Both Google and NASA are financially backing Ray Kurzweil's new Singularity University. The nine-week program focuses on topics out of Kurzweil's best-selling books The Singularity is Near & The Age of Spiritual Machines.
The main premise of the Singularity is that the continuing rapid advance of computer technology will lead to a merger of human and computer intelligence. If this is accurate, then computer speeds will have to continue to double every year to eighteen months. Which, is at least true up to 2012, as IBM has recently announced a supercomputer 19 times faster than any previous model.
There are critics who think Kurzweil is overly optimistic, but Ian Douglas backed up Google's decision in a piece for the Telegraph yesterday:
Not so fast. The Age of Spiritual Machines, published in 1999, put some dates next to the predictions so we have something we can test. By 2009, said Kurzweil, computers will connect wirelessly (WiFi), rotational storage will be replace by electronic storage (flash memory rather than hard discs), computers that cost $1,000 would be capable of one trillion calculations per second (achieved in 2008 by an ATI Radeon graphics processor), high resolution displays range in size from a few centimetres across to the size of a book (have you looked at your mobile phone screen lately?), routine business transactions will be done between people and computers (this has been the case for some years), computers would be capable of language translation (translate.google.com is not perfect but it's a useful tool, and Altavista were doing this for years before Google muscled in) and bioengineered treatments for cancer and heart disease will be arriving.
Unless we see a real slowdown in development, I'm siding with Kurzweil and the good folks at Google.