Time, space and matter were created 13.7 billion years ago when the Big Bang occurred. Life originated on earth about 3.8 billion years ago. Home sapiens, came much later at about 0.2 million years while recorded history is merely 6,000 years old.
However in the last 60 years or so, we have started to unravel many secrets of our existence, ranging from intelligence, perception, aging; all the way to death itself.
Here is a closer look at some of these areas.
Cracking the puzzle of intelligence: In the last two decades, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made rapid strides. Studies of how the human brain functions are now contributing to paradigm shifts in AI and computing in general. Computing technology can now mimic the parallel aspects of the human brain, enabling computer algorithms to perform complex tasks such as face recognition and pattern matching to classifying data very rapidly.
Decoding perception: Recently, a prosthetic limb was created that could actually provide the sense of touch by stimulating the regions of the brain that dealt with the sense of touch. The researchers had identified the neural activity that occurred when grasping or feeling an object and successfully induced these patterns in the brain. Also researchers at Harvard University created the first non-invasive brain-to-brain interface (BBI) between a human and a rat which allowed the control of the rat’s tail by human thought. The huge advances in the field of brain-computer interfaces now allow thoughts to be detected and “understood” by a sensor attached to a computer. Given these advances, fully functional artificial limbs that perfectly mimic real organs may not be that far off.
DNA sequencing: detecting the patterns of life: Unravelling DNA sequences can help in reversing disease processes such as heart disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes, and stroke in addition to enabling precise personalised treatments. Understanding DNA sequences may also help us slow down aging by reprogramming cells
Nanobots to the rescue: Great strides have been made in nanotechnology which will soon revolutionise many different fields. An important application is in the field of medicine where nanobots can make repairs at a cellular level. With nanobots it is possible to deliver drugs, heat and other substances to targeted cells (for e.g. cancerous or diseased cells). Nanobots are also being used to study the extremely complex neural pathways to the brain to determine the electro-chemical activity in the context of sensations or feelings.
Death on a sliding scale: Research is also being carried out to unravel the process of death. Physicians and scientists who specialise in resuscitation techniques have discovered that when a person has just died, the brain isn’t irreversibly damaged yet. To be really dead, all the cells of the body and the brain have to be dead. Researchers have now understood that death occurs more on a sliding scale than at a single, solitary moment. In other words, we often do not die all at once. Even if the heart has stopped owing to sudden cardiac arrest, the body can remain alive for hours and some parts even days. This ability to reverse death makes more sense when a person is suddenly snatched away owing to cardiac arrest or a concussion than when death occurs owing to aging.
The future: As we begin to decode the riddle of intelligence, perception, aging and death, we could move to a point of “technological singularity”, as futurist Ray Kurzweil puts it, when non-biological intelligence will transcend biological intelligence.
Regardless, with all these advances, it appears that in the future “truth will be stranger than fiction” as we know of it today.
(The author is a Cloud Architect at IBM India.)