The leap


Reading that new Playboy interview with Ray Kurzweil sent me back to the notorious interview Playboy did with Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 2004. (The interview nearly torpedoed Google’s IPO, you’ll recall.) Page and Brin’s anticipation of a grand computer-human mind-meld neatly prefigures Kurzweil’s speculations:

PAGE: The more information you have, the better.

PLAYBOY: Yet more isn’t necessarily better.

BRIN: Exactly. This is why it’s a complex problem we’re solving. You want access to as much as possible so you can discern what is most relevant and correct. The solution isn’t to limit the information you receive. Ultimately you want to have the entire world’s knowledge connected directly to your mind.

PLAYBOY: Is that what we have to look forward to?

BRIN: Well, maybe. I hope so. At least a version of that. We probably won’t be looking up everything on a computer.

PLAYBOY: Is your goal to have the entire world’s knowledge connected directly to our minds?

BRIN: To get closer to that — as close as possible.

PLAYBOY: At some point doesn’t the volume become overwhelming?

BRIN: Your mind is tremendously efficient at weighing an enormous amount of information. We want to make smarter search engines that do a lot of the work for us. The smarter we can make the search engine, the better. Where will it lead? Who knows? But it’s credible to imagine a leap as great as that from hunting through library stacks to a Google session, when we leap from today’s search engines to having the entirety of the world’s information as just one of our thoughts.

What’s telling is that twelve years have gone by — twelve years of enormous advances in digital computing and networking — and yet, at a practical level, we’re no closer to hooking computers and brains together in the way Page, Brin, and Kurzweil imagine. In fact, we have no clue as to how you’d even go about such a project. As Kevin Kelly once observed, “the singularity is always near.” And that is where it is likely to remain.