Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES
My grandmother, who just died short of 101, was born the same year Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fled to Argentina. She grew up in a primitive central Utah frontier town where a third of children died, local transport was horse-powered, and radio, TV, aircraft, GPS and laptops were yet to be invented.
Despite the radical changes achieved via science and technology - scitech - in just one lifetime, there is a funny thing about most views of the future. Most assume that a century from now there will still be billions of people living in a more crowded and warmer world, and there may be some thinking robots running hither and yon while folks attach hypercomputers directly to their brains; but all in all it will be good old planet Earth with multitudes of people living human lives.
Meanwhile, many American Christians devour end-time novels that prophesy the imminent Rapture, while denying the very evolutionary sciences that are swiftly driving high-tech science and industry to new heights.
A convergence of sciences and technologies is promising to lay in our laps with stunning swiftness a 21st-century transformation that could outdo even extreme science fiction and faith-based stories. Neuroscience is discerning how brains generate consciousness. Nanotech promises to allow the manufacture of the most intricate structures at the level of atoms and molecules. Evolutionary cybertechnology is getting ready to produce supersophisticated thinking machines that will far outperform the primitive systems we have rattling around between out ears.
With information processing power doubling every year or two, you will soon be able to go to your local store and buy cheap machines with processing power exceeding that of our brains, whose performance has not gotten any better over the last 100,000 years.
There are researchers eager to connect these hypercomputers directly to their brains so they can learn how to generate consciousness, and then upload their minds into the machines. Their aim? To become immortal.
When is this radical future going to happen? To get an idea, we can turn to the most extraordinary report yet produced by our government. In July, the National Science Foundation and Commerce Department released the 400-plus page "Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance" (it's on the Web).
Leading scientists and industrialists predict that in just 20 to 30 years the technologies for mind transfer and immortality may begin to come on line.
Rather than going to enormous expense and danger of sending entire persons to Mars, send their minds instead and let them experience the planet as robots that thrive in the extraterrestrial habitat. NSF head Rita Colwell called it "just a lovely report." Even President Bush's science adviser John Marburger commented that although some of the contents may seem extreme, "Topics that seemed far out even a few years ago are much closer than we anticipated; it would be irresponsible for us to dismiss these ideas. …