Edge: THE EVOLUTION OF COOKING

We use one stage of technology to create the next stage, which is why technology accelerates, why it grows in power. Today, for example, a computer designer has these tremendously powerful computer system design tools to create computers, so in a couple of days they can create a very complex system and it can all be worked out very quickly. The first computer designers had to actually draw them all out in pen on paper. Each generation of tools creates the power to create the next generation.

So technology itself is an exponential, evolutionary process that is a continuation of the biological evolution that created humanity in the first place. Biological evolution itself evolved in an exponential manner. Each stage created more powerful tools for the next, so when biological evolution created DNA it now had a means of keeping records of its experiments so evolution could proceed more quickly. Because of this, the Cambrian explosion only lasted a few tens of millions of years, whereas the first stage of creating DNA and primitive cells took billions of years. Finally, biological evolution created a species that could manipulate its environment and had some rational faculties, and now the cutting edge of evolution actually changed from biological evolution into something carried out by one of its own creations, Homo sapiens, and is represented by technology. In the next epoch this species that ushered in its own evolutionary process — that is, its own cultural and technological evolution, as no other species has — will combine with its own creation and will merge with its technology. At some level that's already happening, even if most of us don't necessarily have them yet inside our bodies and brains, since we're very intimate with the technology—it's in our pockets. We've certainly expanded the power of the mind of the human civilization through the power of its technology.

We are entering a new era. I call it "the Singularity." It's a merger between human intelligence and machine intelligence that is going to create something bigger than itself. It's the cutting edge of evolution on our planet. One can make a strong case that it's actually the cutting edge of the evolution of intelligence in general, because there's no indication that it's occurred anywhere else. To me that is what human civilization is all about. It is part of our destiny and part of the destiny of evolution to continue to progress ever faster, and to grow the power of intelligence exponentially. To contemplate stopping that — to think human beings are fine the way they are — is a misplaced fond remembrance of what human beings used to be. What human beings are is a species that has undergone a cultural and technological evolution, and it's the nature of evolution that it accelerates, and that its powers grow exponentially, and that's what we're talking about. The next stage of this will be to amplify our own intellectual powers with the results of our technology.

What is unique about human beings is our ability to create abstract models and to use these mental models to understand the world and do something about it. These mental models have become more and more sophisticated, and by becoming embedded in technology, they have become very elaborate and very powerful. Now we can actually understand our own minds. This ability to scale up the power of our own civilization is what's unique about human beings.

Patterns are the fundamental ontological reality, because they are what persists, not anything physical. Take myself, Ray Kurzweil. What is Ray Kurzweil? Is it this stuff here? Well, this stuff changes very quickly. Some of our cells turn over in a matter of days. Even our skeleton, which you think probably lasts forever because we find skeletons that are centuries old, changes over within a year. Many of our neurons change over. But more importantly, the particles making up the cells change over even more quickly, so even if a particular cell is still there the particles are different. So I'm not the same stuff, the same collection of atoms and molecules that I was a year ago.

But what does persist is that pattern. The pattern evolves slowly, but the pattern persists. So we're kind of like the pattern that water makes in a stream; you put a rock in there and you'll see a little pattern. The water is changing every few milliseconds; if you come a second later, it's completely different water molecules, but the pattern persists. Patterns are what have resonance. Ideas are patterns, technology is patterns. Even our basic existence as people is nothing but a pattern. Pattern recognition is the heart of human intelligence. 99 percent of our intelligence is our ability to recognize patterns.

There's been a sea change just in the last several years in the public understanding of the acceleration of change and the potential impact of all of these technologies — computer technology, communications, biological technology — on human society. There's really been tremendous change in popular public perception in the past three years because of the onslaught of stories and news developments that document and support this vision. There are now several stories every day that are significant developments and that show the escalating power of these technologies.

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