|The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
|List Price: $29.95
Our Price: $11.70
You Save: $18.25 (61%)
The great inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil is one of the best-known and controversial advocates for the role of machines in the future of humanity. In his latest, thrilling foray into the future, he envisions an event-the "singularity"-in which technological change becomes so rapid and so profound that our bodies and brains will merge with our machines. The Singularity Is Near portrays what life will be like after this event-a human-machine civilization where our experiences shift from real reality to virtual reality and where our intelligence becomes nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than unaided human intelligence. In practical terms, this means that human aging and pollution will be reversed, world hunger will be solved, and our bodies and environment transformed by nanotechnology to overcome the limitations of biology, including death. We will be able to create virtually any physical product just from information, resulting in radical wealth creation. In addition to outlining these fantastic changes, Kurzweil also considers their social and philosophical ramifications. With its radical but optimistic view of the course of human development, The Singularity Is Near is certain to be one of the most widely discussed and provocative books of 2005.
- Can you outlive Ray Kurzweil?
Mr. Kurzweil has outdone " The Age of Spiritual Machines" and again presented us with astonishingly optimistic visions of the next century. Kurzweil's "Prediction Scorecard" and the way he constellates unrelated technologies into cohesive vision may mark this book as a salient event in the direction of technology. As a reader you get the sense that each chapter is the abridged version of a grand design, stitching in brief anecdotal details in the hope that they might escape the inevitable attrition levied by a length conscious editor. (Perhaps content fell victim to marketing information generated by one of Kurzweil's own evolutionary algorithms)
The credibility of the predictions Kurzweil makes has always been scrutinized and disputed mercilessly in light of the ramifications. A chapter has been included at the end of the book that leaves the reader to decide its reason for inclusion; was it to answer his critics, or to provide Ray with self amusement? Remembering that " He who laughs last, laughs best" and that Ray has provided us with the previous blueprint of how to " Live long enough to live forever" I should think the answer is a little of both. The bottom line is that whether you are a curious reader, a critic or a " Singulatarian", the brilliance of this book is undeniable and worthy of serious consideration.
- The coup de grace and tour de force of radical transhumanism
Without exaggeration The Singularity is Near will likely become the preeminent futurist technology book of the 21st century. Whether Kurzweil's predictions come to pass or not, I simply cannot imagine any subsequent tome topping this one--in depth of detail, in comprehensiveness, in (trans)humanitarianism, or in elegant flow of logic. And tome it is: note I felt obligated to state in the page count that the book has 100 pages of discursive notes... followed by a 50 page index!
I expect one day, just as we talk about the Christian era in terms of BC and AD, we'll have another basis for gauging the centuries: BK and AK. Kurzweil does a lot of heavy lifting, systematically demonstrating the realities of the new technology, even some current concerns about environment and energy. We have reason to be optimistic.
For my complete review of this book and for other book and movie
reviews, please visit my site [...]
- Which Will Come First, the Singularity or the Discontinuity
Ray Kurzweil is without question one of the greatest technologists of our era and his ideas should command respect. That does not necessarily mean that all of them are correct.
Kurzweil's latest book is a brilliant exposition of one possible future for the human species. As an intellectual adventure it is in the same league with Brian Green's books on string theory and Steven Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science". If you enjoy reading Scientific American you can handle Kurzweil. If Discovery magazine is closer to your speed, a more accessible book is "Radical Evolution" by Joel Garreau.
People who read books like these basically fall into two groups, those primarily interested in current trends in science and those primarily interested in the future of humanity. Kurzweil attempts to explain both the explosive development of genetics, robotics, and nanotechnology (GRN) and the profound implications these have for the future of our species. The book is worth buying just for its stunning exposition of current trends in GRN.(Actually Garreau's GRIN, for Genetics, Robotics, Information, and Nanotechnology, is a more accurate and therefore better acronym).
Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, Kurzweil does not adequately take into account events external to the world of technology that could and probably will completely derail his predictions about both GRN and humanity's future. In that sense Kurzweil falls victim to the very same `linear thinking' that he decries in others who forecast the future.
The term `singularity' as used by Kurzweil means the transformation of Homo Sapiens from a slowly evolving biological species to a race of super intelligent beings no longer constrained by the limitations of biology. This transformation will be the result of the confluence of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics and will occur sometime around 2045.
Descendants of Homo Sapiens live forever because the aging process has been halted. All of the world's economic and social problems disappear because all the baggage of biological evolution (species competition for limited resources, sex, aggression, territorial defense, etc.) vanishes. There is little need to work because intelligent machines do it all, even repairing and replacing themselves when they fail or wear out. The new super beings spend most of their time exploring ever deeper mysteries of the universe.
Kurzweil backs up his extraordinary claims with a wealth of convincing data, in itself a significant contribution, but more important and the reason this book is worth reading, is his exposition of how this confluence could take place. Kurzweil believes firmly it will take place and this is where his linear thinking intrudes.
By linear thinking I mean the idea that tomorrow's technological advancement will follow along the same smoothly upward flowing line that it followed today and yesterday and the day before. If the progress Kurzweil projects for the next four decades were to be compressed into the next five or at most ten years then his forecast could very well turn out to be correct. But in this reviewer's opinion far more powerful and immediate societal forces are at work that will result in a major discontinuity, either natural or manmade.
