Late last Friday, Google announced a jaw-dropping hire: Ray Kurzweil will join the company as a Director of Engineering. Has the world’s brainiest tech company suddenly bought into Kurzweil’s “rapture of the nerds” b.s. “technological singularity” ideas? Hardly. They’ve just signed The Singularity’s death warrant by putting its chief proselytizer to work doing what he does best: inventing better machines for the real world, not writing science fiction. For this, Larry Page should get some kind of medal.
Ray Kurzweil is a genius inventor. His contributions to machine learning (including optical character recognition and speech synthesis) have literally changed the world–and helped make some of Google’s own computational feats possible. But as an author and “futurist,” Kurzweil is more like a sci-fi Deepak Chopra, spinning inspirational techno-fantasies about immortality, artificial intelligence, and consciousness that drive scientists and engineers batty while driving his speaking fees ever upward. Even Douglas Hofstadter–another technical genius unafraid of grappling with the big questions of mind and machines in the popular press–literally compared Kurzweil’s futurist thinking to “dog excrement.”
Google’s army of nerds undoubtedly finds concepts like The Singularity exhilarating. But when Google sets its hive mind on something Singularity-esque like self-driving cars, it attacks the problem by researching, testing, and building–not by arguing how many artificially intelligent angels might be programmed to dance on the head of a pin. Data, engineering, and repeatable results are Google’s religion. If Kurzweil wants to put his ideas into action there, he’ll have no choice but to get real about them.
I have no doubt that he will. And the results, given Kurzweil’s powers as an engineer and inventor, may just change the world all over again. So good riddance, Singularity. Google–and a newly purpose-driven Kurzweil–can take it from here.