Vesta Digital Blog

A Leading Inventor’s Prediction for Social Media

Posted on: March 18, 2010

Ray Kurzweil is a renowned futurist and inventor who specializes in fields as diverse as speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence. Here are some of his predictions that he shared with imedia connection’s senior editor Jodi Harris:

GoogleWe have already seen the rise of targeted advertising, which provides about $20 billion a year of revenue to Google. People often resent ads and commercials because it wastes their time. Who wants to sit through a diaper commercial if you are no longer buying diapers? (It is true, however, that advertising to future diaper purchasers makes sense to establish brand recognition early.) On the other hand, if I have just done a search for some new health supplement or a new type of software then I appreciate seeing ads for products in these categories. Targeted advertising today is based entirely on keywords, but in the future it will be based on a deeper understanding of the specific personality, desires, and needs of each consumer.

iPhoneAnother important trend is the increasing realism of virtual and augmented reality. Augmented reality has just started with a few iPhone apps in the last several months. In the future we’ll be online all the time, the electronics will be in our belt buckles and woven in our clothing, and images will be superimposed on the real world through our lenses. This will create virtual displays (which can be three-dimensional), full-immersion virtual reality environments, or augmented reality. In terms of the latter, just seeing (with little pop-ups) what people’s names are would be very helpful. There will also be a variety of ways to include the tactile sense. So reality will be greatly expanded to include fantastic imaginary worlds.

Unlike today’s cartoon-like worlds such as massively multi-player games and environments such as Second Life, these virtual environments will be limited only by our imagination. Already, we see extensive marketing campaigns in Second Life and other virtual environments. After all, these environments are intended as communication mediums. We will ultimately be spending most of our time in a blend of virtual and real reality, so the opportunities for marketing communication will be greatly enhanced.

FacebookThere is an advantage to building you own solution – you just might create the next Facebook. Speaking of which, Facebook was created by Harvard undergraduates so that they could see pictures of freshmen who they might want to date. They were basically just putting online the “face books,” which were printed books of pictures of all the freshmen. So they were building their own tool because the available ones did not meet their very specific needs. That was 2004, and today Facebook has 400 million users and is worth tens of billions of dollars.

The trend so far is that communications technology is moving closer to us rather than forcing humans to become more like the classical notion of a machine. When I was a student at MIT, you did have to be an engineer to use the computer, and I had to use my bicycle to get to the one computer on campus. Today, I have a computer on my belt, and I am able to access virtually all human knowledge with a few keystrokes. And, already, 5 billion people have these mobile devices in their pockets. The technologies that succeed in the marketplace are the ones that meet our basic human needs to communicate and socialize.

Within 20 years, computers will match human intelligence and pass the “Turing test,” in which they will be indistinguishable from human intelligence. But this will not be an alien invasion of intelligent machines to compete with us and displace us. We will use these machines as we have always used our tools — to extend our own reach. We will put these machines inside our bodies to keep us healthier, and in our brains to make us smarter. We will send these computers, which will be the size of blood cells, into our brains noninvasively through the capillaries. If it sounds futuristic to put computers in our brains, I would point out that Parkinson’s patients do this already, and the latest generation of this FDA-approved neural implant allows new software to be downloaded into the computer in the patient’s brain from outside the body.

That’s today, and in the future we will all be doing this with millions of such computers in a noninvasive fashion. So we will need to merge with our technology in order to keep up with it.

But my advice for the decade ahead is to consider basic human needs that go back millennia. It was by serving those needs that current technologies such as the cellphone and social networks have been able to succeed. Every device we handle will become intelligent and part of the ever pervasive network. We will be online all the time with a seamless blend of real and virtual/augmented reality. Our everyday reality will essentially be one encompassing interactive media.

Ray Kurzweil will conduct a seminar on “Innovation in an Era of Accelerating Technologies” at the iMedia Breakthrough Summit, March 21-24. Here is how you can learn more:


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