My Search for the Holy Grail of Immortality
We are information technology thought leaders. And as thought leaders, society expects us to provide it a vision of where information technology will be in the future. Tonight, I would like to time travel 100 years into the future, and predict some major developments in information technology that, I believe, will occur at the end of this century.
Some of my predictions will be right. Some will be wrong. And you might even find some difficult to believe.
Information technology is a broad field. Certainly, it will become broader by the end of this century. Therefore, I will simplify and reduce the complexity of what I will discuss. I will limit my self to what I call the 'kernel of information technology.'
Any body of knowledge has its 'kernel of knowledge.' I also call it the irreducible essence from which that body of knowledge emanates.
In your study of geometry, one of the key concepts that you learned was that all the theorems in geometry were constructed from a few rules of logic and some axioms. The axioms of geometry were what we call 'self evident truths.'
The axioms of geometry are to geometers what the constitution is to lawyers. The self- evident truths in the law books are the statements written in the United States constitution. In other words, the constitution contains the kernel of knowledge from which all laws were derived.
Similarly, the computer and the Internet are the kernel technologies behind the information technology field. By that I mean that if all the computers in the world and the Internet were to disappear today, the IT field will for all practical purposes also disappear.
The reason is that information technology's conceptual foundation rests on the concepts of computation and communication.
In other words, computation and communication are to IT what zeros and ones are to computers. Therefore, information technology's kernel of knowledge is derived from two concepts: computing and communicating.
The supercomputer is the driving force behind the computer. The supercomputer of today is the computer of tomorrow. Therefore, predicting the future of computing implicitly forces us to first predict the future of supercomputing. And if history were to repeat itself, one can predict the status of computing at the end of the 21st century by studying next-generation supercomputing.
As I said earlier, you will find some of my statements outlandish. Now I will make my first outlandish claim about the relationship between the supercomputer and the Internet.
Today and at the beginning of the 21st, the supercomputer is similar to the Internet. By the end of the 21st century, the computer, as we know it today, will become obsolete. Then the supercomputer and the Internet will become one and the same.
My prediction that computers will become obsolete will not seem outlandish when you reflect on the relationship between the supercomputer and the Internet. And also reflect on the driving force behind their evolutions.
The engine that drives a supercomputer is the tightly-coupled thousands of processors which we've harnessed to compute and communicate simultaneously.
Similarly, the engine that drives the Internet is the loosely-coupled millions of computers that we've harnessed to compute and communicate, asynchronously.
Therefore, both the supercomputer and the Internet, in essence, comprise of interconnected computing and communicating nodes. Both use communication protocols for transmitting and receiving data. And so on.
Therefore, both the supercomputer and the Internet germinated from the same conceptual idea, namely, the knowledge that thousands of processing nodes can compute and communicate, simultaneously.
The irreducible essence of a supercomputer is computation and communication, but the supercomputer places a greater emphasis on computation.
The irreducible essence of information technology is computation and communication, with an equal emphasis on the computer and the Internet.
The irreducible essence of information technology is computation and communication, with an equal emphasis on the computer and the Internet.
In other words, the irreducible essence of the supercomputer, the Internet and the information technology field are the same.
To forecast the future of the computer and the Internet requires that we understand the difference and the relationship between both technologies.
And that we ask: why was each technology invented?
And that we ask: What is the most important difference between a supercomputer and the Internet?
The answer is that the supercomputer resides within a room, while the Internet encircles the whole Earth.
The relationship between the supercomputer and the Internet is best understood by asking: Why was the supercomputer invented? And why was the Internet developed?
The answer is that the supercomputer was invented to help computational scientists perform faster computations.
The Internet was developed to help computational scientists access remote supercomputers.
The media tells us that the Internet was invented to help the United States defends itself against nuclear attacks. That story is not true.
What happened is that in the telling and the retelling of why the Internet was invented, facts became obscured, lost and added and we even forget why the Internet was invented. The story of how the Internet was invented to enable access to supercomputers evolved into the myth that the Internet was invented to enable the United States survive a nuclear attack.
The less glamorous truth is that the Internet was funded and built to enable physicists solve the most computation-intensive mathematical problems in the computing field. The Internet was invented to enable computational scientists access and use remote supercomputers.
The Internet originated because the supercomputer created a need for it. Therefore, it was the supercomputer technology that gave birth to the Internet. The supercomputer is the father of the Internet.
We also have many other myths and misconceptions about the origin of the Internet. The most popular of these myths include the argument that software such as communication protocols, email, the Web and graphic browsers gave birth to the Internet.
