Have you ever approached someone important, but only had three seconds to think of something clever to say? Today, companies tout the ability to access the cloud from a mobile device. But sometime in the next 20 years, we may be able to access the cloud directly from our brains and find just the perfect thing to say.
Ray Kurzweil, the inventor and futurist who now works at Google, explained at this week's TED conference how computers are becoming more and more receptive to human language. He gave the example of how IBM's Watson computer famously beat the two best Jeopardy players at solving this particular clue: A long, tiresome speech delivered by a frothy pie topping. (The answer: "What is a meringue harangue?"). By doing so, Watson proved that it understood our plays on words.
Developments like these, Kurzweil believes, indicate that in five to 10 years search engines "will be based on reading for understanding the billions of pages on the web and in books." This means that search engines will recognize and remember previous searches and notify you when new information becomes available on the web, summarizing the answers it has found for you (i.e. a fancier Google alert?).
In the 2030s, Kurzweil believes that nanobots will be able to enter our bodies through capillaries. In his vision, this technology could allow people to connect the human brain's neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud.
The last time our brains expanded in any similar way was as the human brain evolved 2 million years ago—a development that allowed our species to invent language, science, and technology. This next expansion, a non-biological way of thinking, could grow our brains without limit. According to Kurzweil, "thinking will grow exponentially."