FW: Immortality at last Ray Kurzweil's new book is a real stunner

Kris Ganjam (krisgan@microsoft.com)
Fri, 20 Nov 1998 15:14:30 -0800

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Laura Bain
> Sent: Friday, November 20, 1998 9:40 AM
> To: R&D News
> Cc: Laura Bain
> Subject: Immortality at last Ray Kurzweil's new book is a real
> stunner
> Summary: Forbes interviews "AI guru" Ray Kurzweil and discusses his
> forthcoming book, The Age of Spiritual Machines.
> This book is on order for the Library.
> News from your Library
> Immortality at last Ray Kurzweil's new book is a real stunner. He predicts
> that in the fairly near future people will be half-human, half-machine.
> BY Daniel Lyons
> Forbes
> 11/30/98
> In four decades computers will be smarter than we are. Their software
> will imitate our brains so well that you won't know whether it's a person
> or machine you're dealing with on the phone or the Internet.
> Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a big disappointment to many early
> backers, but that's because they expected too much too soon, according to
> Raymond Kurzweil, AI guru and author of The Age of Spiritual Machines
> (Viking, January 1999), his third book.
> Kurzweil doesn't care much about expert systems such as those spawned by
> Edward Feigenbaum; they're useful, he says, but limited. He's more
> interested in finding a way to "reverse engineer" the human brain so that
> we can download everything about ourselves--our memories, our dreams, our
> personalities--into a computer, a process he calls
> "reinstantiation."Immortality at last.
> The line between machines and people will blur even further as we age and
> we'll be inserting machines into people to replace aging or inadequate
> body and mind functions. Just as artificial hips now restore human body
> functions, so too will neural implants enhance our hearing, vision and
> memory.
> Kurzweil, 50, is not just a dreamer. Over the past 25 years he has built
> and sold four companies. His first, Kurzweil Computer Products, built a
> reading machine for the blind and was bought by Xerox. One of its first
> customers was musician Stevie Wonder, whose friendship with Kurzweil led
> to the development of computerized music synthesizers.
> An upcoming project is a program for fund managers creating an
> artificially intelligent financial analyst that outperforms humans. "This
> technology is going to be huge," he says.
> FORBES recently met with Kurzweil in his small Waltham, Mass. office,
> where the walls are decorated with newspaper clips about the performances
> of his father, Fredric, a concert pianist, and a picture drawn by an
> AI-powered computer.
> Forbes: Is your new book science or science fiction?
> If anything, my views are conservative. The predictions are based on
> technologies you can touch and feel today. I don't think anyone who
> studies this stuff carefully would say these things are never going to
> happen.
> Your book gets pretty weird: People scan their brains into a computer and
> create self-replicas.
> By 2040 it will be routine. If you build a computer based on the design of
> the human brain and instantiate information from a human being onto that
> computer, it will emerge in the machine and claim to be that person. The
> machine will say, "I grew up in Brooklyn, I went to MIT, then I walked
> into a scanner and woke up here in the machine."

> How are you going to reproduce a human brain?
> We can just copy it, bit by bit, connection by connection, neuron by
> neuron, synapse by synapse.It's right there in front of us.Human neurons
> are not so vastly complicated that we can't understand them or replicate
> them. We've already replicated the input-output characteristics of
> clusters of hundreds of neurons. The question is: What is the feasibility
> of scaling up from hundreds of neurons to billions of neurons? And that's
> not a big deal.
> You say reinstantiated humans will have bodies created with
> nanotechnology, which will let us build devices--even fake human
> organs--at the atomic level?
> Things like nanotubes are not actually fully working yet. But it's already
> well under way in laboratories. Nanotechnology is a $5 billion industry.
> All I'm doing is looking at trends to see where we are likely to be in
> terms of computational capability and the sophistication of software and
> the dexterity of certain physical technologies, like nanotechnology.
> Would you reinstantiate yourself?
> Probably. But I may end up jealous of the new Ray in that he shares my
> history, my desires and my longings, but will be in a far better position
> than old Ray to fulfill them.
> These are going to be very smart entities--much smarter than humans. And
> that's really where power lies. Ultimately these entities will have
> political power. They will have all the political power.
> This is good news?
> Some people who've read the book have come away feeling depressed. They
> get the idea that human beings are ending, that civilization is ending.
> Actually we will continue, but in a much more profound way. The human race
> is going to evolve. We are going to become smarter by merging with our
> machines.
> A lot of folks will say, stop the world, I want to get off.
> It's unstoppable.It's part of the fundamental laws of the universe. This
> is not an alien invasion. It's emerging from within our civilization.
> We're already pretty intimate with our computers. As we move forward, the
> nexus between machines and humans will become even more intimate.
> Copyright 1998 Forbes Inc.