The Future Brain

Friday, April 03, 2009


Technology is such an integral part of our lives but will it soon be part of our bodies as well? Computer scientist and inventor Ray Kurzweil thinks so. He predicts that by 2045 we will have merged with our technology and that we'll be smarter, healthier and... well...immortal. Sounds implausible? Kurzweil explains that that's what people often say about his predictions until they come true.

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Comments [20]

Felipe Tenerelli from Sao Paulo, Brazil

Mr. Kurzweil has very interesting ideas about the future, a future controlled by technology, a future where there is a mix between humanity and technology. His predictions have come as correct many times, he predicted the rise of the internet, so what is to say this combination of technology and human prediction is going to actually happen? I think he is correct to say that in 50 years, technology will be very advanced to the point we will have certain augmentations such as nanobots in our blood increasing our lifespan. I am very excited about these ideas because thinking about it, the conditions of health will improve, and humans as we know will grow stronger and more resistant as a race, and we will be far less vulnerable as we are now. Imagine living up to 150 years old, being smarter, and stronger, being able to create new technologies to uncover mysteries and secrets of the universe we cannot find now. Though there is something fearful about this technology, what if something went wrong? Such as a the AI gain conscious, and a Terminator or I Robot situation happens, how will we be prepared for something like this? In conclusion, I am very excited to see the rise of technology happen.

Feb. 11 2014 06:29 AM
Daniel Lopez from São Paulo

I've thought about this same topic for a while I'd say at least from the age of 9 when I really began thinking beyond myself and my immediate situation, and while most of the times I've pondered it I haven't gone very in-depth I've always noticed how as the years go by the, the year I would expect to, lets say live forever or at least without illness has decreased, and not because I'm getting closer to it but because of the information that I'm given each year the leaps and bounds I hear scientist and researchers and everyday people making, because of the knowledge that there are people out there who dedicate there lives, who go to an office or lab everyday to try to advance the human race. I think that predicting the advancement of technology can be very tricky at least in the long term, but I theres someone I would trust to do it, it would be a man who's done it before and bases is opinion not on emotion, but on logic and observation. Thats why I'll say I agree with him, however thats just one part now how I feel about it. To be honest I'm afraid, I get butterflies in my stomach when I think about it, the scale of what we're talking about is so large that its hard to comprehend, let alone the problems that would come with it. My biggest concern is the loss of the Human aspect, that with a computer aiding us we'll no longer achieve things to our own merit but to the merit of our processor, while I'm sure emotion will remain I'm afraid passion for life will die, thats my fear.

Feb. 10 2014 08:36 PM
Lorenza Colagrossi from Sao Paulo

Ray Kurzweil has some very interesting predictions about the future that present some issues as well as moral and ethical conflicts but it also have some positive components. In the beginning of the video we learned that Kurzweil has been very accurate in the past. He has predicted some of the most important events of the past. However, I'm not sure if he can be as sure as he seems this will occur in the next 20 years. I understand that we are making rapid scientific discoveries and I believe that we will eventually reach the point that we have computers in our brain but I don't think it will be so soon. Even though we are making many advancements, we are also encountering more implications. For example, many of the bacterias that we usually used antibiotics to kill are now becoming immune to them and pharmaceutical companies aren't creating any new medicine to fight them. With all these different implications I believe it will be fairly difficult to accomplish everything that Kurzweil thinks we will in the next 20 or so years. I personally am a bit old fashioned when it comes to all these new advancements. I think having our brains being computers is destroying our humanity. Our brains are the most complex thing that we know and I think that mixing them with computer is not only morally and ethically wrong but it also is diminishing our identity and what makes us different from other people. If we all have computers in our brains then we all have access to the same information and we all are practically the same. There will be no person who's smarter or who has the drive to work harder because we will all be the same. I know that this is where our world is headed, butI hope we realize everything that will be lost before we take this next step.