By discontinuity I mean a collapse of the world economy most likely brought about by terrorist related political and military strife followed by widespread anarchy, certainly lasting many decades and possibly much longer. The GRN technologies are not for backyard inventors working in their garages. They are extremely complex, requiring vast financial, physical, organizational, and intellectual resources. Kurzweil's path to the future depends on a smoothly flowing, surprise free world for the next forty years. Can any thoughtful person reading a newspaper today possibly believe this?
Let N equal the number of Muslims in the world today, roughly one billion. Let N divided by 1,000 (i.e., one tenth of one percent) equal the number of fundamentalist Muslims committed to die for Allah to destroy western civilization. Do the math and that works out to 1,000,000 suicide bombers coming at us daily for the next forty years. Nineteen high school graduates crashed some planes into a couple of buildings in New York and one in Washington, killed three thousand people, and caused a Trillion dollars in damage to the American economy.
Someday the attack will biological or nuclear. It will kill 30,000 or 300,000 or even 3,000,000. No one will know for sure if another is not soon to follow, and another. Uncontrollable mass panic will reign. This civilization risks collapse not because of the buildings destroyed or the numbers killed but because of its extreme fragility due to excessive system interdependence. The collapse could possibly be avoided but the changes required would be profound. It would require too radical a paradigm shift for global elites who cling to the system as it is now.
Kurzweil himself acknowledges that terrorism is the most likely scenario that would prevent the Singularity yet he admits that he has no solution for it. I would recommend that he read "The Collapse of Complex Societies" by Joseph Tainter, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" by Jared Diamond, and "The Long Emergency" by James Howard Kunstler. While these also have some problems in their arguments they point us in the right direction. It would be interesting to see how one of the world's truly great visionaries incorporates the ideas contained in those books into a revised edition of "The Singularity".
Civilizations rise and fall. There is no reason to believe that ours is somehow immune to this cycle. One may completely reject the apocalyptic beliefs of fundamentalist Christians, the earth changes of New Agers, and the psychic prognostications of the supermarket tabloids, and still recognize the warning signs that the current civilization cycle may well be nearing an end.
This should not be a cause for despair but rather for hope. At some point a new cycle will begin. Kurzweil's singularity is a cautionary vision of where that next cycle may take us.
We do not know with certainty but the evidence is mounting that probably there are many intelligent species in the universe. Some of them must have progressed beyond our level of development with all its dangers. All we have to do is figure out how they did it.
- The Singularity is Near:When Humans Transcend Biology
Opens ones mind to the rapid changes taking place - everyone should read it.
Much of the information is aplicable today and a help to those who want to be around and participate in the radical changes will have to live with in the next 20 to 40 years...more info
- Not so useful
THere are many research papers published on the computational capability of the biological brain, which is considered to be superior to conventional silicon processors, the mechanism of which was not fully explained from the conventional physics. I hoped that this book gave us a key (or hint) to clarify the problem, but I could not be fully satisfied contrary to my expectation and its large volume. ...more info
- On the Road to the Singularity
Shallow, stream of consciousness, boring and humorless. Did the reviewers actually read all this? Like trying to get deep scientific insights by reading the newspaper. If you know what a logrithmic curve looks like then you've got the gist of this book. ...more info
- Cyborgs and You!
This book is both 'hugely insightful' and a 'tough slog'. Reading it is not for the faint of heart or for anyone not comfortable with today's technology. If you are interested in the opinions and view of the future of one of the tech world's brightest lights, then go for it....more info
Although a bit eccentric this author has a very good point. His futuristic outlook seems to have merit. Technology is increasing at a very fast pace and I do believe it will increase longevity and improve quality of life....more info
- Most important book of the next 50 yrs
At some point I hope that people will stop paying attention to Paris Hilton and read this book. Our species is at a crossroads and we have some very important decisions to make in the next few decades. This book more than any other will prepare us to make the right choices. Read it now, or be devoured by a swarm of nanobots in 2029 when Skynet takes over....more info
- Reversible computer projections may be over-optimistic
Kurzweil's projections are all too frighteningly plausible in many respects, but I retain some doubts. This is because, on the one topic Kurzweil mentions that I am a certified expert in (having worked in the field in depth for 10 years now) - namely, reversible computing - I can attest that he is being much more optimistic than is warranted by a comprehensive examination of scientific and technical progress on the subject. To build a *practical* reversible computer has turned out to be an extremely difficult engineering problem, and might not even be possible. Although it is not technically a perpetual motion machine, the goal of reversible computing is really to get as close to perpetual motion as possible, and accomplish this in a complex machine with many interacting parts that goes through an intricate, non-cyclic trajectory. Achieving this requires a near-exact correspondence between the natural built-in physical dynamics of the manfuactured system and the logical structure of the desired computation; we must really track where *all* energy and information goes in the mechanism, and ensure that it all is continually redirected in a controlled way into new useful processes. One finds that this is much easier said then done when one gets down into the nitty-gritty engineering details having to do with eliminating unwanted reflections of resonator energy into undesired modes, precise load-balancing in the logic, and so forth. In fact, as of this writing, we still don't even have a truly *complete* and physically realistic *theoretical* model of reversible computing that fully accounts for all of the important physical constraints (such as momentum conservation), let alone a working demonstration of any physical system more complex than a simple cyclical oscillator that does anything computationally meaningful (i.e., beyond just "computing its own evolution") with a high system-level energy recovery efficiency. This doesn't mean that it can't eventually be accomplished, but the progress to date has been glacially slow, and I see little indication that the necessary heavy investments in basic research will be made any time soon. Further, even if the physical problems are solved, reversible computing in general imposes substantial computational complexity overheads (much more than Kurzweil suggests). If these difficulties are not soluble (and they might not be), it seems that computer performance per unit of power consumption may be forced to level off for all practical purposes (either temporarily or permanently) within the next few decades by Landauer's limit. Whether that will happen early enough to prevent singularity-like effects from occuring, I don't know. But, the fact that Kurzweil seems over-optimistic (and makes several misstatements) about the one field that I know the most about makes me suspicious that he might be being over-optimistic in other technical areas as well....more info
- Intelligence as imperialism?
