Rolling Stone | When man & machine merge

February 19, 2009

Source: Rolling Stone — Feb 19, 2009 | David Kushner

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Over the past four decades, Ray Kurzweil has established himself as one of the world’s most prolific and influential inventors. His specialty is pattern recognition — teaching machines to classify data and learn. He created the first program to enable computers to read text — the basis of modern scanning — as well as the first program to translate text into speech. Stevie Wonder, a close friend of Kurzweil, calls the inventor’s print-to-speech technology a “breakthrough that changed my life.” In 1983, with Wonder as an adviser, Kurzweil built the Kurzweil 250 — a synthesizer that revolutionized the music world with its uncannily realistic re-creations of acoustic orchestral instruments.

For his contributions to artificial intelligence, Kurzweil has been enshrined in the Inventors Hall of Fame and has received White House honors from three presidents — including the highest prize in his field, the National Medal of Technology. But nothing he has done in the past has shaken the scientific community as profoundly as his latest prediction.

In our lifetime, Kurzweil believes, machines will not only surpass humans in intelligence — they will irrevocably alter what it means to be human. Cell-size robots will zap disease from our bloodstream. Superintelligent nanotechnology, operating on a molecular scale, will scrub pollution from our atmosphere. Our minds, our skills, our memories, our very consciousness will be backed up on computers — allowing us, in essence, to live forever, all our data saved by super-smart machines….

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