“Biological evolution is too slow for the human species. Over the next few decades, it's going to be left in the dust.” ~Ray Kurzweil
Try to wrap your head around this idea — in the not-too-distant future, maybe the next 20 years, computers will dramatically increase the lifespan and intelligence of humans. It will very likely impact you and your quality of life.
In fact, the line between humans and machines will blur as machines take on more human qualities and people have super-intelligence enhanced by computers. Activate a microchip in your brain, and suddenly you have instant mental access to the internet. Eventually, you won't need the microchip. I don't know if this is a good thing, but it appears to be a sure thing.
Last week my 17-year-old son introduced me to a fascinating movie about a fascinating man. The movie is called Transcendent Man about futurist, scientist, inventor, author, and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil. His research, inventions, and forecasts for the future are astounding. Among his many life-altering inventions are text readers designed to aid blind people by reading written text aloud.
Four of Ray Kurzweil's books have been national bestsellers. He's been granted 15 honorary doctorates in science, engineering and music, and has won many awards, including the National Medal of Technology. He's been an adviser to the U.S. military and has testified before Congress about nanotechnology. But he is most well-known (and controversial) for his predictions for the future.
Kurzweil coined the phrase, “the law of accelerating returns,” suggesting that the rate of innovation of computer technology is increasing not linearly but rather exponentially.
He argues that the growth and improvement in many fields of science and technology depend upon computing power, and therefore these improvements translate into exponentially more frequent advances in other sciences like nanotechnology, biotechnology, and materials science. He uses extrapolation and a number of metrics to support is predictions. Kurzweil has been spot on with many of his past forecasts. He's been off with some too.
The end game is that we live much longer, have super-intelligence, and ultimately we may have to bow to the superiority of the computers we've created.
This is exciting and scary stuff, and of course Kurzweil has many critics and naysayers (see the articles at the end of this post). But most scientists agree that computers, combined with other advances in science and medicine, will radically extend lifespans and intelligence. With these innovations comes a profusion of challenges, potential dangers, and social concerns.
To that end, Kurzweil has collaborated with the NASA Ames Research Center and Google to create Singularity University training center with the mission to “assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity’s grand challenges.”
Here are some of Kurzweil's predictions (courtesy of Wikipedia). If just some of these materialize, we will certainly have many challenges to address.
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments about the benefits and implications of his ideas .
From his book The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (1999)
- A $1,000 personal computer has as much raw power as the human brain.
- The summed computational powers of all computers is comparable to the total brainpower of the human race.
- Computers are embedded everywhere in the environment (inside of furniture, jewelry, walls, clothing, etc.).
- People experience 3-D virtual reality through glasses and contact lenses that beam images directly to their retinas (retinal display). Coupled with an auditory source (headphones), users can remotely communicate with other people and access the Internet.
- People communicate with their computers via two-way speech and gestures instead of with keyboards. Furthermore, most of this interaction occurs through computerized assistants with different personalities that the user can select or customize.
- Pinhead-sized cameras are everywhere.
- Computers have made paper books and documents almost completely obsolete.
- Most learning is accomplished through intelligent, adaptive courseware presented by computer-simulated teachers.
- Most human workers spend the majority of their time acquiring new skills and knowledge.
- Blind people wear special glasses that interpret the real world for them through speech. Sighted people also use these glasses to amplify their own abilities.
- People with spinal cord injuries can walk and climb steps using computer-controlled nerve stimulation and exoskeletal robotic walkers.
- Computers are also found inside of some humans in the form of cybernetic implants. These are most commonly used by disabled people to regain normal physical faculties (i.e. – Retinal implants allow the blind to see and spinal implants coupled with mechanical legs allow the paralyzed to walk).
- Language translating machines are of much higher quality, and are routinely used in conversations.
- Access to the Internet is completely wireless and provided by wearable or implanted computers.
- People are able to wirelessly access the Internet at all times from almost anywhere.
- Devices that deliver sensations to the skin surface of their users (i.e.–tight body suits and gloves) are also sometimes used in virtual reality to complete the experience. “Virtual sex”–in which two people are able to have sex with each other through virtual reality, or in which a human can have sex with a “simulated” partner that only exists on a computer—becomes a reality.
- Worldwide economic growth has continued. There has not been a global economic collapse.
