[Paleopsych] CIO Magazine: (Kurzweil) Machine Dreams - Interview
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Wed Oct 20 19:32:11 UTC 2004
Machine Dreams - Interview
CIO Magazine Oct 15,2004
When software runs inside our brains, what will happen to us? Ray Kurzweil,
who helped invent the IT present, explains to Web Editorial Director Art
Jahnke how humans fit into the IT future. You may not like it.
INTERVIEW BY ART JAHNKE
Ray Kurzweil grew up in Queens, N.Y., where, he says, schoolwork was
never so challenging that it kept him from doing what he really wanted
to do: build computers.
That was also the case at Kurzweil's next school, MIT, where the young
student skipped so many classes to work on inventions that his
classmates nicknamed him The Phantom. They should have called him The
Natural because, as it turns out, Kurzweil is an intuitive inventor.
He helped invent the first optical character reading technology, the
first text-to-voice synthesizer, computer-based musical instruments,
and the first large-vocabulary speech-recognition system. His
inventions have made him famous. He has founded several companies and
written hundreds of articles. He has also authored and coauthored a
number of books, including The Age of Spiritual Machines: When
Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, and the forthcoming Fantastic
Voyage, which he cowrote with Terry Grossman, founder and medical
director at Frontier Medical Institute.
In recent years, Kurzweil has shifted from inventing technologies to
tracing the arc of technology progress. Want to know how technology
will change our lives, our jobs and our bodies over the next two
decades? Kurzweil is a good person to ask. So we did.
CIO: Recently we've been hearing about increases in productivity
without a corresponding increase in jobs. Could technology continue to
improve productivity without creating new jobs?
Ray Kurzweil: This is part of a process that began at least 200 years
ago, when we automated the English textile industry. You had a machine
that could replace 10 or 20 or 30 weavers. But the resulting
prosperity from automation created whole new industries. We had
industries to create machines and maintain them. Demand increased for
things the machines made. The common man or woman didn't want just one
shirt, and so on.
The broad history of automation shows that we have actually increased
the number of jobs. One hundred years ago, we had about 30 percent of
the potential workforce employed; we now have about 60 percent. Wages,
in constant dollars, have increased by a factor of six to eight over
the past century.
Can we expect that trend to continue?
The relative wealth that we now have comes from productivity, and
we're going to see dramatic productivity enhancements in the future.
If you jump ahead 20 years or so, we will be able to create virtually
any physical product at almost no cost, just from information and
fabrication techniques. In fact, we're not that far today from being
able to create physical products with software because we have
computer-assisted inventory control systems, just-in-time procurement,
computer-controlled movement of materials and assembly.
Everyone agrees that increased productivity is great, but what about
increased productivity without an increase in jobs, which is what
we've been seeing recently?
Right now we're dealing with relatively small unemployment in the
United States--about six percent--and we're seeing a reallocation of
jobs around the world. National boundaries don't count as much as they
used to. It used to be that you had to be in New York to work in New
York. But now that we can really work effectively in cyberland, we
have a reallocation of mental work. In terms of the world economy,
that's a positive thing. It's not a zero-sum game. Just because India
and China benefit doesn't mean that's to our detriment. But these
types of trends do have short-term dislocations, so there may be some
short-term issues with employment.
What about the longer term?
We're seeing international competition for the first time in types of
work that require education and skills, and that's going to continue.
And I think it's a good thing. China is committed to building 50 MITs,
as they put it. That's not an exaggeration. They're creating scores of
world-class technology universities. But these people are going to
create intellectual property from which we'll all benefit. If somebody
creates a breakthrough in bioengineering, we all benefit. It may also
result in China respecting intellectual property more, if they are
heavily invested in creating intellectual property. Still, I believe
the United States retains an edge in terms of innovation. We still
lead the world in terms of creating new paradigms, new business
models, new ways of creating products.
Speaking of new models, what will be different about the IT department
10 years from now?
"A lot of the equipment that IT departments concern themselves with
now--routers and servers--it's all going to be gone. There won't be
computers on desks. We're going to eliminate most of that clutter."
Let's look at a few trends. A lot of the equipment that IT departments
concern themselves with now--routers and servers--will all be gone.
There won't be computers on desks. We'll eliminate most of that
clutter, certainly by the end of this decade. Technology will be very
mobile; it'll be so small that it'll be virtually invisible. Everybody
will be online. Images will be written right to our retinas. We'll
have very high-speed bandwidth connections at all times. The computing
substrate will be everywhere.
