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Will you be alive in 2015?
on 2 February 2004
Well, will you be alive in 2015? If you don't plan to be, pass on and read something else.
If yes, and you're wondering what you might be doing in 2015, read this 1999 classic - the one future book you really should read.
OK, you may hate 'SciFi', you may not buy Kurzweil's grand Laws, or his post-2030 stuff, and Kurzweil's style isn't to everyone's taste, but the surprising thing is that the IT industry seems to agree with his central conclusions for the next fifteen years or so. And that alone is sufficient for us to be living in a world where androids are cleverer than us. That'll change the way you work: most of us will have to respond to our competitors who might be using androids in a competitive situation. Scary stuff for me and most of us, I would think. But why should we take K's particular set of future visions seriously?
Well underlying the whole analysis is Moore's Law, which says that the amount of computing power (memory, processing power, communication speeds etc.) that you can buy for $1000 doubles every two years, and we all know that it has held roughly true for at least the last forty years (K argues for 100 years, but we don't have to agree with him to continue the logic). Current 2003 computers have the processing power of a reptile's brain, and the IT industry apparently agrees with Kurzweil that mainframe computers will equal a human's processing power some time around 2015, with this coming into laptops (or their equivalent) in the following 5-10 years. No serious chip manufacturer or IT player seems to dispute that Moore's Law will hold for another 15 years and that the underlying technologies to achieve this fundamental technological shift exist (3D chips etc).
And that's all that's needed: Moore's Law for another 15 years plus the kind of global economic conditions we now have, and intelligent androids will be here. And if computers are in some important senses equal to us in 2015 then you can bet your entire pension that they will be cleverer than us by 2020. How old will you be then, and what will you be doing? K's predictions don't have to be out by many years for us all to have to think hard about what we will do in a world where androids first evolve separately from us, and then, horrifyingly start to physically merge and evolve with us.
Scared? I was. But I'm coming round to the idea. Think: intelligent assets are already here: a 2003 car already has around 60 components with programmable logic in them; each is upgradeable so that when you take your car in for a service the software can be upgraded. Mobile phones are now so much more than a telephone. Can you think of a seriously good reason why 'intelligent' heart valves, knee joints, or contact lenses will NOT be invented by 2015? And after that?
What shocks me is that when I reflect I realise that the world economy's current competitive forces will compel these 'good' inventions to be created. Then we will have to think about how any ruling Saddam Husseins might develop such machines. I don't see the faintest signs of serious debate, but we're talking about the future of humanity here.
In sum, short of asteroids or human disasters wiping us off the face of the planet, I cannot see how we won't be living in a world populated with androids by at least 2020. Fundamentalist Presidents and Ayatollahs may spout until they're blue, but they won't be able to stop this trend unless they break up the current global economic system, and define, and strictly-enforce, some limits on what computers and Programmeable Logic Circuits are allowed to do in their own countries. And then they might delay things by ten years at most in their own country (think of the Soviet bloc's experiences trying to resist computers and photocopiers). I certainly didn't have the view that intelligent androids are inevitable until I read this book and started asking questions in the IT community about the first fifteen years of K's visions, when I found that it was pretty well taken as read and agreed. Read it yourself and see, five years out, how well on track we are for his 2009 predictions. Then think: what do I want to do in such a world? More importantly, as a race, what do we all want to do?