Wondering what "the future" might hold? Allow me to paint a picture - starring Google!
- They have steadily gone about acquiring over 170 companies, including a shopping spree that netted eight robots companies, most notably Boston Dynamics, maker of military-grade robots (like those dogbots) thanks to millions in U.S. military investment and contracts from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
- One of Google's highest-profile directors of engineering is Ray Kurzweil, the futurist who believes we'll be melding with the machines by around 2050 - and is actively injecting Google search with AI.
- Google brought on Geoffrey Hinton, one of the few experts in the world able to organize a system's several layers of artificial neurons, enabling it to separate random inputs from coherent facts, organize floods of incoming data and basically learn like the brain of a newborn human - called Deep Learning.
When a company with Google's reach and resources invests in these technologies, pay attention. Particularly at what happens when all the pieces are looked at as a whole. Which makes a scenario of self-aware robots overrunning the earth a la the agents in The Matrix not so farfetched. But potential disaster-for-mankind scenarios aside, what interests me most about Google's interest in the workings of the brain is whether the Internet will indeed become conscious. For the secret to consciousness in us humans lies within our brains.
A healthy human brain has about 200 billion nerve cells or neurons, each of which links to other neurons to the productive tune of about 10,000 connections. (Each! Also..neuron necklaces! Just sayin'.) These contacts, called synapses, collectively add up to an estimated 100 trillion connections. The reason the connections matter so much is that they are thought responsible for our being conscious. Ask most anyone and they will say they know what consciousness is, although no one is able to define it properly (which is why philosophers like David Chalmers have dubbed it the "hard" problem). However, the consensus on consciousness is not so much that you can create it artificially (say, in the Google lab), so much as create the circumstances which allow it to emerge.
So it's not the individual neurons but the system as a whole that create consciousness in a brain. Which is why the brain really is one of the most exciting avenues of research. Particularly in light of this trend toward brain-improving devices invented outside of large, academic settings - including the Emotiv (above), a brain/computer interface which allows you to control things with your focused thoughts, and this Indigogo-funded "Neurophone" (left). It "balances" the two brain hemispheres via techno-meditation, and science has confirmed the way meditation activates the the brain in unprecedented ways. These devices allow our brain connections to become more dense and the overall system to operate much more efficiently. However, I can't really see these wearables spreading to the masses until they become a whole lot less doofy looking (ahem, talkin' to you, Google Glass).
But I digress.
For after the brain, the next "new" frontier of connections which allow consciousness to emerge will be the Internet. According to Cisco, the Internet currently has about 15 billion connections and they predict that by 2020, 250 new things will be connecting each second, bringing this number up to 50 billion. Which obviously falls short of the brain's 200 billions neurons and 100 trillion connections. But if the trend continues, there will eventually be enough interconnections to facilitate self-awareness. "It's not that any physical system has consciousness," notes Christophe Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. "A black hole, a heap of sand, a bunch of isolate neurons in a dish, they're not integrated. They have no consciousness. But complex systems do. And how much consciousness they have depends on how many connections they have and how they're wired up....We live in a universe," he adds, "where organized bits of matter give rise to consciousness."
- Lesley Scott
Actively embracing the future by embracing technology with a desire to make it fashionable and timely is a strong signature of the Futurenetic Fashion Tribe. For more of my posts and podcasts about this tribe, CLICK HERE. To learn more about each of fashion's four mega-tribes that I track, START HERE.