My Secret Life as a Spaghetti Coder
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Last night I had the good fortune to be in attendance at a talk given by Ray Kurzweil entitled "The Web Within Us: When Minds and Machines Become One." For those unfamiliar with Ray, part of his bio as given in the program distributed at the presentation reads
Ray Kurzweil has been described as "the restless genius" by the Wall Street Journal and "the ultimate thinking machine" by Forbes. Moreover, Inc. magazine ranked him eighth among entrepreneurs in the United States, calling him the "rightful heir to Thomas Edison." ...

As one of the leading inventors of our time, Kurzweil was the principle developer of the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition system, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the sound of a grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large vocabulary speech recognition system.

The talk was simply mind-blowing. He showed off a camera for the blind that could correct for 3D rotation and angles to read a page in a book, and some still-in-the-works but much better than currently available speech-to-speech translation (using speech-to-text, then translation, then text-to-speech). Some of the more interesting bits reminded me of a couple of ideas I had back in high school - one of combatting cancer with "machines" where they could be injected into the blood stream, detect cancer cells, and destroy them - and the other was like a "printer" that could build things, given the specs and materials (my words, not his). I should have been an inventor!

He also mentioned that we are coming ever closer to being able to reverse engineer the entire brain - saying the cerebral cortex (if I remember correctly... I could just be making that up) has already been well synthesized (along with 20 or so other parts of the brain) and that soon, we'd be able to do all the parts of the brain. Another cool bit was the fat-inhibitor pill, which would detect the gene responsible for storing fat, and switch it off.

There was a lot of AI and biotechnology involved, but the talk would still have been easy to follow for just about anyone I think (there were 1500 people or so in attendance). And the breadth and depth of his knowledge on various subjects is just simply amazing. I wish I could have made it to the follow-up this morning where it would have been just a small classroom-sized audience with a lot more interaction, but I just couldn't get away from the office for the amount of time I would have needed to (plus, it would have been rush hour, where the drive would take me 1.5 hours instead of the normal 30 minutes).

One last thing - he talked about full-immersion virtual reality- where we could switch off the actual receptors (well, more like switch what they are receiving) in our brain and replace the signal. Very cool stuff indeed, but also scary. If you're into that branch of technology, or just like to know what's coming up in the future, I'd recommend checking out his website or the books. I certainly plan to.

Update: CNNMoney has a profile on Ray Kurzweil from May 2, 2007.

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What a great opportunity! I'd love to hear him speak! I have a few books of his on my 'to-read' list... The great thing I like about him is he is such an optimist!

Posted by Jim Priest on Apr 05, 2007 at 11:04 AM UTC - 5 hrs

That's true - the talk was also very inspiring. I had hoped to have a copy of the slides to remind me in more detail some of the things he talked about (for a better write-up) but I don't think he's posted them yet (or else, my memory isn't quite right - I got the directory correct but it said no directory browsing was allowed). Unfortunately, my laptop took a crap on me yesterday so I wasn't able to take notes.

In any case, I'll put some more details if and when I obtain a copy of those slides. It would have been really cool to meet him today... I have a feeling I might end up regretting it.

Posted by Sam on Apr 05, 2007 at 11:49 AM UTC - 5 hrs

I'm seriously considering taking the bioinformatics course after that talk as well... sounds really cool.

Posted by Sam on Apr 05, 2007 at 04:32 PM UTC - 5 hrs

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