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The Mind of the Future: Half-Man, Half-Machine

By sleepin'dawg ·
You might classify this as a case of the possible improbable


Half-Man, Half-Machine: The Mind of the Future


Raymond C. Kurzweil is the author of The Age of Intelligent
Machines, published in 1990, and The Age of Spiritual Machines: When
Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, published this year. He is the
founder and chairman of Kurzweil Technologies in Wellesley Hills,
Mass., as well as five other companies that still bear his name or
are still operating under new ownership. He spoke with Business Week
Senior Writer Otis Port about the separate and joint futures of
human and artificial intelligence.

Q: Do you have any doubts that a superior intelligence will emerge
in the next few decades?
A: No. It's inevitable. For example, nanotubes would allow computing
at the molecular level. A one-inch cube of nanotube circuitry would
be about 1 billion times more powerful than the human brain, in
terms of computing capacity. That raw computing capacity is a
necessary but not sufficient condition to achieve human-level
intelligence in a machine.

We also need the organization and the software to organize those
resources. There are a number of scenarios for achieving that. The
most compelling is reverse-engineering the human brain. We're
already well down that path, with techniques like MRI. But we'll do
better because the speed and resolution -- the bandwidth -- with
which we can scan the brain are also accelerating exponentially.

One means of scanning the brain would be to send small scanners in
the form of nanobots into the blood stream. Millions of them would
go through every capillary of the brain. We already have electronic
means for scanning neurons and neurotransmitter concentrations that
are nearby, and within 30 years we'll have these little nanobots
that can communicate with each other wirelessly. They would create
an enormous database with every neuron, every synoptic connection,
every neurotransmitter concentration -- a precise map of the human
brain.

So we'll have the templates for human intelligence, and by then
we'll have the hardware that can run these processes. So we can
reinstate that information in a neural computer.

Once we can embody human thought processes in a nonbiological
medium, it will necessarily soar past human intelligence -- for
several reasons. First, machines can share their knowledge
electronically. With humans, you spend years teaching language to
each child. [But] once any one machine has mastered something, it
can share that knowledge instantly with millions of other machines
over the global wireless Web, which we'll have by then. So a machine
can become expert at any number of disciplines.

Secondly, machines are far faster. Electronic circuits are 10
million times faster than neural connections, and machine memories
can be far larger and much more accurate. However, machines do not
yet have the depth of pattern recognition or the subtlety of human
intelligence. They can't deal with emotions and humor and other
subtle qualities of human intelligence.

Once their complexity matches that of humans and they are able to
master the skills at which humans now excel, and those abilities are
combined with the ways in which machines are already superior --
that will be a very formidable combination. It'll get to the point
where the next generation of technology can only be designed by the
machines themselves.

Finally, while the complexity of the biological computational
circuitry in humans is essentially fixed, the density of machine
circuitry will continue to grow exponentially. By 2030, a $1,000
computer system will have the power of 1,000 human brains; by 2050,
1 billion human brains.

Q: Won't we end up feeling like pets?
A: Those same nanobots that can scan the human brain will also
provide a type of neural implant to extend human intelligence --
expand your memory and improve your pattern-recognition
capabilities. Ultimately they will augment human intelligence quite
profoundly as we go through the 21st century.

We are doing this today, after a fashion. We now have neural
implants for Parkinson's disease patients that actually reprogram
their neural cells. The implants literally turn off the symptoms of
Parkinson's as soon as you throw a switch. It's very dramatic. These
patients are wheeled in, their bodies frozen. Then a switch is
thrown to activate the neural implants, and the patients suddenly
come alive -- their symptoms are suppressed by the implant.

With microscopic nanobots, we'll be able to send millions or
billions [of them] into your brain. They would take up key positions
inside our brains and detect what's going on in our brains. They
would be communicating with each other, via a wireless local-area
network, which would be linked to the wireless Web and intelligent
machines, and they could cause particular neurons to fire, or
suppress them.

This will enable us to artificially boost human intelligence
dramatically. Ultimately, the majority of thinking will be done in
the nonbiological parts of our brains.

Q: If nanobots are sitting inside our heads and controlling the
brain, how will we know they're not fooling us with false signals?
A: Well, actually, another thing we could do with this would be
virtual reality. If we had nanobots take up positions by every nerve
fiber that comes from all of our five senses, they could either sit
there and do nothing, in which case you'd perceive the world
normally -- or they could shut off the nerve impulses coming from
our real senses and replace them with simulated nerve impulses
representing what you would perceive if you were in the virtual
environment.

