I’ve already mentioned here my admiration and constant fascination from Ray Kurzweil. As someone who strongly believes that predictions, especially about the future, are “a complete waste of time”, it’s amazing to see – over and over – how Mr. Kurzweil is able to predict various technology and consumer trends years ahead, and even put his money where his mouth is. Out of all the futurists out there, he’s no doubt my favorite.
Ray Kurzweil. Photo: Arenamontanus
So I was not surprised to come across an essay written by Mr. Kurzweil titled “How My Predictions Are Faring, October 2010” (pdf). Yes, you got that right – Kurzweil has no problem going back 25 years, and analyze his predictions from the 80s, as well as his predictions made in the 90s. As he explains, although he can model the way technology is developing (using his “law of accelerating return”), some factors remain unpredictable.
And so in this long essay he reviews his predictions and their success, and what I found exceptionally interesting were his predictions in communications (pages 50-67), made mainly in his book The Age of Spiritual Machines, written in the mid to late 90s. I thought I’d share some of his predictions and findings with you in this post.
Communications – Predictions and Accuracy
One interesting prediction was a 2-way translating telephone that would become common and a daily routine. I have already dedicated a post for that concept, with regards to Cisco’s effort in that direction. As Kurzweil explains 2-way translating technology is available at different levels, and some proof-of-concepts are already available. Nevertheless the technology is far from becoming a consumer product, and is far from “common”. I agree with Kurzweil that this technology is likely to become more popular in the coming years.
One area where Kurzweil hit it big is his predictions about “Personal computers as telephones”. I doubt that I even need to explain how smartphones have become our favorite handheld device that has to function – also – as a telephone. And the rapid development of VoIP technology in the past several years, have made this prediction a pleasant reality.
I will skip Kurzweil’s predictions that phones will become mainly wireless (!!!), and skip to his next prediction: Telephone Communication has moving images, and routinely includes high-resolution moving images. 2010 was definitely the year of mobile video, where everyone jumped on the video calling wagon, and carriers and vendors have all been planning some kind of mobile video calling offering. FaceTime, Fring, as well as other services that don’t start with F proved that video calling is a viable solution, although it is not as common as not as high-def as one would have expected.
“Meeting of all kinds and sizes routinely take place among geographically separated participants” is one prediction Kurzweil got a 100% accurate, and I don’t think I have to explain why here. On the other hand, his prediction about haptic technologies allowing people to touch and feel objects and other persons at a glance are not really a reality. There are different implementations that provide various levels of “remote touch” capabilities, but these technologies are far from being common. It is more correct in fields like gaming and simulation, not correct at all when it comes to visual communications.
A very interesting prediction of Kurzweil deals with “virtual reality chat rooms”. He predicted that online chat rooms of the late 90s would be replaced with virtual environments offering full visual realism. This, again, is hardly the case today – there are virtual conferences, which are very limited in their visual realism; there’s Telepresence and likes, which hardly create a virtual chat room; and there are various 3D video conferencing platforms, such as the one RADVISION has developed, but again they are not quite there yet. At the same time, 2010 was the year the Second Life dream became a big flop, so virtual reality meeting rooms will remain as something to look for in the future.
And then there is, of course, the predictions about virtual sexual encounters, but I’ll skip that here for obvious reasons…
And here are a few for 2010
Some more interesting predictions were made by Kurzweil in his The Singularity Is Near.
While his “always online” prediction, about us having a high-bandwidth connection to the Internet at all times, is almost a 100% true, his predictions about us having a display built into our eyeglasses and contact lenses (heads-up display) and similar devices for audio projection (projected audio) are not quite there yet, especially for the average consumer.
All in all I think that hearing and reading Kurzweil making predictions is an inspiring and interesting experience, and I will continue to follow him closely. And I’ll also try and follow suit, and publish here next week my list of predictions for 2010, made almost a year ago and their accuracy. Stay tuned.