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Author Topic: The Age of Spiritual Machines  (Read 1540 times)

Jay Sadie

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The Age of Spiritual Machines
« on: January 08, 2013, 01:21:04 AM »

The Age of Spiritual Machines is a book by futurist Ray Kurzweil about the future course of humanity, particularly relating to the development of artificial intelligence and its impact on human consciousness. It is also a study on the concept of technological singularity.

Originally published in 1999, the book predicts that machines with human-like intelligence will be available from affordable computing devices within a couple of decades, revolutionizing most aspects of life, and that eventually humanity and its machinery will become one and the same.

In order to help the reader understand the concepts portrayed in the book (and for the book to make its predictions pseudo-realistic), the author has conversations with Molly, a typical human being. At the start of the book, Molly is a 23-year-old woman who has little understanding of the concepts that are discussed in the book, yet has an enigmatic (sometimes romantic) interest in the author, which keeps her interested. By the time the book reaches Part III, Facing the Future, Molly has somewhat of a grasp on all these concepts. It is during Part III that she physiologically and technologically evolves (as predicted by the author) as the years go by, to the point that by the year 2099 (the farthest point in the author's scope), she has shed all biological matter and has become a dynamic, conscious sub-entity within a larger, singular entity, all within a machine (a Spiritual Machine, as it were). "Molly" has become so dynamic, in fact, that she is (in her words) ready to do anything, or be anything, you want or need.

In early 2000, Mike Turner, founding member and guitarist of the Canadian band Our Lady Peace purchased the book intrigued by the concepts that it contained. He was so inspired by the book's information that, with the rest of the band, he created the concept album Spiritual Machines. They recruited Kurzweil to voice several tracks, on which he read select passages from the book.

Predictions

2009

Chapter nine lists 108 predictions for 2009. Among them:
  • Computers are primarily portable, with people typically having at least a dozen on or around their bodies, networked together with "body LANs"
  • Rotating memory (CD-ROMS, Hard disk drives) are on their way out
  • The majority of text is generated with speech recognition software
  • Learning at a distance, through computers, is commonplace
  • Computer-controlled orthopedic devices, "walking machines" are used to help the disabled
  • Translating telephones (where each caller is speaking a different language) are commonplace
  • Virtually all communication is digital and encrypted
  • The ten years leading up to 2009 have seen continuous economic expansion
  • Most purchases of books, videos and music are digital downloads
  • Warfare is dominated by unmanned intelligent airborne devices
  • Tele-medicine is widely used, where the physician examines the patient at a distance with virtual reality
Some of Kurzweil's predictions for 2009 have not been borne out as of 2010. For example, Kurzweil did not foresee the global recession that began in late 2007, instead predicting that "despite occasional corrections, the ten years leading up to 2009 have seen continuous economic expansion and prosperity due to the dominance of the knowledge content of products and services." Kurzweil maintains, however, that of the 108 predictions for 2009, 102 have been shown to be "essentially correct" as of 2010.

