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The Coming Merging of Mind and Machine

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.


  1. Laura wrote:

    My husband is an AI researcher and he’ll tell you that computers or robots aren’t anywhere near being human-like. Humans have a much more subtle way of operating that’s hard for a machine to match. Now that doesn’t mean that some great breakthrough might not happen, but it seems unlikely within a decade or two.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 4:57 am | Permalink
  2. Matt Moore wrote:

    I have long ago stopped paying attention to Kurzweil. His approach ignores the work of people like Andy Clark & Antonio Damasio.

    If we want to give machines consciousness, we have to give them bodies (or at least systems that interact with an environment and offer feedback from acts within that environment)

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  3. Tracy Mangum wrote:

    God made the human brain a complex device that we do not fully understand or comprehend. Until we understand the human brain fully, there will be NO way that a computer can be programmed to behave in the same manner.

    Monday, March 30, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  4. Geoff Cain wrote:

    I know people who “will claim to have feelings” and, unlike tomorrow’s virtual personalities, are not very convincing when they tell me so. I look forward to the change. I will know when computers are fully human when my laptop spontaneously runs off to Las Vegas and marries a slot machine. I love the optimism of the article – it takes a lot of faith to believe that the dollar will still be worth anything in 2020! It is also pretty amazing that computers will be doing something that we haven’t yet defined.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 10:16 am | Permalink