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    Reading, Writing and Robots
by   Steffan Heuer

Wherever he looks, Raymond Kurzweil sees a pattern. Even if it's steamed lobster.

Originally published May 15, 2000 at The Standard. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 31, 2001.

The crustacean was served as an hors d'oeuvre when President Clinton awarded the inventor the National Medal of Technology in late March. The White House gala honored his innovations in the fields of optical character and voice recognition over the last 25 years. While the other guests indulged without a second thought, Kurzweil saw in the lobster a way to meld human and machine intelligence into a superspecies of the future.

The 52-year-old is far, far out there when it comes to envisioning where computing is headed. The nerve cells of a spiny lobster, he points out, can be hooked up to artificial neurons, as demonstrated in a recent experiment at the San Diego Institute for Nonlinear Science. "The biological neurons accepted their electronic peers," he says, smiling with the confidence of a visionary who is sure that one day we will all become one with our computers. In fact, if all goes according to Kurzweil's plan, in 2050 a copy of his brain -- or "mindfile" -- will give interviews like this one from a server.

The research community keeps coming up with tangible results to support his outlandish claims, from respected labs at MIT and Yale to startups like Molecular Electronics in Chicago and the nano-adventures at Texas-based Zyvex. News stories about DNA-based computing, next-generation chips grown in petri dishes and molecule-size nanorobots built from carbon atoms are in the headlines just as the race to decipher the human genome is drawing to a close. As high-tech angst spreads, Kurzweil welcomes these advances in his 1999 book, The Age of Spiritual Machines.

Is he disappointed that he received the United States' highest technology and science honor for research and development dating back to the 1970s and '80s -- plain-old useful stuff running on people's desks, not in secret labs? Sitting in his pink- and cream-colored office on the outskirts of Boston, Kurzweil shakes his head. "First, I see myself as an inventor," he says over the hiss of two oversize air purifiers. "I enjoy seeing the positive impact technology has on people. My future work is an extension of that. It gives me the opportunity to think 20, 30 years out and not be limited. What I describe is not science fiction, but disciplined science futurism."

Complete article available at The Standard

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