Technology in the 21st Century: an Imminent Intimate Merger

May 14, 2002 by Ray Kurzweil

At the Foresight Institute “Exploring the Edges” Senior Associate Gathering, April 27, 2002, Ray Kurzweil presented the case of the emergence of biological and machine intelligence, answering the three major challenges: limited resources, inadequate software, and ethical concerns. Here are the presentation slides and audio.

Audio Clip

2010: Computers disappear

  • Images written directly to our retinas
  • Ubiquitous high bandwidth connection to the Internet at all times
  • Electronics so tiny it’s embedded in the environment, our clothing, our eyeglasses
  • Full immersion visual-auditory virtual reality
  • Augmented real reality
  • Interaction with virtual personalities as a primary interface

2029: An intimate merger

  • $1,000 of computation = 1,000 times the human brain
  • Reverse engineering of the human brain completed
  • Computers pass the Turing test
  • Nonbiological intelligence combines
  • the subtlety and pattern recognition strength of human intelligence, with
  • the speed, memory, and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence
  • Nonbiological will continue to grow exponentially whereas biological intelligence is effectively fixed
  • Nanobots provideā€¦

    • Neural implants that are:
    • Noninvasive, surgery-free
    • Distributed to millions or billions of points in the brain
  • Full-immersion virtual reality incorporating all of the senses
    • You can be someone else
    • “Experience Beamers”
  • Expansion of human intelligence
    • Multiply our 100 trillion connections many fold
    • Intimate connection to diverse forms of nonbiological intelligence

    The Challenge from Malthus: “Exponential trends eventually run out of resources”


    • The resources needed for computation and communication are close to zero.
    • Based on current understanding, there are sufficient resources on Earth for these trends to continue through the 21st Century:
    • During which time nonbiological intelligence will become trillions of times more powerful than biological human intelligence
    • Beyond that: yet lower thresholds, and expansion beyond Earth
  • Specific Paradigms do hit limits
    • e.g., the flat IC’s of Moore’s Law will hit atomic limits within 15 years
    • But then yield to other paradigms
    • Moore’s Law is the fifth paradigm, not the first, to provide exponential growth for computing
    • The Sixth paradigm will be 3D molecular computing
    • The brain achieves its power because it computes in 3 dimensions despite an extremely bulky and slow information processing
      method (10 million times slower than today’s electronic circuits)
  • Even Moore’s Law by itself will be sufficient to exceed human intelligence
  • The Challenge from Software: “We’re making exponential gains in hardware, but not software”

    • Software Price-Performance Has Also Improved at an Exponential Rate

      Example: Automatic Speech Recognition Software:

      1985 1995 2000
    Price $5,000 $500 $50
    Vocabulary Size (# of words) 1,000 10,000 100,000
    Continuous Speech? No No Yes
    User Training Required (Minutes) 180 60 5
    Accuracy Poor Fair Good
    • There has been increased productivity from new languages, class libraries, software development tools:
    • Doubling time is about 6 years
  • Software complexity required to emulate the human brain is manageable:
    • Compressed genome data that describes the human brain is 12 million bytes
  • 6 billion bits X compression factor of 30 X 50% devoted to the brain
  • We have a specific game plan to reverse engineer the human brain
    • Knowledge of the human brain at all levels is growing exponentially
  • We will not program human-level intelligence link by link (e.g., the expert system “cyc”)
    • But rather as an elaborate architecture of parallel self-organizing systems
    • Educating such a system will be the hardest part of the software task

    The Challenge from Ethics

    • There is far less ethical resistance to the development of nonbiological intelligence (including intimate connection with our bodies and brains) than to biological tinkering
    • In any event, ethical concerns end up as stones in a stream: the economic and moral imperatives are too strong
    • There ultimately will be grave dangers, but the biological downsides are more apparent today