Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ray Kurzweil's Predictions are Chronicled on Wiki

Those who don't follow science closely might be tempted to conclude that many of his predictions haven't panned out. Take, for instance, this one:

By the early 2000's, Kurzweil predicted that "'[c]ybernetic chauffeurs' can drive cars for humans and can be retrofitted into existing cars. They work by communicating with other vehicles and with sensors embedded along the roads."

Sounds far-fetched, until you remember that he didn't say such cars would be commonplace by then, only that they would exist. In this regard, consider this from Wiki:

From 1996-2001, Alberto Broggi of the University of Parma launched the ARGO Project, which worked on enabling a modified Lancia Thema to follow the normal (painted) lane marks in an unmodified highway. The culmination of the project was a journey of 2,000 km over six days on the motorways of northern Italy dubbed MilleMiglia in Automatico, with an average speed of 90 km/h. 94% of the time the car was in fully automatic mode, with the longest automatic stretch being 54 km. The vehicle had only two black-and-white low-cost video cameras on board, and used stereoscopic vision algorithms to understand its environment, as opposed to the "laser, radar - whatever you need" approach taken by other efforts in the field.

Three US Government funded military efforts known as Demo I (US Army), Demo II (DARPA), and Demo III (US Army), are currently underway. Demo III (2001)[4] demonstrated the ability of unmanned ground vehicles to navigate miles of difficult off-road terrain, avoiding obstacles such as rocks and trees. James Albus at NIST provided the Real-Time Control System which is a hierarchical control system. Not only were individual vehicles controlled (e.g. throttle, steering, and brake), but groups of vehicles had their movements automatically coordinated in response to high level goals.

In 2002, the DARPA Grand Challenge competitions were announced. The 2004 and 2005 DARPA competitions allowed international teams to compete in fully autonomous vehicle races over rough unpaved terrain and in a non-populated suburban setting. The 2007 DARPA challenge, the DARPA urban challenge, involved autonomous cars driving in an urban setting.

In 2008, General Motors stated that they will begin testing driverless cars by 2015, and they could be on the road by 2018 .[5]


In short, fully autonomous vehicles have been around since the mid-2,000's, though they are not yet mainstream. So, was Kurzweil right? I think so. Perhaps it took until the mid-2000's rather than the early 2,000's for computers to drive cars, but in the grand scheme of things that's just a rounding error. The people who laughed at his ideas when they were first published didn't say, "Ray, you're wrong, we won't have fully automated cars until the mid-2000's." Rather, they suggested that the technology wouldn't exist until the mid-21st century, if ever.

Consider another one of this predictions that, by 2009, people would be "wearing" multiple computers, with some of them being placed inside of "jewelry". Many have suggested that this prediction hasn't come true, but only because the misconstrue what Kurzweil meant by "computers." Critic interpret the word "computer" to basically mean multi-purpose PC's, but it's clear in context that Kurzweil didn't mean that at all. Rather, he meant specialty digital devices that aid our daily living in very practical ways. Things like:

* Digital hearing aids;
* "Fashionable" bluetooth headsets;
* iPods
* Watch phones,
* etc.

Kurzweil certainly got some of the details wrong, but in principal he has been incredibly prescient. Given this, one might do well to ponder some of his predictions for the coming decade.

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