Wednesday, June 28, 2006

...2025 Redux...

'We are the species that goes beyond our limitations.'
Ray Kurzweil

A friend from Kuwait sent me this link to a series of future oriented tales from CNN. This first installation called "Heaven", to be followed by "Hell" boldly asks Ray Kurzweil about the future. Now Kurzweil (who's actually a year younger than me), who has given us "Trans-humanism", "Electronic Keyboard Instruments" and "Text to Speech Synthesis", has always thought way out on the fringe. And perhaps this article predicts a future that is a bit past where reality will take us. But the guys track record is such that even if parts of it come true....well, let's just say, to an old fellow like myself, it's a bit scary.

'There are three major trends to keep in mind. One is that we're doubling the power of computers every year for the same cost. In 25 years, they'll be a billion times more powerful than they are today. At the same time we're shrinking the size of all technology -- electronic and mechanical -- by a factor of a hundred per 3d volume per decade: that's a hundred thousand in 25 years. And we're also improving our software, and in large measure we're doing that by actually understanding hw the brain forms intelligent functions.'
Kurzweil argues that we are not becoming more machinelike, but instead, machines are becoming more humanlike. And if he is right, then I need to rethink libraries, cybraries and search engine technology. Instead of going out to look for a document, perhaps, my simple thought or question will summon up the hyperlink to the document, whereupon, my brain processes the information in the document just like it was a thought in my head. My meager brain, enhanced by a bank of tiny, powerful computers becomes the library in itself, and the data it contains gets amplified out to the nth degree, so that everything that can be known, is all residing within a synapse length of my thought processes. There is nothing I cannot know and nothing that my mind cannot understand. Books are not necessary, any more than MP3 players, Video screens or Cellular communication devices. Our brains use the computer user interface that has been built inside us by nanobots to make all the necessary connections to allow us to experience music, movies and communication with others, more directly than has ever occured previously. You gettin' scared yet?

By 2019 the computers will be so small they will be almost invisible and people will communicate with them through speech, or even perhaps facial gestures, just as they would with another human.

Distance will become no obstacle to anything --- even sex --- and computers will be able to pipe hyper-real images of real people direct to your eye.

You will use an automated personal assistant to do your shopping for you, and they will in turn make purchases virtually on your behalf from an automated shop assistant.

'We're making exponential gains in reverse engineering, understanding the methods of the human brain. Within 25 years we'll understand how the human brain performs its functions. If you if you look ahead to the late 2020s we'll actually understand the software methods [needed] to interact with the brain."

Now here is the part that really, really disturbs me. Technology is growing so fast, that I can no longer fathom the amount of change in 20 years. When I read Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" in the 60's, I at least had an inkling of where we were going and what it would look like. Even Herbert's "Dune" had elements about wars, and nations, and power that I could put in perspective. In 1999, Levine's, Locke's, Searls' and Weinberger's "Cluetrain Manifesto" seemed logical and relevant. But Kurzweil is more than I can handle. I can visualize parts of what he is telling us, and I even understand why he interprets this leap in technology as "Heaven". But I am fearful of CNN's next (second) part of the series, titled "Hell". If 2025, is Heaven come home to roost, the what of "Hell" and what part does technology play in it?

'Just think: the word blog hardly existed three years ago. People didn't use search engines five or six years ago. The first reference to the World Wide Web was in 1993 in the New York Times. So these new capabilities come along, and we really readily accept them. The adoption times for these new technologies get shorter and shorter."

Humanity is the great adapter -- and survivor. 'We didn't stay on the ground, we didn't stay on the planet, we didn't stay within the limitations of our biology, which was a lifespan in the 20s a thousand years ago.

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