Feb. 10 2014 07:40 PM
Paty Kim from São Paulo, Brazil

“There is something unique about humans in that we are the only species that we know about that actually extends our reach with our tools.” Ray Kurzweil, through out the interview, was obviously a proponent of technology and its development. The “future brain” theory, which is intertwined with the theory of the year singularity, exposes just how far we have come with our “tools.” While listening to the audio file, though, two questions came up in my mind: “What about free will? Aren’t there ever going to be limits?” These two questions are actually very much connected. The moment Kurzweil started describing how “nanobots” would shut down the signals from our own senses and trick the brain into believing in the virtual reality, a thousand red flags went up for me. If this really does happen, we are not making our own decisions—those “nanobots” are. And this is when the question of free will comes into place. Nowadays we like to believe that we can do what we want, that we have free will. But if Kurzweil’s prediction really does materialize, that will be gone and we won’t even know it. We are so absorbed by shiny things that have a ton of features we don’t really need, that we lose track of limits. The “future brain,” to me, has crossed the line by far and sucks out the spontaneity of living a human unpredictable life.

Feb. 10 2014 07:36 PM
Sabrina Carneiro from São Paulo

The theory of "the future brain" has positive and negative outcomes to it because although this exponential growth of technology can be beneficial to humans, it could essentially harm our kind in other ways. For example, although nanobots keeping us healthy would be great to fight against terrible diseases like cancer and AIDS, I think the inserting of computers into our brains would take away our humanity. Ray Kurzweil claimed that humans already live and act like machines, since they constantly use tools to evolve; however, I think this kind of technology would be completely different because it would literally manipulate the way our immune and nervous systems act. If non-biological intelligence really does predominate in our brains, then it won't necessarily be us thinking and solving our own problems, it would be a machine. Also, if technology takes over your knowledge, then how would we expect to evolve even more? Technology doesn't have a mind of its own, so when humans become "half-robot," lose the ability to think for themselves, and start confusing virtual reality with real reality, we'll stop moving forward and stay in the same place forever, thus, ending our evolution. Another fact that struck me as quite alarming would have to be the idea that when a person looks at you, a pop-up tells you a bunch of information about them. In other words, humans would not only lose their humanity, but they would also lose their right to privacy, which doesn't seem comforting at all.

Feb. 10 2014 06:27 PM
Ashton Maxey

Kruzweil is considered a genius by many people including Bill Gates, he has predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union and when a computer communication network would begin. His belief of humans merging with technology is a big statement and also stating we will be able to live forever. His prediction of nano bots being able to keep us healthy, creating a virtual reality and multiplying the overall intelligence of the brain. People would call him crazy but he has calculated everything he's predicted and has been correct so far, so why should we doubt him now. Technology is getting smaller and smarter everyday, for example the Google glasses allow you to take pictures, record, gives directions, and can live stream from the exact location you are and they are glasses! His predictions are a little scary because it sounds like the human civilization is heading into the Matrix and based on the matrix that's not a life humans want. However they would come to accept it because they are born into the virtual reality without knowing.
I have many different points of view on this topic, I would love to be able to live longer with Nano bots crawling around my body keeping me safe, but what if everybody begins to live longer will the world become overpopulated because not enough people are dying. What if this hybrid human creates human beings who have very similar personalities and we lose the different characteristics of every person. There are many factors that come into play and this prediction is both exciting and frightening. I hope what ever happens if for the better and doesn't effect the human population or ability for humans to think for themselves.

Feb. 10 2014 05:39 PM
Nicholas A. Householder from Sao Paulo, Brazil

As we know, Kurzwell is a genius when it comes to predicting the future in information-technology. He was bale to predict the internet before it was even commercialized. Its very easy to listen to his predictions and say, "no way" "nano bots inside our bloodstream that keep us health?" "Computer chips in out brains that can augment reality? I doubt it." But when you step back and analyze these ideas, they are very plausible. Technology is getting smaller in size each day. 30 years ago NASA sent a spaceship to the moon with a full room of computers that were just as powerful as an Iphone 5s. So in 30 years from now, and Iphone 5s could be shrunken down and placed in your brain, why not? It makes sense. I can see why people would be afraid of this, and I can also see how brain chips can give people an unfair advantage. These chips could potentially make you more sociable, smart, and logical. The only thing that would prevent this from happening in 50 or so years, is that the human race may not be ready for such a device. There is a video game, "Deus ex" that take place in the future, a world where every human has "augmentations" machines in your body that make you smarter, healthier, stronger, etc. Many problems arise because of this such as protests against mixing man and machine. Nothing bothers me about this prediction, i would love to live to be 150 years old or longer, because I have nano-bots in my bloodstream, but this could be very upsetting to religious people, who believe that god created humans, and humans should not strive to become gods, i.e. immortal. This is a very interesting topic, and I can't wait for his predictions to come true.