I disagree. The software cannot give birth to the hardware that it runs on. Windows Operating System did not give birth to the PC. It is the PC that gave birth to Windows Operating System.
Similarly, it is the Internet that gave birth to communication protocols, email, the Web, and graphic browsers. These software were merely inventions that helped bring the Internet to the masses.
In fact, the technology was in the air for several decades but the email and the Web helped bring the Internet down to Earth.
Once more, the driving force behind the Internet was the supercomputer. I believe that the supercomputer will remain the driving force behind the next-generation Internet.
Internet2 is the name of this next-generation Internet. Internet3 will probably be the name of the next-next-generation Internet. We may have Internet4, 5, 6 and ten.
I will coin the words "InternetX" or SuperBrain and use them to describe the most advanced form of Internet that we might have ten-generations and beyond. Also, I interchangeably use the words InternetX and SuperBrain.
And as information technology thought leaders, we have to provide a vision of the future of the Internet.
We have to ask the question: What will "InternetX" or SuperBrain be like?
'InternetX' or SuperBrain will remain the same size as the Internet. The Internet is an electronic system that is literally as large as the whole Earth. It is a huge electronic cloth that we have placed upon the Earth.
When an object is ten thousand miles in diameter, we need to step outside and look at that object to see the big picture and to even understand the object.
Therefore, we will gain a clearer understanding of the Internet if we observe it from another planet.
Attempting to understand the Internet while standing on the Earth reminds me of the parable of the nine blind men and an elephant.
Each blind man based his descriptions of the elephant on a generalization of his sensory perceptions.
The first blind man touched the elephant's knee cried that the elephant is like a tree. The second blind man touched the tail argued that it is like a rope. And so on.
The most popular software on the Internet are email and the World Wide Web. As a result, most people cannot explain the difference between the Web with the Net. Like the blind men, people use the Web and then generalize and assume that the Web and the Net are the similar.
Because the fiber-optic networks underneath the Internet is physically 10,000 miles wide and is metaphorically speaking is like an elephant, it is difficult to find two people who will agree on the best definition of the Internet.
To those of us standing on the Earth, the Internet is tool for sending email and surfing the World Wide Web.
But to an alien from out of space, the Internet will be seen as millions of interconnected computing and communicating nodes. The alien will see the Internet as a spherical object as large as the entire Earth that is used for transmitting and receiving data.
I believe that it is the alien, who is observing the Internet from outer space that will see the true picture. I will ask you to visualize yourself as that alien observing the Internet from the moon. I will also ask you to also travel with me, 100 years into the future.
My prediction is that, in 100 years, the Internet will evolve and become more tightly coupled. It will be more powerful, faster and more intelligent than what we have today.
This will be achieved because the computers at each node will be a zillion times more powerful. And the communication between nodes will also be a zillion times faster. Perhaps, each node might be a zillion times more intelligent.
When the Internet becomes a zillion times more powerful, faster and more intelligent: Something weird will then happen.
What will happen is that the computer, as we know it today, will become obsolete. Instead, we will be computing without computers.
The computer will, in effect, disappear into this future generation Internet, which I called 'InternetX' or SuperBrain.
In fact, something weirder will also happen at the same time.
What will also happen is that the Internet, as we know it today, will become obsolete.
Even the email, will become obsolete. Instead, we will be communicating by t-mail or telepathic mail.
It makes sense to predict that the Internet will disappear into the "InternetX" or SuperBrain. Since, SuperBrain is closer to a computer than to the Internet, it will makes sense to predict that the Internet will disappear into the universal computer which, itself, will literally be as large as the Earth.
A universal computer, as large as the whole world, is not merely science fiction. We have taken the first embryonic step to build one. It is called grid computing. In fact, the United States, the United Kingdom and a dozen nations have already committed billions of dollars to develop grid computing.
In essence, the grid will reduce the gap between the supercomputer and the Internet. It is a technology that lies at the halfway point between the supercomputer and the Internet.
Thirty years ago, the driving force behind the Internet was the supercomputer. For the next thirty years, I believe that the grid will remain the driving force behind the next- generation Internet.
The grid will enable us to do things that we now consider impossible. It will enable unique forms of human interaction.
The grid will take videoconferencing to the next level. Business travels and face-to-face meetings may become obsolete.
The playwright William Shakespeare wrote the famous line: "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players."
The grid will redefine the word 'stage.' Today, Femi Kuti and Janet Jackson can only sing a live duet by appearing on the same physical stage.
With the grid, we can imagine Femi Kuti, in Lagos, and Janet Jackson, in Los Angeles, both singing a live duet on a digital stage.
