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Cloud Hardware Science Technology

Kurzweil: The Cloud Will Expand Human Brain Capacity 267

Nerval's Lobster writes "Futurist and author Ray Kurzweil predicts the cloud will eventually do more than store our emails or feed us streaming movies on demand: it's going to help expand our brain capacity beyond its current limits. In a question-and-answer session following a speech to the DEMO technology conference in Santa Clara, California last week, Kurzweil described the human brain as impressive but limited in its capacity to hold information. 'By the time we're even 20, we've filled it up,' he said, adding that the only way to add information after that point is to 'repurpose our neocortex to learn something new.' (Computerworld has posted up the full video of the talk.) The solution to overcoming the brain's limitations, he added, involves 'basically expanding our brains into the cloud.'"
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Kurzweil: The Cloud Will Expand Human Brain Capacity

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  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @10:07PM (#41615417)
    Ray Kurzweil is the biggest hack on the planet.
    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      I agree that his "singularity" is bullshit (thought is more than simple information), we're not going to conquer death any time soon, and "futurist" is a crazy occupation (where can I get my degree in futurology?), but although he's a hack he's done some impressive hacking -- synthesizers, OCR, speech recognition, etc. all invented by Kurtzweil.

      He obviously has a very good understanding of computer systems, but a poor understanding of neurobiology or humanity.

      That said, I'm not 100% human. I have a man-made

    • I, for at least the last decade, have already been weighing information on the value of storing it locally in my head (memorization) vs the ability to quickly look it up with Google or other internet service. A large portion of my knowledge now is pointers to details and vague summaries of what the knowledge is or can help me do. Adding cloud is just making "The internet will expand human brain capacity" a more current buzzword complaint statement.

  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @10:10PM (#41615439) Homepage Journal
    Number one: Ray and Terry's Longevity Products [].
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @10:21PM (#41615511) Journal

      Kurzweil seems to be following the proud tradition of very sharp people who have illustrious careers which then provide them the freedom to go a bit off the rails...

      His speech and music synthesis stuff is solid. After he found nerd jesus and decided that he would live forever through the power of the internet...

      • I'd be less kind, but yeah. This stuff gets a reaction, so he says it. Nothing he ever says is really any more solid than Nostradamus. Its all comfortably 30 years hence and arguably the signs are on the wall. Of course "the cloud" (if you will) expands our 'brain capacity', so did clay tablets and hieroglyphics. This kind of thing is just pablum, value free nonsense. Crap I wish I could get payed 1/10th what this guy gets to spout out garbage like this. What a racket.

  • by PhamNguyen ( 2695929 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @10:13PM (#41615467)
    A PC or portable device wouldn't possibly work, it must be the cloud. Not because cloud is a buzzword.
    • If you want to expand your Redundant Array of Interdependent Neurons, a cloud seems appropriate enough...

    • You can download a copy of Wikipedia to your PC, but nobody does.

      • I do, that way I can edit it to be correct instead of having all the errors other people put in it.

    • by dave420 ( 699308 )
      It's a lot easier to back up something in the cloud than a PC or portable device, plus all you need to access the cloud is a network device, which as we all know from the contents of our pockets, are a lot smaller than any storage device of any significant capacity. So no, not necessarily because it's a buzzword, maybe because it's actually a pretty interesting idea.
  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @10:19PM (#41615501)

    While Kurzweil seems to be in urgent need of such an extension, so he may gain at least a bit of effective intelligence, that is baseless wishful thinking at its best. The cloud so far does not even perform on the level of local, dedicated hardware and it is uncertain whether it will eventually get there. Mental capacity enhancements? In your dreams.

  • It already does. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Atzanteol ( 99067 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @10:22PM (#41615517) Homepage

    It already does though. I don't need to memorize *everything* - now I only need to know how to find the answers I need. This allows me to work with a much smaller set of data and fetch that which I need from the cloud as needed.

    We don't need it built in though.

    • by JustOK ( 667959 )

      lag times are a factor. So is a lack of connectivity.
      Why not have RAM in the cloud?

    • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @11:51PM (#41615959)

      I don't need to memorize *everything* - now I only need to know how to find the answers I need.

      That is not as easy as it sounds.

      First you need to know whether you are asking the right question and second you need to know whether or not you have found the right answer.

      • It's definitely 42.

      • by bdcrazy ( 817679 )

        One thing I have noticed is that a lot of people are Terrible at searching (or really doing anything complicated on a computer). People think nothing of asking siri complete questions, but only type 2 words into google and get upset they can't find anything. Asking google complete sentences has worked well for me for years. Show this technique to people and they are completely amazed. I know my mother is terrified of hitting the wrong button on her phone. How does this happen to people?

