Wired | Kurzweil: Rooting for the machine

November 3, 2000

Source: Wired — November 3, 2000 | Declan McCullagh

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Raymond Kurzweil doesn’t merely predict that machine intelligence will surpass human brains by the end of the century. He’s eagerly anticipating it. In a Kurzweillian future, the world would become a very strange place, where converging advances in nanotechnology, biotechnology and computer science combine to propel humanity to its next stage of evolution.

“By the end of this century, I don’t think there will be a clear distinction between human and machine,” Kurzweil told the Foresight Institute’s Eighth Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology on Friday.

“We can expand the capacity of our brains by a factor of thousands or millions, and, by the end of the century, by trillions,” predicts the inventor-turned-author of The Age of Intelligent Machines and The Age of Spiritual Machines. Technology, of course, has been part of human existence since our Cro-Magnon ancestors picked up a stone and realized it could be more than part of the landscape.

But Kurzweil is talking about something a bit more ambitious. If he’s right, exponential progress in science and engineering will allow us to merge with machines. We will become resistant to diseases, think faster, live better, and become transhuman in ways that would make even Superman green with envy. If he’s wrong, well, then we’ll continue to have buggy software, faulty memories, and lifespans that fall far short of the lowly leopard tortoise.

Some of his predictions:

  • Virtual reality, not through neural implants or goofy goggles, will become the way most humans spend their life this century. We’ll flood our bodies with microscopic nanobots, which will essentially inject images and sensations directly into our nervous system.
  • Computers will meet the “raw capacity” of the human brain by 2020, and the entire human race by 2050.

Kurzweil was, unintentionally, the person who scared Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy so thoroughly that Joy felt the urge to warn the world about possible advances in a controversial Wired magazine article. “I guess (our conversation) alarmed Bill and started him on a course he’s still on,” Kurzweil said, calling Joy’s advice to relinquish future technologies “unfeasible, undesirable, and basically totalitarian.” [...]