Monday, January 19, 2015

Will the future be for elites only?

In April, 2000 Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, wrote a piece for Wired titled Why the future doesn't need us.  If technology trends continue, he said, the mass of humanity will become an endangered species.

In late 1998 Joy had heard Ray Kurzweil speak on technological trends and was frightened by Kurzweil's predictions.  Joy concluded humans would soon be overwhelmed by machine intelligence.
As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won't be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.
As machines continue to take over jobs, the mass of humanity will not need to work, Joy suggests.  Humans will be a "useless burden on the system."  A fiendish elite may decide to exterminate their underlings and rely exclsuively on machines for economic growth.

But there are problems with Joy's argument. If Kurzweil is prescient, and he has been, nanotechnology will make people much smarter (and healthier) than they are today.  Augmented intelligence could save us from tyrants.  Computer aided brains would do a better job of dealing with every kind of problem, including exponentially expanding technology.

In his landmark essay of 2001, Kurzweil explains how this might happen.  First, we will use tiny robots to scan the brain.
By 2030, “nanobot” (i.e., nano robot) technology will be viable and brain scanning will be a prominent application. Nanobots are robots that are the size of human blood cells, or even smaller. Billions of them could travel through every brain capillary and scan every relevant feature from up close. Using high speed wireless communication, the nanobots would communicate with each other, and with other computers that are compiling the brain scan data base (in other words, the nanobots will all be on a wireless local area network).
Nanobots will help scientists understand the functioning of the brain.  Nanobots will also "expand our experiences and our capabilities."
Nanobot technology will provide fully immersive, totally convincing virtual reality in the following way. The nanobots take up positions in close physical proximity to every interneuronal connection coming from all of our senses (e.g., eyes, ears, skin).  We already have the technology for electronic devices to communicate with neurons in both directions that requires no direct physical contact with the neurons.
These "neuron transistors," forerunners of nanobots, can detect the firing of a nearby neuron, cause it to fire, or suppress it from firing.

When nanobots are developed they will provide the link between biological and nonbiological thinking.
Our brains today are relatively fixed in design. Although we do add patterns of interneuronal connections and neurotransmitter concentrations as a normal part of the learning process, the current overall capacity of the human brain is highly constrained, restricted to a mere hundred trillion connections. Brain implants based on massively distributed intelligent nanobots will ultimately expand our memories a trillion fold, and otherwise vastly improve all of our sensory, pattern recognition, and cognitive abilities.  (emphasis added)
How will we get these nanobots into our brains?  The way we take cough syrup.
Nanobots will be introduced without surgery, essentially just by injecting or even swallowing them. They can all be directed to leave, so the process is easily reversible. They are programmable, in that they can provide virtual reality one minute, and a variety of brain extensions the next. They can change their configuration, and clearly can alter their software. Perhaps most importantly, they are massively distributed and therefore can take up billions or trillions of positions throughout the brain . . .
There are many questions about nanobots that remain to be answered, including their price, but they are seen by researchers as a plausible means of dealing with an exponentially advancing future.  People will be far less susceptible to all kinds of ills, including misanthropic elites, if they have nanobots working for them.