Q: So we wouldn't be able to tell the difference at all between the
real world and a simulated world?
A: Right. It would be as if you were really in that virtual
environment. If you decided to walk, the nanobots would intercept
the signals to your real legs and send back all the sensory signals
of walking -- from the changing tactile pressure on your feet to the
air moving across your hands as you swing your arms. It would be
just as high-resolution and just as compelling as real reality. You
could actually go there and meet other real people. So you and I,
instead of being on the telephone, could be meeting on a Mozambique
game preserve, and we'd both feel the warm breeze on our faces and
hear the animal sounds in the background.

Eventually, anything you can do in real reality -- business
meetings, social events, sex, sports -- could be done in virtual
reality. As the technology gets perfected, we'll be spending more
and more time in virtual reality, because it'll be more and more
compelling. Going to Web sites will mean going to a virtual reality
environment. Some will emulate real environments, so you'll visit
the Web to go skiing in the Alps or to take a walk on a beach in
Tahiti. Others will be fantastic environments that don't exist, or
couldn't exist, in the real world.

Q: Let's go back to machines that design new machines. Doesn't that
open the potential for them to evolve a nonhuman intelligence --
utterly different ways of thinking?
A: Sure. Once we have intelligent systems in a nonbiological medium,
they're going to have their own ideas, their own agendas. They'll
evolve off in completely unpredictable directions. Instead of being
derived only from human civilization, new concepts will also be
derived from their electronic civilization. But I see this as part
of evolution -- a continuation of the natural progression.

Q: But couldn't it pose a threat to the human race?
A: I don't see an invasion of alien machines coming over the
horizon. They'll be emerging from within our human-machine
civilization. We're already quite intimate with our technology. If
all the computers stopped today, essentially everything would grind
to halt. That was not true just 30 years ago. At that point only a
few scientists and government bureaucrats would have been frustrated
by the delay in getting printouts from their punch-card machines.

Today we've become highly dependent on computer intelligence. It's
already embedded in our decision-making software much more than most
people realize. That's going to continue to accelerate.

Next, we're going to be putting these machines into our bodies and
into our brains. So it's not going to be humans on one side and
machines on the other. There's not going to be a clear distinction
between humans and machines. We'll be using nanobots to expand human
intelligence, and over time, the bulk of our thinking will be done
in the nonbiological parts of our brains, because that part of our
brain will continue to grow as technology advances. But the
biological part is not growing.

Q: There won't be a clear distinction between us and them?
A: No. Ultimately, you're going to have nonbiological entities that
are exact copies of biological brains. They will claim to be human,
because they will have all the memories of the original brain. So
there won't be a clear distinction between what's human and what's
not.

But remember, this will be emerging gradually from within our own
civilization. It's the next phase of our own evolution. It's only a
threat if you believe things should always stay the same as they are
today.

That's not to say there aren't any dangers. An obvious one is
uncontrolled growth of these nonbiological entities in your body --
nonbiological cancer.

This is all in the realm of possibility and is being researched NOW. Get in line now to become the smartest man in the world. Nonotubes: the mind won't be able to be boggled anymore. Imagine a PC based on nanotube technology; thats in the pipeline for 2008-2010. Imagine the code for a machine like this??? Imagine debugging the code on a machine like this??? Pray that it isn't Microsoft writing the code!!!!! One thing this technology is literally going to **** the arguments of the Christian Fundamentalists out of the water. This is a step forward on the evolutionary time line. Man will evolve and adapt to this, eventually. Even Fundamentalists won't want to remain stupid forever.

Dawg ]:)

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I'm not completely convinced

by neilb@uk In reply to The Mind of the Future: H ...

I think he's being a little simplistic. A considerable portion of what makes us human is chemical. That is, in the positive and negative effects of hormones. Should the human-generated AIs have PMS? Or even bipolar disease? Schitzophrenia?

"Well down that path with MRI". Hmmmm. Yes, we can say that that cubic inch of brain gets more active when we see diagonal stripes but are we "well down the path" with mapping the brain? Again, I think he's underestimating the complexity. I suppose we'll do it eventually though if war or Global Warming doesn't stop us.

I don't think the author has much of an imagination, though. Once we're mapped electronically then I do agree we can get virtual but why would we want to bother doing it with our bodies and nanotech? We can just get our "program" fed into some central computer and do what we want (like the Matrix but without all that crap about the computers needing us for energy). We can then live for as long as we want at 10,000 times our current speed. This would blur the differences between humans and computers. Be interesting to see how we would interact with those intelligences still remaining as "meat", though; spawn off a "Good morning, John" subroutine and come back a week later (computer time). When we're done in VRWorld, reprogram the brain with the new memories and back into the "real" world.

