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Blowing Your Mind—Digitally

Adam L. Brinklow | February 28, 2014 | Story Tech World

Bay Areans can get future shock over just the new Apple phone, but at the Transhuman Visions 2.0 conference in Piedmont this weekend they'll debate smart robots, psychedelic interfaces, and the best way to live forever. That's the kind of far-out talk you get from futurists, scientists and engineers who predict how technology of the near-future will change our lives.

In the past we'd call these people crazy, but recent breakthroughs may have moved futurism from the realm of the seemingly impossible to the merely improbable-sounding. We asked some of the expert speakers what Silicon Valley could visit on us in the next 30 years:

Psychedelic Google Glass: Techno-philosopher Gray Scott doesn't want you to drop acid. But he does think some wearable tech might open your doors of perception: "We've got Google Glass and headsets now, and in just a few years you could go through a day seeing as much digital information around you as you do material reality," Scott says. Hallucinogens might someday train you for that sensory overload. "Can technology drive some people to insanity? It already does," he says. "Psychedelics are the closest thing to an immersive digital world."

Smart phones at least as dumb as we are: Monica Anderson, founder of the AI research company Syntience Inc., says your computer may soon be as dumb as a teenager—that is to say, much smarter than it is now: "Imagine a computer as bright as a 14 year old. That's a trillion-dollar product." For her, the way forward for AI design is to, "make machines that think the way we do: guessing and drawing conclusions from minimal evidence."

Apps for your brain: How about strengthening the part of your brain that makes you a better driver, while minimizing the part that urges to procrastinate at work? Andrés Gomez Emilsson, president of the Stanford Transhumanist Association, points out that this technology already exists: Stanford professor Karl Deisseroth can do the same thing to the mice in his lab using lasers and a little brain surgery. "You could have a dashboard in your Google Glass or whatever to tune your mind to optimal states. It seems inevitable," Gomez Emilsson says. Hey, it works for the mice.

An OS upgrade for your body: We already have robot suits that can make disabled people walk. Now take that one step further: "Doctors say in a few years we'll have artificial hearts that are as good as real hearts, and then in a few more years they may even be better," says former National Geographic and San Francisco Chronicle writer Zoltan Istvan. "If you could replace your heart with a new one that would never fail, or your legs with ones that are stronger and faster, would you?" Istvan wrote a book about it: The Transhumanist Wager. "I don't know if I want to live forever," he says. "But I'd love the opportunity."

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