Kurzweil’s law

November 6, 2001

Ray Kurzweil has a knack for spotting the next new thing – and then telling the world all about it through a megaphone. His 1999 best-seller, The Age of Spiritual Machines, recharged the long-languishing debate over the potential of machine intelligence, with Kurzweil foreseeing a time when computers, programmed to have sophisticated emotions, demand civil rights. Since then, the serial inventor and juggernaut futurist has been obsessively studying nearer-term developments in nanotech components, brain-scan resolution, and more. He’ll lay out his conclusions next year in a much-anticipated book called The Singularity Is Near, in which (surprise) he’ll argue that technology’s increasingly rapid pace of change is fundamentally transformative, unstoppable, economically powerful, and cool. It’s not just our optical networks that are getting better; according to Kurzweil, the capacity of human consciousness itself is expanding exponentially.

Kurzweil, now 53, has been charging into the future for nearly 40 years. As a teenager, in 1965, he was honored by President Lyndon Johnson and appeared on the TV show I’ve Got a Secret with his homebuilt computer that composed music. After graduating from MIT in 1970, Kurzweil created a string of companies that developed and sold breakthrough technologies: talking reading machines for the blind, realistic-sounding digital pianos, and voice-powered control software for hands-free PC use. These days, he runs Kurzweil Technologies, not far from MIT in suburban Boston, juggling projects ranging from medical learning tools to poetry-writing software. […]