Computers will know how to think, flirt and tell jokes within 15 years, and they may do it even better than humans, a famed artificial intelligence scientist is predicting.

Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, says computers will be more clever than humans by the year 2029, and that they will be able to understand what we say and learn from experience.

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Google’s Director of Engineering says computers will be more clever than humans by 2029. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

How could this happen? Computers reaching the next step of human understanding and grasping nuanced meanings may be achieved through Kurzweil’s current job at Google. He told the Observer that the Internet giant has essentially given him one directive, to help bring natural language understanding to Google:

“My project is ultimately to base search on really understanding what the language means. When you write an article you’re not creating an interesting collection of words. You have something to say … The message in your article is information, and the computers are not picking up on that.

So we would like to actually have the computers read. We want them to read everything on the web and every page of every book, then be able to engage an intelligent dialogue with the user to be able to answer their questions.”

Though Kurzweil is seen by some as an eccentric computer genius, he has a reputation for creating devices that leave a real impact: he invented the first flatbed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer and the first computer program that could recognize a typeface.

In 1990 Kurzweil famously predicted a computer would defeat a human in chess by 1998, and he was proven correct a year before the deadline. In 1997 Garry Kasperov, Russian grand Chessmaster, lost to IBM’s Deep Blue, the first time a computer ever defeated a world champion in match play.

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Kurzweil predicted a computer would beat a human in chess by 1998, and IBM defeated a world champion in 1997. (AFP/Getty Images)

But the proposed computer intelligence Kurzweil describes takes the playful chess defeats and useful processing tools to an entirely different level. His concept of “Singularity” defines the moment when human intellect is overrun by computer intelligence, and some of Kurzweil’s co-workers fear the worst, especially since Google has purchased dozens of robotics and artificial intelligence companies in the last several years.

“I don’t see any end point here,” said Dan Barry, a robotics faculty member at the Kurzweil-founded and Google-funded Singularity University. That includes the use of military robots: “At some point humans aren’t going to be fast enough. So what you do is that you make them autonomous. And where does that end? ‘Terminator’?”

So where are we now? The Guardian reported Kurzweil described the IBM Jeopardy super-computer Watson as the most successful example of natural-language processing so far, winning the game in 2011:

“And Jeopardy is a pretty broad task. It involves similes and jokes and riddles. For example, it was given “a long tiresome speech delivered by a frothy pie topping” in the rhyme category and quickly responded: “A meringue harangue.” Which is pretty clever: the humans didn’t get it. And what’s not generally appreciated is that Watson’s knowledge was not hand-coded by engineers. Watson got it by reading. Wikipedia – all of it.

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IBM’s Watson computer defeated former winners Ken Jennings (left) and Brad Rutter. (Image via Geekwire)

If Kurzweil’s past predictions are any indicator, computers may outsmart humans in less than the 15 years he predicted. But a common question is — why? Kurzweil predicts computers will not only overcome human intelligence, but humans will eventually have artificially enhanced robotics interconnected with human bodies that will enable “radical life extension.”

“We are talking about making ourselves millions of times more intelligent and being able to have virtually reality environments which are as fantastic as our imagination,” Kurzweil said. “According to my model it’s only 10-15 years away from where we’ll be adding more than a year every year to life expectancy because of progress. It’s kind of a tipping point in longevity.”

Sounds much more complex than a chess win, but with Google’s massive treasure chest of support, Kurzweil’s vision may become reality — and soon.

(H/T: The Independent)

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, will be on The Glenn Beck Program Monday at 5 p.m. ET.

Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter

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