Futurist Ray Kurzweil Joins Google

By Khurram Aziz | Dec 17, 2012 10:31 AM EST

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Renowned inventor, entrepreneur and so-called "futurist" Ray Kurzweil has joined Google as a director of engineering focused on machine learning and language processing.

The 65-year-old made the announcement on his Web site, saying he takes up his new position from Monday.

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"In 1999, I said that in about a decade we would see technologies such as self-driving cars and mobile phones that could answer your questions, and people criticized these predictions as unrealistic," Kurzweil said.

"Fast forward a decade Google has demonstrated self-driving cars, and people are indeed asking questions of their Android phones," he added.

Kurzweil, whose books include "The Age of Spiritual Machines" and "Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever," made his name in the 1970s and 1980s in software development, scanning technologies, text-to-speech synthesization and digital music. However, he's probably most well-known for his theories on artificial intelligence and the point of "singularity" - when machine intelligence will equal human intelligence and achieve self-awareness.

His book, "The Singularity Is Near," was a New York Times bestseller and has been the number one book on Amazon in both science and philosophy. Kurzweil latest book is called "How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed."

In 2002, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (US PTO) inducted him into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

But some of Kurzweil's more far-reaching ideas are regarded with scepticism by many. These ideas include human ability to begin downloading their thoughts into computers to achieve "immortality" in just a few decades, as well as our ability to colonize the outer reaches of our galaxy.

Google confirmed that Kurzweil is joining the company in a statement sent to the press.

"Ray's contributions to science and technology, through research in character and speech recognition and machine learning, have led to technological achievements that have had an enormous impact on society - such as the Kurzweil Reading Machine, used by Stevie Wonder and others to have print read aloud," said Peter Norvig, director of research at Google.

"We appreciate his ambitious, long-term thinking, and we think his approach to problem-solving will be incredibly valuable to projects we're working on at Google."

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