Merging with machines inevitable, scientists say

April 01 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 9

By Dick Pelletier

Today, we are entering the beginning stages of a society that many futurists believe will not end until man and machine become completely integrated into a single being – an enhanced human.

The biotech revolution, from 2010 to 2020, promises to correct many of our biological flaws including vulnerability to disease and telltale signs of aging. Doctors will re-grow cells, tissues and organs to replace aging body parts; and by as early as mid-2020s, most humans can look forward to an extended healthy lifespan of 200 years or more.

Molecular nanotech marks the next step in our march towards this futuristic society. From about 2025, we will enjoy home-replicators that provide food, clothing, and essentials at little cost; and tiny nanobots that roam through arteries and veins keeping us forever fit and healthy.

The final stage of achieving this remarkable future lies in supercomputers and artificial intelligence; powerful robot-like machines that many predict will outthink humans by 2030. These silicon marvels will possess reasoning and logic similar to our own, but can share data and knowledge millions of times faster than we can with our slow human language; a desirable feature that many humans will want to incorporate into their bodies, experts say.


Author Ray Kurzweil, in The Singularity is Near, says, “Between 2035 and 2050, we will merge our knowledge, skills, and personalities with our silicon cousins. This will produce a superior human that thinks, reasons, and communicates far more efficiently than today’s humans.”

When we combine computer intelligence with rapid innovations in biotech and nanotech, we see a future where the distinction between humans and machines begins to blur. During this transitional time, experts say, we will escape today’s frail limited bodies and evolve into powerful ageless “housing units”. By mid-2030s, nearly everyone will enjoy perfect health with an indefinite lifespan, and without any fears of unwanted death.

Most people will welcome these advancements with open arms. However, techno-conservatives say there may come a time when tomorrow’s powerful machines might understand us better than we understand ourselves and they could manipulate us – even replace us.

But positive futurists believe that will never happen. J. Storrs Hall, in his book, Beyond AI: Creating the Conscience of the Machine, says there’s no need to fear artificial intelligence. When machines reach the point where they can outthink us, technology will also allow enhancement of human brains enabling us to always remain superior to our machines. Enhanced human brains can be made stronger than AIs, Hall says.

Most forward-thinkers do not envision machines soaring into the future as a separate species. As our silicon friends acquire “smart” new components, we may want to incorporate those parts into our bodies. Over the years, we will become more like our machines. We will still consider ourselves “human,” but eventually we will morph into a human-machine configuration indiscernible from our machines.

If this “magical future” unfolds in the timely manner suggested above, by mid-century, many people reading this piece could be enjoying a grand life using their increased intelligence to re-design the planet, visit space colonies on moon and Mars, tinker with time travel technologies, or search the galaxy for advanced life-forms to exchange knowledge with. What’s in your future?

Can you imagine yourself becoming a machine in the future?

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Comment Thread (3 Responses)

  1. I think the trend towards smaller scale, internal focus will continue. It seems that the richness of life in a post-human, exponentially more intelligent world will come in the form of simulation. Though it seems plausible that space exploration and colonization will be desirable, i feel like there will be more sophisticated ways of achieving these experiences.

    Dick, can you elaborate further on why Storrs Hall feels we will remain one step ahead of AI/machines? Why enhanced human brains will have an advantage? Seems to me that whenever and wherever (substrate) a singularity occurs first, that platform may enjoy an advantage never to be surpassed.

    Posted by: Jeff   April 01, 2008
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  2. You are correct; future simulations will play a major role in human development. Future entertainment will be mindboggling. By 2030, nanobots connected to neurons will provide totally convincing virtual reality. Ray Kurzweil sees VR technology unfolding in this way: “For reality, ‘bots will remain idle; to enter a simulation, they will suppress inputs from actual senses and replace them with signals appropriate for the virtual environment. Our brain will believe the simulated activities are originating from our own body.” Imagine the Star Trek Holodeck.

    Another possibility, Kurzweil adds, is the experience beamer. “We could send sensory experiences with emotions to the Internet for people to share, like the premise for the movie “Being John Malkovich, whose characters enter Malkovich’s mind to observe his thoughts and activities. A popular pastime in the future will be to plug into another person’s program and experience their life.” How wild would that be?

    J. Storrs Hall states, “The implication is that given a fast enough processor, we (perhaps individually, perhaps as communities) will always be the equal of any AI.” He also adds that “once we begin optimizing our own architectures and fixing some of the glitches evolution has left us with, the line between humans and AIs will become somewhat blurry.”

    In Hall’s scenario, we will interface with our silicon cousins before any “Singularity” event happens, which in theory could eliminate the predicted time when technology advances so fast that humans can’t comprehend what’s going on. All of these expected rapid advances would be shared by humans as they are happening. In this manner, we could always be a step ahead of our creations.

    Posted by: futuretalk   April 01, 2008
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  3. Footnote to the Singularity issue.

    The question may not be, “will super-strong AI advance to the point when they will not need humans anymore and decide to eliminate us.”

    Maybe a more accurate scenario would be, “will future humans endow themselves with such volumes of intelligence that they will not need machines anymore? We may be able to take command of our environments and worlds, both real and simulated, with just our thoughts.

    And if the future unfolds in such wild ways, would we still think of ourselves as “humans”, “transhumans”, or maybe we would simply consider ourselves “Earthlings” as we embark on a quest to establish our place in the cosmos.

    Posted by: futuretalk   April 01, 2008
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