So, what will the IT department be doing?
It will be concerned with security, privacy and
protection--particularly protection against software pathogens. These
are important issues today, but they're going to be the profound
issues civilization struggles with in the future. Eventually, we're
going to have software processes running close to our bodies and,
ultimately, inside our bodies, in our brains, so detecting pathogens
is going to be extremely important.
I also think information professionals should take a broad view of the
power of information, because information will be the only thing that
has value to the corporation. Consequently, there will be no more
important department than the information department.
What about people? What will we be like? What will we be doing?
Technology progresses at an exponential pace because we use the latest
generation of technology to create the next generation. That's a
process that began with biology. It took billions of years to create
DNA, but once it had evolved an information processing capacity to
store and record the results of evolutionary experiments, the DNA
could use that for the next stage. That was the Cambrian explosion.
We see that also in technology. The first computers were designed with
pen on paper, and they were put together with screwdrivers and wires.
Today, a designer sits down at a workstation and puts in formulas that
look very much like software programming. The chips are laid out
automatically and fabricated automatically, so the process takes days
or weeks rather than years. That's why the products of technology grow
exponentially in price, performance and capability. So the creation of
technology is already very much a collaborative process between humans
I think it's important to understand that technology and human
civilization are deeply integrated and that that integration is going
to become more intimate. We're getting closer to our computers. I was
talking to a woman yesterday who said her 10-year-old son's notebook
is an extension of him. She said it might as well be inside him. Well,
soon computers will be inside us. Within one to two decades, we will
be able to place nonbiological intelligence inside us, noninvasively.
By the 2020s we will be placing millions or billions of
nanobots--blood cell-size devices--inside our bloodstream to travel
into our brains and interact with our neurons. We will be extending
our cognitive capability directly through this intimate merger of
biology with machines.
Right now, there's a restricted architecture to the way our brains
work. The brain uses electrochemical signaling for information
processing, and that's a million times slower than electronic
circuits. You can make only about 100 trillion connections in there.
That may seem like a big number, but the way in which we store
information is inefficient, so that a master of an area of knowledge
can really remember only about 100,000 chunks of knowledge. If you use
Google, you can already see the power of what machines can do. In the
future, we will be able to expand the 100 trillion connections we have
with new, virtual ones. Once nonbiological intelligence gets a
foothold in our brains, it will grow exponentially. As we get to the
2030s, human beings will have biological brains enhanced with more
powerful nonbiological thought processes.
So the answer to your question is, if we remain unenhanced, if you
just had machines developing on a distinct track, they would surpass
humans. But that's not what's happening. We are merging.
As technology changes our world--and us--that radically, won't we
suffer shock upon culture shock?
No. It's a very smooth process. If I describe the world of 2030, it
would seem quite different from the world today, but we get from here
to there in 200 little steps. Each step is benign and conservative and
makes sense and addresses some compelling need.
Of course, there's already a reaction to this change. We see a
strengthening of a kind of antitechnology movement. There is basic
philosophic debate about whether we are intended to be masters of our
world or whether the world should master us, whether we should fit
into the so-called natural order.
My view is, what's unique and compelling about human beings is that we
seek to surpass our limitations. Other people would rather celebrate
our limitations, but we didn't stay on the ground. We won't stay
within the limits of our biology.
I plan to expand my intelligence along with the available machine
Aren't you smart enough now?
Absolutely not. Are you kidding? A major focus of my interest is in
tracking technology trends, which requires me to get my intellectual
arms around a lot of diverse fields. It's really an opposite activity
to what a lot of scientists do, which is to become more and more
narrow. So I'm a neophyte in just about every field I run across.
You seem to have unbounded faith in the power of machines to help us,
yet recently there's been talk of failure, especially in biotech. No
cures for cancer. No cure for AIDS. Has technology let us down?
That's complete nonsense. We're in the early stages of biotechnology.