Indeed, the world will become their digital stage.
The grid is a hybrid between the supercomputer and the Internet. Supercomputing is next- generation computing. Internet2 is next-generation Internet.
Truthfully, I am not interested in next-generation technology.
I am interested in technologies that are at least ten generations beyond the supercomputer, beyond the Internet and beyond the grid?
In other words, where will the supercomputer and the Internet be in 100 years, 200 years, or 300 years from today?
In 300 years, I believe that the Internet will remain a spherical network as large as the whole world. However, because it could be a zillion times more powerful, faster, and more intelligent, I believe that in 300 years the Internet will evolve into a SuperBrain as large as the whole world.
Many scientists believe that bionic brain implants will be feasible in a few decades.
Without realizing what we are doing, we are determined to redesign ourselves. Our compelling urge to redesign ourselves is deep-seated and will remain so. We have embarked on a self- propelled evolution in which we are both the creator and the created.
Already, we have imbedded our consciousness and intelligence into computers. Now that we have implanted our intelligence into computers, we are now figuring out how to imbed our computers into our brain. That is, how to imbed inanimate intelligence into animate ones.
But as I explained earlier, computers could become obsolete and disappear into the Internet. Hence the computers that we intend to imbed into our brains could eventually disappear into the Internet.
That implies that our minds and thoughts could also disappear into the Internet.
This means that the Internet could be used to unify the thoughts of all humanity.
Unification implies that we will become one people. With one voice. One will. One soul. And one culture.
Email will become obsolete. It will be replaced by tmail, which stands for "telepathic mail."
The theory of evolution taught us that we evolved from lower order primates. But SuperBrain will help us understand that the human specie collectively existed as one Super Being.
We will understand that we are not human beings that exist separately from other beings. Instead, we may come to believe that we are small and separate beings that exist within a Super Being.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are indeed embarking on a lengthy journey in self-discovery. It is a journey that will help us understand who and what we are.
The big idea is not that we existed and evolved collectively as one Super Being.
If we incorporate ideas from the theory of evolution, we may infer that the Super Being has been undergoing self-directed evolution since life first appeared on planet Earth. It is a self-directed evolution along the direction of greater complexity. A self-directed evolution that resulted in higher collective intelligence.
Super Being is a coherent and self-organizing network of all living biological entities, which possessed a unique intelligence that is above and beyond the sum of intelligences of the separate living entities.
Put differently, the properties of coherence, self-organization and interaction is what enabled the species to synergically form a Super Being with an intellect that is above and beyond the sum of the intellect of all the animals and plants on Earth.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am claiming that the animals and plants are not distinct beings. I am claiming that the species co-exist, interact and learn from each other.
Gaia hypothesis argues that the Earth is a living planet. From the moon, we see a zillion species that are not isolated entities that swim within the Earth's inert atmosphere, oceans or sub-surface soil.
I am adding another dimension to Gaia hypothesis. My dimension is that all living things are inextricably connected and work together as a team to ensure its survival as a Unified Being. I am not merely directly connected to my father, brother and son. I am indirectly connected to every person, animal and plant. We are all one being: A Super Being.
I began by studying the interconnectedness between millions of computers configured around the Earth. I learned that interconnected computers do emulate one supercomputer. I then inferred that we could use that knowledge as a metaphor for living entities, which we also know, are interconnected.
Therefore, I have inferred that interconnected animals and plants do emulate one Super Being.
Along the way, I learned a lesson that was deeper and one that transcended computing. It was an epiphany.
It changed the way I looked at myself, humanity and the Supreme Being or what we call God.
I said a Super Being. Not a Supreme Being. I am not talking of the God that transcends space, time and all things physical.
I am not talking about the theological god described in the Bible or the Koran.
In fact, I did not talk about the existence of an ultra Supreme Being who is omniscient and omnipotent. Super Being exists in a biological sense while the Supreme Being exists in the theological realm. Therefore, the acceptance of my theory will be based on reason, not faith.
As information technology thought leaders, we time traveled tonight to the future and then attempted to predict it.
Some of my predictions will be wrong. However, one prediction that I guarantee you will be right is that if you can travel 10,000 years into the future, you will certainly discover a strange world.
A world that I believe will be influenced by our on-going research efforts to implant bionic brains into our human brain.
If we can replace one percent of the human brain in 100 years, then we might be able to replace the entire brain in 10,000 years.
If we can replace the entire brain, we can download it into the SuperBrain. And if we can download it into the SuperBrain, our descendants will merely exist as pure thoughts, electronic cockroaches or human algorithms.
Our descendants will have achieved digital immortality in 10,000 years.