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In a weekly column, alternately written by Lucien Engelen, Mary Fiers, Maarten Steinbuch, Carlo van de Weijer, Tessie Hartjes, and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. All six contributors – sometimes accompanied by guest bloggers – are working on solving the problems of our time. Everything to make Tomorrow Good. This Sunday, it‘s Maarten Steinbuch’ s turn, about his preparation for a conversation with the Dalai Lama. Here are all the previously published columns.

Moore’s law intrigues me. It describes the development of computer chips’ computing power. It has shown an exponential curve for over 40 years: every 18 months a doubling of computing power and memory size at the same cost. I expect at least another 30 years of progress from this exponential development, with EUV from ASML, and then photonics and quantum computing.

What will it mean, this almost unthinkable explosion of power and possibility of technology? Can we solve the climate problem in time with extremely cheap solar energy, and can we solve health and food problems?

As an engineer, I certainly know that with computers that are a million or a billion times smarter than they are today, we can make much better models and use data to make those models even better (Artificial Intelligence). Then we can predict in detail how long the summer weather will last, and really understand the climate. But also our human body. Can we live eternally? And do we want that? And understanding our brain in every detail, how far will we be going on with this? What kind of robots are we going to make, and will they ever look like people? Is that possible? And again: do we want that?

These are the questions I want to ask HH the Dalai Lama when I have the opportunity to meet him in September. Then he will be in the Netherlands on the occasion of the opening of an exhibition on Buddhism.

The interface between spirituality and technocracy; what’s the difference, and how do we control it? If we want that, at least. That is what it’s all about. Let me explain this. Suppose that Moore’s law does indeed continue to last, and suppose that we can gather enough knowledge and make models with this and make these models ‘educate’ themselves with data, so that, ultimately, we could simulate the complete human brain chemistry, with a computer. This might be possible in 30 years’ time (1 million times smarter computers) or perhaps in 45 years’ time (1 billion times smarter computers – for the engineers: just check ☺). Suppose that this is possible. If so, can we put our consciousness into a computer? Is that also chemistry? And we can connect our brains directly to the ‘cloud’ (internet)? And if we can do the latter, will our inner me also be in that information? And can I then download myself into another ’empty’ body?

And if all this is possible, are we also creating new robots with new ‘lives’ – or what do we actually mean by life? And finally, if you assume that there is more than chemistry in our bodies, so if you think that a spiritual world is a part of what makes your inner me, your soul, what is the difference with the technocratic description I just gave? Is that morality? And is the ultimate ideal standard equal to what we humans have come up with as good and bad? Have we really done so well in the world? Better than a billion time smarter robot would do?
Anyway, I believe in human mankind, and I am hopeful about the role of technology. But these are very exciting times. And I hope for a nice conversation with a wise person about this. The starting point is Moore’s law, which remains as exciting as ever!

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