Strictly Biological

Even taken with a very large grain of salt, the effects implied by futurist Ray Kurzweil’s predictions are more profound than the personal computer or web combined:

By 2027, he predicts, computers will surpass humans in intelligence; by 2045 or so, we will reach the Singularity, a moment when technology is advancing so rapidly that “strictly biological” humans will be unable to comprehend it.

Everything will be subject to his Law of Accelerating Returns, Kurzweil says, because “everything is ultimately becoming information technology.”

Fortune: The smartest(or the nuttiest) futurist on Earth

(emphasis mine)

In today’s information dense, short attention-span, reality distortion field, twenty to nearly forty year time frames may seem long, but if we factor in a reasonable build-up period, we see that clear indicators of these predictions will start to become broadly visible in a decade. In 2017, it will be clear that computers can possess a kind of intelligence more sophisticated than and not comprehensible by “strictly biological” humans. The debate over what defines being “sentient” may continue to rage, but it will be clear that humans augmented by such machines will be vastly different from “strictly biological” humans. Unless the planet is impacted by a major cataclysm(war, asteroids, disease, climate change etc.), most people reading this will live to face the epic questions of dealing with the new post-human species that begins to emerge after 2017. These questions will make current socio-political-religious divides seem like child’s play. Forget red state-blue state, Shia-Sunni, Muslim-Christian-Jewish, Muslim-Hindu and countless other tribal conflicts simmering across the planet. Without a compassionate, informed dialog, these will get greatly amplified and ultimately upstaged by humans augmented with technology

trans-post-human2.jpg

and that’s not taking into account the possible evolution of truly intelligent, autonomous machines. There are plenty of questions to raise about Kurzweil’s conclusions, but his predictions have substance as I’ve mentioned before. Details can be found in his most recent book The Singularity Is Near which is where the “strictly biological” quote in the current Fortune article was taken from.

The idea of people incorporating technologies into their bodies isn’t new. Some human beings have not been strictly biological for at least several thousand years(ancient Egyptians used prosthetic devices such as an artificial toe). However, the number of people and the scope of non-biological augmentation has been growing rapidly in recent decades and appears to be ramping up for a quantum leap. Passive limbs and replacement joints are at one end of the spectrum, interactive, internet-enabled devices and nanobots are the other extreme. In between are a host of other devices such as medical implants and other electronically active microchip implants. It’s been over a decade since the first microchip was implanted in a human being and much of the mainstream public discussion tends to focus on security and privacy concerns. People involved in the Open Prosthetics community see the convergence of biological and non-biological life as a necessity born of disabling disease or war, Transhumanists, see it as destiny, the natural evolution of intelligence, while various religious groups see it as a sign of the end times. Regardless of one’s perspective, an awareness of the issues involved in meshing with things will help the difficult dialog ahead. It’s much closer than most people think – are you ready move beyond a strictly biological physical existence?

Update: see iLimb for new developments and links regarding prosthetics

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3 Comments »

  1. […] I raised broad social questions about this. On a personal level, I suppose the big question is are you ready move beyond a strictly biological physical existence? In a decade, concerns about privacy/terms of service are gonna seem pretty […]

  2. […] more deeply with machines. There are profound considerations involved in the choice to  not be strictly biological – considerations which are close at hand, not in the far distant […]

  3. […] I raised broad social questions about this. On a personal level, I suppose the big question is are you ready move beyond a strictly biological physical existence? In a decade, concerns about privacy/terms of service are gonna seem pretty […]

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