At his wide ranging inspirational keynote at the 2008 Game Developers conference, futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted a near future with nano-technology enhanced fully immersive virtual realities and full simulations of human intelligence by 2029.
Kurzweil, inventor of a number of OCR and speech synthesis applications, opened with and spent the majority of his keynote discussing the idea of smooth exponential growth guiding the progress of information technology -- and indeed, human evolution itself -- as opposed to the idea of linear, unpredictable growth studded with sudden explosive developments.
One of the developments most important to the future, he said, was the democratizing of technology -- something he said was responsible for bringing down the former Soviet Union, as communication "swept away totalitarian control" -- and said that we've reached the stage where the tools of creativity and production were being democratized as well.
Equally, if not more, important for his audience was the continual exponential growth of processing technology, with the computers in current cellphones a billion times more powerful than the computer he used when joining MIT in 1965 -- and another billion-fold increase coming in the next 25 years.
While Kurzweil strayed from making explicit predictions about the actual nature of gaming in the next 20 years, he did say that "games are becoming the harbinger of things that we do" -- that "play is how we principally learn" with commerce, education, and romance in virtual worlds as strong as that in real life.
He did say, though, that processing power would reach the levels needed to simulate all parts of the human brain by 2013, hopefully leaving behind the uncanny valley in the next few years, and reach Turing-test passing simulated intelligence by 2029.
Finally, he predicted that by 2010 computers would begin to disappear as separate entities and would be included in more and more of our everyday items, and, by the start of the next day, we should see full immersion both from, say, eyeglass computers, and, eventually nano-tech brain enhancements that shut down normal senses and augment and create new virtual realities.
The problem, Kurzweil joked, was that it was still a challenge to figure out how to avoid tripping over lamps and coffee tables while immersed in that world, saying "real reality's going to continue to be a little irksome for the next few years."