I first became aware of Ray Kurzweil over his rumored plans to maintain his health until the point of singularity (using 1000s of vitamins a day, so he can download his consciousness) and other predictions he made about reanimating his frozen body (at Alcor) somewhere in the second half of the 21st century.
Beyond his fascination with singularity Kurzweil is also an accomplished entrepreneur, and is currently the Director of Engineering at Google. He was brought in by top leadership to develop artificial intelligence and language processing at Google.
In his most recent book: How to Create a Mind Kurzweil exercises a pragmatically simple approach and examines the concept of complexity.
What is complex?
Is a forest complex?
A forest consists of trees, there may be hundreds of different type of trees. Each of those trees has a certain number of branches, varying in their properties such as shape and intricacy . Brunches have in turn any number of combination of leaf arrangement and patterns.
This quick thought experiment demonstrates the issue of perspective. It’s easy avoid simplicity to the point of literally not see the forest for the trees. Using this premise Kurzweil uses biological evolution as a guide for innovation. Rather than building on previous work in computer science he attempts to methodologically understand the natural world for its patterns, and then converse those with his own findings.
For his work on speech recognition for example he developed software architecture that is based on the different layers of the neocortex, from the lower layer that analyzes frequencies, up to the higher ones that predict the next word in a sentence. Kurzweil and his contemporaries could be seen as industrialists for deferring for machines, but I find this approach very intentional and human. If evolution taught us anything is that taking a lead from nature will result in overall progress and added net value.
Consider more traditional industries (mineral–based for example) where the basic principle is to conduct business just before the point of upsetting the natural balance. Building an artificial brain on the other hand will result in more natural resources. And might, even result in a better humanity.
The Blue Brain Project in Switzerland is trying to do exactly that:
The goal of the Blue Brain Project is to build biologically detailed digital reconstructions and simulations of the rodent, and ultimately the human brain. The supercomputer-based reconstructions and simulations built by the project offer a radically new approach for understanding the multilevel structure and function of the brain — The Blue Brain Project
Note: The institute has applied to be part of Google’s Summer of Code program (2016), and is accepting new candidates