iMedia Connection: As a renowned futurist and inventor, your areas of focus have been in fields as diverse as speech recognition technology to artificial intelligence to healthcare and lifestyle issues. How did you become interested in the ways technology touches the marketing industry?
Ray Kurzweil: My area of expertise is in pattern recognition, which is part of the artificial intelligence field. In this field we teach computers to recognize patterns. It turns out that pattern recognition is what the human brain does well. We're actually not very good at logical thinking, and computers already outpace us in that area. I developed the first omni-font (any type font) optical character recognition (OCR) and the first commercially marketed large vocabulary speech recognition, both of which represented classical problems in pattern recognition at the time. I also invented the first CCD flat-bed scanner so that I could combine that with the OCR to create the world's first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind. The Kurzweil OCR was used to build the first major databases, such as Nexus and Lexus. All of these technologies have become foundations for the information age and have enabled us to communicate information which is, of course, what the marketing industry is all about.
Ray Kurzweil is a futurist, one of the leading inventors of the modern age, and author of "The Age of Spiritual Machines."
iMedia: What current technology do you think will have the greatest impact on digital marketing? Are there any technological advances that you are particularly excited about -- or wary of -- in this space?
Kurzweil: We have already seen the rise of targeted advertising, which provides about $20 billion a year of revenue to Google. People often resent ads and commercials because it wastes their time. Who wants to sit through a diaper commercial if you are no longer buying diapers? (It is true, however, that advertising to future diaper purchasers makes sense to establish brand recognition early.) On the other hand, if I have just done a search for some new health supplement or a new type of software then I appreciate seeing ads for products in these categories. Targeted advertising today is based entirely on keywords, but in the future it will be based on a deeper understanding of the specific personality, desires, and needs of each consumer.
Another important trend is the increasing realism of virtual and augmented reality. Augmented reality has just started with a few iPhone apps in the last several months. In the future we'll be online all the time, the electronics will be in our belt buckles and woven in our clothing, and images will be superimposed on the real world through our lenses. This will create virtual displays (which can be three-dimensional), full-immersion virtual reality environments, or augmented reality. In terms of the latter, just seeing (with little pop-ups) what people's names are would be very helpful. There will also be a variety of ways to include the tactile sense. So reality will be greatly expanded to include fantastic imaginary worlds.
Unlike today's cartoon-like worlds such as massively multi-player games and environments such as Second Life, these virtual environments will be limited only by our imagination. Already, we see extensive marketing campaigns in Second Life and other virtual environments. After all, these environments are intended as communication mediums. We will ultimately be spending most of our time in a blend of virtual and real reality, so the opportunities for marketing communication will be greatly enhanced.
iMedia: Marketers often fancy themselves innovators, building their own tools when currently available ones don't suit their particular needs. What advice can you give to those who are looking to develop their own tools or platforms, rather than tailoring their offerings to commercially available options?
Kurzweil: There is an advantage to building you own solution -- you just might create the next Facebook. Speaking of which, Facebook was created by Harvard undergraduates so that they could see pictures of freshmen who they might want to date. They were basically just putting online the "face books," which were printed books of pictures of all the freshmen. So they were building their own tool because the available ones did not meet their very specific needs. That was 2004, and today Facebook has 400 million users and is worth tens of billions of dollars.
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