How Accurate Are Ray Kurzweil’s Predictions?

Back in September, while announcing that Ray Kurzweil would appear at an event, Peter Diamandis linked to this Wikipedia page claiming that Kurzweil’s futurist predictions have an 86 percent accuracy rate. Kurzweil himself has defended the accuracy of his predictions, though I’m unsure if he agrees with the content of the Wikipedia page in question.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of Kurzweil and want to believe his predictions, but am always mindful of Richard Feynman’s admonition that “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

So lets take a look at a single prediction that Kurzweil made his 1999 book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, and look at how a critic of his characterizes the prediction and how Kurzweil responds.

In a Forbes article from 2012, Alex Knapp argues that Kurzweil’s predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines were mostly wrong. Knapp divides Kurzweil’s predictions to into failed predictions, partially met predictions, and prediction met. One of the “failed predictions” is this:

“Human musicians routinely jam with cybernetic musicians.”

Knapp notes, correctly in my opinion, that this simply did not happen.

Most programs that ‘create’ music are pretty bad – and musicians don’t jam with them.

Kurzweil responds, however, that believes that his prediction was correct and that human musicians do routinely jam with cybernetic musicians.

Knapp mentions music accompanist software that he finds impressive but still rates this prediction as “wrong.” I cite many more popular applications (in the predictions essay cited above) where people jam with their computers. For example, anyone hear of guitar hero?

In this response, Kurzweil shows he’s little different than most people who prognosticate about the future. He makes very general predictions such that it is relatively easy 10 years later to find something that corresponds in some way to the earlier, vague prediction.

“Human musicians routinely jam with cybernetic musicians” becomes “people play rhythm video games.”

The reader can judge for themselves whether this is a reasonable equivocation, but it should also be noted that if it is, then Kurzweil’s prediction was fulfilled almost immediately after publication of his book.

The Age of Spiritual Machines was published on January 1, 1999. Less than two months later, on February 16, 1999, Konami released the first version of its GuitarFreaks arcade game.

One thought on “How Accurate Are Ray Kurzweil’s Predictions?”

Leave a Reply