Like many people I was shocked to learn that Ray Kurzweil had joined Google as some sort of employee. “Like, for a salary?” asked one incredulous acquaintance. Yep, I assume that directors of Engineering at Google receive a salary. That MIT tech review blog linked to above criticized his Singularity writings but lauded Kurzweil as an engineer. Some of my futurist friends have the opposite opinion of Kurzweil: his vision is interesting, but he hasn’t given us much in terms of engineering lately. Certainly Blio is nothing to write home about.
But I really want to talk about kool-aid. Has Ray drunk the Google kool-aid or has Google drunk the Singularity kool-aid or both? Maybe Ray was just as blown away by Norvig’s Deep Learning presentation at the 2012 Singularity Summit as I was. I previously commented that the way Google was able to pull in top academics like Ng and Hinton, team them with world-class parallelization engineer, Dean and eject a functioning face and cat classifier must take the wind out anyone competing with them in the AI space. Perhaps Ray said: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. He clearly wants to build a brain and he certainly doesn’t need a salary. So Ray seems to be drinking the Google kool-aid.
But what about the Google side? Are Brin and Page secret Singularitarians? Well maybe not too secret. Page did help setup the Singularity University in 2008. Foresight 2011 was held at the Google campus as well. So there is a lot of futurist synergy with Google. Some friends of mine think that Google’s senior executives just need to keep their interests quiet so they don’t spook investors too badly. Maybe that’s true. I just wonder how SIAI feels about this turn of events. I will have to ask someone over there. Do they think that Ray will inject caution and a concern for friendliness into Google’s pursuit of AI? Or will he help focus Google’s massive resources into an AGI project that will unwittingly create the search version of Skynet and perhaps convert all matter in the solar system into molecular adwords? It’s hard to tell.
UPDATE: I was further surprised to hear that some of my secret contacts at SIAI don’t actually think Ray will be working on AGI at all. AI maybe, but not AGI. Go figure.