We just finished the genome. We haven't finished reverse-assembling it
yet, and we don't understand how the genes express themselves in
proteins. Just now, we're getting machines powerful enough to simulate
protein folding. We're learning the information processing methods
underlying biology, disease and aging. We're finding very finely tuned
interventions to reverse aging and to reverse disease processes. And
there are very profound bio-technology-based therapies in the pipeline
already. There are drugs in the pipeline that will enable us to eat as
much as we want and remain slim, that will reverse type-2 diabetes by
getting rid of excess glucose. I'm very confident that over the next
decade we'll largely eliminate the diseases that kill 95 percent of
people today. We've identified a dozen or so aging processes, and we
have strategies for reversing them all. I believe that within 10 years
we'll produce a mouse that doesn't age, and we'll translate that into
human therapies within another five to 10 years after that.
Do you think that someday there'll be legal limits on how long people
Not if I have anything to say about it. But there's a very powerful
"death-ist" need. People really have it deeply ingrained. Life is
short. You can't live forever. The only things that are certain are
death and taxes. We have this whole so-called normal lifecycle;
certain things happen at certain ages. We've rationalized death, which
in my view is a profound tragedy and a tremendous loss of knowledge
and expertise. And we have rationalized it as a good thing. I guess if
there's nothing you can do about it, the best thing you can do is
rationalize it, but there will be things that we can do about it.
I have a book coming out in the fall, Fantastic Voyage. And in it I
say that right now we have the means to slow down aging to such an
extent that even baby boomers like myself can remain healthy and vital
long enough for the full blossoming of the biotechnology revolution,
at which point we will be able to rebuild our bodies and brains.
You look like you're in good shape.
Well, I take this very seriously. I'm very aggressive in terms of
reversing aging, or slowing down aging. I recently took a biological
aging test with my health collaborator (who is also my coauthor), and
based on 20 different tests--memory and sensory acuity and response
times--it had me at age 40. I'm 56.
What do you do to slow the aging process?
"We have a lot of outmoded programs in our genes. One says, 'Hold on
to every calorie because the next hunting season might be fallow.'
These are all programs that need to be changed."
I eat a certain diet. I take 250 supplements a day. I'm really
reprogramming my biochemistry. A lot of people think it's good to be
natural. I don't think it's good because biological evolution is not
on our side.
It's in the interest of our species for people past child-rearing age
not to stick around, at least in an era of scarcity, and our
biological program hasn't changed since we lived in an era of
scarcity. We have a lot of outmoded programs in our genes. One says,
"Hold on to every calorie because the next hunting season might be
fallow." These are all programs that need to be changed. We have a lot
of aging processes that really accelerate when we get into our 50s and
60s, and I'm working aggressively to reverse those.
Who needs a bunch of 120-year-olds hanging around, especially when so
much knowledge will be stored in machines?
Well, ultimately, there's going to be very little difference between a
guy who's 120 and a guy who's 30. And with so much of our lives spent
in virtual reality, we'll able to express ourselves in many different
ways. It's not a matter of the knowledge that a 120-year-old would
have. We all have an opportunity to create knowledge, and we'll expand
that opportunity, which, I think, is really the mission of our
Add a Comment
8 Comments Post Your Comment
Most recent responses ...
One comment that was here when I first read the interview stated that
the direct interface of nanotechnology to the human brain could create
some kind of thought police. Well. A technology is neutral by itself,
it has no moral values whatsoever ; what makes it "good" or "bad"
depends on how it is used and how "moral" (according to our standards)
we see it. Consider cell phones for example : you can communicate with
people using them, they can be useful to people, but then again, it
can be used as a chain and a locator device. What I fear most about
that would be the restriction of that sort of technology to a certain
elite (based mostly on money) ; since this would make this elite
(much) more powerful, what would prevent them from keeping the tech to
themselves ? The human mind has a instinctual need for power over
other members of the species.
Although I like the fresh and positive way Ray Kurzweil thinks about
the future, there are some points I really miss: * What will this
future society do with people that have an IQ below 150? (Oh, sorry, I
forgot about the Prenatal checks...)
* What about Overpopultation (ok, its nice to handle this by law)
* I think its very obvious that there will not be enough jobs in this
future - and I do believe that people need work in order to be healty.
My current area of research is exactly what this article is about. The
ability to upload software into the human brain I feel will allow us
as a species to overcome the limitations that we presently have and
possibly allow us to use more of our current brain capicity. I think
the current politicians would probably benifit the most from such
D. Allen Warren
If we have bioware firewalls that aren't written by microsoft then
brain hacking shouldn't be a problem.
I look forward to expressing myself at 120... with the first ever "120
year-olds gone wild!" video. All the geriatric action you can handle!
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