Super-connected world – Marvel or Myth?

The other deep conversation that I had the pleasure of sitting in on yesterday at Creative Innovation was “Super-connected world – Marvel or Myth?” with Ray Kurzweil, Daniel Dennett & Tan Le.

According to Ray Kurzweil, in the 21st Century we won’t experience one hundred years of progress—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). We are fast-approaching a radically different future in which we merge with our machines, overcome our mortality to live indefinitely, and become billions of times more intelligent. Ray spoke about his Law of Accelerating Returns, and having just finished his book The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, I was fascinated to hear the dialogue between Dennett, who seems to be almost a technological pessimist (philosophy whilst interesting, can sometimes be used as an excuse for procrastination whilst contemplating the intricacies of whatever you have thought about doing…), and Kurzweil, a man who has 19 honorary doctorates and a unwavering belief in his vision of the future.

The dialogue and debate was fascinating. Whether you believe Kurzweil’s prediction that in the year 2029 we will have computers that support human level intelligence, a moment in time he coins the technological singularity – the claims can not be dismissed outright. Tan Le showed that Kurzweil’s predictions are indeed plausible, by talking at length about her company emotiv, a company doing cutting-edge research into brain-machine interfaces. For anyone who thinks that Ray Kurzweil’s predictions are not within the realms of possibility, consider the emotiv EPOC (combined with the SDK) headset, based on the latest developments in neurotechnology, that allows you to control a computer with your thoughts alone – and it costs less than $300! 

If I was to be critical of this deep conversation, it would be only in the fact that the brilliant Tan Le almost got drowned out of the conversation between two men using their intellects in a battle of ego and wit. When Tan did get a chance to speak it was with knowledge and passion. Catch the recording of her TEDGlobal talk in 2010.

When brain-machine interfaces become mainstream, we might ask: What is the difference between a human brain enhanced a million fold by technology opposed to a unenhanced brain? The moral and ethical implication of human-machine hybrids was discussed at length with identity, consciousness and what it means to be a human all brought into question.

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