Futurist Ray Kurzweil vs the state of the art in robotics

Every so often a couple of unrelated news stories come along that just seem to fit together, somehow. Yesterday I read about two technologies that are getting closer and closer to reality:

  • Immortality only 20 years away says Futurist Ray Kurzweil
  • The 4 legged LittleDog robot strutting its stuff

While it may be true that "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future" there are some fascinating possibilities, and more importantly, huge social impacts here.

First a video to set the tone of where we are now, at least in labs like MIT, built by Boston Dynamics for the DARPA Learning Locomotion project. Don't be fooled by the blunders at the start of the video, wait until about 0:46 when LittleDog manages to walk across a bunch of random pegs.

You can see more examples of it walking over more difficult terrain as well as video of its famous big brother BigDog.

But how will this technology be used in the future? How will we interact with it? Here is where futurists, like Ray Kurzweil, can shed some light. An interview with Mr. Kurzweil's in the Sun sings the praises of nanotechnology's impact on our body. "Ultimately, nanobots will replace blood cells and do their work thousands of times more effectively" and "nanobots will shut down brain signals and take us wherever we want to go".

Here's the connection I made: Imagine nanobots in your brain, connected to the robots of the future, providing all 5 senses. The robot would be an extension of YOU, seeing a wider range of light, say, or feeling the ebb and flow of the waves. Take a quick 20 minute break fluttering through a flower filled garden, seeing the flowers as a hummingbird does, or if you prefer something more extreme, race through a junkyard playing a sudden death game of catch-the-flag with flamethrowers and buzz-saws. These wouldn't be video-games, or 'virtual' reality, but a direct feed from a real robot into your brain.

All thanks to the nanotechnology connecting you to modern robots.

Here's a second video to help imagine just what we could be connected to in 20 years, if you believe Mr. Kurzweil:

Watch the middle part of the video as the robots actually change shape to roll up an incline. Forget R2-D2 or humanoid (or 'dog-oid') shaped robots, researchers are dreaming up all sorts of amazing plans or the future.
(Image at the top of this story of a 'soft robot' is from the Ritsumeikan University Deptartment of Robotics.)