Anyway, in 30 years we'll both be getting on a bit, Dawg. So long as nanobots can help me pee without pain then it'll be a start!

Neil

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They're already making DNA based CPUs now.

by sleepin'dawg In reply to I'm not completely convin ...

IBM and Princeton University have had a DNA chip for a few years now. It works and processes like the human brain but add nanotube technology to the mix and the thing takes off run as fast or faster than; some of todays fastest supercomputers. A DNA based chip now??? How long till there are real biochips available. The rumoured deadline for introduction is 2010.

Dawg{/] ]:)

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I'd be interested in your sources

by neilb@uk In reply to They're already making DN ...

My understanding of "DNA computers" is that DNA has been used to solve problems like the classic "travelling salesman" (customers, connecting roads and shortest path to visit all customers) by a brute force get all possible answers and select out the shortest approach.

I haven't heard of a Chip as such.

Neil

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I love it!

by ITgirli In reply to The Mind of the Future: H ...

I think it would be great. Let's get rid of emotions while we're at it. And think of all the stupid people we could eradicate. I, for one, am all for it! Just think of all the possibilities once we get rid of the narrowmindedness of the human brain. Think of how far we can reach with such technology. Hooray!

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You only have to give up half your humanity

by Dr Dij In reply to I love it!

that was the byline for the cybernetic consciousness faction in the old SMAC game! (Alien Crossfire)

half their brains had been replaced with nanobots, gave them the real advantage of much higher research rate, and real dis-advantage of lower reproduction rate, as the cold machine types do less cuddling :)

Hey, I just want to live till 2030 when I'll be able to upload my consciousness into a new nano-tube-3000 quadrillion-hz parallel cluster! With new Windoze SuperCrash 2998 (they're a bit late with the OS). unhappily, I'll only be able to use one of my many processors till the new one comes out, at which point I'll be able to run out of memory in 25 nano-seconds!!!!

there's been a bunch of sci-fi dealing with this; one story, this started and people who 'augmented' themselves got slight bulges on their head. they had to hide these for fear of discrimination. later, it became the norm and the majority did this.

farther on, some uploaded themselves as AI's (would that be the term for a real person uploaded?) and set about tasks such as filling in the gaps in human knowledge, then on to exploring the stars.

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Sure, but

by stargazerr In reply to I love it!

Wont that just turn us all into mindless robots..Maybe not as soon as the technology starts working, but eventually??

I mean the "sensation" of walking is not the same thing as strolling on grass ... We go to the mountains or back packing or have a back to the nature day ... I dont see us sincerely wanting to become some sort of borg ... (wanting to try it out, because it is something new, YES .. But Living with it, NO)

Although I think the occassional chip implant for enhanced capabilities would be nice ...

]:)

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well....

by ITgirli In reply to Sure, but

You really wouldn't know whether or not you were walking in the park. Your brain would tell you that you are, and you would accept it. Your brain would be triggered to feel the sensations. I mean, really, how do you know that this hasn't already happened and what you think is reality is really just a complex game played by nanobots? Can you prove it? How? I think it's rather funny. So we give up humanity, how WOULD we reproduce? (I think there is enough of that going on anyhow) I think it would take quite a bit of time to get that out of our systems. But we could live on forever in an interconnected superbrain. Honestly this could wipe out the human race. I won't be around for it, but I imagine it would be quite amusing. And couldn't you just kill it all with a world-wide power outage? Or would they have giant solar panels, batteries and generators for back-ups? Perhaps such technology would find an alternate source of fuel. I find it all very fascinating. Sign me up!

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It is very fascinating

by stargazerr In reply to well....

Imagine ... if all of us just fall to the ground because we had a power cut and spring back up again when the power comes back on ...

If I am the only non borg left, I could switch you guys on and off, on and off .. :^O

Jokes apart .. It really is a fascinating technology, I am all for it .. And since we could live on and on, there would really be no need to reproduce ... as for the sex part, I guess that could be simulated too

]:)

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I suppose it could be

by ITgirli In reply to It is very fascinating

But I don't think that many people would want that to be simulated. But could it be as good? And we could finally have world peace.

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Lets all vote ..

by stargazerr In reply to I suppose it could be

and leave the sex out of it ...

It would take the fun out of life

]:)

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