road warrior or tech-topia ? One expert's view : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Ladies and germs, here is an interesting counterpoint fantasy to "compare and contrast" with your apocalyptic certainties. Interesting how the tech elite just doesn't get it, eh ? Ray Kurzweil is a noted computer innovator in the Boston area (review quoted under fair use, from Forbes magazine).

--------------------------------------------------------------------- In four decades computers will be smarter than we are. Their software will imitate our brains so well that you won't know whether it's a person or machine you're dealing with on the phone or the Internet.

...according to Raymond Kurzweil, AI guru and author of The Age of Spiritual Machines (Viking, January 1999), his third book.

He's ... interested in finding a way to "reverse engineer" the human brain so that we can download everything about ourselves--our memories, our dreams, our personalities--into a computer, a process he calls "reinstantiation." Immortality at last.

The line between machines and people will blur even further as we age and we'll be inserting machines into people to replace aging or inadequate body and mind functions. ... neural implants [will] enhance our hearing, vision and memory.

Kurzweil, 50, ... has built and sold four companies. His first, Kurzweil Computer Products, built a reading machine for the blind and was bought by Xerox.

An upcoming project is a program for fund managers creating an artificially intelligent financial analyst that outperforms humans. "This technology is going to be huge," he says.

Forbes: Is your new book science or science fiction?

If anything, my views are conservative. The predictions are based on technologies you can touch and feel today. I don't think anyone who studies this stuff carefully would say these things are never going to happen.

Your book gets pretty weird: People scan their brains into a computer and create self-replicas.

By 2040 it will be routine. If you build a computer based on the design of the human brain and instantiate information from a human being onto that computer, it will emerge in the machine and claim to be that person. The machine will say, "I grew up in Brooklyn, I went to MIT, then I walked into a scanner and woke up here in the machine."

How are you going to reproduce a human brain?

We can just copy it, bit by bit, connection by connection, neuron by neuron, synapse by synapse.It's right there in front of us.Human neurons are not so vastly complicated that we can't understand them or replicate them. We've already replicated the input-output characteristics of clusters of hundreds of neurons. The question is: What is the feasibility of scaling up from hundreds of neurons to billions of neurons? And that's not a big deal.

You say reinstantiated humans will have bodies created with nanotechnology, which will let us build devices--even fake human organs--at the atomic level?

Things like nanotubes are not actually fully working yet. But it's already well under way in laboratories. Nanotechnology is a $5 billion industry. All I'm doing is looking at trends to see where we are likely to be in terms of computational capability and the sophistication of software and the dexterity of certain physical technologies, like nanotechnology.

Would you reinstantiate yourself?

Probably. But I may end up jealous of the new Ray in that he shares my history, my desires and my longings, but will be in a far better position than old Ray to fulfill them.

These are going to be very smart entities--much smarter than humans. And that's really where power lies. Ultimately these entities will have political power. They will have all the political power.

This is good news?

Some people who've read the book have come away feeling depressed. They get the idea that human beings are ending, that civilization is ending. Actually we will continue, but in a much more profound way. The human race is going to evolve. We are going to become smarter by merging with our machines.

A lot of folks will say, stop the world, I want to get off.

It's unstoppable.It's part of the fundamental laws of the universe. This is not an alien invasion. It's emerging from within our civilization. We're already pretty intimate with our computers. As we move forward, the nexus between machines and humans will become even more intimate.

-- Blue Himalayan (bh@k2.y), December 04, 1998


In the year 2525...

-- Vic Parker (, December 04, 1998.

Intuitively, we would naturally think that just about everyone in the computer biz would not only "get it" but have already "gotten it" (like their money out of the banks, etc.!). But, I guess Y2K denial pretty much is pretty rampant.

And, I guess this should not be surprising. I mean, I certainly have noticed any number of doctors and nurses that are overweight, smoke, obviously don't exercise, etc., etc. People in the medical profession, whom one would think would know better, also have problems with alcholism, etc., etc.

Anyway, thats one possible thing to consider....

-- Jack (, December 04, 1998.


That's EXACTLY the same reply I was going to post. Same four words, same punctuation...

-- Kevin (, December 04, 1998.

Straight out of Robert Heinlein's stories.

-- Buddy (DC) (, December 04, 1998.

And Asimov from the collection "Robot Visions", the story "The Bicentennial Man"...only the once all machine slowly becomes cybernetic....positronic brain overlaid upon the organic.

-- Donna Barthuley (, December 04, 1998.

