February 22, 2008 5:41 AM PST

Kurzweil: 'Exponential' change ahead for games, people

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SAN FRANCISCO--Despite the title of the keynote speech at the Game Developers Conference here--"The Next 20 Years of Gaming"--games played only a very small part in the presentation.

Delivered by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, the keynote address--the second at GDC--centered on Moore's Law, which describes the exponential growth of computing capabilities for cutting-edge hardware.

As chips are progressively able to perform more calculations for less money, and in a package that's continually shrinking, Kurzweil told the GDC audience to look for the price-to-performance ratio of computers to improve a billionfold in the next 25 years. The devices will eventually become small enough, Kurzweil said, that scientists can create fake blood cell-size computers to perform the same functions of natural blood cells.

"But I'm getting a little ahead of myself," the futurist joked.

Modern electronics are so powerful, Kurzweil said, that other fields that rely on them will be subject to advancements at the same pace as the chips that power them. With hardware that powerful, the limiting factor on what can be done with it becomes the software.

Ray Kurtzweil
Photo courtesy of the Game Developers Conference
Ray Kurzweil speaks at GDC.

"You can't ignore the exponential projections," Kurzweil said. "If you're programming a game or any type of information-based technology two or three years from now, the world's going to be completely different."

One of Kurzweil's biggest successes as an inventor was a 1979 print-to-speech reading device that was about the size of a washing machine and would "read" text on paper for the visually impaired. Given the advance of technology, Kurzweil knew that the technology would become smaller and more powerful, eventually allowing for a handheld print-to-speech reading machine that blind people could carry with them to read newspapers, menus, street signs, or anything else they pointed at.

In 2002, he estimated that the necessary hardware for the handheld unit would be ready in mid-2006. He also estimated that it would take four years to write the complex software that could identify various fonts and cursive writing from different angles and in all the conditions such a handheld would be used.

Kurzweil began working on the software for the device in 2002, even though he didn't think it would be feasible for another four years. He eventually met his projection in the summer of 2006 with a portable unit he admitted was cumbersome. Less than two years after that model was produced, Kurzweil now has the entire thing working on a standard-size, feature-packed cell phone. He pulled out a prototype and had it read a passage about advancing artificial intelligence that impressed the crowd, and drew a round of hollers and applause.

Touching on the topic of the convention, Kurzweil said programmers should be developing ahead of the curve in the same fashion, considering the constantly changing face of game technology.

Returning to the notion that exponential growth in the power of computer devices will affect everything else, Kurzweil explained how previously unrelated fields will essentially become information technology fields. For instance, in the field of medicine, an artificial red blood cell called a respirocyte could eventually duplicate the work of the real thing, but with 1,000 times the efficiency.

"Biology is very capable and intricate and clever," Kurzweil said, "but it's also very suboptimal, compared to what we ultimately can build with information technology and nanotechnology...If you were to replace a portion of your blood with these respirocytes, you could do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath or sit at the bottom of your pool for four hours."

Kurzweil also believes that nanotechnology will solve the world's energy crisis within two decades. Solar panels are hard to manufacture, heavy, inefficient, and expensive, but Kurzweil said the advent of nanoengineered solar panels will change that.

Within five years, he believes that those high-tech solar panels will become less expensive per watt of energy produced than oil, taking away the financial incentive for people to burn through nonrenewable natural resources. Within 20 years, they will have largely replaced fossil fuels as the primary source of the world's energy.

In a more general view, Kurzweil noted that the average life expectancy was growing at the rate of roughly three months a year. Now that information technology is affecting medicine, Kurzweil projected that in 15 years, the life expectancy of people will start expanding at the rate of more than a year for every year that passes, essentially not only delaying death, but actually pushing it further away with each passing day.

"We didn't stay on the ground," Kurzweil said. "We didn't stay on the planet. And we have not stayed within the limitations of our biology."

Brendan Sinclair of GameSpot reported from San Francisco.

See more CNET content tagged:
Exponential Technology, field, information technology, handheld, games


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He's always been so full of it. Talking ahead of the curve. Funny
how his book quite a few years ago didn't contain the same
projections as these. And his assumption that Moore's law will
continue apace forever is nonsense too. It's not a law to begin

There are limits and they just haven't been reached yet. He's
been predicting immortality for years and years. And now that
people know he previous road to immortality (make a copy of
yourselves and let that copy live forever) doesn't mean we live
forever, he's simply outrunning biology. It would be cool, but
sorry. There's no evidence that what he's saying is true. Shoot,
how long have we been working on a cure for so many cancers?
We can't find a vaccine for AIDS? Things don't always go
according to plan.
Posted by ewelch (767 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There is, of course, one redeeming fact buried in your comment. With RK's work, things may not actually end up where he is imagining - after all, it's not like he has perfect knowledge of the circumstances he describes. Most likely, though, we will end 70%, 80% or 90% of the way there, thanks to the contribution of people who combine foresight and imagination with action and resources. I doubt we will be able to say nearly the same of the people who follow your line of thinking. Isn't Darwin great?
Posted by xsmillions (8 comments )
Link Flag
Actually its possible already...
There is no physical law that prevents a biological organism from living forever. Our genetics are coded for aging and death, change that code and you change how it functions. They have already gene spliced mice to regrow any damaged tissue, perfectly without scare tissue, going so far as to take pieces out of the mouse's heart and have it regenerate back to 100% health.

Complete regeneration and healing is possible, telemerase being a key component. As well as the control of cascading aging genes.

There really is no need for cloning and harvesting organs or other feable means of health care once the full function of genetic codes are truly understood, its literally the programming of life.

That does not mean you will live forever, if you get tossed into a meat grinder you will still die.

There is already a proven treatment to prevent the spread of AIDS, again using genetic splicing of an algea with Tabcco plants of all things, although curing the already infected is still not there yet (that I know of). And when that treatment becomes available you you will not be able to produce it yourself, because you are not allowed to grow Tobacco in the U.S. unless you are a sanctioned Tobacco company. (see how that works).

Unfortunately all of these works are contested by religous groups, and in some cases drug companies, who desparately don't want actual cures, they want profitable, patentable treatments.

No one funds research on cures, its all about treatments. If you actually found a one-shot cheap cure to specific type of cancer, you would disappear the day after you annouced it. And then be bashed the next day as a fraud. (think cold fusion, then actually look it up)

After that there is always the issue of over population to consider.....
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
Link Flag
Stretch goals Break Limits
Stretch goals help push the agenda. They can't always be achieved. Without trying, much less is usually achieved because of lack of impetus/drive...

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://cognitivelabs.com/kurzweil.htm" target="_newWindow">http://cognitivelabs.com/kurzweil.htm</a>
kurzweil 'game'
Posted by azareus (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why Ray Rules
I think we need big idea-focused people who can see what we refuse to, like Ray. Anyone can be a naysayer and poo-poo ideas like the telephone, electricity, or flushing toilets, but it takes someone like him to see beyond what is easy to imagine and really project possibility into reality. I liked to this piece in my blog at the Innovators-Network so my readers can get some inspiration from Ray's big vision for the future and maybe put their business skills to work capitalizing on what might be instead of dragging through life caught in the what was or is.
Posted by anthonykuhn (7 comments )
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