The role of the "futurist" is difficult and often thankless. The more daring of the tribe, among whom Kurzweil is prominent, will apply deadlines to forecasts. That's always risky, and failure to meet them appears to undermine the concept. Kurzweil, however, is able to brush aside such trivial complaints to focus on the bigger issues. How fast is technology improving and how will these advances affect humanity. For him, the answer is clear - humanity and technology will merge. The result will be Version 2.0 of humanity with enhanced intellect and bodies that will not "wear out". Kurzweil's "Singularity" is that point at which the merger will be complete. And final - a word to keep in mind.
The basis of his thesis is the advance of technology, typified by GNR [Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics]. While these sound intimidating, one need not be highly conversant with the technologies to understand his argument. He explains them all clearly. Basing his project on the well-known "Moore's Law" - computing power will double every eighteen months - Kurzweil shows how computer processing capacity will soon outstrip that of the human brain. Once that transformation is achieved, it will be a short step to enhance existing technology to reforming the human body. The heart, an inefficient and vulnerable pump, can be replaced by a easily repairable mechanical version. The grumbling intestinal tract can dispense with all those E. coli bacteria and an energy transfer mechanism, requiring greatly reduced resources can take its place.
To transform the speed and capacity of a silicon-based device to a carbon-based biological entity seems anomalous to some and blasphemous to others. Kurzweil dismisses the second objection and carefully explains how the first is short-sighted. While computers run on a digital system, the brain runs on a combination of digital storage and analog processing. In many respects, replacement limbs and organs, "smart" weaponry, and much medical diagnosis already is automated and transmitted around the planet for analysis. Kurzweil takes us a major step beyond this - he even addresses the notion of human intelligence encompassing the cosmos. This is the "Anthropic Principle" writ very large, and on a practical basis.
Kurzweil uses a tried and true method to address the concerns he anticipates. Creating or adopting various characters such as "Molly 2004", Ned Ludd, "George 2048" - even Charles Darwin and Bill Gates, he's able to pose and answer questions of common concern. He even stages an argument between bacteria at life's origins about how evolution will lead them to become something more "advanced". It's a mild fantasy, but a serious object lesson in this context. He would be a tough debater on this topic. One thing is clear: the objections on "moral" grounds are thoroughly addressed through this means. The technological issues are a given in his estimate. From the evidence he presents, he's close to the mark.
There will be critics contending Kurzweil ignores this or that issue. He does address the issue of "terrorism" and notes preventive measures must be applied up front. The biggest omission, however, is the social one. He argues that the declining cost of technology will allow it to be applied universally. Still, there remain questions about distribution and willingness. It's abundantly clear that the first applications of the Singularity will occur in the developed countries by people who can afford it. Declining costs require a time frame, and what can occur between inception of the programme and universal application escape Kurzweil's notice. While he proposes "brain imaging" from carbon humanity to silicon humanity, he ignores the breadth of possible personalities that will undergo the process. Will a radical fundamentalist of any stripe retain a similar worldview after becoming "immortal"? In a similar vein, how many cultures will wish to participate in the enhancement? Will the Singularity initiate a new form of imperialism, the "immortals" dominating the MOSH [Mostly Original Substrate Humans]? And will the MOSH form along cultural or "ethnic" lines? Kurzweil's unspoken assumption is that everybody else does indeed wish to be like us - even more so.
If Kurzweil ignores these questions, preferring to let others resolve them while he concentrates on the technical issues, we can still find this a valuable study. It's not something that can be lightly dismissed. There's far too much valid information and prediction in here for short-sighted criticism. Kurzweil has done a great service in collecting and summarising the state of today's technology. If his projections frighten you, that doesn't refute his foundation for them. There is nothing fabricated here, and if nothing else, you can use his information to develop your own future scenarios. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]...more info
- hold onto your hat
the future is going to be wild.
ray kurzweil is the leading guru of the not so far off world where key technologies merge to allow us to turn ourselves into non biological humans.
no crack pot he. when kurzweil presented his thesis at MIT the arguments centered on the when, not the if of kurzweils predictions...more info
- Fantastic insight into a possible, plauible future of humans and the universe
This is one the the favorite books I have ever read. It is not an easy read for a non-scientist, but absolutely rewarding. It is surprisingly accessible, despite the technical and intellectual scope. The logical and insightful nature of Kurzweil's arguments make it a compelling and inspirational read. The book has had a huge impact on my thinking and introduced me to the whole subject of futurism. It is affecting my investment and career decisions. There were numerous mind-bending, mind-expanding moments during reading this as the gravity of the concepts sank in. Garreau's book, Radical Evolution, is a great follow-up read, comparing and contrasting Kurzweil's optimism with the pessimism of others. It is a joy and luxury to be exposed to the visions such "big thinkers"....more info
- The Technological Singularity!!!