Feb. 10 2014 05:04 PM
Andrew Veilleux from São Paulo

Throughout my life, I've heard plenty of speculations about our technology exceeding our humanity. However, until now I was yet to hear about someone actually predicting these outcomes. It easy to write someone off so simply and call them crazy for making predictions about our future, but Kurzweil has done it before and has a formula that has proved effective throughout his years as a scientist, then it's not fair to write the man off. I'm not saying that Kurzweil is going to be right about his prediction of humans merging with technology because there has to be certain factors that might slow down human development such as war.

Personally, I find it's a little nerve racking to imagine a world where no one can die. If his predictions are true, then essentially, we've cheated science. As a consumer society and a growing specie, we don't stand a chance if we can inject substances into our bodies that will keep us from dying because there simply aren't enough supplies on this planet even for our population today. Unless Kurzweil makes some prediction about humans being able to live on other planets similar to earth, I will continue to remain worried about the future of humanity.

Feb. 09 2014 01:04 PM
Matt from Cincinnati

Kurzweil is a genius.
Question "Will we still be human?"
Answer: Take a look at the Ship of Theseus Paradox.

Is a ship that has, over the years, had every single part of its structure replaced still the same ship?

I think we are more than just the sum of our parts. Our cells are constantly dying only to be replenished with new ones. Are we still the same person at 50 that we were in high school? No, we aren't, at least in completely physical terms.

Technology is matching organic biology and building upon it. So, perhaps a better question: "Is there a difference, between fully organic development and organic development coupled with nanotechnology, which will strip humans of our innate identity?"

Apr. 23 2009 05:31 PM
Robert Weiss from Tempe, AZ

To quote Jose Jimenez on the Ed Sullivan Show: "Oh, I hope not..." The very thought of being bodily wired up to the commercially driven, e-virus-infested Internet is horrifying. Second, the assertion that man is the only being we know of that extends his reach with tools is just plain wrong. Richard Dawkins in the last chapter of "The Selfish Gene" discusses the influence that genes exert far beyond the physical bodies that house them ("the extended phenotype") citing examples of animal behavior and other pathways that improve genes' chances of surviving into later genrations. It's diverting to extend current trends into the future, but honestly, who wants pop-ups on their computer, let alone in their head?

Apr. 05 2009 06:23 PM
Tim Sharpe from Smithsburg, MD

I really hope that before anything like Ray Kurzweil's Singularity happens that we'll have much better computer security mechanisms than we have now.

While I may worry about having spammers, Nigerian scammers, and the Russian Mafia in my head, I'm downright petrified at the prospect of Advertisers, Marketers, and Political Operatives having unfettered access to my thoughts, especially with "write" access.

Mr. Kurzweil may see the Singularity as a positive and inevitable thing, but I wonder what he'd think about having a computer in HIS brain that's as secure and stable as current versions of Windows.

Apr. 05 2009 02:54 PM
Patrick McCartney from New Hampshire

Once again NPR has added to the misinformation and misunderstanding of evolution. Consistently, they present evolution as a magical process that. (An example is one program mentioned frogs growing ears.) In this episode the interviewee mentions the evolution of the brain caused by technology.

To summarize how evolution works: Those that are not adapted have to die before they can reproduce.

So, is this individual suggesting that people will be dying before child bearing age if they are not connected to the technology.

Should he have likened it to the invention of writing. This affects the growth and structure of the brain and not the evolution of the brain.

Please try to add to the understanding of evolution, not the disinformation about evolution.

Apr. 05 2009 10:52 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Mr. Woodruff has that right!

I kept thinking of the two tiered world of ABC's long forgotten but great Matt Frewer dramady, "Max Headroom" but, even before that, just from reading the intro at the top of the segment before hearing the program, I thought of the comic book from my youth, "Space Family Robinson". (Yes, it was the template upon which "Lost in Space" was built!)

Instead of "Robbie", recycled from "Forbidden Planet", it featured a cyborg (the first fictional version I encountered, though I was already personally familiar with Mel, a friend and frequent guest of my Aunt Rita, who, after being rendered quadriplegic by polio, had a wheelchair outfitted with a portable heart-lung machine) who was quite humanoid, integrated electronically with their craft, and not at all funny. He must have been judged too eerie for children’s' programming.

