OnQ Blog

The Man-Machine Merger

Sep 11, 2012

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.


This article is one half of a point-counterpoint with Andrea Kuszewski's article, "Is Technology Making Us Less Human?" Will human intelligence one day rely on computational power and processing speed? Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil says yes.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Besides “brain extenders” like smartphones and computers, is there any other evidence of the merge between man and machine? 

KURZWEIL: Yes, there are people who already have computers in their brains. Dr. Benabid first demonstrated this with Parkinson’s patients. With a neural implant, the symptom of rigidity would disappear and they would suddenly come alive and could walk around. This is one example of many. We're all handicapped in what we can remember, what our minds can do. We create tools to extend our reach.

QUALCOMM SPARK: But isn’t there a certain human element that can’t be recreated by a machine? What about creative thought?

KURZWEIL: Writing novels, painting pictures – these are the ultimate in human intelligence. AI will be able to do these things by 2045.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Do you think the pace of innovation is picking up? 

KURZWEIL: Yes, the pace of change and innovation is getting faster and faster. We got printed books a whole century after Guttenberg invented the printing press, which took 400 years to reach a large audience. The telephone took 50. The cell phone, seven years. Social networks, blogs, and wikis took three years. The pace of change is getting faster and faster. By 2045, the pace of change will be so fast we wont be able to follow it unless we enhance our own intelligence with artificial intelligence.

QUALCOMM SPARK: What might that look like? 

KURZWEIL: Look at Watson, who's dealing with a human game like Jeopardy, who understands the subtle forms of language, metaphors, puns, and similes — and is able to play this knowledge and language game to get higher scores than the best two human players. Computers have perfect recall and will only continue to get more powerful. What that means for humans is that the non-biological portion will be a billion times greater than the biological. We call it the singularity. We’re going to merge -- and are merging-- with intelligent machines. No question that I will be smarter in 2851.

Here’s an example, managing work groups. What used to require years to complete, can now be completed by a few people in few weeks. We’re much more productive and intelligent with "brain extenders” – tools that are not internal or embedded but nonetheless part of who we are.

QUALCOMM SPARK: At what point is something purely an innovation on a former solution, and when is it truly an invention? 

KURZWEIL: Innovation is galvanized by need. For example, I became aware of the blind reading problem when I sat next to a blind man on a plane. At the time, computer terminals were very expensive, so we would give out electric typewriters to typists who would retype the material [in brail] for the blind because there wasn't a scanner that recognized a single type of font. So I created a solution, the Charge Couple Device (CCD) flatbed scanner.

QUALCOMM SPARK: What’s moving innovation forward? 

KURZWEIL: There’s an exponential growth law of accelerating returns and a democratization of the tools of innovation. Nowadays, you don't have to be a big corporation in order to change the world. For example, a college kid with a laptop and $19,000 capital created Facebook, which now has almost a billion users. A couple of other people created Google in a late night dorm room challenge. You need the right ideas and commitment and enthusiasm. The tools are in everybody's hands. A kid in Africa with a smartphone has access to more information and knowledge than the president of the U.S. did fifteen years ago.

QUALCOMM SPARK: So what does our future look like?

KURZWEIL: Our destiny is to expand our mental powers by harnessing the intelligence that we're creating. We're above a certain threshold of intelligence that allows us to create tools, which is why our tools grow exponentially. We can look at own brains and understand how they work so we can build machines without limitations. We will continue to grow our mental powers by using our AI intelligence, and by 2045 you'll be talking to a biological person that’s a hybrid of biological and non-biological intelligence. We’ve already started the process by offloading our memories to our machines to create personal social historical memories. I see it going beyond smartphones, where our devices are literally embedded in our bodies. 

This article is commissioned by Qualcomm Incorporated. The views expressed are the author's own.  

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Ray Kurzweil