Have you ever wondered what the future will hold. I bet you have, I know I have, but I usually never got much further than ideas thrown at me from some kind of futuristic Will Smith Movie.
Ray Kurzweil has taken another approach. While he does have a powerful imagination, he seems to back it up with and even more powerful grasp on technology. He’s even helped to shape the world we live in by inventing the flatbed scanner, and eventually a device that scans pages of text and then reads them aloud for the blind. President Clinton awarded him with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, America’s highest honor in technology, and has been added to the National Inventors Hall of Fame by the US patent office. His motto when it comes to inventing, is don’t let technologies that don’t exist yet slow you down.
Kurzweil takes a different approach than I when it comes to predicting the future. Where as I tend to fall on ideas presented to me from TV and movies, he tends to fall back on his MIT engineering education and refined research abilities. The foundation of his thesis is based upon Moore’s Law, named after Gordon Moore who co-founded and is chairman of the Intel Corporation. Moore observed in his 1965 paper the number of transistors that could fit onto an integrated circuit doubles every two years. This observation has also applied to processing speed, memory capacity, and pixels in digital cameras.
Where does this yellow brick road of technological advancement have us as a human species ending up and what will lead us down this path? Kurzweil lays out the path being paved through three dimensions consisting of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. I found each prediction is as fascinating as the next.
Genetically, it is argued, that we will eventually be able to maintain our bodies into perpetuity, with the ability to reverse aging, end cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. Nanotechnology will work in parallel with genetic engineering, eventually allowing molecular machines to act as nano scaled factories allowing the rebuilding of our physical world. Imagine trillions of nano factories working in conjunction to atomically build your next house or car. And of course sourcing materials for these types of projects won’t be an issue because these nano factories will be able to atomically re-engineer molecules, allowing the construction of any materials needed. Eventually nanotechnology will even be introduced to our own bodies. Have you ever thought only being able to hold your breath under water for a few minutes as a problem? Well it won’t be for much longer, those pesky inefficient red blood cells will be replaced my much more efficient nano machines acting as red blood cells delivering all the oxygen your brain and body require.
Robotics and their accompanying artificial intelligence will take us towards what is called the singularity. At this point artificial intelligence will exceed unaided human intelligence. Unaided, meaning human brains that have not been enhanced by technology. Technological capacities will begin to increase at a pace greater than our human brains will be able to keep up with. Kurzweil proposes some very interesting philosophical questions here, trending on the utopian, while at the same time acknowledging many of his adversaries who have dystopian views of the future. Imagine a terminator like future, where future robots view the human species, as we currently view mosquitoes.
Regardless of your stance on the future, this book is fascinating and an excellent stimulant of thought. It is written as a well cited piece of scientific research, expected to be debated. It has been made into a very popular documentary that originally led me to the book. At times the diction is beyond my comprehension, but overall I enjoyed the book immensely. I found myself excited about where technology will take us, and am now paying attention to advances, such as the recent milestone in carbon-nanotube computing, I wouldn’t have thought twice about before.