Printed: 2020-07-12

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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2030s Cognitive Machines: a glimpse of life in a future wonderworld

Dick Pelletier

Ethical Technology

September 03, 2013

"It's the year 2030, and as I glance around my bedroom, I feel secure knowing that microscopic sensors embedded throughout the house constantly monitor my breathing, heart rate, brain activity and other vital health issues. For example, blood non-invasively extracted last night checked for free-radicals and precancerous cells, and then ordered all the necessary preventative drugs from my home nanoreplicator.

    As I step into the shower, wall tiles display the day's top headlines: 'Mars mission launches ahead of schedule;' 'Military drones destroy another terrorist training camp using DARPA's 'smart dust.'

    Glancing in the mirror, I find it hard to believe that I will celebrate my 100th birthday later this year. Having recently opted for total body rejuvenation, my reflection displays the image of a healthy twenty-something with wrinkle-free skin, perfect sight, original hair color; and an enhanced brain.

    Getting ready to fly to a conference, my auto-drive electric car rolls its top down on this warm day. I manually drive to the electronic roadway on-ramp, and then relinquish the wheel to the vehicle. Arriving at the airport, my 'smart' car drops me off at the terminal, and then returns home.

    While boarding the plane, I see a familiar face. My headband immediately flashes his identity data and displays it on my eyes. Dr. Jones, I call out. It's so nice to see you again. How was the conference? Only a slight flicker of Jones' eyes betrays that he is Googling my details too. Hi Dick; the conference was great; and congratulations on your Estonia presentation."

    Cognitive computing, machines that process information the same way a brain does has been a dream for 50 years. Artificial intelligence, fuzzy logic, and neural networks have all experienced some degrees of success, but machines still cannot recognize pictures or understand language as well as humans can.

    Despite the many false starts though, forward thinkers believe cognitive machine research will eventually achieve success. Talking phones, driverless cars, and smart robots are already here, or on the way. And the following projects offer proof that cognitive technology research is alive and well:

    Any query you can think of will soon be answered with a headband that gathers data from the 'cloud' and feeds it directly into your brain, say Peter Schwartz and Rita Koselka in this Fortune Magazine article.

    DARPA SyNAPSE Program – SyNAPSE, Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics, is a DARPA-funded effort to build neuromorphic microprocessor systems that match the intelligence, physical size, and low power consumption of animal brains; and one day, human neurons.

    Blue Brain Project EPFL – International researchers using an IBM 'Blue Gene' supercomputer (thus the name Blue Brain), are reconstructing brains of different species; including the human brain, in silicon. Chief scientist Henry Markram predicts that with Moore's Law fast-forwarding computer technologies, a full-scale human brain simulation of 86 billion neurons will be achieved by 2023.

    These efforts could lead to new healthcare monitoring devices, cures for many brain diseases; and in the future, we may even give robots and other 'smart' machines a simulated human-like consciousness.

    Stuart Wolf, Nanostar director at University of Virginia predicts an even more Earth-shaking change. Within 20 years, he says, instead of cell phone conversations, we will have "network-enabled telepathy;" communicating directly to another person's headband, using just our thoughts. Recognizing thoughts instead of 'voice-speak' may be confusing at first, experts say, but with training, "thought-talking" could one day become the preferred way for humans to communicate with each other.

    This techno-wonder holds great promise to improve relationships. No more forgetting names and details, plus increased intimacy generated by thought-talking could bring people around the world closer together, creating a Global Village; a society acting as one voice to advance peace.

Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837