  • by tqk ( 413719 ) <> on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @10:29PM (#41615553)

    I believe Kurzweil is confused on the definitions of data vs. information. Information is data I've had time to digest and react to. If all you want to do is accumulate TBytes of raw data, yeah, the Cloud is fine for that. Whether you'll ever find the time to do anything with it all is another question.

    • I believe Kurzweil is confused

      I believe he's just trying to keep his name in the news. 15 minutes isn't enough for some people.

  • Obligatory XKCD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afgam28 ( 48611 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @10:39PM (#41615591)
    • It's a weird joke because IQ is specifically supposed to exclude book learning and test innate problem solving, abstract from any knowledge context.

  • by ElitistWhiner ( 79961 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @10:56PM (#41615685) Journal

    Game over. Computers won.

    The future is Human augmented computing!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @10:56PM (#41615689)

    Here, I'll drop some meandering diatribe and see if anyone gives a damn.

    The work I do in AI primarily teaches me about myself and other large brained organisms. Much of what I've learned is that humans aren't special. Intelligence emerges naturally from any sufficiently complex interaction. The more complexity, the more intelligence is possible.

    Most of the transhumanists I've met or read seem rather presumptuous and chauvinistic. I don't believe humans are all that special. For instance: We can grow rat brain cells on a computer chip [] -- It exhibits some life-like properties, but no more so than were human brain cells or a digital neural network used instead. This experiment is just a short cut: A neural network for cheap. However, it's far from optimal since the organic brain on a chip dies, and all the training is lost -- an AI doesn't have these problems... The take away is that a neural network is a neural network -- The complexity of the neural network defines its level of awareness. It's the "human" part of "transhumanism" I take offense to, seems rather racist to me. :P

    To speak in terms of transforming the human condition is to place too much emphasis on our own race's importance. How can we evolve to be greater than humans if humans are most important? To me: Humans are simply the organisms with minds having the most complexity at this time on this planet. The evolution of the mind is not something unique to humans; It's a process that all life has been contributing to -- Even indirectly through competition.

    A sufficiently large mass -- or network -- of rat brain cells could surpass the complexity of a Human mind quite easily. Would we then be speaking of transverminists? I prefer Transorganic, Posthuman, or my official title that covers all systems with input feedback loops: Cyberneticist. Protip: AI, businesses, and brains are all cybernetic systems by definition.

    What we're all taking part in is really the Rise of Inorganic Life.

    Augmenting organic entities with non living parts is a step in the process, but at some point the organic components aren't required at all, and we've given life to the non living. The foundation of life is genetic code: RNA / DNA. Life as we know it occurred after the living genetic code took up residence in the non-living lipids to form the first cells. So, there you have it: Life has always been augmenting itself by incorporating non-living technology. The transhumanist seems just a little late to the game, if you ask me.

    Life used to just produce chemicals to digest nutrients externally, but complex life does this internally via eating. My point is that the food is a part of the organism -- can't live without it, eh? The line between one organism and the next is the abstraction layer of eating, but in the end it's all one eco-system that is alive. Each organism is simply a complex chemical reaction, chemical reactions are interactions of electrons between atoms. Another form of life could exist that still operates by way of complex electron interactions; It could even draw nutrients directly from the Sun instead of having to "eat" other lifeforms. Even plants eat dead things with their roots & leaves, but an inorganic life-form could be self sustaining -- a complete ecosystem in of itself. Such an entity could drift through space and extract all the energy and raw materials needed to sustain itself from nebulae.

    Cybernetic implants are merely another next step in evolution. Nature is simply doing what it always does, produce a smarter, more durable, more pervasive life form. Just as life originated in the sea and became more durable to live on land, then the air; Life is now evolving to live in space... Note: All stars consume their habitable zone (the zone where chemical complexity is possible) when they go red-dwarf or nova. Therefore, the path from sea to space is natural, not radical. An important goal post in evolution on a Universal scale must be to produce space-faring life. No other end result really matters because life is doomed to become extinct otherwise.

    Ultimately, our organic parts are too fragile to survive unaided in space. In the very short period between cyborgs and electro-mechanical life we will augment our bodies with cybernetics to make us more durable and give us back functions we've lost. However, before artificial cybernetic systems have reached the complexity level capable of hosting a human mind intact, they will necessarily be capable of sentience themselves. What reason would machine intelligences have to incorporate an organic component when a superior mechanical component will suffice?

    That said, I believe the technology to interface organics and mechanics is inevitable, as this is what having tools means. To me, we draw the distinction between tool and body part somewhat arbitrarily. Are lipids tools for DNA to survive cosmic rays and caustic chemicals? Is food a part of us, or a tool for living? Is blood then also a tool for living? At what point do we become what we eat? Isn't everyone wearing clothes already a cyborg?