The technological singularity is a future event where humanity will get a lot of power from scientific and technological breakthroughs. This exaggerate amount of power will make us better and will give us a better comprehension of who we are. The trend of technological growing is exponential-like.
The predictions are based on the law of accelerating returns. That is, once we develop new technologies, these technologies will serve to develop new and better technologies, and so on. According to many scientists and futurists, technological singularity is supposed to arrive on 2050.
Will humanity control and benefit from the power that science and technology will give us or this power will control us or maybe destroy everything? That is a hot ethical debate to analyze. There are so many benefits and dangerous risks too. Singularity has many controversial ethical connotations that will be analyzed here.
Genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR) are the three intertwined sciences that will lead us to the singularity. Each year, billions of dollars are invested in GNR. Many advances are planned to come in 5, 10, 20, and 40 years. Scientists are now making the future.
Some computer scientists have calculated that the maximum computational power (MCP) of a piece of matter with mass M (in kilograms) is: MCP=4.75 x 10^50 x M [cps] (in calculations per second). The coefficient of this formula is pi times the speed of light squared (a very large number) divided by the Planck's constant (a very little number).
Some neuroscientists have conservatively calculated that the human brain capacity is 10^19 [cps]. The adult mass of the human brain is about 1.35 Kg. So, the maximum computational power for a piece of matter with the same mass of a human brain is 6.41 x 10^50 [cps]. It can be inferred that this piece of matter could be 6.41 x 10^31 times more powerful than the human brain. With that computational capacity, all the human thought during the last 10 thousand years can be emulated in just 1 second. What could happen if it is used more matter?
One of the most important steps to achieve the singularity is the reverse engineering of the brain. That is a Herculean task that will allow us to develop the strong artificial intelligence. Once strong A.I. is created, it will help us to comprehend the most elusive mysteries of the universe and even to create new life because strong A.I. will be trillions of times greater than the entire human race.
Living things are the most complex systems in the universe, but at the same time, these systems are simple: the complete human genome has been characterized by using 4 letters and it occupies less than 1 gigabyte of storage. This gigabyte can even be compressed. So, the information necessary to reconstruct a human like you could be stored in a pen drive.
One of the most powerful and versatile technologies in the singularity will be the use of nanobots. There will be tiny but massive nanofactories creating trillions of nanobots everyday. These nanobots will be organizing the matter atom by atom in order to create intelligent materials. Nanotech will construct real objects in the same manner the printer makes books. If the invention of the printer was astonishing, because books were available to everybody; just imagine the advent of nanotech where everything could be created just by organizing atoms at a very low price. The intellectual property will be a hot issue since everything (even you) could be replicated from information stored in a computer.
Nanobots will even enter in your bloodstream and will cure all the diseases and body malfunctions. 99% of the health problems will be overcome. Radical life extension will be a reality after circa 2050. Nanobots will replace every delicate and inefficient cell in our bodies. Death will be an option but some mystics will prefer to die because, according to their beliefs, death gives meaning to their lives and it is the beginning of the afterlife. Neuroscience has overwhelmingly demonstrated that the afterlife is the most famous human invention and that the soul and the mind are the same thing and it cannot exist without a functioning brain. In the world, there are no prestigious neuroscientists who believe in the afterlife.
Nanobots will even permeate the blood brain barrier and will add more intelligence to our brains. This non-biological part of our brains will be billions of times greater than our current capacity. Nanobots will recreate vivid experiences and brain images like feelings, scents, tastes, touching, hearing and visions. We could even have wireless connections with other brains and with super entities in order to share knowledge. Fully immersion virtual reality will fool our sensations and will make us experiment situations that are improbable, impossible, desirable, exciting, and charged of knowledge that cannot be understood with our current minds.
Brain extensions are now a reality. Neural implants for Parkinson's disease makes a dramatic change in patients who suffer from that illness. If the implant is turned off, their hands start shaking. And they stop shaking when the implant is turned on. Cochlear neural implants are now projecting auditory information to the temporal lobe in order to make deaf people hear. It is really amazing to observe the brain's neuroplasticity that can even adapt to the electronic signal of those implants. Electroencephalographic readings of the motor cortex are now used to control prosthetic limbs. Many U.S. soldiers who were injured in the Irak conflict are using these artificial limbs. There are attempts to emulate the sight: electronic visual projections to the V1 area. But the patients reported that they can only see blur images.
One form of immortality will be attained by brain uploading and downloading. The technology to scan the brain activity and topology will be perfected and will serve to download a replica of the brain. Since the supercomputers of the future will exceed our brain capacity, the computer will run a simulation or a virtual personality who will claim to be conscious. By using neural nanobots, they will reconstruct the neural pathways to represent the knowledge acquired by somebody else. That will be called brain downloading. The reconstruction could be performed in a biological brain or in a non-biological brain. The last one will be better since it will have more computational capacity.
