on stageRay Kurzweil looks boldly into the future at 2016 Tech Leadership Conference

with Ray Kurzweil
May 18, 2016

Futurist, author and inventor Ray Kurzweil delivered a keynote speech to 800 attendees at 2016 Tech Leadership Conference in Waterloo, Canada. Ray Kurzweil envisions the future — by year 2020, 3D printing will transform manufacturing. People will print their own clothing, he predicts. In Asia, builders are making small office buildings using modules made by 3D printers. Inventors created jet engines and cars out of printed parts, Kurzweil says.

Impact on a declining manufacturing industry could be catastrophic. Jobs will be lost, manufacturing will turn into an information industry, but there’s a silver lining behind industry disruption, he says.

The fashion industry will explode with new ideas as people design, make and share clothes using 3D printers. Kurzweil sees manufacturing moving into open source design and production.

Kurzweil doesn’t make wild predictions. The 68 year old is considered a leading thinker, inventor, futurist. He authored best selling books on artificial intelligence, and heads up a Google team studying machine intelligence and natural language understanding.

As a child, he brought home old bicycles and radios to fix when 5 year olds “could still rummage through neighborhoods.” At 14 he wrote a paper on how the brain worked. It earned him an audience with US president Lyndon Johnson.

Kurzweil was one of 2 keynote speakers at Communitech’s annual Tech Leadership Conference held in Kitchener, Canada. 800 people attended the show, featuring presentations on robot ethics, marketing for tomorrow, artificial intelligence and building a brain.

Industry will undergo massive change in coming years. Tech will revolutionize human health and biotechnology, Kurzweil predicts. Stem cells can be programmed to rejuvenate heart attack victims, genes manufactured and injected into the body to reduce pulmonary hypertension. Tiny robots might be inserted into the brain to extend thinking, connected to cloud computers accessing vast amounts of data in seconds. They will make us funnier, sexier and more creative, he predicts.

Second keynote speaker was Robin Chase, Zipcar founder, the world’s largest car sharing company, and expert on innovation and the sharing economy. Chase said collaborative economy is the best solution to climate change. Shared assets generate ideas better than traditional companies.

The car is the second most expensive purchase people make, but used 5% five of the day. Chances are greater the right person and idea will appear in collaborative economy. Individuals bring creativity, local knowledge and customization. Companies offer large investments, manufacturing capacity and growth management. She calls this Peers Inc. —  “Peers” stands for individuals and “Inc.” for large companies.

Attendees broke into groups for learning sessions. Kate Darling, PhD a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, expert on interaction of people and machines, spoke on robot ethics.

For many people, robots have a negative image. They’re going to steal our jobs, spy on us as drones, even kill us — a scenario in Hollywood movies, Darling says. But robots have positive uses. Cute robots help autistic children be responsive, and are companions for seniors, she says. People have learned languages or lost weight more quickly working with robots rather than humans. In Japan, factory robots are given names, do gymnastics with workers to make them more acceptable. “You have to weigh the positive about robots against the creepiness.”

In a presentation on virtual & augmented reality, Jesse Hirsh technology strategist, said these can transform architectural and construction industries. By simulating 3D reality, architects can design buildings easily and creative people can design their own cottages, Hirsh says.

By modeling battlefields and how troops move in them, virtual reality can transform military conflicts, he says. It can also let people switch gender.

Adam Green, who runs advertising agency relations for Google Canada, spoke on marketing for tomorrow. Customers buy based on their future, not product features, he says. Recent iPhone ad shows users taking pictures of Yangtze River in China — but never mentions camera’s specs. People buy cars on emotional response, he says.

Mark Roberge, chief revenue officer at Hub Spot, a software company for in-bound marketing, said massive job loss in media can be an advantage in marketing. Journalists tell a company’s story, describe products better than ordinary sales people. Journalists can blog and do short e-books drawing customers in, he said.

In a presentation on artificial intelligence, Nikolas Badminton said machine learning systems can spot skin cancer in photos of seniors or work with children in schools. They can improve traffic flows and operate traffic lights. Fridges can be programmed to lock their doors and tell you when to exercise, says Badminton, who studies how technology is affecting the office. It might be difficult to change them when you get home at 3 a.m. and want a beer and pizza, he says.

Chris Eliasmith, PhD director of the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, conducted a learning session on building a brain. His lab has built the world’s largest functional brain model, called Spaun. In addition to solving brain disorders, the model can help scientists and engineers build smarter machines, he says. They can do this by designing computer chips that function more like a brain.

In a fireside chat with education futurist Sarah Prevette, former Open Text CEO Tom Jenkins outlined three emerging trends in the tech industry. The first, digital disruption, has already had a major impact on manufacturing. Now it is poised to disrupt white collar sectors such as financial services and banking, he says.

Job losses are expected to reach 30 per cent over the next 5 years, says Jenkins, now chair of the Open Text board and chancellor of the University of Waterloo. The second trend data sovereignty, threatens to shake up information sector, he says. The location of servers will be more important if countries and regions form trading blocs, restrict access.

The third trend regulatory frameworks, is changing, Jenkins says. Regulatory platforms need to become principal based rather than rules based to adapt to changing environments.

Regulatory bodies are “boring but they have a big impact,” he says. Ever tried to get something approved by the Food & Drug Administration in the US? It takes a decade, Jenkins says.

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set | videos
In Conversation with Ray Kurzweil series from Communitech Tech Leadership Conference.

video | 1.
Ray Kurzweil on Waterloo, Canada region.

Communitech | At Tech Leadership Conference 2016, futurist, author, inventor Ray Kurzweil discusses Waterloo, Canada region’s reputation, and why among many cities claiming a similarity to Silicon Valley, Waterloo might come closest.

video | 2.
Ray Kurzweil on optimism & pessimism in society.

Communitech | At Tech Leadership Conference 2016, futurist, author, inventor Ray Kurzweil discusses the source of his tech optimism — what he calls the law of accelerating returns.

video | 3.
Ray Kurzweil on his passion for immortality.

Communitech | At Tech Leadership Conference 2016 futurist, author, inventor Ray Kurzweil discusses his passion for life extension and human immortality.

video | 4.
Ray Kurzweil on where the next Steve Jobs will emerge.

Communitech | At Tech Leadership Conference 2016, futurist, author, inventor Ray Kurzweil discusses the tech revolutions that will produce the next Steve Jobs.

video | 5.
Ray Kurzweil on the Human Genome Project and perceptions of research.

Communitech | At Tech Leadership Conference 2016, futurist, author, inventor Ray Kurzweil discusses how perception of the Human Genome Project has changed over time, and why our expectations of research are never ready for exponential returns.