Our amazing future lives as cyborgs

The future of artificial intelligence (AI)

Speculating about our cyborg future isn’t just fodder for sci-fi. Many of us know people who already have cyborg components in their bodies, e.g., heart pace makers, perhaps even brain implants to alleviate neurological conditions like Parkinson’s.

Some folks confuse cyborgs with far future non-biological Artificial Intelligence (AI) beings (aka robot– with the potential sophistication of Star Trek’s beloved Data). –Interestingly, Ray Kurzweil, inventory of the flatbed scanner and other technologies, predicted 25 years ago that the rise of AI would lead to a ‘Singularity’ by 2045 in which thinking machines will transcend human capabilities. Brilliant, though he is, there’s widespread doubt among scientists and digital engineers that this will really happen anytime soon because-

  • We are many decades, centuries, perhaps millennia away from modeling the incomparable complexity of the human brain (upon which AI models would need to be based); and
  • We will require now unimaginable advances in software to support the quantum computing technologies essential for this to happen.

Our coming lives as sophisticated cyborgs

Most experts agree, however, that in the next few decades we will experience astounding breakthroughs in implant mechanisms that will both improve health and advance longevity. One prosthesis, Proprio Foot, that responds directly to thoughts is already in use–

Kurzweil’s utopian vision for cyborg advancement

Kurzweil is now a director of engineering at Google, but is free to speak independently as a Futurist. He believes that in the 2030s human brains will be able to connect to the cloud, allowing us to send written messages and images (photos) directly to the brain. This will be possible by nanorobots, made from DNA strands that will circulate through the tiny capillaries of our brains.

What surprises me most is his claim that this new biotechnology would not only improve our cognitive skills, but also our emotional intelligence. How? For example, as you see a friend approach you at work, you’ll be able to instantaneously access the cloud to come up with an ideal greeting, one that is spot on witty and empathetic.

Such microscopic machines could also be engineered to help us learn a foreign language or enhance our mathematical abilities. –BTW, brain stimulation experiments have already been effective in accomplishing that and in enhancing memory. Kurzweil claims this technology will also make our thinking more flexible, even individualistic, as we explore at much greater depth who we really are and want to become.

Challenges and the potential downside

As with his claims about AI advancement, his vision of just-over-the-horizon nanorobot technology has critics–scientists who question the effectiveness and safety of brain nanorobots– and our capacity to develop them anytime soon.

Other skeptics claim that the standard science fiction archetype of the emotionally cool, often amoral, cyborg may prove to be accurate. Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, head of neuroengineering at Duke University, is concerned that if we rely too much on internal machines, we’ll lose diversity of behavior because (non-quantum) computing operates in black and white/ones and zeroes.

Kurzweil dismisses Nicolelis’ concern by saying he believes evolution over time creates increasingly complex, more creative life forms and structures. We humans have been able to develop culture and advanced technology because we are endowed with a large neocortex. With AI and other technologies exponentially enhancing its functioning, he sees great potential for radical improvements in the quality and scope of life.

Yet, if this technology were developed, it would face many obstacles, e.g., the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, public fears about safety and other issues. Though there is widespread support for the use of brain implants for those with disabilities, according to a recent survey, 72 percent of Americans are not interested in a brain implant that could improve memory or mental capacity.–I’m definitely in the minority on this issue…