    Much in the way that clothes are our portable shelter technology, we take all external technology and slowly incorporate it into our "selves".
    Tables -> Carts -> Carriages -> Wheel Chairs -> Motorized Scooters
    Walking Sticks -> Crutches -> Splints & Braces -> Prosthesis -> Artificial Limbs
    TENS units -> Defibrillators -> Pace Makers -> Artificial Hearts
    Ear Trumpets -> Microphones & Speakers -> Hearing Aides -> Cochlear implants
    Magnifying Lenses -> Glasses -> Cameras -> Contacts -> Artificial Eyes

    The process will continue, there is no doubt. The only question is whether we will allow the machines to gain sentience, join with them, or forever keep them our slaves -- These are not mutually exclusive, but history shows us what slavery brings. Because it takes far more energy to sustain our fragile bodies in space than it would to have non-organic systems I think it's inevitable that we'll merge with machines if we are to survive as a species and avoid extinction.

    What's the difference between a Human, a Cyborg, and an Android? The same difference between a Dark skinned or Light skinned human, eh? These are all people in my book.

    One big hurdle to equal rights for all is that the terms "person" and "sentience" are misnomers. Any sufficiently complex interaction is sentient. We should recognize a person not as a human, but as any sentient being. We should fight for "personal rights", not "human rights". People should be fair and ethical, not "humane".

    Philosophy's search for what consciousness is made of is also misguided. The answer is evident to any biologist / cyberneticist: The "mind" is made of pulsing electrical fields -- We can measure them, watch them have eddy current effects on other neurons, coaxing more EM patterns into existence -- We can even recognize patterns of certain kinds of thoughts.

    There is no hard line that a mind must cross to become sentient. Instead there is a gradient whereby awareness is directly proportional to the complexity of the system: To gauge awareness In brains we use neuron counts, in computers we use transistor counts... A single nerve cell is equivalent in complexity to some configuration of silicon. What the neurons is made of doesn't matter: Get enough neurons and synapses energized and you've got some level of thought going on, regardless of the medium.

    There is no hard line defining how complex a mind must be to be aware. A chimp or dog or fruit-fly is self aware, it's just that we define "awareness" and "self" differently than they would if they could. Some Jellyfish with only 4-8 neurons actually hunt fish. My hand is aware of a paper-cut before my brain is. Cut the finger of one hand in this mass of hands and the "pain" sensation will ripple though the entity via nerves. Did not the thought of pain originate in my hand? You could perceive the thoughts of entities in the cascading ripples of electron movement. Our own minds have waves of activity, similar to how a CPU pulses to perform each instruction via cascade and change its overall electron configuration.

    Just because a mind doesn't think the same way we do or with as much power, we give ourselves license to treat them as "sub-humans" -- I sure hope that when Cyborg-hive minds or machine intelligences become smarter than humans they don't treat humans the way humans treat monkeys.

    Religion and "ethics" will prevent humans from reaching the most necessary step of melding the mind and machines during gestation. This is needed to provide transhumans technology such as telepathy (transmit thoughts via WIFI), unlimited memory via artificial hippocampus, uploading minds into computers, etc. (un)Fortunately we will use other species to advance the cyborg fields instead -- brain cells are brain cells; Ours aren't so special that some other species' brain cells can't be used. However, we don't currently have the genetic technology to design custom brains precisely engineered to grow into having a natural organic machine interface. Machine intelligence will likely achieve independent sentience before then -- We have the CPU power to surpass a single human already if we were to run a distributed AI on every computing device on Earth at once; If only all the devices were connected to some kind of an information exchange network... Like the Internet.

    Training an organic / mechanical architecture would have to be done on a case by case basis without the benefit of fully genetically programmable minds via "instincts" alone. Thus, a society of neurologically compatible organic/machine minded beings is unlikely -- Each would think just differently enough to prevent exact brain to brain duplication and require far too much training to reach the same level of a long lived "adult". Furthermore, cell reproduction is imperfect. All organic life is prone to cancer and other cascading failures due to entropic forces (collectively called aging). Since conveying wisdom and experience requires compatible minds and greatly increased lifespans would be more beneficial (save more energy) than each generation re-learning everything from scratch, it makes sense that a more modular inorganic cybernetic sentient life form will evolve to be the dominant life capable of surviving in interstellar space. By demanding more from our computers we're providing the selection pressure driving this guided evolution.

    I personally don't think I'll ever be able to upload my mind into a computer and live forever -- It would cost a lot to buy the storage space, CPU cycles and associated energy from the mechanical intelligences in charge of such domain, and the end result wouldn't really be "me". I take comfort in the fact that we're well past transhumanism already: My self does not end at my skin -- I can sense and affect things far beyond it. To type these words I merely think them; It's true my hands are typing when I do so, but this is merely a protocol of thought storage & exchange. We are actually of one temporally offset mind at some level while you read this.