Years later, my father referred to himself as the "Half a Million Dollar Man" after his colostomy, his purchase of his toupees, and his hearing loss, requiring hearing aids, turned him into a cyborg. His macular degeneration was a condition that could not be so corrected but, until it blossomed, his reading glasses topped off his 'Borg" self. It all allowed him to survive relatively comfortably to 83.

Until I thought about the unlikelihood of my being "rebuilt", like Steve Austin, on Medicare and Medicaid, your promo had me, briefly, entertaining the idea of celebrating my Eleventy-first birthday with my own somewhat Frodo-like nephew in late 2061.

Apr. 05 2009 08:49 AM
Preston Woodruff from Brevard NC

Don't get distracted by Kurzweil's views on immortality or the 2045 Singularity -- he's right about the exponential growth of technology in communications, medicine, research, etc., which raises a question I wish NPR would've asked him. Who's going to be able to buy this stuff? Who gets the worldwide instant communication implants, the nano-robots in the blood cells seeking out viruses, the downloadable personalities which allow you to trade a wornout body for a slick new one? I love the ideas, but I'll be looking through the playground fence, watching other people play with the new toys. Hey, it's all I can do to scratch up a donation to my local Public Radio station!

Apr. 04 2009 05:33 PM
Kahlid from Philly, PA

Perhaps somewhat related, Singularity and Stanislaw Ulam were discussed on WESAT this morning.

Apr. 04 2009 02:10 PM
Denise Klein from Livonia, MI

We are Borg...Resistance is will be assimilated...

Apr. 04 2009 01:41 PM
Nathan Chadwick from Kansas City, MO

Ray Kurzweil is controversial and a fraud. I'm suprised that you had him on so uncritically. He is no more capable of predicting future events then anyone else is and his "singularity" theory has had so many holes poked in it I'm suprised you were able to still keep it afloat in this piece. I'm suprised you didn't interview Kreskin or my dog to predict the future. He is silly science and in a show that was rightly aghast at the infiltration of bad science in our public schools, having Kurzweil on uncritically is ironic. PZ Myers has a great post showing the sillines of this theory and points out that Kurzweil theory relies too much on its poximity to our current time.

Apr. 04 2009 11:26 AM
isa kocher from istanbul

i went to look at Kunstler as the other commenter suggests. yes, our current economy is unsustainable, and yes the bush era economy will never recover. but Kunstler doesn't offer a clue where to go nor how we'll get there. we need real scientific development, and where that takes is brings us right back to the subject of this piece that we are facing a singularity, and what's on the other side is inconceivable today.

Apr. 04 2009 08:16 AM
isa kocher from istanbul

this discussion I've heard and read before. it is as significant as it gets. the implications are inconceivable, beyond the wildest most bizarre imaginations of the best and the worst of science fiction. this goes so far beyond all discussions of cloning of humans yet no one in the religious right wingnut community has said peep about it in public. the political and social equity consequences regardless of how prophetic this discussion is are as significant as it gets.

Apr. 04 2009 07:54 AM
Benjamin Morton from Providence, RI

I arrived home a short time ago from the CNU New England Sustainable Urbanism Summit in Portsmouth, NH. Among many other great speakers was James Howard Kunstler. He was speaking about the confluence of Peak Oil, Climate Change, and the Financial/Economic meltdown. As part of this he identifies dangerous attitudes including that one can get whatever one wishes for, that one can get something for nothing, and that technology and energy are interchangeable.

After hearing this well outlined argument from Kunstler it was a real mind expanding experience to hear from Kurweil again. The two world views and sets of predictions come from such different foci and assumptions.

I find Kunstler to be more convincing. For one thing, Kurweil thrives on the notion that information technology will continue on its trend line from the past 100 years, but a look at human history shows that trends of various types of progress are often upset, disrupted, and reversed. Especially given that various cultures have risen and fallen at disparate times it seems like a fallacy to take on faith that we will evolve into a new species in the course of thirty years.

I have to say that I think OTM took Kurweil on faith. His breezy description was followed up with a question on what the internet will look like rather than taking a moment to ask about the impacts upon his prediction of billions living in poverty, massive debts, financial meltdown, and climate change. Instead he was able to continue painting his brilliant image of the wonders of in eye pop-ups and sensory deprivation nanobots. It seems unlikely (though I would love for you to prove me wrong), that Kunstler could come on and explain his theory without a plethora of dismissive questions eating up any time for him to talk about his vision of what life will be like in 30 years.

For more of this information I suggest people go to and

Apr. 03 2009 11:07 PM

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