Ghost in a Shell

Is AI research on the path to give us all cyberbrains?
By Michael Capitano, Staff Writer


The idea of ghosts has been around for millennia. The idea that we can become ghosts by preserving our consciousness through cybernetics is a modern notion.

What once belonged strictly to the domains of anime and science fiction is now being worked on in labs across the world—even in some backyards. And reaching that point is closer than we think. Within a half-century, we are told to expect brain-computer interfaces to be the norm.

Forget smart phones and wearables, our brains themselves will be able to access the cloud. Or perhaps our brains will become so computerized that our minds become a part of it. But for now, most such things are works-in-progress.

Google’s AI Drive

The technology giant and tireless innovator, Google, is working on advancing artificial intelligence so it can become the next stage in human existence, and this is no secret. With projects such as Google Glass, the Self-Driving Google Car, its acquisition binge of Nest Labs, Boston Dynamics and DeepMind, and its growing artificial intelligence laboratory, there is a strong push to bridge the gap between humans and machines, and between different types of hardware designed to enhance and regulate our lives.

Through a combination of robotics, automatic, artificial intelligence and machine learning, powered by a wealth of consumer behaviour, there is no doubt that Google has longer-term ambitions in solving AI.

Instead of commenting, Google referred me to its recent research publications, where I found hundreds of publications related to machine learning, artificial intelligence, and human computer interaction. I was informed that Google’s goal is to always “build more useful products for people, so we tend to focus on more immediate benefits”.

That makes sense. In the short-term, Google is set on developing products that are able to collect our behavioural data, our communication patterns, and anticipate what we want before we know it ourselves. As cybernetics research progresses, targeted personal ads could turn into neurocognitive nudges, with impulses being directly sent to our brains to seek out a specific product.

Achieving the Singularity

For the above scenario to occur, the singularity—when human beings and computers merge as one—must first be achieved.

Ray Kurzweil, esteemed inventor, notable futurist and Director of Engineering at Google, has the drive and vision to see that happen. He’s been making accurate predictions on technology for over 30 years. And if he’s right, human beings will be facing a radical new world.

Synthetic brain extensions are in his purview; Kurzweil currently works on developing machine intelligence and natural language understanding at Google. He has charted out what the near future will look like if technology continues to advance the way it does. Within the next decade AI will match human intelligence, and with the acceleration of technological growth, AI will then move far beyond human intelligence.  Machines will share their knowledge in an instant and nanorobots will be integrated into our bodies and brains, increasing our lifespan and intelligence. By 2030, our neocortices will be connected to the cloud.

And this is only the beginning. Human evolution may have taken hundreds of thousands of years to bring our intelligence to where it is today, but technological assistance will push us tens of thousands of times beyond that in less than half a century.

By 2045, Kurzweil predicts that nonbiological intelligence will begin designing and improving on itself in rapid cycles; progress will occur so fast that normal human intelligence will no longer be able to keep up.

Beating the Turing Test

The Turing Test, introduced by Alan Turing in 1950, is a game between humans and computers where the judge has two five minute conversations through a computer—one with a person and one with an AI.

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