Need More Brainpower? Google's Kurzweil Says There Will Soon Be A Cloud For That

Ray Kurzweil, the futurist and inventor who has long predicted that computers are going to become smarter than humans, thinks people will soon be able to augment their brain power by using the cloud.

In a keynote Thursday at the NexGen Cloud Conference & Expo in San Diego, Kurzweil said it's now possible for researchers to simulate regions of the neocortex, a part of the brain that handles high-level thinking, based on data gathered from brain scans.

The human neocortex has a limit of about 300 million "modules" that control how humans learn, recognize and implement patterns, and it's also where the ability to invent comes from. One reason why children are able to learn so quickly is because they have lots of unused neocortex modules.

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The neocortex has served humans well so far, but it could use an upgrade, Kurzweil said. If people could access additional neocortex resources based in the cloud through nanobots, this could enable them to do things like read books and learn new languages more quickly.

"I have 300 million modules, but if I need a billion for a few seconds, I can access more neocortex in the cloud and think deeper thoughts," Kurzweil said in the keynote. "We're going to merge with this artificial intelligence we're creating and make ourselves smarter."

The neocortex controls desirable human traits, and these could be amplified by connecting to additional capacity on an as-needed basis, according to Kurzweil. "We'll be funnier and more loving as we expand our neocortex into the cloud," he said.

Kurzweil, who joined Google in 2012 as a director of engineering, is leading its efforts to make search more intelligent and indispensable for people in their everyday lives.

He said Google search is moving to understand documents as opposed to simply finding them. For example, if someone were searching for information about a particular health issue three weeks ago, Google would alert them to new and relevant research as soon as it's released, he said.

"We ultimately envision you talking things over with your search engine," Kurzweil said.

Computers have come a long way in understanding natural language, but even IBM's Watson -- despite humiliating numerous "Jeopardy" champions -- still can't process it as effectively as humans, Kurzweil said.

"We're not on the threshold where computers can deal with natural language on human levels," said Kurzweil.

Kurzweil said he expects this to happen in 2029, while other experts believe it's between 25 to 30 years away.

Kurzweil also said humans are well on track to reprogramming biology to mitigate the effects of disease and aging. While 3-D printing isn't quite a revolution yet, by 2020 it will enable doctors to recreate damaged organs and extend people's life spans, he said.

Kurzweil often talks about exponential progression of technology, and while not everyone agrees with his views, he's been proven right in many cases.

Computing is heading for another billionfold increase in price/performance, and devices are coming that will be the size of a single blood cell. Mobile computing is going the same way, he said.

"It really is remarkable ... how predictable these trends are," Kurzweil said in the keynote.