I am a big fan of Ray Kurzweil. The celebrated tech thinker and founder of Singularity University has fascinated me for years now with his projections-extraordinaire about a society where humans and machines become more and more interdependent, interconnected… and eventually quietly merge. Computers and AI (artificial intelligence) units that play chess, write poetry… they are here, as Kurzweil pointed out at #SxSW, and they are here now. A single cellphone operated by a little African boy gives access to more information than the President of the United States had access to 15 years ago.
Augmented reality vision, voice control, laser-tracking, bionics… it’s getting there. “The Singularity,” Kurzweil’s term for the magic point where machine/human symbiosis will happen, does not seem that far away. In fact, Kurzweil thinks it will occur in only a few decades.
We’re getting highly connected: anywhere and anytime. For some this is a scary thought; for some, it is everyday reality. Miniaturization enables computing and transmitting devices to get smaller and smaller, and we can make more of them and make them smarter. Wireless connectivity, Bluetooth low energy technology, NFC and high performance location technology are being built into a plethora of devices. Even consumer goods packaging has smart chips incorporated.
All of these devices are being hooked up to the internet, creating a de facto internet of things. Machine to machine data enables you to use your credit cards, contact roadside assistance, combat shoplifting and enhance home automation and security (to name a few). Connected sensor devices are playing an increasingly dominant role in fast moving areas such as home care, patient follow-up and healthcare in general. Kurzweil points out that healthcare just became an information technology. Small armies of sensors, analyzers and detectors connect through local area networks, or through the almighty smartphone, to the internet. These sensors, Kurzweil says, can easily travel through your body, or be added to a single cell. Machine/man merge is just a step on the steep ladder of achieving Singularity.
This phenomenon feeds the web and its connected servers a vast amount of crunchable data. And our artificial brothers are getting better and better at smartly analyzing… and dealing with whatever is thrown their way. Artificial Intelligence…it is a dirty word, but machines will start to think our way, using our probability-based thinking.
But let’s face the facts: intelligent, interconnected machines help us evolve faster as a species. Much like the control of fire and the inventions of the wheel, steel, writing, electricity and social security, the connected computer power propels us to the next level.
Stand-alone computers beat the world’s chess champions decades ago… Google-connected cars have driven countless hours through our towns without human assistance, steered solely by web-connected computers. Now IBM’s “Watson” is beating the heck out of human Jeopardy! champions. Watson runs on a small, independent network of 90 servers, and is able to deal with complicated language challenges and the need to flawlessly understand the complexities of humor, dark puns, vague metaphors and other subtleties that were usually only understood with the help of the human brain’s pattern recognition and analyzing capabilities. Imagine what a Watson-like setup could do when linked to the full power of the millions of servers on the web.
Ray Kurzweil sees in his “fifth Epoch” a merger of technology and Human Intelligence, a moment when the methods of biology will be integrated into the human technology base. I do not know about that, but I do know that the power of the internet of things, enhanced with a sentiment loaded social and semantic web, is emerging fast, in countless small devices very near you, and in you…
And that is not necessarily a bad thing…. or is it?