The accelerating pace of technological change is leading to the creation of entirely new opportunities for humans to “play God” — to create and transform life in a way that has never been possible. What was once thought to be the exclusive realm of a higher power is now within the grasp of human beings.
Artificial intelligence (AI) researchers are creating advanced forms of machine learning that rival human intelligence; engineers and designers are printing tissues, bones and organs using 3D printers; biologists are creating entirely new "synthetic" life forms and medical researchers are creating radical new enhancements for the human body in which man and machine essentially become one. Whatever side of the debate you come down on, creationism, intelligent design or evolution — these new God machines, if you will, re-open the eternal existential questions: What is the origin of life? What does it mean to be alive? What is the purpose of life?
Machines, as you’ve probably noticed, have been getting smarter. The most recent advance: Google's "Cat Experiment", in which 16,000 computers hooked up to a vast neural network learned to recognize the concept of a “cat” after being shown over 10 million digital photos of cats. This marks a fundamental breakthrough in artificial intelligence for one simple reason: the computers were never told what a “cat” was before the experiment started and were not given a series of human rules for recognizing cats.