The Coming Seismic Shift In Technology

The SingularityGet ready for a huge upheaval in every technological thing you can think of. We are on the brink of a new renaissance unlike anything the human race has ever been through. In 20 years or less we are likely to have intelligent, thinking computers and machines that for all intents and purposes will be able to mimic every human action and behaviour and will be indistinguishable from a person if you weren’t sitting right in front of one of them.

Welcome to the coming Singularity and the age of intelligent machines. In his book The Singularity is Near, futurist Ray Kurzweil paints a picture of a not too distant time when our laptops, desktops and machine implants that become so powerful they have the computational ability of the human brain and can literally think on their own. The only thing holding us back from the brink of this seismic shift in our existence is computer hardware fast enough to process information in the parallel way our brains do and the software to make sense of all the data and give instructions accordingly.

The major hurdle preventing what Kurzweil calls strong AI (artificial intelligence), is that humans and computers process information differently. Computers process information one set of instructions at a time unless they have multiple processors and although they do this processing extremely fast, they can’t match up with the massively parallel processing of a human. However, we do that parallel processing actually very slowly in comparison to the speed that computers work.

Our eyesight is one example of massively parallel processing that a machine can’t yet do. Our ability to recognize patterns and process that information in a way that we can use it takes a vast amount of resources for a machine to mimic. It essentially has to take a photograph multiple times a second and analyze each one on the spot to even come close to matching our seeing ability and then you can add another set of photos if you want to add depth perception, more complex calculations to then interact with its surroundings and so forth. The level of complexity in the way humans opertate is immense.

With the way computer hardware has developed over the last several years we are now able to see when our machines may have the ability to process data the way our brains do. With computer speed and memory storing ability roughly doubling every 18 months to 2 years (Moore’s Law) and following this trend for the last 3 decades, Kurzweil calculates computer power will match up with brain ability around the year 2029.

And then everything changes and the age of the Singularity is here. Not only will your iPod have so much memory it will be able to hold every movie ever produced and every song every recorded all at the same time, it will probably be connected to your brain via wireless nanobot technology and it will play on demand, any song you can think of. I don’t know how this technology will be wired so us scatterbrains won’t have guitar riffs from 15 different tunes and several silly skits from Monty Python playing all at once in our heads, but it will be extraordinary for sure.

But the implications of this are much more profound that merely a thinking computer or a neurally connected iPod. The ultimate question will be more like what will it mean to be human when we have nanobots with intelligence flowing through our blood and enhancing our brains to think beyond, way beyond, where we can now and when we have computer programs that can initiate ideas better and faster than anything we can come up with. If we have thinking machines in our brains and bodies will we consider ourselves part machine, or will the machines consider themselves part human?

Wherever you go with the consequences of what is creeping up on us to arrive sometime in the next 20 years, makes for lots of contemplative thought and a fantastic read. I’m towards the end of the 600+ page book as I write this post and Kurzweil gets into some possibilities of the inevitable advance of technology around 200 years in the future that will make your head spin for sure, that is if it doesn’t explode first.

If you’d like to put on your thinking cap and go for a ride where you may have never been before, then get a copy of The Singularity Is Near and read it. It may bake your neurons, but it’s a fun journey.

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One Response to “The Coming Seismic Shift In Technology”

  1. I will have to check that out. Thanks for the excellent post.

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