- The vast majority of business interactions occur between humans and simulated retailers, or between a human's virtual personal assistant and a simulated retailer.
- Household robots are ubiquitous and reliable.
- Computers do most of the vehicle driving—-humans are in fact prohibited from driving on highways unassisted. Furthermore, when humans do take over the wheel, the onboard computer system constantly monitors their actions and takes control whenever the human drives recklessly. As a result, there are very few transportation accidents.
- Prototype personal flying vehicles using microflaps exist. They are also primarily computer-controlled.
- Humans are beginning to have deep relationships with automated personalities, which hold some advantages over human partners. The depth of some computer personalities convinces some people that they should be accorded more rights.
- Public places and workplaces are ubiquitously monitored to prevent violence and all actions are recorded permanently. Personal privacy is a major political issue, and some people protect themselves with unbreakable computer codes.
- The basic needs of the underclass are met. (Not specified if this pertains only to the developed world or to all countries)
- Virtual artists—creative computers capable of making their own art and music—emerge in all fields of the arts.
- A $1,000 personal computer is 1,000 times more powerful than the human brain.
- The vast majority of computation is done by computers and not by human brains.
- Further progress has been made in understanding the secrets of the human brain. Hundreds of distinct sub-regions with specialized functions have been identified.
- The eyeglasses and headphones that used to deliver virtual reality are now obsolete thanks to computer implants that go into the eyes and ears.
- Computer implants designed for direct connection to the brain are also available. They are capable of augmenting natural senses and of enhancing higher brain functions like memory, learning speed and overall intelligence.
- Computers are now capable of learning and creating new knowledge entirely on their own and with no human help. By scanning the enormous content of the Internet, some computers “know” literally every single piece of public information (every scientific discovery, every book and movie, every public statement, etc.) generated by human beings.
- Direct brain implants allow users to enter full-immersion virtual reality—with complete sensory stimulation—without any external equipment. People can have their minds in a totally different place at any moment. This technology is in widespread use.
- Most communication occurs between humans and machines as opposed to human-to-human.
- The manufacturing, agricultural and transportation sectors of the economy are almost entirely automated and employ very few humans. Across the world, poverty, war and disease are almost nonexistent thanks to technology alleviating want.
- The rise of Artificial Intelligence creates a real “robots rights” movement, and there is open, public debate over what sorts of civil rights and legal protections machines should have.
- Although computers routinely pass the Turing Test, controversy still persists over whether machines are as intelligent as humans in all areas.
- Artificial Intelligences claim to be conscious and openly petition for recognition of the fact. Most people admit and accept this new truth.
- Reverse engineering of the human brain completed.
- Non-biological intelligence will continue to grow exponentially whereas biological intelligence is effectively fixed.
- Food is commonly “assembled” by nanomachines. This food is externally indistinguishable from “natural” food, but it can be made more wholesome since production can be controlled at the molecular level.
- The distinction between virtual reality and “real” reality becomes confounded as foglets come into common use, allowing immediate assembly or disassembly of all sorts of physical objects.
- The human brain has been completely reverse engineered and all aspects of its functioning are understood.
- Natural human thinking possesses no advantages over computer minds.
- Machines have attained equal legal status with humans.
- Humans and machines merge together in the physical and mental realms. Cybernetic brain implants enable humans to fuse their minds with AI's.
- In consequence, clear distinctions between humans and machines no longer exist.
- Most conscious beings lack a permanent physical form.
- The vast majority of the Earth's sentient beings are AI's that exist entirely as thinking computer programs capable of instantly moving from one computer to another across the Internet (or whatever equivalent exists in 2099).
- Individual beings merge and separate constantly, making it impossible to determine how many “people” there are on Earth.
- This new plasticity of consciousness and ability for beings to join minds seriously alters the nature of self-identity.
- The majority of interpersonal interactions occur in virtual environments. Actually having two people physically meet in the real world to have a conversation or transact business without any technological interference is very rare.
- Organic human beings are a small minority of the intelligent life forms on Earth. Even among the remaining Homo sapiens, the use of computerized implants that heavily augment normal abilities is ubiquitous and accepted as normal.
- “Natural” humans are protected from extermination. In spite of their shortcomings and frailties, humans are respected by AI's for giving rise to the machines.
