Sydney Morning HeraldVint Cerf, one of the founders of the intenet and now Google's Chief Internet Evangelist, pictured in Brisbane.
Photo: Tony Phillips
The line between human and machine is becoming finer, according to the father of the internet, Vint Cerf.
Dr Cerf was in Brisbane last week to speak at the launch of the Hear and Say Centre, a charity for the deaf and hearing-impaired.
He says the consumer of the future will be able to buy enhanced senses and physical abilities as bionic implant technology improves.
Society shouldn't be afraid of using technology like the bionic ear to "enhance" senses, as well as to correct disabilities. Dr Cerf's wife, Sigrid, has two cochlear implants, also known as bionic ears.
"Where do we draw the line between repairing impairments and actually enhancing capabilities? I think the answer is we don't and should not draw that line," he told journalists during a press conference.
"There is nothing that should stop us from taking the same technologies that bring someone into the normal mainstream of hearing, for example, and actually allowing people to hear sound that other people could not hear."
Ocular implants, designed to repair blindness by allowing patients to see in the normal range, could be boosted to allow anyone to see in the infrared or ultra-violet spectrum, Dr Cerf says.
"The same thing could be true for neuro-motor implants, spinal cord implants that would allow you to signal to otherwise useless limbs, like arms and so on."
Dr Cerf, who is now vice-president of Google, concedes these super-human capabilities - like all technology - would most likely be available only to those who could afford it.
He does not find the idea overwhelming or dangerous. But he is less enthusiastic about technologies that change the way we think or make decisions.
Ray Kurzweil, a technologist who pioneered the first CCD flat-bed scanner, has predicted that the intelligence of machines will surpass that of humans within a few decades.
Dr Serf said of such speculations: "If I were Ray Kurzweil . . . I might be saying, 'Well it's all over for humans anyway, it's too late. Computers are already evolving very quickly and by 2030 there will be computers capable of thinking faster than human beings.'
"Personally I'm sceptical of this, but if you wanted to worry about something, you should worry about that."
Dr Cerf's timeline is more conservative. He says spinal and ocular implant technology is at the same stage now as cochlear implants were 20 years ago, but devices designed to interact with the mind, as opposed to the senses, aren't yet feasible because our understanding of consciousness is limited.
"We don't understand how the brain thinks, but we do understand how our bodies transduce signals," he says.
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