A shopping trip in the not-so-distant future promises to be a virtual reality version of a fully stocked store projected in 3D from eyeglasses to your retina.
The eyeball assist — reminiscent of The Terminator when the Arnold Schwarzenegger-portrayed cyborg could pull up statistical readouts on his targets — could be summoned even while shopping in a conventional store. It's all done by a cell phone.
"The cell phone is the gateway to everything. In 10 years it will be embedded in your belt; in 20 years it will small enough to be injected into your bloodstream,'' said futurist Ray Kurzweil.
That was one of many predictions served up to chief marketing officers from 40 major retailers at a conference this week in St. Pete Beach.
Kurzweil's predictions go far beyond marketing. Many signal profound changes in society:
• Artificial intelligence will be indistinguishable from human intelligence by 2029. Tiny robot computers could be injected into the bloodstream and downloaded to reprogram body functions as they wear out or need updating. Humans will realize they need implanted artificial intelligence just to keep up with the pace of change.
• The software of life — the human genome — has been mapped, so it now can be linked to the exponential pace of technological change. Kurzweil, 62, says that will help speed the rate of change in medicine by a factor of 1 million over 20 years.
• He foresees immortality as a possibility and changed to a low-carb diet to combat his Type II diabetes. He consumes 250 supplements daily and washes them down with 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea.
• Manufacturing physical products at the molecular level will be a reality by 2020.
• Solar power will soon be cheap enough to replace the need for fossil fuels in 15 years, if the world has the will to make the change.
• Eventually education will be downloadable to the brain, and teacher roles will shift to mentoring and guiding students.
• Thanks to speech recognition, the Internet and translation software, anyone in the world will be able to talk to anyone else in the world anytime as soon as next year. He demonstrated it in German at the conference.
A free-thinking author/inventor/computer engineer who created the first flat scan reader for the blind in 1979, Kurzweil parlayed his knowledge into a career as a futurist and early investor in such technologies as Facebook.
Kurzweil's reputation gained credibility after several of his 1980s forecasts panned out in the following decade. He correctly forecast that a computer would beat a chess champion (he missed by a year), the rise of the Internet and how the Soviet Union would be done in by open communications driven by technology. There are still plenty of skeptics, however.
Much of his work parallels larger implications of the same miniaturization and speed of technological change that shrank his original flat reader from the size of a kitchen table to something that fits in your hand. The reader allowed the blind to scan a book or other reading material and then have it read back to them.
If you have yet to hear of Kurzweil, hang on. There's a movie called Transcendent Mind coming out this summer inspired by his life. His own quirky documentary, The Singularity is Near, is making the film festival rounds. It features Kurzweil interviewing other futurists like Alvin Toffler, then preparing an avatar named Ramona for a career in show biz.
Many of Kurzweil's other predictions portend a far different marketplace for retailers to sell their products. He thinks today's torrid pace of technological change is speeding up "exponentially," so fast that advances that once took a century now will take a decade.
For instance, by 2025 he says medical advances and the first wave of baby boomers hitting their upper 70s will add one year every year to the average life expectancy.
"So if you can hang in there another 15 years, you may get an extra year every year," he mused.
Mark Albright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8252.