    If you are reading this sentence then I am directly placing into you an idea formed within me. I have just controlled your mind by causing you to copy this precise mental construct into yourself -- Part of my mind's patterns now reside within you. Others outside my mind can accept or reject or modify my ideas. They can create their own ideas and I can duplicate all of these back into myself as they evolve. These ideas go back out into the world and have lives of their own. Some ideas lay dormant in literature or other media like viruses awaiting the right environment to infect new hosts. Some of my ideas take the form of machine code and self organizing machine intelligences. Some intangible mental constructs rule the country (laws) while others rule the world (corporations). Re-watch The Matrix and Terminator movies -- They're allegory for modern civilization being ruled by Intangible Thought Machines. We've already been conquered. The amoral non-human machines are already in control.

    We are already parts of a huge meta organism with sentient nodes that compete for survival. This is the model I follow when developing my machine intelligences. A self aware hive-mind is more beneficial than a collection of self aware individuals.

    • by thelexx ( 237096 )

      Welcome to the forum Dr. Soong!

      Joking. That post was a thing of beauty. And fwiw anon, I have mods but was moved to reply. So...damn given and thanks for reviving the old /. vibe in me for a moment.

  • Futurist (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Swarley ( 1795754 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @11:19PM (#41615809)

    Anybody else involuntarily swap "futurist" and "crackpot" in their minds whenever they read the term in a sentence? Especially one about Kurzweil?

  • This is a core element of the early parts of Charles Stross' book Accelerando. (available online and in various ebook formats at under a Creative Commons license of some sort).

    The protagonist for the early part of the book is Manfred Macx, a "Venture Altruist" - he's not just an Open Source guy, he's an Open Ideas guy. There's some question about how much of Macx's personality (particularly the public-facing parts) is in
  • "'By the time we're even 20, we've filled it up,' he said, adding that the only way to add information after that point is to 'repurpose our neocortex to learn something new.'" What exactly does that mean? I'm well past 20 and constantly learn new things. If I'm "repurposing my neocortex" every time I do it, it seems to be working as intended I guess?
  • Seriously. Some of these people only have room in their heads for hatred, bigotry, and other forms of outright criminal idiocy. If the cloud expands this, do we really expect these mental defectives to do anything other than create a corollary to "Work expands to fill the space given to it"?

  • trusting your brain to corporate interests:

    every time you learn something new, discard some of the old shit.

  • So, I store my memories/infomation on the "cloud" but still have a 250gb download limit a month, how does that help?

  • Since I don't need to memorize information because I can just look it up via Google Search, I'm learning less and less and becoming more reliant on the internet. Which means my brain is shrinking, not expanding.
  • The page gets into an infinite loop with HttpsAnwhere as it redirects back to an http site!
  • I don't want to upload my memories to the cloud, just to have a cease and desist notice because I remember a rectangular table with rounded corners.
  • This is by no means a new phenomenon. A library expands human brain capacity far beyond its natural limit.

    However a library has three basic limitations:
    1. It is not always available.
    2. The time to access any specific piece of information can be slow.
    3. The library is read-only

    The cloud has already overcome all three of these limitations to a large extent -- it is ubiquitous (available on cell phones and other portable devices), the search is far more efficient and the storage is possible (relatively easy).

  • Computerworld has posted up the full video of the talk

    Sweet, it's time for the futurist buzzword drinking game!

    (dead from alcohol poisoning 10 minutes in)

  • Yeah, thought so.

    For a direct cloud upload to "expand my brain capacity" people are more likely to use near-brain local storage than the "cloud". And yes, like Dropbox, Amazon S3, etc. eventually even brain local storage will be complemented with "remote" storage. And if the MMI stuff works out, same goes for computing power.

    When or how long it takes to get there is a wild guess. And a bit obvious as a "vision" or prediction in this day and age.

  • The cloud makes you don't need to rely that much in memory, and other things i dont remember.
  • Everyone I know already does this. We keep thoughts and opinions and whatever is currently cached in our minds and use the internet to look up everything else. But we have been doing this for much longer than that. I have read a lot of the books in my library, though I do not have a good memory of where specific words are located on each page. This isn't really much of a problem because my memory stores things that are more pertinent to me such as what the book was about and whether or not I liked it. So
  • The cloud is the ONLY way? How about flashh memory implants, genetic manipulation toincrease brain capacity, electronic plug-in interfaces where you could plug in new knowledge like a flash drive? All previously written about in sci-fi.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.