In part one I talked about how, in science fiction, the first robots were created to be our adversaries; metal monsters built to terrorize human beings. In part two I described how robots evolved in the imagination of science fiction writers, creating a new breed of robots who had charming personalities and human emotions; a robot you could easily call a ‘friend.’ I told you about the Pinocchio Syndrome: robots who wished to become human — to become truly alive. But will a time soon come when the reverse happens? When humans wish to become machines?
In 1972, when I was just a kid, a science fiction writer named Martin Caidin published the novel, Cyborg. In Cyborg, a badly-injured man has robotic limbs surgically grafted to his flesh. These limbs, responding to his mental commands, transformed him into a super soldier, a cyborg capable of astonishing feats of strength and speed. This novel was adapted into the hugely popular television series, The Six Million Dollar Man.
The Six Million Dollar Man popularized the cyborg in pop culture. To me, the idea that machines could literally become a part of us, making our bodies stronger and faster, seemed like something that could really happen. And why not? Even back in the Seventies, technology continued to advance at a faster and faster pace. New technologies were springing up all around us. Who could predict what the future would bring?
Ray Kurzweil could.
Predicting the future has always been a passion of Ray Kurzweil, an American author and inventor. Kurzweil has an astounding imagination. His ground-breaking inventions include music synthesizers and a text-to-speech reading machine for the blind. Ray has also become famous for making an amazing prediction: He believes mankind will soon reach a unique point in human development: as early as the 2040’s, there will be a huge, game-changing event called The Singularity.
The Singularity is created when computers become so fast and sophisticated, they begin to self-improve at incredible speeds. And each self-improvement cycle creates a new generation of even greater intelligence. The process repeats, accelerating, until computers have achieved a super-intelligence, superior to the minds of human beings.
With these incredible advances in computer power, Kurzweil predicts one day we’ll be able to create tiny, microscopic machines to patrol our blood stream and maintain and our bodies’ health. These tiny devices will even be able to repair damaged organs, identify cancer cells and destroy them on sight. This kind of technology will let us slow and ultimately reverse the aging process, restore our youth, and allow us to live far longer, and healthier, than we ever thought possible.
Ray also predicts machines will one day have the ability to scan our brains and duplicate every detail of our memories, allowing for an amazing opportunity: The transfer of our consciousness into the memory banks of a super-computer! Our minds could survive the demise of our bodies and enter a new universe of limitless sensory capabilities. In this way, we could be immortal!
Imagine the power and reach of our imaginations exponentially enhanced in a digital environment. Our minds would spread out across the solar system, the galaxy, and eventually travel to every far corner of our universe, becoming god-like in our abilities. Is this the last step of human evolution? Or to paraphrase George Lucas, “Our first step into a larger world?”
The robot — the machine we first imagined as our enemy — ultimately becomes our salvation — our destiny. The machine becomes us and we become the machine and the defined boundary between metal and blood will no longer exist. When this happens, nothing is impossible. What our imaginations will achieve in the future will know no limits.