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SAP TechEd is always an exciting event, and this year’s TechEd in Phoenix promises to be even more exciting than usual. As already announced in Ray Kurzweil Confirmed as Keynote Speaker at SAP TechEd Phoenix August 3rd, Ray Kurzweil will join Vishal Sikka for the keynote. Why am I so excited about this?

Reading Ray’s book ”The Singularity Is Near” was a great experience for me, very eye-opening and thought-provoking. You can ask my wife: I was hardly talking about anything else for weeks. The fundamental thesis of the book is that within about 25 years, “…nonbiological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence”. To me, one of the most fascinating parts of the book is the first two chapters, where Ray very convincingly makes the argument that technology evolution is exponential in nature, with a law of accelerating returns. In other words, the pace of evolution and change keeps increasing. This will lead to a singularity, when technical progress is so fast that human intelligence cannot follow it. Ray puts the date of the singularity at 2045, but amazing things will happen on the way there.

What does all of this have to do with enterprise software? Well, here at SAP we have been working on a concept we call “Timeless Software: Part 1” for a while. Timeless Software is based on the dichotomy between on one hand long lived systems and on the other hand rapid technical evolution. Let me take just one example: There are tens of thousands of SAP R/3 systems in productive use throughout the world, supporting mission critical business processes for a significant part of the world economy. When R/3 was first launched in 1991, there was no such thing as mobile data traffic; the first text message was sent in 1992. So how do you design systems that will live that long and be able to benefit from the technical evolution around you? That is what we address with Timeless Software: Design for constant change, be able to adopt change, even disruptive change.

Bringing together Ray’s predictions on the path to the singularity and the accelerating pace of change that leads us there with Vishal’s thinking on how to develop software so that it can cope with change promises to be very interesting. Note that we actually are beginning to talk about the same timelines here: Software systems we design today will likely still be in productive use 25 years from now, when machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence. Wow. Can we really design for that? How do we even think about enterprise software in such an environment?

Doesn’t this make your head spin? We will have two opportunities to hear Ray and Vishal talk about this: 1) tune to the live video streaming event:  Ray Kurzweil and Vishal Sikka: “The Accelerating Pace of Change” on September 9, 2009 at 2:00 p.m. PDT / 5:00 p.m. EDT and 2) at the SAP TechEd Keynote in Phoenix, AZ, October 13, 2009. I wonder if the head will be spinning even faster after that. To prepare, I will re-read “The Singularity Is Near” – Now that I know that I have to design software for it.

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  1. Jason Lax
    I read Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Age of Spiritual Machines” about 10 years ago.  I keep it close by so I can compare the latest technological developments with what he wrote back then.

    What I really admire about his predictions is that they describe in a plausible way how our day to day life will be on both an individual and species level, complete with all the details needed to clearly understand how our technology evolves every step of the way.

  2. It is right that we as a company debate where our technology is leading us. I read Ray’s singularity book years ago and saw that it reflected themes I had long been thinking about. Indeed I published an 8-page article on Ray’s idea in 2006:

    In my opinion, Ray has glossed over a host of tricky issues that will make it impossible to say exactly when singularity occurs and will certainly not lead to this result: “there will be no clear distinction between human and machine, real reality and virtual reality. Human aging and illness will be reversed; pollution will be stopped; world hunger and poverty will be solved.”

    My next book will try to help us all get a bit more real about all this.


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