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The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (2005)

af Ray Kurzweil

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For over three decades, Ray Kurzweil has been one of the most respected and provocative advocates of the role of technology in our future. In his classic The Age of Spiritual Machines, he argued that computers would soon rival the full range of human intelligence at its best. Now he examines the next step in this inexorable evolutionary process: the union of human and machine, in which the knowledge and skills embedded in our brains will be combined with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our creations.--Publisher description.… (mere)
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[The singularity:] is not a certainty but in my opinion is a plausibility in the working lifetimes of most people here, that there will be perhaps something superhuman come along. We will either create or become something superhuman, in various ways.
Vernor Vinge

Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.
Alvin Toffler

You can't write this story. Neither can anyone else.
John W. Campbell




This is a difficult book to review. It's a futurist treatise on how ever-accelerating changes will change society. And it's a love letter to technology, Mr. Kurzweil is obviously enamored of computers. It's also very well written, particularly for such a dense topic. The Singularity is Near reads like a cross between an academic paper and an Isaac Asimov science popularization.

The basic premise is that technology is progressing at an ever-increasing rate, and at a certain point, change will continue so rapidly that it's difficult to predict anything beyond that point, the singularity. It's a fascinating concept, and one I've been introduced to in the fiction of Charles Stross. The future will not look like the present with better tech, it's going to be pretty unrecognizable. Possible technologies such as genetic engineering, nanotech manufacturing, and robotics and artificial intelligence (the author's "GNR" triumvirate), will transform not only how we live but what we think of as a human being. Artificial intelligences, critical to the theory of the singularity, are by definition capable of expanding their own capabilities, and will drive much change.

It's an ambitious work, and not the first book the author has written on this topic. It does have weak spots, namely the tendency to assume that technology will progress according to plan, not accounting for technological setbacks very well. All we've seen in the last few centuries is progress, so of course that's all we ever will see.

To the book's credit, it does include a chapter on the dangers of these technologies. The "grey goo" scenario, where out of control self-replicating nanobots consume our biosphere for raw materials, is particularly chilling, but there are other equally deadly ways for hostile "strong" AI or perhaps genetically engineered plague vectors to wipe out the human race. Responses to the critics of the arguments presented in the book tends to be dismissive, however.

The Singularity is Near is hardly a book to be read during a lazy afternoon on the beach, but it's very rewarding and thought-provoking if you stick with it. ( )
  neilneil | Dec 7, 2020 |
Kurzweil never fears controversy and this one doesn't disappoint in this area. The Singularity is that point in which $1000 worth of computing power equals the processing power of the human brain. He predicts that it will come along around 2040 and that three different but powerful technologies will power it: genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. He provides plenty of support for his belife as well as acknowledging the potentional problems along the way. I'm not sure I buy it completely, but I did make me think, and occationally unsettle me. A must for tech junkies! ( )
  Colleen5096 | Oct 29, 2020 |
This was a fairly heavy book to read and frankly I hope none of it comes true. 😕 ( )
  Arkrayder | May 5, 2019 |
This is a comprehensive account of the state of the art of three interconnected technologies: genetics, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. A major premise is that progress in these fields is proceeding at an exponential pace. I’ll accept that, but unfortunately I got around to reading this large volume almost fifteen years too late! Some of Kurzweil’s predictions have already come true, many seem just as far off as they must have when the book was written. But that is the nature of writing about the future; reading these kinds of books is best done in the present.
My biggest objection to the work, however, is Kurzweil’s use of the word “intelligence” without clearly stating what he means by it. He does not usually include “artificial” along with it, so he intentionally leads the reader to assume that his massively more powerful computers are intelligent in the same sense as humans. Not until a much later chapter does he discuss “consciousness.” This concept he brushes away as being impossible to detect in anyone or anything other than oneself.
He mentions that he is like “the pattern that water makes in a stream as it rushes past the rocks in its path. The actual molecules of water change every millisecond, but the pattern persists for hours or even years.” I like that. Very poetical. But I’d like more specifics. Where is this pattern. It affects physical reality. It is caused by physical objects, and physical laws. But the pattern itself isn’t really physical. It is metaphysical. Maybe with the help of Kurzweil’s intelligent machines, we’ll eventually figure it all out some day. ( )
  drardavis | Jan 14, 2019 |
Yah... this book is blowing my mind. I can only read it in short bursts before I have to set it down and let my brain rest for a bit. ( )
  MsMaison | Dec 5, 2017 |
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For over three decades, Ray Kurzweil has been one of the most respected and provocative advocates of the role of technology in our future. In his classic The Age of Spiritual Machines, he argued that computers would soon rival the full range of human intelligence at its best. Now he examines the next step in this inexorable evolutionary process: the union of human and machine, in which the knowledge and skills embedded in our brains will be combined with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our creations.--Publisher description.

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