Futurist Ray Kurzweil is one of the world’s busiest people.
And that’s no surprise. A best-selling author and subject of a major documentary, Kurzweil has an unmatched talent for explaining how cutting-edge technology is going to change our lives. That means this “A-list” speaker is always on the go, traveling the globe as he spreads his futurist technology gospel.
That’s why I made sure to buttonhole Kurzweil at the recent Singularity Summit technology conference. As he headed into the San Francisco lecture hall to share the newest insights into how the brain works, I was able to walk along with him and have a quick chat.
As we talked, little did I know that Kurzweil was working on something that would stun the tech world in a manner that’s usually reserved for one of his predictions.
No, I’m not talking about the buzz that’s been generated by his new book, How to Create a Mind, the Secret of Human Thought Revealed.
Kurzweil, as it turned out, had accepted a major position at none other than Google Inc. (NasdaqGS: GOOG), the Web giant that is to search what the tech futurist is to prognostication.
And Monday was Kurzweil’s first day on the job as the company’s new Director of Engineering.
A lot of investors have glossed over this news. That’s a big mistake. As I see it, this single hire speaks volumes about how Google views itself, and how it intends to keep building shareholder value.
If you’re interested in Google, this is a bit of strategic intelligence that you absolutely have to know. Here’s why: With this single move, the world leader in Web search is telling investors like you that it intends to remain a growth company. This also tells us that Google wants to invent the types of technology that will change the world and make money for investors – even if it means breaking free of the Web itself.
I defy anyone to identify another leader in the tech field who will have more of an impact on the world in the Era of Radical Change. I’ve followed his career for years now and know firsthand that many of his predictions that people dismissed as crazy have actually come true.
Kurzweil began pushing the tech envelope as a teenage inventor and has literally never looked back. Along the way, he has invented dozens of new products, penned groundbreaking books on the technologies of the future, and altered our view of what is possible and even probable in the Era of Radical Change.
I can guess what the naysayers are already saying – that Kurzweil won’t fit in at Google because the company is so darn huge. Or that Google, with a market cap of $235 billion, can never recapture its free-wheeling days as an early-stage startup.
That’s high-tech balderdash.
Fact is, Google prides itself in pushing the boundaries of cutting-edge tech. For instance, I’ve told you about Google Glass, a pair of spectacles that can display maps and text messages, connect smart phone calls and capture video, among other things.
Combine that with Google’s intense focus on machine learning (as evidenced by the way it does searches) and you can clearly see how Kurzweil and Google are made for each other.
Kurzweil, 64, has stayed ahead of the curve since he was 14. That’s how old he was when he designed software that wrote original music. Later, he created the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind.
Back in 1999, he predicted that in about a decade we would see such breakthroughs as self-driving cars and mobile phones that could answer questions posed by voice.
People criticized these predictions as “unrealistic.” Google now has both.
“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,” Kurzweil says. “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.”
As I see it, by heading up these kinds of projects that will lead to new sales, Kurzweil could indeed have a big – and direct – impact on Google’s future cash flow.
And the indirect benefits could be even bigger: His presence alone will act as a recruiting magnet, helping to attract the visionary engineering talent that will help create other new sources of revenue – while also blocking out threats to Google’s core business.
His name alone opens doors at tech firms and research labs around the world. If Google wants to raid talent from other companies or major universities, all Kurzweil has to do is pick up the phone.
More to the point, he is an expert in machine learning and intelligence. And that’s basically become a big part of Google’s core product. Machine learning (in which computers better “understand” human intentions) has created much more relevant Web searches that also help support ad sales.
Kurzweil has worked in this field for decades. Now that he has joined Google, he has a built-in global infrastructure that can roll out his ideas and new products on a scale he could never have achieved on his own.
This is also is a marketing coup for Google. Tech writers all over the world want to talk with Kurzweil about the radical changes coming to the human race.
Now, rather than simply making his own predictions, Kurzweil will be telling the world about “the future according to Google.”
We’ll stay on top of this story as it develops, and will keep tabs on the investment opportunities – direct and indirect – that we believe will spin out of the Kurzweil-Google betrothal.
That fact alone reminds us of a point that bears repeating here: Just because the Era of Radical Change focuses a lot on the future, that doesn’t mean it can’t help you make money today. And we’ll continue to show you how to do just that.