Computer technology is advancing at an accelerating rate. By 2030, artificial intelligence will reach human levels. By 2045, super-intelligent machines will be so powerfully brilliant as to make biological people seem like insects by comparison. And after that, we can barely even make educated guesses about what will happen.
At least these are the predictions electronics guru and futurist Raymond Kurzweil has made.
Though I maintain a healthy skepticism about the years Kurzweil attaches to his predictions, I have little doubt such events will ultimately come to pass. We know it's possible to build a machine possessing human-level intelligence. In fact, we do it all the time. Currently, it takes a few minutes of fun, nine months of incubation, and a decade or two of education. All mystical, superstitious notions aside, we now know enough about the brain to understand that it is in reality an extremely sophisticated computer. There is no theoretical reason an equally capable computer couldn't be built out of silicon instead of gooey gray tissue.
As always, however, the devil is in the details. One would be hard-pressed to find reputable neurologists who don't agree that the human mind is entirely based on physical brain activity, but none of them claim to have a complete understanding of how that works. Most of them don't even seem to think we're particularly close to gaining that knowledge. The human brain, they go to great lengths to remind anyone who talks to them about artificial intelligence, is by far the most complex object science has yet discovered, and our exploration of it has only recently begun.
But, whether it takes 20 years or 200, we will eventually discover the mechanisms of intelligence and when we do, we will design and build computers every bit as smart as we are. At that point, things will start to get crazy. We humans truly are amazingly intelligent creatures, but our biological brains have many limitations that electronic minds won't share. They will be able to learn and think millions of times faster than we can. More importantly, they will be able to easily share all of their knowledge with each other almost instantaneously and even reproduce as easily as we now copy computer files.