The whole of humanity is becoming connected to the global web and, within years, every inhabitant of the planet will enjoy full access. This will place new communications options and unlimited digital data, products, services and content at our fingertips. Never before in the history of mankind have we faced a change so widespread and in fact so democratic. Thanks to the “wiring” of the planet, each of us can today or in the near future gain access to the entire global, intellectual and cultural achievements of humanity. And what would happen if we connected our brains directly to such global databases? Would a super-man be created? Next level in our evolution? Transhumanism? The unity of man and machine?
At the level of physical contact with the computer, we are still using our hands and nothing has changed for decades. The change, which can be significant – for efficiency, time saving, and even the feeling that we are closer to the content we create, may be constructing an interface that would allow direct transmission of impulses (thoughts, commands) from our brain to the computer.
Take, for instance, the American company Kernel, which does research into medical solutions to better understand how the human brain works. Kernel’s founder, Brian Johnson, hopes some day to be able to “expand” the human brain to make people smarter and healthier.
Today, Kernel scientists are working on software that will alleviate the effects of neurological diseases and, by the way, build interfaces that directly connect the human brain to the machine. It means direct manipulation of manipulators or robots by our thoughts.
Fathers of Artificial Intelligence
It is worth noting the historical and intellectual background of Kernel’s founder’s dreams. The incredible acceleration in technological advances over the last three decades and the related hopes paint a vibrant picture of visionaries who for years have been paving the way for the likes of Johnson.
I have repeatedly referred to Ray Kurzweil, programmer, inventor, writer, futurologist currently working at Google. He became known in the technological arena thanks to the formulation of the thesis that, as humanity, we are at the threshold of a technological breakthrough. The author of the classic position “Singularity is coming”, describing the law of accelerated development, came to the conviction that we reach the border, the crossing of which means moving into another existential dimension. According to the famous theory, we are approaching the moment (specifically, it is about 2030-2045), in which the computing power of computers for the first time exceeds the ability of the human brain to process information. It is at this time that the actual functioning of artificial intelligence will begin. The next years are to bring even more radical changes. According to Kurzweil (but not only according to him, because the ideas of transhumanism gain more and more supporters – both theoretical and practical) as a species, we will evolve so that we will eventually become a different being.
Man of the future. Transhumanism
Unified with information technology, today we are entering the “transhumanistic” period in which machines and living organisms merge into one. This integration will be possible thanks to the gains of nanotechnology and fast-growing medicine. For the time being, the merger is about creating a better connection between the user and the computer that engages all human senses, made possible by the rapidly growing computational power of machines. IBM Watson is one computer that already serves medicine, sifting through billions of data sets per minute, performing a job that would be impossible without algorithms based on neural networks (machine learning) and that could never be done by medical and scientific personnel relying on classical computers.
The machine is proof of how the cognitive abilities of our species can be enhanced to improve our psychophysical performance. In a study on the future of AI, the McKinsey Global Institute outlines the possible evolution of medical diagnostics over the coming years. What may soon be a routine set of activities and technical operations remains beyond our grasp, actually appearing to be fantasy. The incorporation of such processes into everyday life will have a tremendous impact on the human condition.
Artificial intelligence is new electricity
Andrew Ng, once key specialist at the Chinese technology company Baidu, has said: “Just as electricity transformed almost everything 100 years ago, today I actually have a hard time thinking of an industry that I don’t think AI will transform in the next several years.”
Tens of billions of electronic devices combined with each other, equipped with programs and applications, are already a powerful force that, like no other before, allows analysis and insight into the minds of today’s customers and consumers. This in turn guarantees a more and more perfect optimization of the processes of creating services, production and sales, that is, UNDERSTANDING the client’s needs. It’s on the business plan. And on a purely human plane? I think that in this sense, contemporary technology based on Artificial Intelligence is in its entirety a more perfect tool that creates opportunities for a better understanding of our life and the potential that lies within us.
Time for the first selfie from space?
Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, or leading players on the modern technology market, implement business visions, which are integral to the tools included in the area of artificial intelligence. These three visionaries have been looking to the future for years. And for them, this future is also the possibility and temptation of “detaching” from the earth, or exploration of outer space. They want to enter the space industry in the spirit of modern technology. Each of them, however, has slightly different motivations. Musk founded SpaceX in 2002. His greatest passion is Mars, and the dream of life is the creation of “Plan B” for humanity in the event that we face a catastrophe. Finally in his vision, humanity will become an interplanetary species. Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000, and revealed the existence of the company only after six years of its existence, dreams about the interplanetary economy of the future, in which a large part of production will take place outside the earth.
Wishing to plan for the conquest of the universe, seeking analogies that would make their sense credible, she likes to remember the times before the Internet, when only a small group of visionaries saw the basis of a new economy on the global network. It turned out that they were right. Today, just a small handful of dreamers still believe in “cosmic” business. But they – according to Bezos – will ultimately prove themselves victorious. So moving to a “different” dimension – intellectual and social, in this case will have one more form. The earth may cease to be the only planet on which, as a species, we can continue to evolve and evolve. Conquest of the universe is not only to be a beautiful adventure in these scenarios, but to release the economic potential that lies in us.
Let’s get down to earth
Supported by continually-developed deep learning models funded by such companies as Google, Facebook, IBM, Samsung and Alibaba, artificial intelligence is set to grow faster, in fact almost exponentially. The total “meta-intelligence” (artificial and human combined) can be the most critical success factor for companies and nations. Therefore, next to the new “arms race” in artificial intelligence, we will soon see a race to boost the combined human intelligence of entire nations.
Critics of the idea of meta-intelligence and, more broadly, of merging humans with machines, leave us with no illusions. Skeptics in the medical world argue we don’t fully understand how the human brain works. We only have a faint idea of where exactly the brain stores the information it later retrieves. We are befuddled by how the brain performs its calculations. So far, it has only been in rat brains that chips were implanted to improve memory. Therefore, linking the brain to a cloud for common access to the intellectual achievements of all people will long remain unfeasible. One cannot be sure of being on track to “meta-intelligence”. Personally, however, considering that the evolution is still moving forward, I would not bet that it will not be possible to combine advanced technology with the human body. I think that as homo sapiens, we may simply speed up change.