Google has always been an artificial intelligence company, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that Ray Kurzweil, one of the leading scientists in the field, joined the search giant late last year. Nonetheless, the hiring raised some eyebrows, since Kurzweil is perhaps the most prominent proselytizer of “hard AI,” which argues that it is possible to create consciousness in an artificial being. Add to this Google’s revelation that it is using techniques of deep learning to produce an artificial brain, and a subsequent hiring of the godfather of computer neural nets Geoffrey Hinton, and it would seem that Google is becoming the most daring developer of AI, a fact that some may consider thrilling and others deeply unsettling. Or both.
Over a specially prepared breakfast, the inventor and futurist details his plans to live for ever ... Kurzweil, who invented the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the flatbed scanner and a music synthesiser capable of reproducing the sound of a grand piano, has been thinking about artificial intelligence (AI) for 50 years. In The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990), he predicted the internet’s ubiquity and the rise of mobile devices. The Singularity is Near, his 2005 bestseller, focused on AI and the future of mankind. In 2012 he joined Google as a director of engineering to develop machine intelligence. ... Kurzweil’s supporters hail him as “the ultimate thinking machine” and “the rightful heir to Thomas Edison”. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has called him “the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence”. To his critics, he is “one of the greatest hucksters of the age”, and a “narcissistic crackpot obsessed with longevity”. ... His interest in health goes back to when he was 15 and his father, Fredric, had a heart attack. “He died when I was 22. He was 58.” Kurzweil realised he could inherit his father’s dispositions. In his thirties, he was diagnosed with type-two diabetes. Frustrated by conventional treatments, he “approached this as an inventor”. It has not returned. “You can overcome your genetic disposition. The common wisdom is it’s 80 per cent genes, 20 per cent lifestyle. If you’re diligent, it’s 90 per cent intervention and 10 per cent genes,” he claims.