Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Death will die a technological death

2050 - and immortality is within our grasp

From David Smith The Guardian , London:


Aeroplanes will be too afraid to crash, yoghurts will wish you good morning before being eaten and human consciousness will be stored on supercomputers, promising immortality for all — though it will help to be rich.

These fantastic claims are not made by a science fiction writer or a crystal ball-gazing lunatic. They are the deadly earnest predictions of Dr Ian Pearson, head of the futurology unit at BT.

“If you draw the timelines, realistically by 2050 we would expect to be able to download your mind into a machine, so when you die it's not a major career problem,” Dr Pearson said.


“If you're rich enough then by 2050 it's feasible. If you're poor you'll probably have to wait until 2075 or 2080 when it's routine. We are very serious about it. That's how fast this technology is moving: 45 years is a hell of a long time in IT.”

Pearson, 44, has formed his mind-boggling vision of the future after graduating in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, spending four years working in missile design and the past 20 years working in optical networks, broadband network evolution and cybernetics in BT's laboratories. He admits his prophecies are both “very exciting” and “very scary”.

He believes that today's youngsters may never have to die, and points to the rapid advances in computing power demonstrated last week, when Sony released the first details of its PlayStation 3. It is 35 times more powerful than previous games consoles.

Brain power

“The new PlayStation is 1 per cent as powerful as a human brain,” he said. “It is into supercomputer status compared to 10 years ago. PlayStation 5 will probably be as powerful as the human brain.”

The world's fastest computer, IBM's BlueGene, can perform 70.72 trillion calculations per second (teraflops) and is accelerating all the time. But anyone who believes in the uniqueness of consciousness or the soul will find Dr Pearson's next suggestion hard to swallow. “We're already looking at how you might structure a computer that could possibly become conscious. There are quite a lot of us now who believe it's entirely feasible.

Consciousness is just another sense, effectively, and that's what we're trying to design in a computer. Not everyone agrees, but it's my conclusion that it is possible to make a conscious computer with superhuman levels of intelligence before 2020.”

He continued: “It would definitely have emotions.”

In the shorter term, Dr Pearson identifies the next phase of progress as “ambient intelligence”: chips with everything. “Chips will come small enough that you can start impregnating them into the skin. We're talking about video tattoos as very, very thin sheets of polymer that you just literally stick on to the skin and they stay there for several days. You could even build in cellphones and connect it to the network, use it as a video phone and download videos or receive emails.”


http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/may232005/foreign1811242005522.asp

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