Skipping effortlessly and fluidly from the brain's "neocortex" to artificial intelligence (without skipping a beat) is a skill that futurist Ray Kurzweil wields with delicate dignity. The keynote presentation delivered at DEMO Conference yesterday was as captivating and profound as it was straightforward and elegant. In Kurzweil's mind, our most advanced machines are mimicking our brains, and in his estimation, the machine may soon exceed the brain. At least, in some ways.

The Foundation of Human Knowledge

The work that Kurzweil outlined revolves around the infinitely complex process of adapting technology to the human experience of it. This goes beyond Artificial Intelligence to the amplification of human intelligence. As we utilize the sum of our knowledge (found: everywhere on the internet) and approach an environment of fluidly augmented reality, we near an entirely different understanding of the learning process. Naturally, we'll adapt to it quite quickly, just as we have to search engines and virtual socialization and zipping around the Milky Way. Quite soon after that we'll compound upon it, putting it to practical use. And that's the crutch of our mental evolution.

The ability to build upon existing knowledge, which is unique to mammals and what allows us to develop advanced conceptual theories, is where our smartest computers are heading. The fact that we can access an entire legacy of learned data, apply new thinking to it and then advance it, means that we are always progressing and evolving. This fundamental concept explains our discoveries of language, philosophy, technology. It's the same concept that's being applied to the newest programs getting ready to launch here at DEMO, in the broad sense.

The Foundation of Computer Knowledge

Kurzweil's published work has shown the exponential growth of technology. Since 1981, he has accurately predicted the scale by which our gadgets would grow. In the over-simplified terms he offered today, it seems easy to measure. The exponential growth is due to the fact that each advanced mechanism we create will build the next one, which will in turn create the next. Incidentally, he also predicts a leap in qualitative understanding, but such an event cannot even be theorized due to its very nature. Attempting to do so (to paraphrase) would be like explaining language to a being that had not yet experienced it. It would be an abstract philosophy that requires a new consciousness to interpret.

Good old Watson, the robotic Jeopardy! champion, is a great example of how the natural growth and development of knowledge is being applied in the advanced technology spectrum. A computer that possesses all human knowledge, with the ability to analyze and infer from that knowledge, is nearly perfect. One that can also conceptualize will be the ultimate intelligence. But where do the human traits like intuition and creativity meet the digital process of accessing and analyzing data?

The Synthesis

In a way: right before our eyes. We do not have total recall and cannot access limitless knowledge from within our minds. But we can access it pretty quickly with all these fancy new augmented reality tools we've designed (what Kurzweil calls "brain extenders"). Right there, the synthesis of biology and technology is beginning to appear.

We begin to rely on our intelligent tools to help us advance our own perceptions, and possibly on them to advance themselves. We develop a reliance but gain from an amplification of our faculties and capabilities. It's pretty certain that our brains aren't getting any bigger any time soon, but our technology will continue its exponential expansion. The integration and cooperation of these two elements may well be the driving force that sparks the next qualitative leap in our consciousness.

Also from this fall's Demo 2012: Are Apps The New Frontier of Creativity? #DEMO2012