Genetics, with a complete understanding of life sciences, will be creating new kinds of life and perfecting the ones we know. For example, muscle cells from one animal will be grown in large scales to supply meat to us. No animal suffering will exist anymore. Nanotechnology, with trillions of nanobots in each nanofactory, will be constantly constructing whatever you want for example: metals, biological wood, stones, plastic, oil, or even intelligent materials. Robotics, with strong A.I.s and ubiquitous computing, will be controlling everything and constantly innovating. Robots will be our most careful servants: even better than our right hands. The end of poverty, money, and world hunger will be inevitable. Everything will be fairer and all the world problems will be solved. But maybe new kinds of problems will emerge. I hope not.
Singularity is described by some authors as the deepest art, the most beautiful science, and the most powerful technology. Some others don't agree and they say that singularity will destroy the world. The technological singularity is named after the physics' singularity, that is, the black hole. Inside a black hole, all the known physics laws break down and nobody can predict what happen there with precision. In the same manner, after the advent of the singularity, nobody can predict what would happen next. The more complex a system is the more unpredictable it becomes.
Solar energy is the source of almost all the energy in our planet. Oil, winds, water movements, temperature changes, weather, plants, and animals are in some manner created, derived or affected by sun light. So, the best way to obtain energy in the future will be to create nano solar panels that will efficiently transform solar energy into electricity. Our best solar panels today have an efficiency of 3%, whereas nano solar panels' will be more than 30%. Many scientists say that if we capture and transform the 0.3% of all the sun light that hits the Earth in one day, this percentage will cover and exceed the energy demand of the entire human race for that day in the future.
However, 3 existential risks will be present for the human race: nuclear bombs, nano-particle contamination (gray goo), and pathological strong A.I.s. The only thing we can do to protect ourselves is to be cautious. What-if scenarios and virtual models will be indispensable to assess the impact of each and every technology that is supposed to be launched to the public. Although, terrorism and mad scientists will be present in the future, so we will have to be aware of them. When creating strong A.I.s, it is strongly necessary to program them with good and hardwired values and principles like biodiversity, tolerance, freedom, peace, and organization. The market acceptance is another way to regulate the new technological products.
But I think that too much regulation will only prevent the development of good technologies that will bring a lot of satisfaction and will stop the suffering of many people. I think the main concern in the future will be to acquire more knowledge. Traditional forms of power will be purposeless since we will live forever, with lives full of satisfactions, with an extreme abundance, and in a more controlled and supervised world where everything will be fairer and more civilized. The origin of evil will be completely understood (neurological causes) and every conflict will be solved by negotiation.
The human race will not be precariously exposed anymore to comets, collision of galaxies, and the lure of the dumb natural forces because the human intelligence will be expanding at the speed of light throughout the rest of the Universe. All the efforts will be focus on circumventing the light speed limit. A complete knowledge of the wormholes could be a solution to overcome this problem. Circa 2100, pico-technology will be a reality and it will bring the possibility of transforming this dumb Universe into a conscious Universe. This does sound crazy right now. But, with the technological tools of the future, it could be possible. Remember the law of the accelerating returns.
- A visionary book
When you look back into the past there are certain books that captured our imagination and remain with us. Books such as "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", "The Population Bomb", and "Future Shock". Kurtzwell entered this elite group of authors with "The Age of the Spiritual Machine" but has exceeded himself with "The Singularity is Near". Its a book that bridges our lives today with a completely plausible future and provides us with solid factual evidence to form our own sense of comfort with his beliefs. Its a tour de force and should be read by anyone who wants to understand how life will change on earth in the next 25 to 50 years....more info
- This Will Change How You Think
This book will open your eyes and change how you think. Kurzweil is writing about the exponential growth of technology and what we can expect in what periods of time. He's researched the subject with care, and when you see his historical trends, it's impossible not to believe him. This book is eye-opening in so many ways I can categorically recommend it to any reader.
The 5-star rating reflects the importance of the content. It means if you buy this book, you'll be glad you did five stars' worth. However, the book is too long, and I'd guess not one reader in a thousand can understand all of it. There's science in the book that your average Nobel Laureate would have trouble with, but fortunately the author doesn't require that you understand the science to understand his conclusions.
So buy this book and push through the parts that you don't understand or that you don't find interesting. True, a better writer could make it half as long and twice as clear, but as far as I know that "better writer" hasn't yet addressed Kurzweil's subject. Until then, this book remains a must-read for those who want to understand where we're going with our science and technology.
- Much hype - litle to show
Much hype - litle to show. If interested in this subject get it at your library....more info
really not impressed, it's a collection of items and examples that don't necessarily fit together.
The style seems somehow childish...
I personally am disapointed......more info
- The exploration of an optimistic transhumanist future
I loved 'The Singularity is Near'. I thought it was one of the most important books about the progression of technology well into the future; Kurzweil explains the progression of technology quite convincingly. I consider that he is one of the experts in the field of computers/software/technology given his pioneering past contributions to the field, his reputation and experience, and his many articles in Wired magazine. His logical analysis is easy to follow and backed by extensive notes and bibliography in the back of the book (all of which comprise aproximately 1/5 of the already quite large book).
I've had time to reflect on the book and the following are some of my key takeaways.
