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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Robotics in the Mind of Ray Kurzweil

Tech visionary and singularity-guru Ray Kurzweil replies to former editor-in-chief of Scientific American John Rennie’s December 2010 critical review of this "slippery futurism". Rennie claims that many of Kurzweil´s predictions "don´t look so good on close inspection." Kurzweil replies with reference to his prediction essay "How My Predictions Are Faring" (October 2010) where he reviews the accuracy of his predictions made for 2009 in The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) and in The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990), and predictions for 2010 in The Singularity is Near (2005). Kurzweil claims that 89 of his predictions by end 2009 have been "entirely correct", 13 "essentially correct" (realized within just a few years), 3 "partially correct", 2 are "10 year off", 1 "just wrong".

A review of Kurzweil´s predictions shows that robotics is part of his futurist world view but not very dominating. In 1999 Kurzweil predicts "Warfare is dominated by unmanned intelligent airborne devices" (2009). For 2019 he predicts "exoskeletal robotic walkers", "household robots are ubiquitous and reliable", Humans are beginning to have deep relationships with automated personalities. In 2029 a real "robot rights" movement will start and an "open, public debate over what sorts of civil rights and legal protections machines should have." In 2099 "robotic bodies" will populate the world controlled by "thinking computer programs".

In his assessment essay Kurzweil refers to robot examples from Japan (Cyberdyne Robot Suit HAL), Korea (telerobotics) and USA (UAVs, iRobot, da Vinci, Simulated Surgical Systems) that he means verify his robotics predictions. Surprisingly European robotics is not on Kurzweil´s radar screen. It may be his trendspotting blindspot but could also depend on weak European robotics PR. More info here.

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