On Sunday the BBC ran a story entitled “Machines to match Man by 2029”, and by Monday nearly a hundred other websites had followed the BBC’s lead. But is there any real truth, beyond the hit-attracting headline?
The BBC story centres on the views of Ray Kurzweil, a 60-year-old inventor, theorist and committed futurist. There’s no doubting Kurzweil’s intellectual pedigree; he’s the owner of 14 honorary doctorates and is credited with the invention of several useful devices, from book reader devices for the blind to synthesizers.
However, what really marks Kurweil out as an interesting character are his views on what he calls the ‘singularity’. This idea or concept was first proposed by the science fiction writer Vernor Vinge in 1993, and has been further refined and expounded upon by Kurzweil in his latest book: The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
At the heart of this theory is the idea that with science and technology – especially nanotechnology – evolving at breakneck speed, man will eventually be able to fuse himself with machines of the future to create a sort of Borg-like, man-robot hybrid that’s vastly more intelligent and capable than man alone.
Or, as Kurweil explained in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in 2005: “By 2030, we will have achieved machinery that equals and exceeds human intelligence but we're going to combine with these machines rather than just competing with them. These machines will be inserted into our bodies, via nano-technology. They'll go inside our brains through the capillaries and enlarge human intelligence."
Return of the grey goo?
But will it? Is this really the future, or just comic book science? Will the advent of nanotechnology lead to humanity drowning in a sea of grey goo as some have predicted, or will it help to cure the problems of mankind by making us better humans? At the moment there’s simply no way of knowing.
Dr Kirzweil is due to speak at the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco on Thursday, where he is expected to give his predictions for what the next 20 years of gaming holds. Given that he’s already on record claiming that nanotechnology will be able to offer humans “fully emergent alternative reality,” game developers must surely be licking their lips in anticipation.
Check back later in the week and we’ll let you know.