1. I believe that- given all the technology we as consumers currently have access to- what we really want is big boobs/angelina jolie lips/no wrinkles etc (you know where i'm going with this); appearance/superficiality are what we want, in a word: morphic freedom. And in the Kurzweil future of nanobots and advanced genetic engineering, there will be tremendous commercial demand for it. (Alas changing appearance may take priority of curing human diseases and preemptively fixing existing potential genetic problems)
2. Nanobots as envisioned by Ray Kurzweil *would* trump any technology at present. Gray goo, nanoclouds, being able to spontaneously create anything or recreate anyone is the stuff of Neil Stevenson-esque sci fi and may happen well into the future.
While I believe all this *could* happen in the optimistic Kurzweillien future, I think there will several problems working against it: a. nanobots will only be as good as the software running them, b. software is hard to get 100% secure and bug free and c. it NEEDS to be when it's runing nanobots that interact with the environment or human body without constraint (i'm a programmer, boy do i know this). For example, microsoft windows98-bot would grow everyone an extra butt-hemisphere each morning and there's nothing we'd be able to do about it (sorry Mr. Gates, had to crack on it one last time)
d. Our country is having a hard time reconciling the necessity of stem cell research, despite overwhelming evidence suggesting the enormous benefits to people suffering diseases *right now*; on the other political side there are people against GMO (genetically modified organisms) for food/yet the world needs food *right now* (all but the us) - how the heck are you going to convince these people to allow scientists to make the very first nanobot that interacts with the environment? Essentially there are many moral, ethical boundaries on new technology that people like Ray and myself simply do not see, especially when the benefits to mankind outweigh the drawbacks. These boundaries will be barriers to the new technology's entry.
e. just saying 'nanobot' implies a good many things. It will be very very hard to make the first one (if universality/running software is part of the definition). Lots of smart people like Ray Kurzweil and Bill Gates will be needed.
3. Given the GNR (genetics, nano, robots) evolution thesis he proposes, i'm not sure i understood the 'robot' part. Is it that- once we use our knowledge of genetics and our ability of nano to overcome biological constraints like slow neurons and retarded processes that don't work in modern life like insulin resistance, we transcend biology and become cyborgs? Is it that the first two- the GN- recombine to yield the R or am i missing the point somehow? Or is it that once we overcome the biological part of our bodies, the R part is where AI becomes so good that we replace our own intelligences with AI+nano making us essentially inorganic? I had a hard time bringing all that together even after going back over some of the sections in the book....more info
- See John Horgan's writings for a little balance
I'm pretty much an agnostic on the question of whether or not Kurzweil's fundamental assumptions are correct. I do think, however, that one should seek out opposing views before rejoicing in his assertions (or panicking, depending on one's point of view). John Horgan is one such voice of dissent, and I recommend reading his essay entitled "Brain Chips and Other Dreams of the Cyber-evangelists", which you can find by googling. Here's his last paragraph, which might be good advice to disciples of Kurzweil: "I try to forget this vale of tears myself now and then by reading books like William Gibson's Neuromancer or watching movies like The Matrix. But I also try not to confuse science fiction with science."...more info
- Stick to your knitting
While the author is obviously technically brilliant he ventures into areas about which he appears to know very little. His frequent reference to evoloutionary principles as though they ensure linear progression, is a massive misunderstanding of the concept. He makes one reference to the leader in evolutionary knoweledge over the past three decaseds viz, Stephen Jay Gould and then inaccurately.
It is difficult to believe that he is very conversant with the writings of Jay Gould to whom greater deference ought to have been given when entering into the field of evolution.
In the end I was left with the impression that the book was a cross between science fiction and an unsatisfactory dependency upon his reputation rather than on principles of futurism which suggest (as is the case with mutations in evolution) that it is the unexpected that is likely to call the shots.
Another aspect of the book that concerned me was the assumption that homo sapiens needs to achieve artificial intelligence and that this development will somehow resolve the cultural, religious, environmental and philosophical problems confronting society
Louis A Coutts...more info
- Reviewers are Still Missing the Point
So many reviewers have criticized (or praised) one particular aspect of this book that it seems almost a one-issue candidate for some folks. Will nanotech go wild, what about politics, mankind's evil ways, greed, art, war, mixing minds, blah blah? Despite the myriad of almost countless details, the author is correct in describing the Singularity as a destination of a long but steady rise in complexity and knowledge.
Long-term trends persist despite occasional blips. Up close it is hard to see - the old forest for the trees. Non-scientists focus on the blips whereas (for example) climatologists look at data from millions of years - not last month's storms - to postulate future changes. Looking at events in 2006 says nothing about the future unless it is incorporated within the long-term trend. Kurzwell has thought a lot about this; he has an incredible track record for past predictions. More important than specific events, e.g. he stated that the Human Genome project would be completed before 2000, is his accuracy in areas like rates of growth, knowledge acquisition, technical progress and the ability to manipulate the fabric of matter.
If, as the author contends, we are in the midst of exponential growth in both computer and biological progress then he is bound to be correct, at least in his two main contentions: Humans and machines will fuse and we will have powers like gods. Some have questioned such aspects as how we remain human or will societies accept these changes. My own opinion is that our lives will be so radically different that many of our concerns will be replaced by some we cannot now comprehend. I'd like to be around when the Singularity comes without having to down 250 pills a day....more info
- Ponder the future
Ray certainly paints an almost romantic picture of a bright future for us all, without ignoring the fact that there will be challenges. I hope and believe we are heading in the direction he postulates. Possibly even at the speed too. If nothing else this book caused me to stop and think about where we have been and what that might tell us about where we are going. Only 5 years after this book came out, we are already starting to see the signs of this future that Ray has painted in the fields of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. I wish that he had spent more time in the book exploring the myriad of questions that arise when considering such a fundamentally different paradigm of humanity. Instead I felt a bit bored at times by the repetition of his arguments after I was already convinced. It's to be expected from academic books though I suppose....more info
- Eternal Sunshine of the Computer-Enhanced Mind
In this dense and hefty volume on the future of technology and humanity, the main thesis is in fact that the two are soon to inextricably converge and ring in the age of immortal and omniscient super- or post-humans.
