Ray Kurzweil wants to set the record straight on artificial intelligence.

Yeah, sure, some elements of the narrative about developing computers that can think like humans have been exaggerated. But--A.I. technology is already much more advanced than you probably think it is. Oh, and that thinking like a human part? It's coming.

That was the theme of a conversation between Kurzweil, Google's director of engineering, and CNBC's Bob Pisani at the Exponential Finance conference in New York City on Wednesday.

Kurzweil, named one of Inc. magazine's "26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs" back in 2005--we referred to him as "Edison's rightful heir"--is an inventor and futurist responsible for the first machine to recognize printed text and the first print-to-speech reading device, among other inventions.

He began the discussion by debunking a recent claim that computers have passed the Turing test, meaning they can read at human levels. The technology isn't quite there yet.

"Search has gone beyond just the base forms of words," Kurzweil said. "It does syntactic parsing... it annotates language with links into this billion-node knowledge graph, but it still doesn't really understand what you're saying."

But computers are getting close--very close. Kurzweil reaffirmed his previously espoused prediction that computers will read at human levels by 2029. He's currently working on that technology with his team at Google. 

"My view and the consensus view in the A.I. community have gotten to be very close," he said. "What I'm working on right now at Google is more utilitarian, really enhancing search and question answering and language translation."

When Pisani noted the substantial skepticism in America regarding the ability to successfully manufacture driverless cars, a potentially very practical application of A.I., Kurzweil set the record straight once again.

"Driverless cars are here," he said. "They've gone 800,000 miles without an incident, which is a better record than human drivers."

While Kurzweil's view of the future may seem far-fetched to some, his 30-year track record of accurate predictions, including the existence of a worldwide Web, suggests that entrepreneurs should pay close attention.

"There is a certain aspect of the future that is predictable," he said. "Not everything, but the high performance capacity of information technology progresses exponentially and predictably."

One of Kurzweil's broadest predictions is that humans, through 3D printing and other technologies, will be able to produce what is needed for everyone in the world to "live very well."

"We're going to be able to provide a very high quality and standard of life for everyone on the planet very soon," he said. "We've already moved in that direction."

Published on: Jun 11, 2014