I work weekly with people who developed the world's fastest search engine and are working on natural language processing for speech recognition and translation to/from Japanese and English. The laboratory versions of these most advanced algorithms are wholly impractical, cumbersome and unable to obtain greater than 85% accuracy for this most basic human trait - speech. I'm afraid our advances in hardware, such as nanotubes and mems, won't overcome our inability to quantify the mechanism of our thinking process. The process is truely elegant. Downloading our experiences and "data" doesn't create a brain, only a static history unable to create. The lateral thinking process and the final decision of a course of action will forever be constrained by the programming and the programmers.

That being said, the elegant nature of the researcher's brains may find the solutions through the continuation of research! Ahh, the wonder and beauty of pure research. You never know what we will disover or think of tomorrow.

-- PNG (, December 04, 1998.

PNG, I suspect that this may come about, though not really in the way Kurzweil envisions. I have little trouble imagining a nanodevice the size of a single cell - able to perform all the cells functions. Periodic injections of such devices - programmed to replace dying cells as they age and die naturally - would produce a person who was entirely made of nanotools in about 6 years. (Your body replaces itself almost completely every 6 years or so.) One would assume that such individuals would experiment with their newly retooled bodies - and learn exactly what represents the qualities we call 'intelligence', 'emotion' and so forth. So the mind does not become transcribed into a machine body - the body becomes transcribed into a machine. But a machine of a sort in which the mind would not necessarily ever know that the procedure had taken place - except that aging would have stopped, and that disease would have ceased to exist. A desirable future - beats me - I just call em as I see em and leave desirable and undesirable to someone else.

BTW - have you ever considered what astronomers have begun to call "The Great Silence"? The fact that we have never come across a signal clearly emitted by another intelligent race has many disturbing implications - one among them the possibility that a technological species may well evolve into something else entirely in a relatively short time - something that has no interest in communication with the rest of the universe or that communicates in some way we cannot now comprehend.

-- Paul Davis (, December 04, 1998.

Paul, that Great Silence scares me. And not in the "bogeyman under the closet" way, but on a deeper and far more intellectual level.

What *could* we evolve into that does not want to communicate? All of humanity, and thus all intelligent life from my perspective, wants to communicate. Will we become so insular, so introverted, that we won't? That would be unrecognisable. We simply wouldn't be humans, as I define the term.

(On the other hand, if there's another means of communication -a better means, that has so far remained completely and totally unknown to us- then perhaps the alien species have -as a collection of individual species- come to the conclusion that anyone who *hasn't* discovered that means, is not worth communicating with. Therefore they don't communicate by "lesser" means.)

But on the other hand..perhaps intelligent life is a flash in the pan, and all species wipe themselves out after a certain point. A point that we may have reached, with y2k.


-- Leo (, December 05, 1998.

Leo I don't think intelligent species kill themselves off as quickly as that. But something certainly happens to them - otherwise we would see them here right now - a very simple extrapolation of the potential of human growth across the galaxy says we will certainly fill the whole thing up in less than a million years. That being the case, why hasn't someone come here and tried to take over? A million years is nothing to the life of a star - not even very much in terms of the lifetime of our species. I see several possibilities besides extinction - computers enabling formation of a group mind no one can bear to leave, some sort of man/machine hybrid transending humanity in such a way that we cannot comprehend their works, EVEN WHEN WE OBSERVE THEM, scaling of the human mind into the minimum possible space so that we inhabit nanotools the size of bacteria - and the Earth is larger to us than the galaxy is now and will take forever to fully explore, that we may all move into space and become so used to life there that we have no further desire for planets - several other possiblities. One very scary one is that something (I meant some natural phenomenom) may periodically kill off all life in the galaxy, and is still functioning - in which case we may have a relatively short time left (since the last big death was quite a while back) to get the heck out of here and join the former neighbors in the Magellanic Clouds. Some evidence for that last one, too.

-- Paul Davis (, December 06, 1998.

Paul Davis, I think that, if there are intelligent species out there, the reason they don't interact with earthling humans is because those other beings *are* intelligent.

Sadly, humans are stupid and want to fight. Collectively, humans are still hurtful and unwise. Why would anyone want to visit us?

Maybe the "out theres" are watching the coming litmus test: How do earthlings react to and cope with Y2K?

Betcha, if they're "out there," they all decided long ago to shield themselves from Earth, and to stay far away, and isolate any evidence of their existence -- until humans show, thru a few centuries, better behavior.

Ashton & Leska in Cascadia

xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxx

-- Leska (, December 06, 1998.

Gad, remember Buddy & Paul before they caught the Debunky meme?

-- * (***@__._), November 20, 1999.

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