Honors Colloquium - University of Rhode Island
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Fall 2011 Honors Colloquium

Ray Kurzweil (September 13)
Exponential Growth and Its Consequences


Ray Kurzweil is an author, inventor and futurist. He graduated from MIT in 1970, earning degrees in Computer Science and Literature. He has been described as "the restless genius" by the Wall Street Journal, and "the ultimate thinking machine" by Forbes magazine. Inc. magazine ranked him #8 among entrepreneurs in the United States, calling him the "rightful heir to Thomas Edison" and PBS included him as one of sixteen "revolutionaries who made America" along with other inventors of the past two centuries.

As one of the leading inventors of our time, Kurzweil was the principal developer of the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition device, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition system.

Among Kurzweil's many honors, he has received nineteen honorary Doctorates, he is the recipient of the $500,000 MIT-Lemelson Prize, the world's largest for innovation. In 1999, he received the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor in technology, from President Clinton in a White House ceremony, and in 2002, he was inducted into the U.S. Patent Office's National Inventor's Hall of Fame.

Kurzweil has written four national best selling books. The Age of Spiritual Machines has been translated into 9 languages and was the #1 best selling book on Amazon in science. His latest book, The Singularity is Near, was a New York Times best seller, and has been the #1 book on Amazon in both science and philosophy.

Kurzweil predicts that soon computers will be better able to make profitable investment decisions better than humans and that one day, computer "intelligence" will likely exceed human intelligence.



Vernor Vinge, the third speaker in the 2011 URI Honors Colloquium, coined the term The Singularity in an academic paper presented at a NASA colloquium in 1993. Ray Kurzweil popularized the term in his 2005 book, The Singularity is Near, a New York Times best seller and a #1 book on Amazon in both science and philosophy. The Singularity, also referred to as The Technological Singularity, is a point in time that many futurists believe will mark the divide between human intelligence and artificial intelligence being the primary force in technological and scientific advancement. Kurzweil argues that this point will be reached in the mid-2040s when the intelligence of all computers on Earth exceeds that of all humans by a factor of a billion. The Singularity as envisioned by Kurzweil, Vinge and others is a point beyond which it does not make sense to try to predict the future because the world as we know it will no longer make much sense. Vinge captures this concept well in his recent novel, Rainbows End, with a gigantic walking building and other equally bizarre happenings.

The Singularity is driven by the exponential growth of technology. Exponential growth is what results when each step is some factor times the previous step. For example, if you were to put a dollar in your bank account on 1 January of a given year and then double the amount in your account on the first of every month, by the end of the year you would have over $4000 and, in 2 years, in excess of ten million dollars. Such increases occur around us all the. In most cases, however, these increases eventually (usually fairly quickly) reach the limits of available resources or the demand for the given product. Take the number of miles of railroad tracks in the U.S., for example. Between 1830 and 1840 it doubled approximately every 18 months; however, the rate of doubling slowed to every 7+ years over the next 40 years. This was a result of economic constraints and the lack of demand. The doubling of computer processing capability, on the other hand, has continued unabated for more than a century (see the attached figure) and it is this that is driving us toward a singularity. The lack of constraints on the growth of processing capability results, in part, because information technology is not constrained by a single resource - in the 30+ doublings in processing capability since 1900, there have been 5 fundamental changes in technology that have continued the exponential growth (actually even accelerated it a bit) - and, in part, because our desire for information and the ability to manipulate it appears insatiable.

In this presentation, Kurzweil will discuss exponential growth, how the growth in information technology not only fuels the increased capabilities of computers but also drives advances in genetics and in nanotechnology and what the simultaneous growth in these technologies will mean for human kind.

From: http://singularity.com/charts/page70.html



URI Presentation - Video
The video for Ray Kurzweil's URI presentation on 9/13/11

URI Presentation - Slides
This is a link to the 139 MB zipped file containing the PowerPoint of Ray Kurzweil's URI presentation. It unzips to a 204 MB folder containing all of the videos in the presentation. Click on 'URI(16x9).pptx' in the unzipped folder to view the PowerPoint.

TED Talk
Ray Kurzweil's TED Talk on the ways in which technology will transform our lives

TED Talk
Ray Kurzweil's TED Talk explaining his project: Singularity University

Ray Kurzweil Website
A website devoted to documenting and exploring the thoughts and predictions of Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil Publications
A website featuring Ray Kurzweil's publications, the companies that he has founded, and biographical information about him

Singularity University Website
The official website for Singularity University, an interdisciplinary University committed to using exponentially advancing technologies to address the challenges of humanity