Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ray Kurzweil on virtual reality, augmented reality, and Second Life

Recently in Computerworld, I had a very interesting interview with Ray Kurzweil on some of the issues he discussed in The Singularity Is Near. Portions of the interview appeared in the print issue (see The Grill: Ray Kurzweil talks about 'augmented reality' and the Singularity), but I also made sure to publish the other portions of the interview on my Computerworld blog:
  • The Kurzweil interview, continued: Portable computing, virtual reality, immortality, and strong vs. narrow AI
  • The Kurzweil interview: More comments on the "exponential growth" of computational power
Kurzweil had a few things to say about virtual reality and related technologies. I am republishing those excerpts here, as they really relate to the focus of my personal blog.

On the evolution of hardware technologies and "augmented reality":
... We're going to solve this dilemma we have now with displays. On the one hand, people like 50-inch screens, and they'll spend thousands of dollars on them. On the other hand, they like watching movies on a 1- or 2-inch screen, but that's really not a satisfactory experience. We are going to solve that by putting the displays in our glasses, which will beam images to our retinas. This will create very high-resolution virtual displays that can hover in the air. And it can also completely overtake your visual field of view in three dimensions, creating full-immersion visual/auditory virtual reality.

We'll also have augmented real reality. The computers will be watching what you watch, listening to what you're saying, and they'll be helping. So if you look at someone, little pop-ups will appear in your field of view, reminding you of who that is, giving you information about them, reminding you that it's their birthday next Tuesday. If you look at buildings, it will give you information, it will help you walk around. If it hears you stumbling over some information that you can't quite think of, it will just pop up without you having to ask."
On the exponential advances in technology:
... So ultimately, everything is going to be transformed by information technology. We're moving toward tabletop devices that can actually create three-dimensional objects. Right now you can take an information file, and turn that into a movie, or a book, or a sound recording, and those things used to be physical products, and now are just information.

Well, the same thing will be true of what we now think of as physical products. We'll be able to have an information file, and be able to turn it into any three-dimensional object that you need, such as a module for a house, a solar panel, a toaster, or even the toast, or a blouse, by basically reorganizing matter and energy from very basic input materials, which will be recycled, to create physical products, and there are a number of roadmaps to get there, and I believe we'll see those kinds devices within 20 years.
A general observation about virtual reality:
... We'll be spending quite a bit of our time in virtual-reality environments. Environments like Second Life are really a crude harbinger of what is to come. We'll have these virtual-reality environments which will be quite competitive with real reality. They'll be very realistic. They'll be full immersion, just as in SL you can be someone else, you don't have to look the same in these virtual environments.

And they won't just be kind of a plaything. Second Life already has a real economy, and people do real business transactions and have real romance. And we'll be doing that in a real panoply of virtual-reality environments.
I first read The Singularity Is Near earlier this year. It ties in with a lot of things I've been discussing on this blog and elsewhere, in terms of the evolution of mass media in the next few decades.

On a related note, I'm going to carry out a qualitative analysis of Singularity and some of Marshall McLuhan's writings in my final paper for this semester's class at Harvard ... I'll be sure to post some of the analysis here after the course ends in January.

1 comment:

  1. I read Fantastic Voyage, The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, and they changed my life. I even found some of his lectures on Itunes and I find myself impatiently awaiting his next book.

    Recently read another incredible book that I can't recommend highly enough, especially to all of you who also love Ray Kurzweil's work. The book is ""My Stroke of Insight"" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I had heard Dr Taylor's talk on the TED dot com site and I have to say, it changed my world. It's spreading virally all over the internet and the book is now a NYTimes Bestseller, so I'm not the only one, but it is the most amazing talk, and the most impactful book I've read in years. (Dr T also was named to Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People and Oprah had her on her Soul Series last month and I hear they're making a movie about her story so you may already have heard of her)
    If you haven't heard Dr Taylor's TEDTalk, that's an absolute must. The book is more and deeper and better, but start with the video (it's 18 minutes). Basically, her story is that she was a 37 yr old Harvard brain scientist who had a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, and thanks to her amazingly loving and kind mother, she eventually fully recovered (and that part of the book detailing how she did it is inspirational).

    There's a lot of learning and magic in the book, but the reason I so highly recommend My Stroke of Insight to this discussion, is because we have powerfully intelligent left brains that are rational, logical, sequential and grounded in detail and time, and then we have our kinesthetic right brains, where we experience intuition and peace and euphoria. Now that Kurzweil has got us taking all those vitamins and living our best ""Fantastic Voyage"" , the absolute necessity is that we read My Stroke of Insight and learn from Dr Taylor how to achieve balance between our right and left brains. Enjoy!


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