Three Reasons to Reverse-Engineer the Brain

Ray Kurzweil is the author of the recent book How to Create a Mind. The first question we have for him is "why create a mind?"

Ray Kurzweil is the author of the recent book How to Create a Mind. The first question we have for him is "why create a mind?"


There are three purposes of reverse-engineering the brain. One is to do a better job of fixing it and because that's a business opportunity. Being able to master the information processes underlying biology, which includes the brain but actually includes the body also, is enormous opportunity.

We're going to transform this multi-trillion dollar health and medicine industry with these techniques.  Perhaps even more important, we're going to have an eye that really works well. Consider that Watson was actually able to read Wikipedia and understand it well enough to play a game of Jeopardy!, which is a complex, subtle, ambiguous game of language and got a higher score than the best players put together.

And its knowledge was not programmed fact-by-fact in lists per some computer languages. It just read Wikipedia and other encyclopedias, 200 million pages of natural language documents and didn’t do a perfect job of understanding it and didn't do a perfect job of answering the questions but was better than the best humans put together from having read natural language documents. That's very impressive.

That's coming to a search engine near you. The major search engines like Google are not just going to be using keywords with synonyms, they're going to actually read in order to understand the concepts because if you think about searching there's a lot of information now that's ignored, which is the meaning of all these documents, which is why they were created.

So you can have a computer even do a job that's very mediocre compared to human, but then you can apply the scale of computation.  I mean, Watson – if it read one page, it's not as good as you are, but it didn't read one page – it read 200 million pages. You and I can't begin to do that. Watson's out reading all medical literature, every medical journal article, every medical book, major medical blogs and will be an expert diagnostician and medical consultant that has read everything. No human can do that.

So that's where we're headed.  Our search engines will actually also know us very well.  They will – we will let them listen in on conversations: verbal, written.  They'll watch everything we're reading and writing and saying and hearing, and then they'll be like an assistant.  It'll say, "Oh, you know, you were talking about how you can get the supplement into the cells yesterday in that conversation with Joe.  You know, there's research that came out 13 minutes ago that speaks to that."  Or, "You were wondering who the actor was in that movie with the robot that can speak six million languages and here she is and here's background about her."

Since that helps you through the day, we'll answer your questions before you ask them or even before you realize you have a question, and you'll just get used to this information popping up that you wanted and you'll be frustrated if you're thinking about something and it doesn't immediately pop up with you even having to ask for it.

A dark matter hurricane is crashing into Earth

Giving our solar system a "slap in the face."

Surprising Science
  • A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
  • It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
  • Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
Keep reading Show less

We are heading for a New Cretaceous, not for a new normal

The climate change we're witnessing is more dramatic than we might think.

Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA
Surprising Science

A lazy buzz phrase – 'Is this the new normal?' – has been doing the rounds as extreme climate events have been piling up over the past year. To which the riposte should be: it's worse than that – we're on the road to even more frequent, more extreme events than we saw this year.

Keep reading Show less

New study reveals what time we burn the most calories

Once again, our circadian rhythm points the way.

Photo: Victor Freitas / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Seven individuals were locked inside a windowless, internetless room for 37 days.
  • While at rest, they burned 130 more calories at 5 p.m. than at 5 a.m.
  • Morning time again shown not to be the best time to eat.
Keep reading Show less