The technology of universal intelligence

October 16, 2003 by Ray Kurzweil

Levels of intelligence far greater than our own are going to evolve within this century. We will ultimately saturate all of the matter and energy in our area of the universe with our intelligence.

Originally published in What Is Enlightenment? Magazine Spring/Summer 2003. Excerpts published on October 16, 2003.

WIE: You mentioned earlier that as human beings we naturally seek to expand our horizons, and that in the future we will do so largely through the expansion of our intelligence. Do you see the expansion of human intelligence as an evolutionary end in itself?

RK: Well, it’s a good question. It’s like asking, “What is the purpose of life?” In my mind, we will ultimately saturate all of the matter and energy in our area of the universe with our intelligence, and I suppose you could say that’s an end in itself. All of this dumb matter and energy around us will wake up and become sublimely intelligent. Then it will spread out to the whole universe at the fastest speed information can flow. And one could make an argument that it’s not going to take an infinitely long time because there may be other ways to get to other parts of the universe through shortcuts like wormholes, which physics has postulated. Eventually the whole universe will, essentially, wake up.

But isn’t it interesting that you never see cosmologists give any role to intelligence in the future destiny of the universe? Rather, they talk a lot about whether or not the universe will contract back to a big crunch or expand indefinitely, as if these sorts of mindless forces of physics are just going to endlessly grind on like a big dumb machine.

Nowhere do they consider, “Now, wait a second, intelligence could spread through the universe and actually make an intelligent decision about what the destiny of the universe is, and even though the gravitational force and other forces might cause the universe to spin apart, the intelligent civilization infusing the whole universe will decide, ‘No, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to do something different.’”

WIE: Some scientists and cosmologists argue that the universe is already intelligent. But what you’re saying is that we will use technology to inject our own intelligence into the nonintelligent matter of the universe, that it’s a purely physical accomplishment.

RK: Exactly. And that’s a form of enlightenment. Because I would say that the whole universe is not intelligent at this point. But I think it will become intelligent through the process that I described.

WIE: How do you see that happening on a practical level? Can you envision it?

RK: Well, yes. We can state the fact that levels of intelligence far greater than our own are going to evolve within this century. We can’t entirely describe what that will be like because it will be, by definition, more intelligent than we are. As we move through three-dimensional molecular computing, we’re ultimately going to be organizing matter and energy in a very efficient way, down to the atomic level. In about twelve years, we’ll be able to compute very efficiently with these three-dimensional molecular structures, which actually are based on carbon, much like life is, but organized millions of times more powerfully.

A one-inch tube of nanotube circuitry built out of carbon atoms would be a million times more powerful than the human brain. Using these incredibly small information-processing systems, which have the ability to reorganize matter, we’ll ultimately be able to convert most of the matter and energy in our area of the universe into very efficiently organized processes for running intelligence.

And then, this intelligence will expand outward, almost like information, but it will actually be able to essentially convert and absorb into itself all the matter and energy that it encounters as it continues to spread outward into the universe.

© 2003 What Is Enlightenment? Magazine. Reprinted with permission.