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.
On Tuesday, Kurzweil moderated a live Google hangout tied to a release of the upcoming Will Smith film, After Earth, presumably tying the film’s futuristic concept to actual futurists. The discussion touched on the necessity of space travel and the imminent resolution of the world’s energy problems with solar power. After the hangout, Kurzweil got on the phone with me to explore a few issues in more detail.
RAY KURZWEIL: Science fiction is the great opportunity to speculate on what could happen. It does give me, as a futurist, scenarios. It’s not incumbent upon science fiction creators to be realistic about time frames and so on. In this movie, for example, the characters come back to Earth a thousand years later and biological evolution has moved so far that the animals are quite different. That’s not realistic. Also, there’s very often a dystopian bent to science fiction because we can perceive the dangers of science more than the benefits, and maybe that makes more dramatic storytelling. A lot of movies about artificial intelligence envision that AI’s will be very intelligent but missing some key emotional qualities of humans and therefore turn out to be very dangerous.
What’s the key to predicting the future?