The thing I like about Kurzweil is that fact that he’s not afraid tothink big. He has this relentless optimism about the power of technology tofundamentally transform human existence. That’s essentially the theme of Singularity– that humanity’s technological evolution is advancing fasterthan its biological counterpart, and there will eventually come a time when westop thinking about ourselves as purely biological organisms. If you believeRay, that time actually isn’t too far off.
I keep thinking back to a book I read a while ago called
Overthe last ten years, the amount of readily accessible information has increasedat a staggering rate. There has been a corresponding increase in mobiletechnology and connectivity. The net effect is that we’re spending lessand less time disconnected from this vast corpus of knowledge, and our brains(well, maybe it’s just me…) are starting to depend on it beingthere. Rather than remembering facts, I find myself remembering pointers tofacts – search strings I can punch into an engine to retrieve the facts Ineed when I need them. As long as I’m connected, the cost ofdereferencing these pointers is relatively low and the time/space tradeoff isquite favorable.
Today,the data pipe between the L2 cache in our biological memories and the data storedin non-biological memory (readily accessible persisted information) is prettyslow and unreliable, which limits the degree of integration between ourinternal cognitive processes and external computational aids. However, this israpidly changing – the penetration of wireless networks and the correspondingincreases in the compute power of mobile devices means that we are spendingless and less time disconnected from our non-biological memories. As such, wewill become increasingly reliant on access to those memories and they will bemore fundamentally integrated into our routine cognition. Our interfaces to non-biologicalmemory are also evolving at a rapid rate; they are moving away from thevisual/textual paradigm and shifting to auditory/speech. Tons of research isgoing on in the field of natural language interfaces, and I don’t thinkit will be too long before we start interacting with computer systems in muchthe same way we interact with people. The ultimate extension of thisinteraction is some form of direct neural human/computer interface – a conceptwhich I find both extremely compelling and more than a bit unsettling. I thinkwe’re still a ways off from this, but the foundations are being laidtoday. We already have things like cochlear implants that plug into the brain’sexisting neural structure and supply it with artificially created sensoryinput. There’s a large jump between interfacing at the syntactic level(sensory input) and the semantic level (deep integration into higher-orderbrain functions such as language and memory) but I don’t think suchadvances are fundamentally impossible. It’s really just a matter of time.
That, I guess, is the foundation of Kurzweil’s optimistic view about thefuture – his unrelenting belief in a sustained exponential increase inthe power of technology over time. I find this optimism refreshing. I find hisbelief in the power of technology inspiring, and I find his vision of thefuture just scary enough to be pretty exciting. I’m glad there are smart peopleout there who are willing to stand up and say some pretty far-out things. Thefirst step in making great things real is to believe that great things arepossible.
 Case in point: since I got my Smartphone, I have basically stopped explicitlyremembering where my meetings are scheduled. There’s no need; my phone isfunctionally the part of my brain responsible for remembering where my meetingsare.)
 My car has a voice-enabled navigation system. I can literally ask it to “findthe nearest Japanese restaurant” and it will select one and tell me howto get there. This is very first-generation technology; I’m waiting forthe day when I can ask it to “find the nearest good Japaneserestaurant” and it will return the results based on my own personalpreferences and the recommendations of trusted members of my digital socialnetwork.