Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts computers as small as blood cells

A famed futurist who foresees a day when and human and artificial intelligence merge and nanobots battle disease spoke to CBC's Duncan McCue about what lies ahead.

Nanobots will battle disease, aging, inventor tells Vancouver tech conference

Ray Kurzweil Predicts End of Disease, AI Leaps

The National

5 years ago
Tech guru Ray Kurzweil predicts that by the 2030s, nanotechnology will eliminate disease and humans will have relationships with artificial intelligence (AI). 5:55

Is the moment that man and machine converge almost upon us? Ray Kurzweil thinks it's not far off.

The American computer scientist discussed the future of technology at the inaugural B.C. Tech Summit in Vancouver this week, and shared his thoughts on how rapid advances in nanotechnologies will make humans artificially intelligent. Kurzweil believes nanobots — or microscopically small computers — will be implanted in human brains by the 2030s.

"Twenty-five years from now, computers will be a billion times more powerful per dollar. They'll be 100,000 times smaller. They'll be the size of blood cells. And they can go inside the brain and connect the neo-cortex to the cloud wirelessly," he told the CBC's Duncan McCue.

Kurzweil is optimistic this massive expansion of human intelligence will help solve age-old human problems such disease, aging and environmental degradation. He also warns advances in artificial intelligence could be potentially dangerous, using warfare as an example.

"That's the biggest challenge for humanity for 21st century: how do we reap the promise of artificial intelligence and biotechnology while controlling the peril? I think we can do it, but not if we don't pay attention to the problem."

Kurzweil is a successful entrepreneur and inventor, who created technologies such as the first CCD flatbed scanner and the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind. In 2012, he was hired by Google as director of engineering, to lead the giant tech company's development of artificial intelligence. He spelled out in his interview with CBC he was not speaking for Google and declined to answer questions about the company.

His predictions about the future have attracted praise and critique. In 1990, he predicted a computer would defeat a world chess champion by 1998 — IBM's Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997. His prediction that people would speak to their computers to give instructions by 2009 no longer seems radical.

What's coming next, according to Kurzweil? Glasses that beam images directly onto the retina, by the end of this decade. More mind-boggling, he says most diseases will be gone by the 2030s - (based on the theory that nanobots will one day roam inside the body)

"Both biotechnology — which is reprogramming the processes underlying biology — and nanotechnology — these medical nanorobots — will be able to address every disease and aging process. So, as we get to 2030s, and certainly by the time the 2030s are over, we'll have addressed all disease and aging processes."

You can see more of Duncan's interview with Ray Kurzweil on CBC's The National tonight.