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Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ Hardcover – September 30, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist and screenwriter Dooling (White Man's Grave) contemplates the Era of Singularity, the coming day when computers will be able to outthink humans, in this uneven take on the future of machine intelligence. Dooling is at his best when he profiles technology's most captivating futurists: Ray Kurzweil, inventor of scanning and text-to-speech technologies, beguiles with his vision of human minds embedded in silicon chips; physicist and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge portrays a bleaker future where humanity serves its hyperintelligent computer overlords. Dooling veers back and forth between celebrating the speed with which technology is evolving and ruing its hidden perils (our fatal flaw... is Promethean fire-stealing, the instinct to always and everywhere overreach), along the way touching upon the computer research, various philosophies of mind and intelligence, and the historical tensions between man and machine. While an engaging writer, Dooling tends to indulge in sarcasm and snarky humor, which trivializes the deeper import of his message: that whether machines ever become self-aware, living minds, we are losing something of what makes us human when we lose control of our own creations and their meaning. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Praise for Richard Dooling:
Rapture for the Geeks

“Nimble and entertaining . . . A fascinating historical review of our longtime obsession with machines.”
—David Takami, Seattle Times

“Surprisingly engrossing, quick-witted.”
New York Observer

“One doesn’t expect a nonfiction book to be fascinating, chilling, thoughtful, and funny in equal measure. This one is. My question: When computers become smarter than humans, and especially if they take over, will they regard Rick Dooling as dangerous, prescient, sympathetic . . . or irrelevant?”
—Kurt Andersen

“Dooling really is onto something here.”–Ars Technica

Bet Your Life
“Manages to invoke Double Indemnity, the Old Testament, and Fountains of Wayne with equal vehemence and thriller wit. . . . If you’re not hooked, you’re one dead mackerel.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Fascinating . . . A socially relevant satire [that’s] midway between John Grisham and Carl Hiaasen.”
The New Yorker

Brainstorm is simply brilliant—hilarious, thought-provoking, and masterfully crafted. The characters are fantastic and irresistible but completely believable, and their banter is so witty and natural that a reader can forget they are debating ideas at the cutting edge of brain science and philosophy.”
—Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works

“Exuberant . . . deeply pleasurable . . . Here is a whodunit that achieves a comic fugue-state mastery of the language of our sexually charged, violent, technocratic society.”
—Colin Harrison, New York Times Book Review

Blue Streak: Swearing, Free Speech and Sexual Harassment
“A charmingly impudent essay on language and sexual politics . . . an extremely clever and creative sort of literary acting out.”
—Richard Bernstein, New York Times

White Man’s Grave
“A bravura display of satire . . . Dooling evokes the humane checks and balances of a deep world: the logic, you might say, of its magic.”
—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307405257
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307405258
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,049,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Scott S. Trimble on January 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Reading some of the other customer reviews on here kind of bums me out. It seems like people are judging this book based on their own expectations rather than for what it is: an entertaining tour of the most important ideas about artificial intelligence.

I loved this book. But I realize that I am a quirky guy who happens to be fascinated by theoretical science, and who is already fairly well-read about the singularity concept. For me, the book was an entertaining opinion-piece in which Dooling takes the reader on a tour of singularity's main ideas, while making sure to keep the reader entertained the whole way. He touches all the bases from Moore's Law to basic programming concepts (and hits on most of my favorite topics including consciousness, free will, and memes), and he gives the reader a glimpse at the contributions and opinions of all the key personalities from Ray Kurzweil to Bill Joy. Rather than being in depth and technical, the book presents the ideas in an everyman style, and Dooling provides enough specific links and references to point anyone interested in learning more about specific technical topics in the right direction.

In my opinion, Dooling also makes some noteworthy contributions in the form of opinions and hypothetical scenarios. I've spent considerable time reading about artificial intelligence, and Dooling came up with quite a few interesting twists to the usual analysis that were new to me! As long as you have sufficient background knowledge, you will be able to tell when Dooling gets into opinion/speculation mode, and you should take it as such. For example, I personally disagree with his idea that singularity might be just another form of religion, but I am glad to have been exposed to the interesting idea. Bottom line: it is a book of ideas and hypotheticals, not a book about technical information. And I think it's filled with some superb ideas!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By James B on November 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While this book started out well, it dropped off quickly from there. Very readable, fairly humorous, but not very techinical it began with a good introduction to the future of technology and AI, but devolved from there into a series of largely irrelevant essays on computer programming. The author, a lawyer, not an engineer, becomes overly fascinated with his own knowledge and repeatedly just threw in snippets of code or tech jargon, apparently for no other purpose than to impress us with his knowledge. Also most annoying were his completely pointless rants about Microsoft. Now I have nothing particular against Microsoft bashing, but it didn't have anything to do with the subject of the book. I can get that for free on the Internet on any Linux forum out there, so why should I have to pay $15 for the honor?

In all a decent intro to the subject though, at least I know what books I want to read now.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Brian Stiff on November 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book in hopes that it would offer a detailed, analytical discussion of the origins, present state, and possible futures of machine intelligence. In that regard, I'm disappointed. I suppose the subtitle would more aptly read, "Based on Hunter S. Thompson's narrative style, but with the gonzoness". The book dwells more, as other reviewers have noted, on vaguely relevant citations of jargon, quotes taken out of context, snarky comments on hacker and gamer culture, and insubstantial, plebeian drive-by sniping at Microsoft. Sure, the discussion of the parallels between Faust and the scientists of the Manhattan Project is fairly interesting, but I believe this is old hat for most geeks. The 25-page anecdote describing the conspiracy of a father and son to circumvent the wife/mother's effort to get the boy involved in sports instead of the playing World of Warcraft was entertaining, but took up 23 pages more than it needed to. There is definitely no engineering insight into machine intelligence, unless you're able to find something that I missed in the author's retrospective of the early days of word processing and the supposition that Microsoft is trying to screw us all to death with their license enforcement and lack of file-format portability. Several other folks have mentioned the tongue-in-cheek code snippets that the author included; I think he'd actually have been ahead to include, instead, a sprinkling of illustrations from XKCD.

Prior to reading this book, I'd read the wikipedia article discussing the Technological Singularity. It offered a much more concise and technically insightful discussion of this material. I wish I'd saved my money and time, and stopped there, and spent my time reading in-flight magazines instead of trying to get value from this book.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By W. Richman on February 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
There are some interesting/funny bits in the book, but as another reviewer pointed out, Dooling seems to become so enamored with his own breadth of knowledge that he just _has_ to share it with you. All of it. After running it through a blender. The most interesting parts are the quotes he uses from knowledgeable people in the various fields, but his attempts to interpret what he thinks they're trying to say don't often make a lot of sense. I appreciate his position on the "open source software" movement, and I share his loathing for all things Microsoft, but I'm not sure what either of these things has to do with artificial intelligence. Then, in chapter "12.5" he goes off on a rambling rant concerning why Richard Dawkins isn't in a position to say that "god" doesn't exist. He apparently has some kind of ax to grind on the subject, because he pretty well beats it to death. I'm not sure I'm even going to finish reading the book at this point. Overall, it's neither particularly funny nor particularly insightful. It's as though he wrote the whole thing while admiring himself in the mirror. Not pretty.
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