Evolving Machines: What is the Future of Technology?

, named after the Intel
co-founder Gordon E. Moore, says that the number of transistors on
integrated circuits doubles every two years. Put more simply,
computer processing power doubles every two years. Moore noted the
trend in 1965 and it has held true ever since then. A super-computer
which decades ago took up the size of a room can now fit in your
pocket and carry out many more functions than that super-computer
could. Moore originally predicted that this trend would only hold
true for about ten years and in a sense he was right. Because
computer processing power has been increasing at an exponential rate,
the number of transistors on a circuit board now doubles every 18
months, instead of every 24 months.

But if computing power keeps
increasing in this way, and computers become increasingly smaller,
what will computers be like in the far future? Is this something we
can even imagine? Many futurists have tried to. Ray Kurzweil is the
most prominent futurist looking at these kinds of questions. Books
such as The Singularity is Near,
The Age of Spiritual Machines
and his more recent How to Create a Mind,
focus on artificial intelligence, transhumanism
and the technological

is a movement which supports the idea of improving people’s physical,
intellectual and psychological abilities through new technologies.
Prosthetic limbs would be an example of a posthuman technology;
however in the future such technology could be used to make everyone
faster and stronger. Back in 1923, the geneticist J.B.S. Haldane in
an essay titled Daedalus: Science and the Future,
predicted that many benefits would come from applying advances in
technology to human biology. As the interaction between humans and
machines becomes more mingled and symbiotic, some might say that this
interaction is too “unnatural” and therefore wrong.

But as
Haldane points out, this criticism fades away as soon as the benefits
of this interaction are realised. Julian Huxley (brother of Aldous
Huxley) appears to be the first person to use the term transhuman and
defined it as that state where a person transcends themselves and
realises new potentials of their human nature.

technological singularity is the point at which a super-intelligence
will emerge through the evolution of machines. Since we cannot
comprehend what this kind of intelligence will be like, we cannot
predict events beyond this point. In the same way we cannot predict
the events that happen in the singularity of a black hole –
space-time curves to become infinite and the theory of general
relativity completely breaks down.

The term “singularity” was
first used in a technological context by the mathematician John
von Neumann in the 1950s. He argued that after the singularity human
nature and human behaviour would be changed forever. If the
exponential growth of technology carries on as it is, assuming we
don’t blow the planet up, then there will come a point when we will
see more change in a minute than we have in the past 1,000 years. So
there must come a point when we cannot predict what will happen next
in technology; the changes will just be too quick.

is notorious for making many accurate predictions about how
technology will progress. In his first book The Age of
Intelligent Machines
, he argued
that by the year 2000 a computer will be able to beat the best player
of chess in the world. In 1997, the IBM computer Deep Blue
beat the world champion Gary Kasparov. Even more impressive than this
was Kurzweil’s prediction that internet use would explode after the
90s, which happened. Kurzweil has said that the technological
singularity will occur around 2045, whereas science fiction writer
Victor Venge placed it earlier at around 2030. Since Kurzweil has a
good track record of making successful predictions, if the
singularity does happen, a good bet is that it will be around
Kurzweil’s date. 

Terence McKenna also believed in this technological
singularity, however he thought the date of the singularity was
encoded in the ancient Chinese text, the I Ching.
Along with the predictions laid out in the Mayan calendar, McKenna
claimed the singularity would occur in 2012. So clearly he was off by
a good few decades. McKenna also described the singularity as being
“extra-dimensional” and that we should use drugs such as DMT to
prepare us for this event, since the DMT realm is also beyond the
normal 3 dimensions of space and 1 of time. This is a pretty
controversial idea and it seems like it’s far less grounded than the
predictions of Kurzweil and other futurists.

writers have warned about the possible dangers of this coming
singularity. In the book Global Catastrophic Risks,
edited by philosopher Nick Bostrom, different scenarios are given to
how super-intelligent machines could destroy us. They are far more
serious and catastrophic than the scenario in I, Robot
where the machines turn against us – we can always get Will Smith
to defeat them. Bostrom offers a scenario of an AI which has been
programmed to produce paper clips and decides to turn the whole
planet into a paper clip manufacturing facility, which would
obviously destroy us. There is no reason why AI in the future would
be friendly to humans; they will act however they are programmed to
act and we may not be able to predict the dangerous, logical
consequences of that programming. Bostrom imagines another scenario
where a super-intelligent machine is given the goal of solving a
mathematical problem. It then follows this goal by turning all the
matter in the solar system into a giant calculating device, which in
turn would destroy us.

So there are clearly some big risks that need
to be taken into consideration. The idea of a super-intelligence also
creates some philosophical problems: Can you, for example, program
consciousness, a sense of self, emotions and morality? If
neuroscience reveals that the brain acts as a computer, then maybe we
can do better to answer these questions. At the moment AI can only
understand syntax (the
structure of sentences) but not semantics (the
meaning of sentences). But this may change in the near future.

what events are leading up to the singularity? According to Kurzweil
in The Singularity is Near,
there will be quite a few distinct stages. By 2015, robots will be
cleaning our house and by 2018 a computer’s memory will be as
spacious as a human brain. Then when the 2020s arrive, some
monumental changes will be going on. Nanotechnology will be thriving,
where nanobots and nanomachines will be used in medical science to
overcome biological limitations, such as disease, and maybe even
death! These nanobots could be present in us at all times, being able
to maintain and repair organs, tissue and cells throughout our body.
K Eric. Drexler made a similar prediction in his book Engines
of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology

During the late 2020s, virtual reality will be so well developed that
it will be indistinguishable from real reality. Kurzweil also claims
that in this same decade computers will be as intelligent as humans.
In the 2030s “mind uploading” will become possible, where you can
actually upload yourself onto a computer and live out your life on
the Web. Nanomachines could also be inserted directly into the brain,
creating a constant virtual reality for us with no need for the
external world. If all humans have these nanobots in their brains,
wireless networks could be set up which would allow humans to
communicate with each other telepathically.

in 20 years we could end up sitting on a couch, not speaking or
moving, but living our lives in an inner, virtual world. This could
be a happy or a depressing scenario depending on how you look at it.
It bears some similarity to Huxley’s vision of the future in Brave
New World
. Kurzweil predicts
that before the singularity, in the early 2040s all of us will be
fully immersed in a virtual reality world. Whether Kurzweil’s
predictions turn out to be true depends on whether intelligence can
be artificially created and whether trends, such as Moore’s law, will
continue for the decades to come.


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