Most certainly a breathtaking and fascinating look at what the future may hold, and Kurzweil seems to be eminently suited to the task of explaining the complex concepts behind the mind-boggling developments on the horizon, with a masterly control of the material that is mesmerizing. The book is rich with technical detail and hard data, and buttressed with highly developed arguments.
But...there is something disconcerting about the unwavering consistency of tone throughout, and although that is perhaps normally a mark of quality, in this case it carries a somewhat smug self-assuredness that is a bit of a turnoff. Even though he does address the major social, psychological, and philosophical ramifications of the massive changes he invokes, he does it in a way that seems to say he's already thought this all through for you, and since he's a mastermind, don't bother trying to take him to task because he can prove you wrong. Ironically (or maybe not) he comes off like a robot.
Another thing that bothers me is he seems to be frothing at the mouth to gain immortality. He starts to sound like the immortality-worshipping religious zealots that want nothing more than to preserve their own life forever, but don't even really enjoy life (or do much with it) now. Not that I'm such a wild-and-crazy, live-it-up kind of guy myself, but come on, 260-plus vitamins a day?! It must take 3 solid hours of pill-swallowing to accomplish that, which is freakish and a tad pathetic.
Personality issues aside, it's a great read, engendering nervous excitement about the supposedly very near future - like going up the first hill of the first roller coaster you ever rode....more info
- thought provoking and controversial
Weather you agree or disagree, love or hate Kurzweil, no one can deny that this book is extremely interesting. The author embraces the notion of technological accelerating returns, and carries the idea to its logical extreme. I find his predictions to be technologically utopian; however, there is nothing physically stopping humanity from walking the path he predicts. This book drives home the notion that we live at an exceedingly interesting time, and sketches out a logically sound prediction of what humanity is capable of in the near future....more info
- Amazing book of highly valuable and important information
Ray Kurzweil has written a book that is ahead of it's time. If you are smart enough to follow what he is talking about then you will find this book to be a total mindblowing experience. We are living in a time of incredible technological advancenent at the same time of massive catastrophic potentiality. If it isn't climate change that will kill us all it's Grorge Bush's (and his criminal gang) of failed policies of greed, murder and mayhem that has caused the entire world to go into an economic tailspin. Our only hope is Obama and books like Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity Is Near". Technolgy used responsibly is the only way now to reverse the collision course to mass extinction on this planet. This isn't just a good book, but is neccessary for YOU to understand the world we live in today. It's complicated, but we all must try to understand this material otherwise you will get left behind and the Singularity will have your meaningless, uninformed life terminated. This is about life and death people. Now pay attention. Good luck! ...more info
- Only for those with an open mind
This book will shake you to your very foundations. Only a few decades and non - biological intelligence with surpass human intelligence. The arguements are clear and concise. ...more info
- Rather infantile
This is an extremely important book. Not because it is breaking ground with any new insights, but because it is a textbook demonstration, at an extraordinarily high level, of social pathology.Moreso, it is simply scientifically incorrect.
The author's self proclaimed futurism aside, the content of the book is reworked Hegelianisms brought to the 21st century - only Hegel had more self-insight and modesty. However this isn't intended as sterile philosophy , it is a meditation for the future that unfortunately has an enormous audience in this civilization. Unfortunately , because, attaining the vaunted Singularity can be psychiatrically understood as achieving a pinnacle example of over-cerebrated dissociation.
Kurzweil is understandably mired in the neuroscience of the early 90's which focuses so strongly on cognition. Why not; he's a genius of cognition. What completely escapes him - and this too is understandable given the personality reflected in the writing- are the profound implications of the neuroscientific discoveries established most recently and entirely focused on right brain development.
For example, I found particularly revealing the awkward way with which the author dealt with the "spindle cell" issue on pg. 193-4 of his book. Here, perhaps in the only place in this book, he just stumbled upon the tip of the iceberg that will sink his ship. And again, as he does with all similar challenges, sidesteps the incredible implications with a glib "cerebration".
Even his treatment of, of all things, thermodynamics, is awkward and evasive because of a complete misread of the implications of the 2nd law for brain development.
I actually use this book when trying to explain the psychology of socially institutionalized narcissism to colleagues. It is not a new phenomenon, but what is perhaps unique to our predicament as a race, is that our technology is finally about to mature into a match for our pathologies.
If it weren't for this fact, the book could be dismissed as infantile fantasy, rather humorous in its presumptions, but harmless - it isn't....more info
- A Timeline Woulda Been Nice...an EDITOR, too!!!!
