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Forget hoverboards, flying cars, and space colonization, the future will be about intelligence augmented by nanobots. And that future's coming fast. Within 15 years, tiny robots in our brain will make us smarter, sexier, and permanently connected to the Internet.
Sure, the prediction may be little more than enthusiastic sci-fi fantasy, but don't disregard it outright. It comes from Ray Kurzweil after all, a well-known futurist, writer, and director of engineering at Google. Plus, our potential cyborg future could have important legal implications.
Kurzweil's Crystal Ball
Kurzweil has a bit of a resume to back up his bold predictions. A respected computer scientist, he's been involved in artificial intelligence for decades, from helping to develop optical character recognition (the tech that allows you to turn scanned documents into editable text) to creating AI-controlled hedge fund software. Today, he works on AI for Google. He's also made a name for himself predicting the future of technology, though like any modern day Nostradamus, he gets it wrong a lot.
His latest prediction is that nanobots will allow us to radically alter the human brain. At a recent discussion at Singularity University, a future-tech focused educational company, Kurzweil claimed that nanobots could extend the brain into "nonbiological thinking," according to the Huffington Post, allowing us to "add more levels to the hierarchy of brain modules."
Does the thought of brain-controlling robots distress you? Stop worrying, Kurzweil says. Everything is going to be alright! It's all part of evolution:
Evolution creates structures and patterns that over time are more complicated, more, more knowledgeable, more creative, more capable of expressing higher sentiments, like being loving. It's moving in the direction of qualities that God is described as having without limit ... So we're going to expand the brain's neocortex and become more godlike.
Well, at least he's optimistic.
Far From Reality
Call us skeptical, or a bit jaded, but we're not exactly buying what Kurzweil is selling. Kurzweil is predicting a 15 year timeline until we have nanobot-enhanced minds, but nanotechnology is still in its infancy. We won't even go into the medical and ethical questions such mind-hacking poses. (Not to mention to questionable desirability of achieving a Google-sponsored godhead.)
But, some scientific advancements do indicate that bioenhancement is at least somewhat possible, though not necessarily desirable or imminent. Researchers have successfully injected drug-dispensing nanobots into cockroaches and mice, HuffPo reminds us. And researchers have been able to send messages from one human brain to another through electromagnetic induction (though simple speech remains the easiest way of communicating mind to mind).
Should Kurzweil's future ever come to pass, it would have serious implications for the law and the legal profession. For example, who would need law school when nanobots can just download the whole U.S. Code straight to your brain. Who is liable when your tech-enhanced brain is hacked, rendering you a zombie? What sort of protections would be available for those who can't, or chose not to, turn their minds over to technology? Are nanobots compatible with Google glass?
Of course, we're not the only skeptical ones. David Linden, for example, thinks Kurzweil's predictions are far from becoming a reality. A professor of neuroscience at John Hopkins, he argues that our understanding of the brain and biology is stubbornly limited and won't be dramatically increasing anytime soon.