NEW YORK (06/29/2000) - Ten years from now, when people come to PC Expo, if it still exists, chances are there will be few computers on display. Instead, people will be wearing computers -- implanted, for example, in eyeglasses, with the retina as screen -- suggests IT pioneer and futurist Raymond Kurzweil.
This prediction, and other, more startling forecasts that have a real impact on business, can be made with a fair degree of certainty once the exponential rate of technological change is understood, according to Kurzweil, whose keynote address kicked off the last day here at PC Expo.
Kurzweil's forecasts include the notion that the exponential rate of change in processor power will continue; nanobot (miniature robot) technology that will permit imaging of neural patterns of the brain; virtual reality for all the human senses; and increasing life expectancy.
"Virtual reality won't have to wait until 2030; by 2009 we'll have non-invasive virtual reality; business meetings will be held on the Web," and those attending such meetings will feel as if they are in an actual meeting room talking to people who are physically present, Kurzweil said. More "invasive" virtual reality, where nanobots are inserted into the brain and stimulate or dampen neural connections in order to simulate reality for all five senses, may have to wait another few decades.
"If you want to build and develop a business -- rather than found a business take it public and dump it ... you need to understand what will be happening not just a few years out, but 10, 20 years out," Kurzweil said.
It was fitting that Kurzweil kicked off the last day of PC Expo here Thursday, in an address in which he predicted that the exponential rate of technological change would lead to startling advances in miniaturization. After several days at a PC conference where most of the big news involved small devices, his predictions, which may have seemed the stuff of science fantasy a few years ago, seemed on the mark.
Kurzweil, head of Kurzweil Technologies Inc., has his IT credentials in order; he has founded and sold four businesses in optical character recognition, music synthesis, speech recognition and reading technology. His Kurzweil Applied Intelligence Inc. for example was sold to voice technology company Lernout & Hauspie. He stakes claims to a wide range of firsts, as the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, flat-bed scanner technology, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating grand piano sounds, and the first commercially-marketed large vocabulary speech recognition application.
Here at PC Expo, he was out to debunk the idea that physical constraints will put an end to Moore's Law and advances in computer technology. Moore's Law forecasts that processing power will double every year, as the size of transistors and the space between them shrinks.
"There is concern in some quarters that Moore's Law will come to an end; estimates vary between 12 and 18 years," Kurzweil said. This is because at a certain point the space between transistor will be a matter of atoms and there won't be a way to shrink that space further, he noted.
But just because current processor technology may reach a limit does not mean the exponential rate of change in technology will slow down, Kurzweil noted.
First, in terms of processing, there are projects under way that employ a variety of different molecular computing techniques, including experiments with different arrangements of carbon atoms, that will lead to a breakthrough in how computer processing power is achieved, he said.
"Every time we reach the end of one processing paradigm, we have another one to replace it," Kurzweil said. As an example, he noted there were five separate processor paradigms in the last century: electromechanical, relay, vacuum tube, transistor and integrated circuit technologies. These advances meant, for example that from the years 1900 to 1920 processing power doubled every 36 months; in the years 1940 through 1960 it doubled every 24 months, and from 1990 to 2000 it doubled every 12 months.
Advances in technology do not dependent on just processing technology, either, he pointed out. Computers have been limited, compared to the human brain, in their ability to draw inferences from patterns they recognize -- the way a human can infer that danger is imminent from how another person is behaving.
But as miniature scanning technology increasingly is able to illustrate how neurons in the brain interact, this knowledge will be applied to programming techniques for computers, Kurzweil said.
Anyone who wants to develop a business for the long haul needs to understand these trends, Kurzweil said. For example, the nature of the Web in a few decades will be nothing like it is today. Nano technology will be able to control neural reactions in the brain, replacing the brain's signals with signals that can simulate an external environment. This means that people will be able to meet each other on the Web and have the sight, sounds and eventually feeling, of meeting someone in the physical world.
There could be dangers lurking in the future, Kurzweil conceded. Discussing a recently published article by Sun Microsystems Inc. chief scientist Bill Joy -- in which Joy forecasts a range of dangers posed by technology -- Kurzweil acknowledged that nanobots could be placed in drinking water for nefarious ends. But just as computer scientists have developed defenses to current computer viruses, they are sure to develop defenses to the dangers of the future, Kurzweil concluded.
"We won't be defenseless .. we will have an immune system," Kurzweil said.
"It's not realistic to say we should relinquish advances in certain areas that may pose dangers. Thus far we have received more benefits than danger."
Many of Kurzweil's forecasts can be read in his latest book, "The Age of Spiritual Machines, When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence."
Kurzweil Technologies can be reached in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, at +1-781-263-0000 or at http:/www.kurzweiltech.com/.