I’ve been interviewed in Panorama, an Italian weekly magazine. (Thanks to Dotwords for the English translation, which I slightly edited.)
We’ll Live Forever and we’ll Become Cyborgs
Super-smart droids will work instead of us. Whereas we will be data sets with the ability to reincarnate at will. The future according to Singularity University’s David Orban.
“We shall be living side by side with robots and droids who will be more intelligent than people. While they work in our place, the new human race will spend its time exploring the unknown potential of the mind. People will become cyborgs, with capabilities enhanced by technology. We’ll be able to live forever by transferring our brains (including the sentient self) into other bodies and to explore outer space by transmitting our grey matter at the speed of light as if it were bits travelling through the ether.”
This is the future awaiting us in the next 50 years according to David Orban, the founder of countless successful hi-tech companies, but above all a visionary and professor at Singularity University, a “factory” of geniuses and start-ups funded by Google, founded in 2008 by scientist Ray Kurzweil and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. Orban is not a sci-fi author, but a world-famous business manager and futurologist, who spends a third of his time in the air travelling to the venues of the top technology conferences. As he himself says, he is “an ambassador for tomorrow living in the present”. Panorama met him during a brief trip to Milan to address the Iab seminar on digital communication. His paper was entitled “The future is 10 years early”.
When you talk to Orban, your immediate impression is that you are in the company of Captain Kirk from TV’s Star Trek, just before a teletransportation into new worlds from the starship Enterprise. As soon as you shake his hand, he invites you to feel the place between his index finger and his thumb where he has had a chip implant. “I’m a cyborg,” he tells Panorama. “The chip has all the codes I need to make payments in bitcoin, the digital currency of the internet. With the capabilities of the chip I can do many other things besides transferring money. I can pick up a car in a car-sharing system, go through the subway turnstiles or through the turnstiles at work. In the future, I could send information to another person with the same chip implant, as easily and quickly as a computer sends an e-mail today using wifi. The chip could measure my body functions, formulate Google queries and send the answers directly to my brain.” But the main reason why Orban is the first human being to have the implant (his dog also has the same chip) is to test its social acceptance. “With this implant I want to develop a debate with people who think we shouldn’t be allowed to become technologically enhanced beings.”
This is because Orban’s chief concern is that the future could see forms of technological racism leading to wars of supremacy. “We’ll have to learn to live side by side with a new species of humanoids whose artificial intelligence makes them smarter than us,” he tells Panorama. “Will we manage to accept them? Or will there be a conflict? We need to be asking ourselves these questions soon.” Orban points out that “the last one hundred years have seen greater technological progress than the previous one thousand years. If computer processing power continues to increase at the same speed, we’ll have computers that are more powerful than a human brain as early as 2025. And by 2045, with this exponential growth, man will have built thinking machines with the capabilities of 10 billion human brains put together.”
Yet it won’t all have been due to human effort. Artificial intelligence “is able to evolve and self-improve much faster than human intelligence.” In Orban’s vision, the singularity – the moment at which technological progress surpasses the understanding of previous generations – is approaching and will occur in the first half of the 21st century. The singularity is the simultaneous acceleration of four key technologies: genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and, above all, artificial intelligence. A technological boom that will re-write the human parabola, from “you are born, you work, you die” to, according to Orban, “you are born, you no longer work, and you live forever.”
In this scenario, the workforce will consist of machines that work in offices or factories instead of us. Meanwhile, the content of our brains (including our personality) will survive our physical bodies. “We’ll be able to transfer our “self” to a memory, in the same way that you copy a document to a USB stick,” Orban continues, “and we’ll be able to go on living in a new bionic body. Our memories and our knowledge will become bits that can be transmitted through the ether, so we won’t need trains, planes or cars to travel. We’ll even be able to delete negative experiences and just keep our happy memories. We shan’t have to go through physical death to live a parallel life. Rather like Avatar, it will be like going to sleep, we could close our eyes in Milan and wake up (in a different body) in New York. Or, why not, on another planet.”
At that point, the very concept of humanity will have to be re-thought out. Religions too will have their job cut out to understand and accept this new evolutionary advance, where humans will be able to choose eternal life. “The world will be populated by robots that are more intelligent than people, by human beings and by cyborgs with human brains.” Fascinating or frightening, this is what lies ahead. “Exponential acceleration has begun. And it can’t be stopped.”
David Orban, 50, is a scientist and visionary born in Hungary. He is a professor at California’s Singularity University and has founded many hi-tech companies including Network Society Ventures, an investment fund for start-ups. As a futurologist, he speaks at all the top world forums. For experimental purposes, he has had an Nfc microchip implant, which makes him a cyborg.
A seminar with the guru in May in Milan
David Orban (photo, with his dog Bri, who also has a chip) opened SingularityU Milan, Singularity University’s first chapter in Italy. He organizes seminars, conferences and events. “In May, we’ll be holding a session in Milan where people can have a chip implant like mine,” Orban revealed to Panorama.