Our brain is a magnificent machine. It took evolution billions of years to build it. The typical brain consists of some 100 billion cells, each of which connects and communicates with up to 10,000 of its colleagues. Together they forge an elaborate network of some one quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) connections that guides how we talk, eat, breathe, and move. (source: Daniel Pink)
We should consider ourselves lucky to have such a big brain. It gave us conscious thought and the power of speech, art, poetry, science and all the other things that make human civilization, well, civilized and human. No other earthly species has a brain like ours. This biological machine, the human bio-brain reigns supreme.
At least for now. Beyond the horizon a contender is looming. It’s the bit-brain.
Computer memory and computational power roughly double each year. Computers aren’t just getting bigger and better: they are also getting smarter. When I grew up computers were deemed unfit for truly intelligent stuff. Not too long ago a bit-brain beat the one of the smartes bio-brains at his own game. Chess lost some of its magic that day. Bit-brains are starting to do typical right-brain stuff too; the free software that came with this laptop is pretty good at face recognition (and I can only imagine what next years version will be capable of).
Bit-brains already answer phones, run traffic, monitor our elderly and make sure our baby’s food gets cooked just right. It won’t be long before we entrust bit-brains to do something much more mundane. Something like the design and manufacture of – oh well – other computers.
Can you imagine the incredible increase in development this will lead to? Ray Kurzweil calls this point ‘the singularity’. A point at wich advanced technology is developing new and even more advanced technology at a ever increasing speed.
It’s hard not to notice the ever increasing power and presence of computer’s. The pace of their ascent can seem truly terrifying.
Only two generations ago computers mostly dwelled in university basements and science fiction stories. Hardly a generation ago computers conquered the workplace. Today computer have successfully invaded our lives and our homes. Tomorrow they will invade our brains. Literally.
Mice and touchpads are the technology of the past; bit-brains will attach themselves directly to our bio-brains and perform various cognitive function for us or simply instead of us. Bit-brains are capable of interfacing with bio-brains and help malfunctioning bio-brains talk again or even see.
It’s only a matter of time before we will trust our built in bit-brain not just with maths; it will get to store our most precious memories, help us write poetry, paint and ponder on the meaning of life. Bits will become part of our personality.
Eventually that comfortable division between bio and bit, between us and them will fade. There no longer will be us and them; we will become them, and they will become us.
I can’t hardly wait.