Inventor Ray Kurzweil made his name as a pioneer in technology that helped machines understand human language, both written and spoken. These days he is probably best known as a prophet of The Singularity, one of the leading voices predicting that artificial intelligence will soon surpass its human creators — resulting in either our enslavement or immortality, depending on how things shake out. Back in 2012 he was hired at Google as a director of engineering to work on natural language recognition, and today we got another hint of what he is working on. In a video from a recent Singularity conference Kurzweil says he and his team at Google are building a chatbot, and that it will be released sometime later this year.
Kurzweil was answering questions from the audience, via telepresence robot naturally. He was asked when he thought people would be able to have meaningful conversations with artificial intelligence, one that might fool you into thinking you were conversing with a human being. "That's very relevant to what I'm doing at Google," Kurzweil said. "My team, among other things, is working on chatbots. We expect to release some chatbots you can talk to later this year.
One of the bots will be named Danielle, and according to Kurzweil, it will draw on dialog from a character named Danielle, who appears in a novel he wrote — a book titled, what else, Danielle. Kurzweil is a best selling author, but so far has only published non-fiction. He said that anyone will be able to create their own unique chatbot by feeding it a large sample of your writing, for example by letting it ingest your blog. This would allow the bot to adopt your "style, personality, and ideas."
As if talking to other humans was actually "meaningful"
Kurzweil says that, while he believes his chatbots will allow for interesting conversation, we'll have to wait until 2029 for AI to have human-level language ability, "and everything that comes with it." At that point, AI will be able to pass the Turing test, meaning they will be indistinguishable from a real person in a blind test.
Of course, an AI that is simply up to the level of a modern human isn't really that interesting to Kurzweil, who hopes to one day upload his consciousness to the internet and dialog with super-intelligent forms of AI. "If you think you can have a meaningful conversation with a human, you'll be able to have a meaningful conversation with an AI in 2029. But you'll be able to have interesting conversations before that."
Update: This story updated 7pm ET on 27 May to more accurately reflect Kurzweils' official title and role within Google.