I'm not a terribly smart person, but I like to listen to what really smart people have to say about where this whole ball o' wax called existence is heading.
One individual who I pay particular attention to is Ray Kurzweil — the visionary futurist (redundant?) whose books The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity Is Near offer a bracing and mostly hopeful look at how advances in information technology will completely alter our understanding of what it means to be human.
Kurzweil envisions a near-future where it will be increasingly difficult to separate man from machine, due to advanced AI and biological modifications ranging from gene-tweaking to sundry cerebral add-ons. I'll be happy with a tip calculator in my brain. And maybe something that plays episodes of "Sanford and Son" on the inside of my eyelids.
Kurzweil recently gave an interview to CNet that I found fascinating. I compel you to read it. Money quotes:
The computer in your cell phone today is a million times cheaper and a
thousand times more powerful and about a hundred thousand times smaller
(than the one computer at MIT in 1965) and so that's a billion-fold
increase in capability per dollar or per euro that we've actually seen
in the last 40 years.
"The rate is actually speeding up a little bit, so we will see
another billion-fold increase in the next 25 years–and another
hundred-thousand-fold shrinking. So what used to fit in a building now
fits in your pocket, what fits in your pocket now will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years.
The soul is a synonym for consciousness…and if we were to consider
where consciousness comes from we would have to consider it an emerging
property. Brain science is instructive there as we look inside the
brain, and we've now looked at it in exquisite detail, you don't see
anything that can be identified as a soul–there's just a lot of
neurons and they're complicated but there's no consciousness to be
seen. Therefore it's an emerging property of a very complex system that
can reflect on itself. And if you were to create a system that had
similar properties, similar level of complexity it would therefore have
the same emerging property and this would be more than an abstraction
because these future entities…will be convincing.
It also won't be clear–you won't be able to walk into a room and
say, "OK, humans on the left, machines on the right," because it's
going to be all mixed up. You'll have biological humans but they'll
have machine processes in their brain, there may be a lot more
complexity in the machine intelligence in their brain than the
biological portion of their brain. It's not going to be a clear
distinction of where humans or biological intelligence stops and
machine intelligence starts. (So) we will attribute consciousness to
entities even if they have no biology, even if they're fully machine
entities: they will seem human, they will seem consciousness, we will
attribute souls to them but that's not a scientific statement.
This doesn't seem like too much of a stretch — George W. Bush has been faking consciousness for years.