Every technologist knows of Ray Kurzweil. He is like a modern day Galileo- playing a major thought leadership role in the technology revolution (Ray’s wikipedia entry does a pretty good job summarizing his background).
Google recently announced that Kurzweil will be joining them as a director of engineering. Details were provided on Kurzweil’s blog. Here is the story:
Ray Kurzweil confirmed today that he will be joining Google to work on new projects involving machine learning and language processing.
“I’m excited to share that I’ll be joining Google as Director of Engineering this Monday, December 17,” said Kurzweil.
“I’ve been interested in technology, and machine learning in particular, for a long time: when I was 14, I designed software that wrote original music, and later went on to invent the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, among other inventions. I’ve always worked to create practical systems that will make a difference in people’s lives, which is what excites me as an inventor.
“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. Fast forward a decade — Google has demonstrated self-driving cars, and people are indeed asking questions of their Android phones. It’s easy to shrug our collective shoulders as if these technologies have always been around, but we’re really on a remarkable trajectory of quickening innovation, and Google is at the forefront of much of this development.
“I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Google to work on some of the hardest problems in computer science so we can turn the next decade’s ‘unrealistic’ visions into reality.”
I have met Ray a couple times, read his books and watched the documentaries. I’m pretty much a fan, so maybe that bias is impacting my opinion. But my view is that this news of his joining Google is much bigger than it looks. It may well be the technology story of the year or maybe even the decade. Why? Somehow one of America’s greatest thinker/philosopher/inventors, a guy who does not need a paycheck, was talked into taking a job. Guys like this don’t just take jobs. They accept positions because they think doing so will help them make a strategic difference in the world. Ray must have been convinced that Google will resource his projects and Google must have been convinced that Ray will generate tremendous value and together I have no doubt they will. The vast fiscal resources of Google will now be at Ray’s disposal and he will move out even faster on several key concepts.
What will they do next? I don’t have a clue, but my imagination is already going. Google has backed far more than self-driving cars and phones that listen to your guidance. They are also backing ideas like the mining of asteroids to leverage robotic technologies to harvest minerals. And they are pioneering concepts like the sensemaking over all the data of the Internet of Things (thanks to ideas from thinkers at Google this concept has morphed to include ambient intelligence and autonomous control). Google is still pioneering what they are already good at, the indexing and analysis over large quantities of data. The Big Data innovations they put into play by publishing their MapReduce and Google File System (GFS) papers are now changing the entire IT world (thanks to their publication of those papers Hadoop exists), and there innovation in Big Data has not stopped there. Their release of the Android OS as an Open Source project totally transformed the entire smartphone industry (the first Android powered phone was sold in Sep 2008, now it is the world’s most widely deployed mobile platform).
So, in short, this move gives Ray Kurzweil a platform to innovate over. And I have no doubt he would not have accepted their offer unless he intended to innovate greatly.