His inventions include:
- optical character recognition (OCR)
- text-to-speech synthesis
- speech recognition technology
- sampling musical keyboards
If that weren’t enough, Kurzweil accurately predicted:
- the collapse of the Soviet Union
- the defeat of the best human chess player by a computer
- the rapid growth of the Internet, and its move to a wireless format
- the increase in popularity of cell phones, and their shrinking size
- the move of documentation from paper form to computers and the Internet
- the ability to add sound, animations, and video to documentation
Because of his track record, Kurzweil’s other predictions are worth paying attention to. They are based on the Law of Accelerating Returns. This law stems from Moore’s Law stating that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years. As a result, computing power is increasing exponentially and will have an enormous impact on science, including nanotechnology and biotechnology. He predicts it will be only a few decades before some astounding achievements are made, including:
- the “source code” of DNA will be hacked, enabling human life to be extended using nanobots: small programmable robots that repair the human body at the molecular level; whenever we need to heal ourselves, we simply download the latest update into our bodies
- a computer that fully simulates the complexity of the human brain, allowing a person’s mind to be uploaded to a machine, thereby achieving immortality
- artificial intelligence systems that make moral decisions and interact fully with humans
- the ability to send and receive physical objects electronically
Looking further into the future, Kurzweil predicts:
- The line between people and machines will blur as machines become more human and humans add more technology to their bodies.
- Machines will grow to be billions of times more intelligent than they currently are.
- Machines will eventually become smarter than people in a history-shattering event called The Singularity.
- Human-machine hybrids will create giant supercomputers from asteroids, planets, stars and whatever other matter they can get their hands on (if they still have hands).
- Computers the size of planets will be built; Earth itself will be transformed into a giant computer.
- The entire universe will eventually evolve into a new life form: a massive super-computer, transforming matter and energy into a giant thinking machine.
Kurzweil explores this vision of the future in the documentary Transcendent Man. When asked if god exists, he sublimely says,”Not yet.” However, I would say that the Singularity has already arrived; well, at least a portion of it has.
Writers are instructed to write what they know. This applies especially to technical writers. If we don’t know what we’re writing about, the result is a document where the reader doesn’t know what we’re saying.
Beyond writing what we know, we write what we are. We create documentation based on how we perceive it would be best understood. Because everyone’s perceptions are different, no two writers use the exact same text to describe the same thing. All writing is a reflection of the writer.
If we write what we are, then we are what we write. Our writing needs to be clear, logical, organized and methodical; so do we. But if we are what we write, then what are we?
We are, or at least are connected to, the very documentation that we create. All the material that we have ever written, whether personal or professional, is a part of us, and we are a part of it. The merging of people and machines has already occurred: it is called documentation. It is the product of a human mind in electronic form. We live forever through our writings, as long as there is a computer to host them.
We have seen our documentation, and it is us. But will there ever be a time where technical communicators are no longer needed?