2019
  • A $1,000 personal computer has as much raw power as the human brain.
  • The summed computational powers of all computers is comparable to the total brainpower of the human species.
  • Computers are embedded everywhere in the environment (inside of furniture, jewelry, walls, clothing, etc.).
  • People experience 3-D virtual reality through glasses and contact lenses that beam images directly to their retinas (retinal display). Coupled with an auditory source (headphones), users can remotely communicate with other people and access the Internet.
  • These special glasses and contact lenses can deliver "augmented reality" and "virtual reality" in three different ways. First, they can project "heads-up-displays" (HUDs) across the user's field of vision, superimposing images that stay in place in the environment regardless of the user's perspective or orientation. Second, virtual objects or people could be rendered in fixed locations by the glasses, so when the user's eyes look elsewhere, the objects appear to stay in their places. Third, the devices could block out the "real" world entirely and fully immerse the user in a virtual reality environment.
  • People communicate with their computers via two-way speech and gestures instead of with keyboards. Furthermore, most of this interaction occurs through computerized assistants with different personalities that the user can select or customize. Dealing with computers thus becomes more and more like dealing with a human being.
  • Most business transactions or information inquiries involve dealing with a simulated person.
  • Most people own more than one P.C., though the concept of what a "computer" is has changed considerably: Computers are no longer limited in design to laptops or CPUs contained in a large box connected to a monitor. Instead, devices with computer capabilities come in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes.
  • Cables connecting computers and peripherals have almost completely disappeared.
  • Rotating computer memories are no longer used.
  • Three-dimensional nanotube lattices are the dominant computing substrate.
  • Massively parallel neural nets and genetic algorithms are in wide use.
  • Destructive scans of the brain and noninvasive brain scans have allowed scientists to understand the brain much better. The algorithms that allow the relatively small genetic code of the brain to construct a much more complex organ are being transferred into computer neural nets.
  • Pinhead-sized cameras are everywhere.
  • Nanotechnology is more capable and is in use for specialized applications, yet it has not yet made it into the mainstream. "Nanoengineered machines" begin to be used in manufacturing.
  • Thin, lightweight, handheld displays with very high resolutions are the preferred means for viewing documents. The aforementioned computer eyeglasses and contact lenses are also used for this same purpose, and all download the information wirelessly.
  • Computers have made paper books and documents almost completely obsolete.
  • Most learning is accomplished through intelligent, adaptive courseware presented by computer-simulated teachers. In the learning process, human adults fill the counselor and mentor roles instead of being academic instructors. These assistants are often not physically present, and help students remotely.
  • Students still learn together and socialize, though this is often done remotely via computers.
  • All students have access to computers.
  • Most human workers spend the majority of their time acquiring new skills and knowledge.
  • Blind people wear special glasses that interpret the real world for them through speech. Sighted people also use these glasses to amplify their own abilities.
  • Retinal and neural implants also exist, but are in limited use because they are less useful.
  • Deaf people use special glasses that convert speech into text or signs, and music into images or tactile sensations. Cochlear and other implants are also widely used.
  • People with spinal cord injuries can walk and climb steps using computer-controlled nerve stimulation and exoskeletal robotic walkers.
  • Language translating machines are of much higher quality, and are routinely used in conversations.
  • Access to the Internet is completely wireless and provided by wearable or implanted computers.
  • Devices that deliver sensations to the skin surface of their users (i.e.--tight body suits and gloves) are also sometimes used in virtual reality to complete the experience. "Virtual sex"--in which two people are able to have sex with each other through virtual reality, or in which a human can have sex with a "simulated" partner that only exists on a computer—becomes a reality.
  • Just as visual- and auditory virtual reality have come of age, haptic technology has fully matured and is completely convincing, yet requires the user to enter a V.R. booth. It is commonly used for computer sex and remote medical examinations. It is the preferred sexual medium since it is safe and enhances the experience.
  • Worldwide economic growth has continued. There has not been a global economic collapse.
  • The vast majority of business interactions occur between humans and simulated retailers, or between a human's virtual personal assistant and a simulated retailer.
  • Household robots are ubiquitous and reliable.
  • Computers do most of the vehicle driving—-humans are in fact prohibited from driving on highways unassisted.
  • Furthermore, when humans do take over the wheel, the onboard computer system constantly monitors their actions and takes control whenever the human drives recklessly. As a result, there are very few transportation accidents.
  • Prototype personal flying vehicles using microflaps exist. They are also primarily computer-controlled.
  • Humans are beginning to have deep relationships with automated personalities, which hold some advantages over human partners. The depth of some computer personalities convinces some people that they should be accorded more rights.
  • Public places and workplaces are ubiquitously monitored to prevent violence and all actions are recorded permanently. Personal privacy is a major political issue, and some people protect themselves with unbreakable computer codes.
  • The basic needs of the underclass are met. (Not specified if this pertains only to the developed world or to all countries)
  • Computers are also found inside of some humans in the form of cybernetic implants. These are most commonly used by disabled people to regain normal physical faculties (i.e. - Retinal implants allow the blind to see and spinal implants coupled with mechanical legs allow the paralyzed to walk).
  • Most roads now have automated driving systems—networks of monitoring and communication devices that allow computer-controlled automobiles to safely navigate.
  • Human-robot relationships begin as simulated personalities become more convincing.
  • Virtual artists—creative computers capable of making their own art and music—emerge in all fields of the arts.
  • While a growing number of humans believe that their computers and the simulated personalities they interact with are intelligent to the point of human-level consciousness, experts dismiss the possibility that any could pass the Turing Test.
  • Ubiquitous connectivity high bandwidth communications connection to the Internet at all times
  • Interaction with virtual personalities as a primary interface
  • Effective language technologies (natural language processing, speech recognition, speech synthesis)
2029
  • A $1,000 personal computer is 1,000 times more powerful than the human brain.
