A rollercoaster ride into the future

There are a growing number of scientists who believe the human race will undergo a radical change within the next few decades that will significantly alter life as we know it.

The topic is vast and exciting. I ‘ve been reading about recent predictions of what is being called “The Singularity,” or the point in time when the human race will create technological super intelligence.

The hypothetical event is estimated to happen as early as 2045, when it is forecasted that a single computer will be produced that has the brainpower equal to the entire human race.

Around that same time, many believe that significant strides in the fields of robotics, nanotechnology, genetics, computers and related fields will allow humans to add years to their lives. Some believe these advances could eventually lead to things we once thought impossible like time travel or immortality.

However, another prediction about The Singularity is that once it hits, it will make the future much more difficult to predict because due to an inability for humans to imagine changes brought about by superintellignet beings.

The Singularity is coming and there’s not much we can do to stop it. Recursive self-improvement computers will soon be built that are able to produce newer, faster models of themselves, and a computer-to-brain neuron interface is expected to exist by 2040. This means we will be able to harness the superintelligence and become active participants in the AI revolution, augmenting our natural brains with unimaginable enhancements.

Of course, there is the argument that the human race will be sure to snuff itself out once the immense power of new technologies are realized. It’s certainly a possibility and one we need to keep an eye on as we always have with emerging technologies.

But optimists would counter that technology will be so great in the coming decades that there will eventually be no more poverty, pollution, crime, hate, or anything “bad” for that matter. Computer controlled robots will cater to the post-human’s every desire and carry out the mundane tasks we once called jobs, leaving humans free to do what they feel like.

It only takes a glance at the evening news or a wait in the line at the DMV to know we’re a long way away from that utopia. But they say accelerating technology will take the ball for us and run with it, exponentially faster than we could ever sprint.

Another factor that will be a drastic change in the coming years that will push The Singularity along is the shift from the medical field from being a field of discovery to a field of design.

In the past, our medicines were discovered in nature, and through lab tests, we determined what the discovered substances could be used for.

Viagra, originally a medicine being tested to ease high blood pressure, is an example of the old way medicine was created. Pfizer sent out the drug in clinical trials and found a new use for the drug when older men were requesting more of the medication, having found the effect of the drug that happens to be its selling point today.

In the future, medicines will be designed molecule by molecule to target specific enzymes and efficiently fix many of our health problems. Nanorobots inside our bodies could replace cells and other biological parts, performing our bodily functions much more efficiently than the natural way. These nanobots could do everything from blasting plaque off of artery walls to fighting infections and carrying electrical signals throughout the brain.

Eventually, some believe the human heart could be eliminated and replaced with a school of wirelessly connected nanobots that do the heart’s job with much greater reliability and longevity.

But relax; don’t let your blood pressure get out of control. By this time we will have sufficient virtual reality technologies to create a virtual heartbeat that responds to emotions in the same way a normal heart would.

In this new reality, which will continue to change exponentially as time goes by, it is plausible that anything you can imagine will be possible. Flying, breathing underwater, telepathy and even time travel would be accomplished in one way or another as our computer-enhanced minds continue to invent new technologies.

But you say you don’t want to be a robot? You don’t want to be a cyborg without a heart? It sure sounds creepy but also cool.

You may not like the idea of becoming more like Wall-E than uncle Walt, but new ideas will be accepted more and more as younger generations are born into a brave new world. In the same way many people have resisted e-mail or cell phones, you’d be hard pressed to find a high-schooler who isn’t fluent in some aspects of the latest tech.

Many people are excited for these changes and believe The Singularity represents a turning point in human evolution, where we become the masters of our own destiny and transcend biology. Others are frightened about the changes that could come. Some have not thought about it.

But for those people who say man will never merge with machine, I would say to look around and realize the changes are already under way. Smartphones already give us every piece of information in the world just a few seconds away and people are becoming more dependant on their technology with every new generation. Take, for example, that 300,000 Google Android phones are being activated each day, according to the company.

Also, look at the changes in computing technology from the first computers in the 1950s that occupied entire rooms at universities, compared to cell phones today that are a 1,000 times powerful. Think of that trend continuing exponentially over the coming decades as technology shrinks in size and in cost while gaining power.

Think of the last time your Internet connection was down for a few hours, or when your computer crashed. The anxious feelings that come with not being able to access your Facebook page or e-mail 24/7 are evidence of this increasing phenomenon.

While not everyone uses the Internet currently and some doubt its importance, in the future it will be impossible to avoid the sweeping changes to society as technology compounds over the next 30 years or so and beyond. They say the curve of increasing technology will eventually be nearly straight up, and when that happens, it’s time to hold on tight and enjoy the rollercoaster ride, whether it’s bumpy or smooth.

By Brad Devereaux

A Flock of Words