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Posted: September 21, 2009

Human vs. cyborg: a vision of the future

Ray Kurzweil paints a startling picture in his new book

Thomas Frey and Raymond Alvarez

Futurist and author Ray Kurzweil describes a startling picture of the future in his book, The Singularity is Near.

In the book (which will be released as a film later this year), Kurzweil says evolution of humans is accelerating. We will become advanced beings with near-term capabilities to live forever, which means we may have many business and career pursuits.

Meanwhile, the field of robotics is close to producing convincing synthetic tissue, which may lead to organic life forms, the cyborg-like creatures that resemble humans but possess superior strength and intelligence. With humans and cyborgs competing, what will the world be like?

We take you to an establishment in downtown Denver, circa 2039, six years ahead of the singularity.

Two guys go into a bar. One is a technician, the other a code writer and artist. Both are disengaged from projects. They belly up to the bar, select individual micro-environments and order beers.

Technician, Tom: How is that mountain air?

Code writer, Ray: Not bad... how's the sea breeze?

Tom: Salty, like my mood.

Ray: No luck, today?

Tom: Nah. Supercompute is ramping up its 20M AI series. Looking like a dead end for warm-blooded techies. You?

Ray: Night job's going nowhere. Turns out the singer I signed is too human. Can't play major venues for years.

Tom: You'll land something.

A figure at the end of the bar pipes up.

Stranger (Austrian accent): Bartender, give "dem anudder" bier.

The tall man (vaguely resembling a prominent former governor) wobbles their way.

Stranger: You bin lookin' for projecks?

Ray: Say, why do they make all of you blue collar cyborgs look like the Terminator?

Stranger: Wish I could look more like him. Owns most of NanoRobotica and a good part of my company, Lovetron. Not a bad rebound. I am duh CEO of this collyfornya compunee... No glamour in it. You ever seen one of those models come back? I was up to my elbows in cyborg parts all day.

Ray: Funny ... I don't like you, wing nut.

Tom: Cool it.

The techie leans toward his geeky friend and whispers:
Tom: This guy is third tier. Check the badge he's wearin'.

Their beers arrive. The cyborg drains his mug. They watch him wave for another around.

Tom: Astonishing. ... So, our friend here works in the exec tower at Lovetron.

Ray: So, what was all that talk about elbows and parts?

Tom taps his iLapel, initiating a holographic display.

Tom: Lovetron and NanoRobotica combined their R&D departments. They just spun off a subsidiary that's into synthetic biosystems. Completely synthetic circulatory system ... eliminates the need for liver, spleen, kidney. You can still eat, but never gain a pound. Going to be huge.

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Ray: What is it? Another skin covered borg?

Tom: No borgs. NR introduced the first nanobots for blood streams. This is phase two. Radically different concept: no heart failure because no heart.

Ray: Great! Synthetic people. There goes the neighborhood.

Tom: Hey! You could write software. Some folks are going to want to be more artistic.

Stranger: Can I offer you guys some advice?

Ray: Go back to your corner and drink motor oil, T2000.

Stranger shrugs.

Suddenly, Ray grabs his beer mug and looks like he's going to swing it, when Tom intercedes.

Tom: Whoa, Ray! What are you doing? This is opportunity. People will always be people. Did you know only 5 percent of your cells have your DNA? How much different will you be without those organs?

Ray: You're right. Lost my head there. Five percent, huh?

Stranger: You guyz should dink about it...

Tom: Sure, cyborg can bring us in as consultants on upgrades.

Ray: Cool. You might be on to something!

Stranger: Arnold talked about soft technology and human techs when it all started. You guys should come in.

Tom: We could design lines for musicians and sturdier astronauts.

Ray: ... and work with ... borgs?

Stranger: I'll add perks. All the VR comfort you can stand.

Ray: Starting to like you, T2000.

Stanger: Name's Axelrod. Call me Rod ... Ax ...

Axelrod gives him a bone-crunching handshake.

Axelrod: Let's get some food, podner! You know, I got all of Arnold's memories... well, except for the Shriver ones.

Ray: Talk to me about the future.

Angst may be the forgotten element for future humans.

Will our race for innovation outstrip our capacity to deal with its social implications? Kurzweil paints a different picture, but we see opportunities for collaboration, particularly where artistic flair and a human touch is needed.

Will business opportunities trump the toll on humanity? Is Kurzweil a visionary, or perhaps a few fries short of a Happy Meal? We'd like to hear what you think.

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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities.Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

Raymond Alvarez is a journalist, microblogger and emerging expert in social media. He is president and owner of Nextwave Communications, which provides cutting edge communication services to the Colorado business community. The Boulder County firm offers research, writing, strategic planning and analysis.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

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