives.
​Three-dimensional nanotube lattices are the dominant computing substrate. ​A fully 3D nanotube computer was announced at Stanford in 2013, but has yet to permeate the commercial market.
​Massively parallel neural nets and genetic algorithms are in wide use. ​AI is embedded in a wide range of consumer applications.
​Destructive scans of the brain and noninvasive brain scans have allowed scientists to understand the brain much better. The algorithms that allow the relatively small genetic code of the brain to construct a much more complex organ are being transferred into computer neural nets. ​Progress is still to be made in this area.
​Pinhead-sized cameras are everywhere. ​Phones, tablets, and smart home devices.
​Nanotechnology is more capable and is in use for specialized applications, yet it has not yet made it into the mainstream. "Nanoengineered machines" begin to be used in manufacturing. ​As Kurzweil states.
​Thin, lightweight, handheld displays with very high resolutions are the preferred means for viewing documents. The aforementioned computer eyeglasses and contact lenses are also used for this same purpose, and all download the information wirelessly. ​Tablets, Wi-fi.
​Computers have made paper books and documents almost completely obsolete. ​Physical book sales are in fact increasing at the expense of e-books.
​Most learning is accomplished through intelligent, adaptive courseware presented by computer-simulated teachers. In the learning process, human adults fill the counselor and mentor roles instead of being academic instructors. These assistants are often not physically present, and help students remotely.​MOOCs.
​Students still learn together and socialize, though this is often done remotely via computers. ​MOOCs and social media.
​All students have access to computers. ​As Kurzweil states.
​Most human workers spend the majority of their time acquiring new skills and knowledge. ​The "knowledge economy" is clearly in existence, but there remains a significant amount of the population engaged in manual labour, and the gig economy.
​Blind people wear special glasses that interpret the real world for them through speech. Sighted people also use these glasses to amplify their own abilities.​Devices such as OrCam provide exactly this feature.
​Retinal and neural implants also exist, but are in limited use because they are less useful. ​Kurzweil's "limited use" offers something of a get-out clause here. There is clearly ongoing work in this area which has yet to be commodified.
​Deaf people use special glasses that convert speech into text or signs, and music into images or tactile sensations. Cochlear and other implants are also widely used. ​Demonstrated by Google Glass in 2014 (and one of those case studies that was overlooked by the negative press coverage).
​People with spinal cord injuries can walk and climb steps using computer-controlled nerve stimulation and exoskeletal robotic walkers. ​Devices such as ReWalk provide exactly this feature.
​Computers are also found inside of some humans in the form of cybernetic implants. These are most commonly used by disabled people to regain normal physical faculties​.​Various projects across the world are engaged in precisely this development.
​Language translating machines are of much higher quality, and are routinely used in conversations. ​Google Translate and similar services provide exactly this service.
​Effective language technologies (natural language processing, speech recognition, speech synthesis) exist.​Google Translate and similar services provide exactly this service.
​Anyone can wirelessly access the internet with wearable devices such as computerized glasses, contacts, and watches.​Wi-Fi.
​Traditional computers and communication devices such as desktop PCs, laptops, and cell phones still exist, but most of their functions can be performed by wearable gadgets. Examples include reading books, listening to music, watching movies, playing games, and teleconferencing.​Wearables.
​Devices that deliver sensations to the skin surface of their users (e.g. tight body suits and gloves) are also sometimes used in virtual reality to complete the experience. "Virtual sex"—in which two people are able to have sex with each other through virtual reality, or in which a human can have sex with a "simulated" partner that only exists on a computer—becomes a reality.​Virtual sex is indeed in existence, but in many different ways to that foreseen by Kurzweil. The sensory extravaganza espoused by Kurzweil has yet to materialise, as fucking real human beings remains a great pastime.
​Just as visual- and auditory virtual reality have come of age, haptic technology has fully matured and is completely convincing, yet requires the user to enter a V.R. booth. It is commonly used for computer sex and remote medical examinations. It is the preferred sexual medium since it is safe and enhances the experience.​Haptics are prevalent in phones and smart watches for alerting and usability.
​Worldwide economic growth has continued. There has not been a global economic collapse. ​We know how this one turned out.
​The vast majority of business interactions occur between humans and simulated retailers, or between a human's virtual personal assistant and a simulated retailer.​Chatbots.
​Household robots are ubiquitous and reliable. ​If one considers Alexa devices to be "household robots" then this is partially complete.
​Computers do most of the vehicle driving—-humans are in fact prohibited from driving on highways unassisted.​Driverless cars remain in test, with social acceptance perhaps being the harder challenge than technological achievement.
​Most roads now have automated driving systems—networks of monitoring and communication devices that allow computer-controlled automobiles to safely navigate.​See above, although Elon Musk's ubiquitous Hyperloop is a manifestation of this idea.
​Prototype personal flying vehicles using microflaps exist. They are also primarily computer-controlled.​Uber is investigating personal flying devices, as are many competitors.
​Humans are beginning to have deep relationships with automated personalities, which hold some advantages over human partners​.Lil Miquela and her ilk represent such a development.
​Most decisions made by humans involve consultation with machine intelligence. For example, a doctor may seek the advice of a digital assistant. A lawyer might utilize a virtual researcher. Or a shopper may receive recommendations from a software program that has learned his or her shopping habits.​Amazon and other retailers of course provide this service, although it is still in progress with other sectors.
​While a growing number of humans believe that their computers and the simulated personalities they interact with are intelligent to the point of human-level consciousness, experts dismiss the possibility that any could pass the Turing Test.​As per Kurzweil's explanation.
​Human-robot relationships begin as simulated personalities become more convincing.​See Lil Miquela.
​Interaction with virtual personalities becomes a primary interface.​Ditto.
​Public places and workplaces are ubiquitously monitored to prevent violence and all actions are recorded permanently. Personal privacy is a major political issue, and some people protect themselves with unbreakable computer codes.​Given the current discussions around privacy, data, and Facebook's annus horribilis, Kurzweil is bang on with this one. The "unbreakable computer codes" may be as simplistic as a retail VPN.
​The basic needs of the underclass are met.​See above re: worldwide economic growth.
​Virtual artists—creative computers capable of making their own art and music—emerge in all fields of the arts.​As per Kurzweil's explanation.
​Most flying weapons are bird-sized robots. Some are as small as insects.​As travellers at London Gatwick could testify just before Christmas, drones have successfully fulfilled this prediction.
​Average life expectancy is over 100.​The highest life expectancy is in Japan, at 83.7 years.
​Computerized watches, clothing, and jewelry can monitor the wearers health continuously. They can detect many types of diseases and offer recommendations for treatment.​The FDA clearance of the Apple Watch, which can monitor the wearer's heart rate and alert medical authorities if necessary, has fulfilled this prediction.
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