Ray Kurzweil's 1999 Predictions

Ray Kurzweil, in The Age of the Spiritual Machines, on what to expect between 2009 and 2019:

Personal computers with high-resolution visual displays come in a range of sizes, from those small enough to be embedded in clothing and jewellery up to the size of a thin book.

That’s Retina Displays and the tablet revolution sorted. Although, the price of display technology really hasn’t reached the tipping point were we’ll see it embedded in clothing in anything but bespoke or very high-end products. I would love to see this happen. Kurzweil continues:

Cables are disappearing. Communications between components uses short-distance wireless technology. High-speed wireless communication provides access to the Web.

Namely, ZigBee, NFC, and UTMS, LTE, or any other number of acronymized services the cellular industry have concocted. Coincidently, I’m about to subscribe to microwave broadband, which is promised to be approximately 10x the maximum speed I can get over DSL. Yay for rural broadband. Kurzweil’s predictions aren’t always accurate. At least, not yet anyway. Most notably:

The majority of text is created using continuous speech recognition. Also ubiquitous are language user interfaces (LUIs).

Speech recognition is still proving to be a hard nut to crack, although the dictation service built into Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion does a reasonable job. We’re still a while off having continuous speech recognition as a viable replacement for text input via a keyboard. Even longer if you’re a software developer—programming languages are highly optimised to be written languages, not spoken. I’m not even sure if it will ever be that useful because a person’s writing style is often very different from their speaking style. Unless, like, you want every other word, like, y’know, to be, like… like. If ya know whadda mean. However, using speech recognition to delegate individual tasks to a virtual assistant is making great strides with the advent of Siri and Google’s voice search. Kurzweil even predicts these kinds of services, although the use-cases and interfaces he suggests aren’t exactly there yet1:

Most routine business transactions (purchases, travel, reservations) take place between a human and a virtual personality. Often the virtual personality includes an animated visual presence that looks like a human face.

So does Kurzweil have some crazy crystal ball that allows him to see into the future or is this just a case of causality and I happened to stumble across Apple’s playbook for the last decade? I’ve had this book since the early 2000s and this weekend I decided to take another look. It may be 13 years old now, but The Age of the Spiritual Machines is definitely worth a read. 1 Updated on November 5, 2012: It seems we’re closer to being able to this than I thought, according to this TechCrunch piece.