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Q & A: Futurist Ray Kurzweil

We caught up with the visionary inventor at SpeechTek 2008, where he talked with InformationWeek about speech technology, his new cellphone reading machine, and two new movie projects.
Greene: Do you see video communication as an area that can also expand seniors' accessibility?

Kurzweil: I think in the next decade, the teen years, we'll be routinely visiting with each other like you and I are doing now in real reality, even if we're hundreds of miles apart and not just as a grainy postage stamp sized video conferencing image on your screen but as a full immersion experience where we really seem to be with the other person. It will be a full immersion visual and auditory virtual reality. We'll have images beamed into our retinas from our eyeglasses. We'll be online all the time. The electronics will be woven into our clothing and in our belt buckles and we'll routinely be visiting with other people in these full immersion environments.

We'll have augmented reality so we'll see real reality but there will be an overlay of virtual reality on top of that helping guide us through the real world. It will direct us inside and outside, not with a navigation system on a small screen that we carry in our palm, but one that's actually built into our field of view. We'll look at a person and it will remind us who they are and give us background about them. That will be very helpful. I mean how many times are you at a cocktail party where you see someone and think you know who they are but you're not quite sure. It would be great get that confirmed and we will have technology like that. It'll help the elderly but it will help all of us. You don't have to be 80 years old to have a senior moment.

Greene: Onto another topic I know your now involved with a couple of film projects. I believe there are two movies coming out that you're involved with one based on your book and the other a documentary about you.

Kurzweil: I'm making a movie based on my book the Singularity is Near. It's called The Singularity is Near: A True Story about the Future. It's an intertwined A line documentary with a B line narrative story. It goes back and forth between the documentary and the dramatization.

In the documentary, I interview 19 big thinkers. People like Marvin Minsky, the father of AI, Richard Clarke, who was the head of counter-terrorism under Clinton and Bush, Alan Dershowitz on the legal rights of machines and 15 or 16 others.

In the B line narrative story it's a story of an AI, Ramona. It starts actually with true documentary footage where I created Ramona at the 2001 Tech conference then Ramona goes into the future and becomes more and more realistic, more and more humanlike. She hires Alan Dershowitz who plays himself to press for her legal rights to be recognized as a person. The judge says I will grant you legal rights as a person if you can pass the Turing Test. She goes and gets coaching from Tony Robbins who plays himself to learn the secret of what it is to be human and the story goes on from there.

It stars Pauley Perrette as Ramona, she's the star of the TV show NCIS. It's due to come out early 2009.

There's also a full length motion picture being made about my life, career and ideas called Transcendent Man and that's on the same schedule. They're going to be released as a double feature. It's another venue to communicate my ideas about the future.

For more information about Ray Kurzweil, see his Accelerating Intelligence site or click on the Kurzweil Companies site. For information about the conference click on SpeechTEK 2008.