Of Humans and Computers

Chapters 10 to 12 of the fascinating book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, dealt with the predictions of how powerful a $1000 computing device will be on the year 2019, year 2029, and 2099. That’s about 10-90 years from now. In Chapter 10, a $1000 computing device will approximately have the same power (or computational ability) of one human brain. That’s very interesting but I doubt this prediction will come true. Based from reports around the world with regards to computer having human intelligence, we are still far from having a computer with the capabilities of a human brain.

In Japan, they already have robots that act and react like humans. Impressive right? BUT, all these are already programmed to the robots. We are still waiting for a robot that will “compute” on what is the best action to take based on the given circumstances. One might argue that the Deep Blue computer is one such device but it is just limited to chess. True, there are many computers already that surpassed the human brain in terms of speed in calculating mathematical problems and scientific equations, but this is not what we are looking for. In Chapter 10, it was also predicted that computers will be everywhere and embedded anywhere.

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There would be virtual displays of everything and anything (think Minority Report, Gattaca, etc), and people will be able to interact with these displays. I think this is already fulfilled in some parts of the world now, especially in the scientific laboratories of computer companies like Microsoft. I saw their “House of the Future” on the internet where every glass surface is a computer that will bring you up to date news of your interests. The question now is, will the middle class and below be able to afford these notable technology achievements?

Ten years later, in the year 2029, the book predicts that a $1000 computing device will approximately have the computational ability of one thousands human brains! Now that’s really, Of Humans and Computers 2 really remarkable! If we follow Moore’s Law about the exponential growth of the capabilities of electronic devices, then I think this prediction might come true. I feel that once the scientists will be able to make a computer that will have the computational ability of one human brain, it will be easy to produce one such device that will be equal to one thousand human brains.

Chapter 11 also predicted that there will be direct neural pathways (!!! ) for high-bandwidth connection to the brain. A human could enhance his/her visual and auditory perception, memory and reasoning. Now this is what I want, hehe! If before (and now), we use hallucinatory drugs (not that I’m condoning this practice) to enhance our sensory experience, in the future we have the computers to help is in that. Hopefully, with no side effects! In 2029, legal rights of the computers will be discussed and computers will claim to be conscious.

The humans will tend to accept this, and I hope there won’t be a “The Matrix-esque” war for dominance between machines and humans. Seventy years later, in the year 2099, there would be a merger between human thinking and machine intelligence. The Age of Spiritual Machines predicted that there won’t be a clear distinction between humans and machines, and conscious entities do not need to have a permanent physical presence anymore. As of this moment, my mind cannot digest the concept of having consciousness without physical presence.

Even the “ghost in the machine” needs to have a machine for it to exist! Maybe the book is trying to say that since the computer enhanced human brain (and vice versa) is now very powerful, it is able to transcend the physical laws. Maybe we’ll all be clairvoyants in the near future. Maybe one machine will rule us all. There are a lot of maybes, and for me, only one thing is sure — with all the technology we have produced now (and will be having in the near future), the fate of our world (and maybe the universe) is really in our hands. It is ours to make or break, with the technology we have.