For some, this promises a hopeful future, for others, a depressing erosion of what it means to be human – The Coming Merging of Mind and Machine:
Sometime early in this century the intelligence of machines will exceed that of humans. Within a quarter of a century, machines will exhibit the full range of human intellect, emotions and skills, ranging from musical and other creative aptitudes to physical movement. They will claim to have feelings and, unlike today’s virtual personalities, will be very convincing when they tell us so. By around 2020 a $1,000 computer will at least match the processing power of the human brain. By 2029 the software for intelligence will have been largely mastered, and the average personal computer will be equivalent to 1,000 brains.
Now, when reading anything by Kurzweil, it’s a good idea to take proclamations of this nature with a combination of “wow, that’s interesting” and “you’re throwing darts in the dark”. We barely understand the human brain. New discoveries are announced daily, but I’d be surprised if a serious student/practitioner of “philosophy of mind” or neuroscience would make statements such as this. While computing and processing power of computers can exceed the human mind, previous predictions have been terribly wrong (consider GOFAI in the pre-connectionist days where computers were expected to beat chess players by the late 60′s, something that didn’t happen until 1997). The real question, as Kurzweil asks (but doesn’t answer thoroughly) at the end of the article, centers on what consciousness is and whether or not machines can be said to possess it.