  • The vast majority of computations originally done by humans are now done by computers.
  • Further progress has been made in understanding the secrets of the human brain. Hundreds of distinct sub-regions with specialized functions have been identified. Some of the algorithms that code for development of these regions have been deciphered and incorporated into neural net computers.
  • Massively parallel neural nets, which are constructed through reverse-engineering the human brain, are in common use.
  • The eyeglasses and headphones that used to deliver virtual reality are now obsolete thanks to computer implants that go into the eyes and ears. The implants are either permanent or removable. They allow direct interface with computers, communications and Internet-based applications. The implants are also capable of recording what the user sees and hears.
  • Computer implants designed for direct connection to the brain are also available. They are capable of augmenting natural senses and of enhancing higher brain functions like memory, learning speed and overall intelligence.
  • Computers are now capable of learning and creating new knowledge entirely on their own and with no human help. By scanning the enormous content of the Internet, some computers "know" literally every single piece of public information (every scientific discovery, every book and movie, every public statement, etc.) generated by human beings.
  • Direct brain implants allow users to enter full-immersion virtual reality—with complete sensory stimulation—without any external equipment. People can have their minds in a totally different place at any moment. This technology is in widespread use.
  • Most communication occurs between humans and machines as opposed to human-to-human.
  • The manufacturing, agricultural and transportation sectors of the economy are almost entirely automated and employ very few humans. Across the world, poverty, war and disease are almost nonexistent thanks to technology alleviating want.
  • The rise of Artificial Intelligence creates a real "robot rights" movement, and there is open, public debate over what sorts of civil rights and legal protections machines should have. The existence of humans with heavy levels of cybernetic augmentation and of larger numbers of other people with less extreme cybernetic implants lead to further arguments over what constitutes a "human being."
  • Although computers routinely pass the Turing Test, controversy still persists over whether machines are as intelligent as humans in all areas.
  • Artificial Intelligences claim to be conscious and openly petition for recognition of the fact. Most people admit and accept this new truth.
  • Reverse engineering of the human brain completed
  • Non-biological intelligence combines the subtlety and pattern recognition strength of human intelligence, with the speed, memory, and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence
  • Non-biological intelligence will continue to grow exponentially whereas biological intelligence is effectively fixed
2049
  • Food is commonly "assembled" by nanomachines. This food is externally indistinguishable from "natural" food, but can be made much healthier since production can be controlled at the molecular level. This technology decouples food production from climate conditions and the availability of natural resources. [An implication of this is that meat production will no longer require the slaughter of animals.]
  • The distinction between virtual reality and "real" reality becomes confounded as foglets come into common use, allowing immediate assembly or disassembly of all sorts of physical objects.
2072
  • Picoengineering (technology on the scale of trillionths of a meter) becomes practical.
2099
  • The human brain has been completely reverse engineered and all aspects of its functioning are understood.
  • Natural human thinking possesses no advantages over computer minds.
  • Machines have attained equal legal status with humans.
  • Humans and machines merge in the physical and mental realms. Cybernetic brain implants enable humans to fuse their minds with A.I.s.
  • In consequence, clear distinctions between humans and machines no longer exist.
  • Most conscious beings lack a permanent physical form.
  • The world is overwhelmingly populated by A.I.s that exist entirely as thinking computer programs capable of instantly moving from one computer to another across the Internet (or whatever equivalent exists in 2099). These computer-based beings are capable of manifesting themselves at will in the physical world by creating or taking over robotic bodies, with individual A.I.s also being capable of controlling multiple bodies at once.
  • Individual beings merge and separate constantly, making it impossible to determine how many “people” there are on Earth.
  • This new plasticity of consciousness and ability for beings to join minds seriously alters the nature of self-identity.
  • The majority of interpersonal interactions occur in virtual environments. Actually having two people physically meet in the real world to have a conversation or transact business without any technological interference is very rare.
  • Organic human beings are a small minority of the intelligent life forms on Earth. Even among the remaining Homo sapiens, the use of computerized implants that heavily augment normal abilities is ubiquitous and accepted as normal. The small fraction of humans who opt to remain "natural" and unmodified effectively exist on a different plane of consciousness from everyone else, and thus find it impossible to fully interact with A.I.s and highly modified humans.
  • "Natural" humans are protected from extermination. In spite of their shortcomings and frailties, humans are respected by A.I.s for giving rise to the machines.
  • Since knowledge and skills can be instantly downloaded and comprehended by most intelligent beings, the process of learning is compressed into an instantaneous affair instead of the years-long struggle normal humans experience. Free from this time-consuming burden, A.I.s now focus their energies on making new discoveries and contributions.
  • A.I.s are capable of dividing their attention and energies in countless directions, allowing one being to manage a multitude of endeavors simultaneously.
  • Femtoengineering (engineering on the scale of one quadrillionth, i.e. one thousandth of a trillionth, of a meter) might be possible.
  • A.I.s communicate via a shared electronic language.
  • Artwork and music created by machines encompasses areas of the light spectrum and frequencies of sounds that normal humans cannot perceive.
  • Some humans at least as old as the Baby Boomers are still alive and well.
  • Computer viruses are a major threat since most intelligent beings are software-based.
  • A.I.s frequently make "backup copies" of themselves, guaranteeing a sort of immortality should the original A.I. be killed.
  • The concept of "life expectancy" has become irrelevant to humans and machines thanks to medical immortality and advanced computers.
  • The pace of technological change continues to accelerate as the 22nd century nears.
Thousands of years from now
  • "Intelligent beings consider the fate of the Universe." Presumably, this means that the A.I.s created by humans will have the ability to control the entire Universe, perhaps keeping it from dying.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2013, 01:30:07 AM by Jay Sadie »
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"I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success." - Nikola Tesla
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