- Since knowledge and skills can be instantly downloaded and comprehended by most intelligent beings, the process of learning is compressed into an instantaneous affair instead of the years-long struggle normal humans experience. Free from this time-consuming burden, AI's now focus their energies on making new discoveries and contributions.
- AI's are capable of dividing their attention and energies in countless directions, allowing one being to manage a multitude of endeavors simultaneously.
- Femtoengineering (engineering on the scale of one thousandth of a trillionth of a meter) might be possible.
- AI's communicate via a shared electronic language.
- Artwork and music created by machines encompasses areas of the light spectrum and frequencies of sounds that normal humans cannot perceive.
- Money has deflated in value.
- Some humans at least as old as the Baby Boomers are still alive and well.
- Computer viruses are a major threat since most intelligent beings are software-based.
- AI's frequently make “backup copies” of themselves, guaranteeing a sort of immortality should the original AI be killed.
- The concept of “life expectancy” has become irrelevant to humans and machines thanks to medical immortality and advanced computers.
- The pace of technological change continues to accelerate as the 22nd century nears.
From Kurzweil's book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (2005)
2045: The Singularity
- $1000 buys a computer a billion times more intelligent than every human combined. This means that average and even low-end computers are vastly smarter than even highly intelligent, unenhanced humans.
- The technological singularity occurs as artificial intelligences surpass human beings as the smartest and most capable life forms on the Earth. Technological development is taken over by the machines, who can think, act and communicate so quickly that normal humans cannot even comprehend what is going on. The machines enter into a “runaway reaction” of self-improvement cycles, with each new generation of A.I.s appearing faster and faster. From this point onwards, technological advancement is explosive, under the control of the machines, and thus cannot be accurately predicted (hence the term “Singularity”).
- The Singularity is an extremely disruptive, world-altering event that forever changes the course of human history. The extermination of humanity by violent machines is unlikely (though not impossible) because sharp distinctions between man and machine will no longer exist thanks to the existence of cybernetically enhanced humans and uploaded humans.
- The physical bottom limit to how small computer transistors (or other equivalent, albeit more effective components, such as memristors integrated into Crossbar latches) can be shrunk is reached. From this moment onwards, computers can only be made more powerful if they are made larger in size.
- Because of this, A.I.s convert more and more of the Earth's matter into engineered, computational substrate capable of supporting more A.I.s. until the whole Earth is one, gigantic computer, except for a few nature reserves set aside on the planetary surface for those humans who decided to remain in their natural state.
- At this point, the only possible way to increase the intelligence of the machines any farther is to begin converting all of the matter and energy in the universe into similar massive computers. A.I.s radiate outward from Earth, first into the Solar System and then out into interstellar space, then galaxies in all directions, utilizing starships that are Von Neumann probes with nanobot crews, breaking down whole planets, stars, moons, and meteoroids and reassembling them into computers. This, in effect, “wakes up” the universe as all the inanimate “dumb” matter (rocks, dust, gases, etc.) is converted into structured matter capable of supporting life (albeit synthetic life).
- Kurzweil predicts that machines might have the ability to make planet-sized computers by 2099, which underscores how enormously technology will advance after the Singularity.
- With the entire universe made into a giant, highly efficient supercomputer, AI and human hybrids (so integrated that, in truth it is a new category of “life”) would have both supreme intelligence and physical control over the universe.
Some indeterminate points within a few decades from now
- Space technology becomes advanced enough to provide the Earth permanent protection from the threat of asteroid impacts.
- The antitechnology Luddite movement will grow increasingly vocal and possibly resort to violence as these people become enraged over the emergence of new technologies that threaten traditional attitudes regarding the nature of human life (radical life extension, genetic engineering, cybernetics) and the supremacy of mankind (artificial intelligence). Though the Luddites might, at best, succeed in delaying the Singularity, the march of technology is irresistible and they will inevitably fail in keeping the world frozen at a fixed level of development.
- The emergence of distributed energy grids and full-immersion virtual reality will, when combined with high bandwidth Internet, enable the ultimate in telecommuting. This, in turn, will make cities obsolete since workers will no longer need to be located near their workplaces. The decentralization of the population will make societies less vulnerable to terrorist and military attacks.
(Information source: Wikipedia)
If you are interested in reading more, here's a link to Ray Kurzweil's website and blog, as well as two critical articles of Kurzweil's work that are also fascinating:
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