Computers will be cleverer than humans by 2029, Google’s director of engineering Ray Kurzweil has predicted.
The entrepreneur and futurist has forecast that in 15 years’ time, computers will be more intelligent than people and will be able to understand what humans say, learn from experience, make jokes, tell stories and even flirt.
Kurzweil, 66, who is considered by some to be the world’s leading artificial intelligence (AI) visionary, is recognized by technologists for popularizing the idea of “the singularity” — the moment in the future when men and machines will supposedly converge.
Google hired him at the end of 2012 to work on the company’s next breakthrough: an artificially intelligent search engine that knows the uses better than they know themselves.
Kurzweil said the company has not given him a particular set of instructions, apart from helping to bring natural language understanding to Google.
“My project is ultimately to base search on really understanding what the language means,” he said.
“When you write an article, you’re not creating an interesting collection of words. You have something to say and Google is devoted to intelligently organizing and processing the world’s information,” Kurzweil added. “The message in your article is information and the computers are not picking up on that. So we would want them to read everything on the web and every page of every book, then be able to engage in intelligent dialogue with the user to be able to answer their questions.”
Kurzweil’s prediction comes hot on the tail of revelations that Google is in the throes of assembling the greatest artificial intelligence laboratory on Earth. The firm has bought several machine-learning and robotics companies, as well as smart thermostat maker Nest Labs. This month, it bought the cutting-edge British artificial intelligence startup DeepMind for ￡242 million (US$402 million) and hired Geoffrey Hinton, a British computer scientist and the world’s leading expert on neural networks.
Kurzweil is known for inventing devices that have changed the world: the first flatbed scanner, the first computer program that could recognize a typeface and the first text-to-speech synthesizer. In 1990, he predicted that a computer would defeat a world chess champion by 1998 — in 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov — and he predicted the prominence of the Web at a time when it was only an obscure machine used by a few academics.
For years he has been saying that the Turing test — the moment at which a computer will exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to that of a human — will be passed in 2029.