I love Ray Kurzweil. You know, not in that Biblical way, nor even in that neo-Platonic Metrosexual way. I love Ray Kurzweil because he is an eternal optimist, and because a lot of his ideas are just freakin' cool. (Of course, some of his ideas also seem very naive and rather dangerous, too. Cf "Why I love Ray Kurzweil.") Whether he is right or wrong in his predictions, at least he's someone who's upbeat about the future of humanity. What with Global Warming, Peak Oil, al Kaeda, the Social Security crisis, and Gulf hurricanes, sometimes you need someone telling you that not only is going to be all right, but that if we make it to 2045, we all will live forever, too, in an uber-society of benevolent immortals! (I'm not kidding. That's what Ray Kurzweil predicts.)
That is the main point of this book: that after the Technological Singularity not only will we all live forever, but our world will have changed so much along with that that we simply are UNABLE to predict what the world will be like after that date. However, in order to get there, it will involve computers, Artificial Intelligence, nanotechnology and genetic manipulations.
The problem with this book is that Kurzweil gives this stunning prediction--the MAIN POINT of the book--- somewhere roundabouts page 127, at the end of a paragraph, in the middle of a chapter, in an almost off-handed way.
In short, there is a lot of really fascinating stuff here, but it is tossed together in such a haphazard way, and with such verbose prose, and with so many tangents, that it is hard to keep focus on what is really essential.
One suggestion I might have--- and which would have helped me TREMENDOUSLY--- would have been a TIMELINE of major events that he predicts will happen. You see, throughout the book, tossed here and there, are statements like "By the end of the 2020s, a computer will have passed the Turing Test." Well, that's nice. But for me, the reason I read these types of books is that I want to know what the future will bring! But after I read this book, I got the feeling that a lot of cool stuff is going to happen, but I wasn't exactly sure when. There was no way I could go and see a summary of these predictions.
I would have like a 10 page timeline of major future events. You know, like "2019- the first implantable brain-computer interface. 2020- Computer intelligence reaches the level of a human in a mainframe computer. 2021- We finally get the flying cars!" and so on. (By the way, he doesn't actually talk about flying cars. But I STILL want to know when I get my flying car!)
I waited many years for this book after I read his last "The Age of Spiritual Machines" (which is amazing.) I must count myself among the slightly disappointed. The book's ideas are amazing and really important, but it's often hard to tell that because they are tossed haphazardly together in an often long-winded jumble.
The book would have been 5 stars for me had it been better organized. Or, if it had been organized like "Spiritual Machines" which looked at the future decade by decade. A nice timeline alone would have knocked it up to 4 stars.
Even though I'm only giving it three stars, I STILL think everyone should read it! The ideas presented are just THAT important. But expect the experience to be a little more like eating broccoli than a bowl of cherries: sure, both of them are good for you, but it often takes some effort to eat the former....more info
- Look-out future here we come
I read this book with such optimism for our future. I only hope to live long enough to see some of the exciting events in our future on this planet. Just when you think you have seen it all, you "ain't seen nutt'n yet". Come on world let's work together and solves some of the mysteries that are tearing us apart....more info
- A prediction about humanity's destiny
This is a strange and powerful tome. Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil makes predictions that are sweeping in their implications and bold in their specificity. In fact, some readers may think they sound more like science fiction than science. He discusses developing artificial intelligence, downloading consciousness, redesigning the body using nanotechnology and other seemingly improbable developments. Then, he goes out on a limb to predict how and when these technological advances will all intersect - a historical moment called the "singularity." At that point, he says, if humans have used technology properly, they will become godlike, solving all their problems. Kurzweil devotes nearly 80 pages to articulating and responding to the criticisms of skeptics. However, even if you reject most of Kurzweil's ideas, you can still benefit from reading his book. It is thoroughly researched, with roughly 100 pages of notes and references, and conceptually challenging. Kurzweil works hard to make it lively and accessible, providing graphs, quotations, sidebars and imaginary debates among spokespersons for various points of view. The result can become overwhelming, but it is always thought-provoking. We recommend this book to executives who are seriously interested in planning for the future, and to curious minds everywhere.
- Fantastic book, easy read. Mind-expanding
Kurzweil is one of the leaders in historic and future trends. This book is a summary of just that: trends during the lifetime of the universe, and what that means for the future. The book delves into all sorts of coming and current revolutions, mostly focusing on ones in computers, nanotechnology and biology, and mostly their intersection. It is fascinating and mind-expanding. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in history or interested in what will be happening over the next several years...more info
- Not for non geeks!
Although the reading is tedious for someone who is not that scientifically or computer oriented, the concepts and ideas the book presents are fascinating and a bit scary!...more info
- Great Overview, If a Bit Repetitive
Mr. Kurzweil gives a well-annotated overview of the state-of-the-art in many varied technologies such as genetics, nanotech, and artificial intelligence. However, this book could have been *half* the size. It is extremely repetitive. Good book to take on vacation, because you can basically skim it without missing anything important. The fictional dialogs about technology that end each chapter range from annoying to interesting....more info
- Theoretical Science Masterpiece
Kurzwell's vision isn't perfect. But part of the point of this book is that no one single person will comprise the evolutionary singularity, it will take every single part of humanity to plug into our world for that to happen. He's doing a relatively noble thing, standing on the edge of reality, and sending out a jolting vision of the future that is one of a kind. There's no need to worship Kurzwell, it's simply that people ought to pay attention to this theoretical science masterpiece and heed it's alarming beautiful call to arms against pessimism and backward oriented thought. Awesome....more info