By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by George K. Wilson
The Singularity is Near, written by Ray Kurzweil, bodes the impertinence of Svengali or the prescience of Leonardo da Vinci. Ask a sixty-six year old if he/she would like to be thirty-five again. Ray Kurzweil predicts it will be possible by 2048. However, there is a Faustian bargain to be struck if Kurzweil’s prediction comes true.
Kurzweil’s prediction is based on three beliefs; i.e. one, continued geometric improvement in computer processing power; two, expanded use of nanotechnology with infinite improvement in artificial intelligence; and three, melding of human biology and A. I.’ technology.
Kurzweil believes modern science (its discovery and implementation) grows at geometric rates. He believes advances in computer technology guarantee continued geometric growth of research and development in science. Kurzweil notes that knowledge naturally advances at an accelerated rate because of World Wide Web interconnection. This interconnectedness monumentally increases the number of minds working on new ideas in all fields of discovery. Kurzweil notes that computer capability has enhanced human intelligence by making information more organized and widely available. Computer’ search engine operating systems monumentally improve human research and development.
Moore’s law shows the number of transistors on circuit boards doubles every two years. Moore and other computer scientists suggest that this doubling may be nearing its peak but Kurzweil believes DNA computing or some other non-silicon based technology will replace circuit board technology. Kurzweil suggests replacement technologies will continue geometric growth of computer processing power.
Kurzweil shows that nanotechnology opens a new world of discovery that crosses borders of all science. He argues that the miniaturization of computers is a bridge between robotics and humans. Research in nanotechnology extends medical science by offering software driven, atom-sized bots that can search and destroy pathogens in the human body. DNA based nanobots are being created to target cancer cells. Current research suggests nanobots will cross the blood-brain border to modify and improve brain function.
Kurzweil argues that the geometric advance of science in robotics and artificial intelligence will meet the strictest interpretation of a Turing’ test; i.e. humans will be unable to tell whether they are communicating with a robot or a human when asking a question.
Kurzweil argues that reverse engineering of the human brain will improve human intelligence with the use of customized nanobots that will be able to replicate themselves like genomic DNA. Human access to information will become instantaneous. More crucially, nanobots will be able to organize and focus information within a human brain to ask or answer questions only history’s geniuses contemplated. Every human brain will have its own Sherlock Holmes’ mind-palace. Computer hardware and software, through nanobots, will become a part of human DNA; i.e. a part of the evolutionary cycle of humankind. With succeeding generations, humans will become a different form of life. Genetic changes will happen at much higher rates of speed than postulated for humans by Charles Darwin. The nature of nanobot replication will accelerate human evolution.
This is the point at which Kurzweil argues for the singularity, “a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence.” Kurzweil believes computer processing power will become a part of human DNA. Humans will be both human and not-human with artificial intelligence that will surpass the intelligence and/or insight of any and all humans in history.
Kurzweil infers that nanobot introduction to human evolution is only a continuation of the DNA-RNA replication system of the first carbon based life forms on earth.
Artificial limbs for humans were the beginning of the meld between human biology and computer technology. Kurzweil argues the confluence of biology and robotics will extend to organ replacement. Organ transplants will become commonplace. Technological innovation will provide for human tissue samples that will regenerate hearts, livers, eyes, ears, and noses. All human body parts will be replaceable. Human organs will no longer be rejected because of auto immune responses. Every organ transplant will have a perfect DNA match.
Equally, robotics in the form of atom size nanobots will become an integral part of human brain function. This conjunction of human and nanobot is Kurzweil’s singularity. Human beings will become cybernetic organisms; i.e. humans will be both human and “mechotronic” (a combination of mechanical, electrical, telecommunication, and computer) beings.
The Faustian’ bargain that must be struck is in the singularities god-like potential that can destroy as well as create. The universe may become a heaven or hell with the arbiter being a replicating nanobot.
Interestingly, Google employs Kurzweil as a director of engineering. Kurzweil happens to be sixty-six years old this year. One presumes he would like to be thirty-five again. The year 2048 means Kurzweil will be one hundred at the time of the singularity. Kurzweil is in a race against time. (Some would suggest he is in a race against reason.)
The Singularity is Near is well written and a fascinating vision with an optimistic view of the future. Faust declares at the end of Act V: “He who strives on and lives to strive/ Can earn redemption still”. That is the best one can say about Kurzweil’s predictions.