[Paleopsych] CIO Magazine: (Kurzweil) Machine Dreams - Interview

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Machine Dreams - Interview
CIO Magazine Oct 15,2004

Machine Dreams

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.


    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
    and machines.
    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
    can live?
    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
    civilization. end

    Add a Comment
      8 Comments [18]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.

    [19]Print comment
    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.

    Dani Oderbolz
    [21]Print comment

    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
    Applications Developer
    [23]Print comment

    If we have bioware firewalls that aren't written by microsoft then
    brain hacking shouldn't be a problem.

    Tim Maxwell
    [24]Print comment

    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!

    David Steffenson
    [26]Print comment

    [27]Index of all responses to this column to date.
    How much are you looking forward to expressing yourself as a

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