In the decade following the year 2030, the cloud will always be on our minds--literally.
That's according to renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil, Google's director of engineering and head of the team developing machine intelligence and natural language understanding, who spoke with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson at the 7 Days of Genius festival in New York City on Monday. One of the most significant developments in the expansion of human intelligence, according to Kurzweil, will take place when people will be able to connect their brains to the cloud by inserting tiny nano-robots into the neocortex, the part of the brain that gathers and processes technical information.
Integrating human biology and technology in this way will allow us to access information in the cloud, but it will also facilitate the human equivalent of a software update, according to Kurzweil. "The non-biology portion of our thinking will be able to download skills," he said during the panel, adding that when we can connect and expand our neocortex to the cloud, "it will expand without limit."
While these claims sound far-fetched, Kurzweil has 30-year track record of accurate predictions, including the existence of a World Wide Web. Named one of Inc. magazine's "26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs" back in 2005--we referred to him as "Edison's rightful heir"--Kurzweil is an inventor responsible for the first machine to recognize printed text and the first print-to-speech reading device, among other inventions. He is also the recipient of the National Media of Technology, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and has authored five bestselling books, including The Singularity Is Near and How to Create a Mind.
Skeptics of a future in which humans implant brain chips need only look to modern medicine, which is already using this technology improve brain functions. Some patients who suffer from Parkinson's disease already have tiny machines in their brains that replace the areas destroyed by the disease. These chips communicate wirelessly with computers at outside locations.
"They're not blood cell-sized yet--they're actually the size of a tiny pea that can be inserted with minimally invasive surgery--but once they're the size of blood cells, we can just swallow them," Kurzweil said.
Nanotechnology won't be limited to the brain, however. Gene-manipulation is another revolutionary field in which humans are already making significant strides, creating what Kurzweil calls "overlapping revolutions." Kurzweil is involved with a company that adds a crucial gene to people that is necessary for preventing a form of hypertension that is terminal. "The ultimate health revolution... [involves] a tiny nanobot that is just like the T-cells in your body," Kurzweil said. "It can go after pathogens, but it's not limited by the limitations of our immune system, [which] doesn't go after cancer."
Though Kurzweil can't predict the exact year in which these technologies will become widespread--he has repeatedly pointed to 2029 as the specific year in which computers will read at human levels--he says in roughly 20 years, humans will merge their biological "software" with man-made software to improve their quality of life.
"We're doing that already," he said, "but it's going to become more profound."
To hear more from Kurzweil and deGrasse Tyson's conversation, check out the video below.