Ray Kurzweil, Technologist, Pioneer, Joins GoogleThis is quite a big win for Google. The company has managed to snag futurist Ray Kurzweil, a big proponent of "accelerated change" and a pioneer in both machine learning and text-to-speech.
Google will be making him the Director of Engineering, where he will be responsible for overseeing Google's machine learning programs and speech related initiatives. Likely, his job will be to make Google's speech recognition as incredible as its voice synth.
Kurzweil is the man responsible for the popularization of "accelerated change," the idea that world-changing inventions happen faster and faster as time goes on, with the rate of change taking the shape of an exponential function. Following that logic through, he predicts what he refers to as the "singularity," the point where the function nears infinity because of the ever increasing rate of change. This point of singularity, he believes, will be a time when we can no longer predict what the future will hold.
Some would argue that that time has already come, and that since the advent of the computer everything has been unpredictable. We've seen society go through complete shifts in decades, where it once took years for new revolutionary technologies to come. At most, historically, most people could expect one shift. So far, many alive have seen the emergence of computers, the internet, smartphones, etc. And we're likely to see another major shift in the coming years.
But Kurzweil also believes that one day machines will do most of our thinking for us. Its a simple problem: to invent new things, you need to be well versed in a given field, so as to better combine things together. To meld two fields together, you need to understand both. As the given knowledge in each field grows, it takes longer and longer to learn, and thus longer and longer until you are able to invent new things. You also get fewer and fewer people willing to dedicate that kind of time. This means that technological change will naturally peter off after a while, if you assume that humans will be the only innovator. Teams of people can take things further, but already we're seeing massive teams for even the smallest changes in technology. Eventually, teams will prove to be an untenable way to move forward, too.
Kurzweil believes that machines will be able to take up the slack. A good example of this is the four color theorem. Simply stated, this states that you can divide any plane any way you want and color it with four colors, with no two adjacent regions having the same color. In 1976 a computer program was devised to prove this, and it did. But to this day the proof is barely understandable by the human mind. It is messy, complicated, and dirty, perfectly understandable to a machine but barely readable by a human.
Hopefully Kurzweil will bring some of his legendary insight to Google, and help the company move technology on to the next step.