Will the Willy Wonka of technology help Google usher in a new future?

December 20, 2012

Google has hired famed inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil as Director of Engineering. Will he be a figurehead, or a driving force at the company?

Internet giant Google has made a very high-profile hire, bringing famed inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil on board as the company’s new director of engineering. Interestingly, the announcement wasn’t made by Google but by Kurzweil himself on his own site, perhaps indicating that Kurzweil will maintain a certain amount of independence: although Kurzweil has confirmed to various outlets the job is at Google’s Mountain View headquarters full time, and he will be continuing with activities like lecturing and things like his most recent book How to Create a Mind.

Kurzweil has long been a controversial figure in technology. Some lumping him in a loony bin with people making impossibly lofty claims about the future, fueled in part by Kurzweil’s forecasts people will be able to upload their consciousness to machines, spawn off copies of themselves, and that nanotechnology will enable people live in a transhuman state free of disease and aging. On the other hand, Kurzweil has an indisputable record of real-world, practical inventions and technologies that are now part of our every day lives, including things like optical character recognition, text-to-speech, and speech recognition technology — all of which are practical applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies of their day. […]