Gigantic, a big big brain

starlustTen years ago, Larry Page and Sergey Brin couldn’t stop talking about their excitement at the prospect of extending or replacing the human brain with computers. For the last several years, they’ve been much quieter about their mind-disruption project. I sense that a soldier in Google’s flack army warned them that in voicing their fantasies they risked weirding people out. Renovating the species is a job best done on the sly.

Still, we’ll always have Ray Kurzweil. (I mean that literally.) When, in 2012, Google hired the inventor and immortalist as a director of engineering, it also gained a new mouthpiece for its boldest ambitions. Playboy has just published a wide-ranging interview with Kurzweil in which he discusses everything from his hobbies (“I like to take naps”) to his anxieties (“unstructured social situations make me nervous”). The big thrust, though, is the imminent upgrading of homo sapiens:

By the 2030s we will have nanobots that can go into a brain non-invasively through the capillaries, connect to our neocortex and basically connect it to a synthetic neocortex that works the same way in the cloud. So we’ll have an additional neocortex, just like we developed an additional neocortex 2 million years ago, and we’ll use it just as we used the frontal cortex: to add additional levels of abstraction. We’ll create more profound forms of communication than we’re familiar with today, more profound music and funnier jokes. We’ll be funnier. We’ll be sexier. We’ll be more adept at expressing loving sentiments.

He brings the discussion down to earth with an example:

Let’s say I’m walking along and I see my boss at Google, Larry Page, approaching. I have three seconds to come up with something clever to say, and the 300 million modules in my neocortex won’t cut it. I need a billion modules for two seconds. I’ll be able to access that in the cloud just as we can access additional computation in the cloud for our mobile phones, and I’ll be able to say exactly the right thing.

I think there’s a flaw in Kurzweil’s logic here. He fails to anticipate the inevitable arm’s race in cleverness. Larry Page is going to be plugged into that enormous cloud neocortex, too, so surely Page’s standards for what qualifies as a clever remark will have gone up exponentially. Even with his new brain, Kurzweil will still be in exactly the same boat, floundering to muster the wit necessary to impress the boss. Funny and sexy are relative terms.

As to the expression of loving sentiments, the interview goes deep into Kurzweil’s views on the future of copulation, which would appear to be indistinguishable from the future of onanism. I’ll spare you the details, but when the interviewer, David Hochman, asks Kurzweil whether there’s “anyone whose body you would like to inhabit” in order to have sex in virtual reality, Kurzweil replies, “Probably some attractive woman. If I had to pick one? Amy Adams. I like the perky way she uses her body.”

Time for a nap, Ray.

Image: Ramona.Forcella