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The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
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on May 20, 2015
This book is an encyclopedic analysis of tech developments trending to our future. Reading it I was tempted to amalgamate Kurzweil’s ideas with other and earlier tech authors regarding future trends. An amalgamation perhaps beginning with Norbert Wiener (“Cybernetics or Control & Communication in the Animal and the Machine”) and W. Gray Walter’s light seeking mechanical turtles (pioneer in developing electroencephalography - a clinical tool to evaluate human brain function). These in the first half of the 1950’s and earlier others hinted at trends into our future but didn’t focus on consequential or specific possible changes to the general human condition. They also did not project derivative tech developments in detail, as I recall but they were implied. Perhaps because they were, at the time, fully occupied solving current problems such as increasing accuracy of firing military weapons in WWII, or charting brain waves for the next clinical patient arriving for observation and treatment.
On page 15 Kurzweil categorizes overall human and tech evolution as occurring in 6 epochs. Sequentially passing from creation of the universe though evolution of human capabilities to our present epoch (#4) of rapid technology developments. By epoch #6 he forecasts arrival at a period of time he sees as a blending of humans and techonology occurring to our benefit. Epoch 6 will find us at or passing through a singularity hence its presence in the book title. In subsequent pages he investigates examples of tech changes trending toward these future epochs. Kurzweil’s graphed trends are a series of tech examples (such as computers, data storage, transistors, processing speeds, etc.) illustrating our journey into a high tech future in his view. The balance of the book is defense of this thesis.
He portrays our recent and current experience as an heretofore unquantified acceleration of science and technology research leading to development as an exponential change into more distant decades/epochs. This thesis is supported by tech changes plotted, in detail, up to about the year 2005 and extrapolated as confirmation of a probable forthcoming series of epochs. The ‘new tech’ is being implemented and applied so rapidly he suggests an urgent concern to plan how human beings will be affected. The trend lines in these contemporary development he contends portend future epochs.
Kurzweil’s writing includes complex and amplifying relationships to earlier researchers in pure science and technology. He references many of them in 100+ pages of chapter notes tending to both corroborate his projections and pointing out experience supporting his concepts in this book. Not coincidentally I have read Kurzweil’s “Age of Spiritual Machines”, “Fantastic Journey (or live long enough so you can live forever)”, “The Singularity is Near” and most recently “How to Build a Mind”. ‘Spiritual machines’ seems conceptually an outline for this book. Referenced authors generally intimate increments of change a consequence of their specific research. In a sense they were all a prelude to Kurzweil. However Kurzweil provides in “The Singularity is Near” a broader summary view of precedent developments adding explicit opinions as to where he considers it is all leading into a future more distant than heretoforee considered in such detail by others. In a sense this book created an enterprise involving many authors expressing views on our collective human future – its probable advantages and threats. Reading these authors is better than science fiction of the future.
Perhaps a most significant fact about Kurzweil foretelling the future is his firmly based practical and internationally recognized reputation as a technologist/inventor. In other words his observations about our future are based on practical experience creating, for example, the electronic piano and the optical character reader. His books are also personal beginning with his “Fantastic Journey”, written with Dr. Goodman (a physician), investigating minutiae of exercise, diet, physiology, etc. as affecting longevity. A view of life presumably lengthening a natural human life cycle to insure his being present at a future ‘singularity’ from thence planning to live even longer.
In “Fantastic Voyage” Kurzweil and Dr. Goodman explain in great detail how our bodies develop through life and how those developments are distinctly influenced by environment, diet, exercise and augmentation with ‘supplements’. He so convinced himself of what he learned through research for this book he reputedly takes more than two hundred ‘supplements’ (mostly pills). Incredible! In these books he writes clearly of his plan to live long enough to be present to participate in future changes to the human condition.
Capitalising ‘singularity’ could imply a religious enthusiasm were it not for the humanistic optimism and hard data base of ‘The Singularity” book. Kurzweil is clearly an optimist about our future. We will live much longer amid an abundance of beneficial technological products and procedures almost beyond present imagination.
Another and preceeding author is Vernor Vinge who wrote a memorandum, requested by NASA in 1993 entitled “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era”. This preceeded Kurzweil’s ‘Singularity” (2005). There is a powerful sense of reality in Vinge’s comments on our future consistent with practical minded US Air Force need for long range strategic planning. Some considerable time after Vinge’s memo appeared obervations of how seriously Vernor Vinge may have been taken by others than Kurzweil. A Colonel Garretson decided Vinge’s thoughts logically suggested looking into a most distant future by preparing outline tech development requirements for a ‘billion year plan for earth’. Our planet and humanity will face changes over next decades but what may happen in a coming billion years? While Garretson’s billion year plan involves extraordinary and improbable extrapolations of present tech. They will, of course, evolve differently into such a distant future time than we can anticipate. It seems impossible to look that far ahead but challenges imagination to consideration of Garretson’s ideas.
Kurzweil, Vinge and Garretson among many others are indicative of a growing industry evaluating where we are, or should be, moving rapidly into earth’s future. Many of the views of tech change are rapidly appearing in popular media of TV, magazines, newspapers, etc.
Kurzweil has an enthusiasm for life in all of his books because he is optimistic about being present in those rapidly approaching times. I share the enthusiasm even though my response is probably not so ebullient. A book was written a couple years ago about a survey on the question of how long people migh want to live if given the choice. Few reflected any interest in living much beyond a typical three score and ten years. At the very best choosing a term of life much beyond seeing their children safely and happily settled into a comfortable life. Perhaps religious beliefs and hopes have dampened thinking about a future. This may suggest sparse interest in what Kurzweil has to say, or for looking so far ahead in time.
One can read Singularity as a tour de force in evolving trends leading to a distant and intriguing human future. Perhaps Ray is too optimistic. We won’t know until we get there. But that isn’t enough for him. His book following “Singularity” is “How to Build a Mind” based on working decades with high tech. Everything in ‘building a mind’ book is fundamentally hard science and perhaps tends to bolster Kurzweil’s high optimism for our next three or four decades. One wonders whether he was hired by Google to build a mind? Building a mind is one ingredient of a future where we may be served or challenged by strong artificial intelligent robotic beings. It may be as simple as Kurzweil writing about a future in anticipation of being there personally. Something which others such as Wiener or Gray Walter chose not to have written much about or didn’t have the time to do so. That consideration alone may recommend this book to readers.
Additional factors for his thinking, in specific current tech advances, are provided in the weekly newsletter “KurzweilAI”. From these notes I compiled a list of 300, so far, recent advances (out of many more reported) all tending toward a Singularity in Kurzweil logic. In other words we see daily tech developments reported contributing to the Singularity thesis in addition to those analyzed in ‘’Singularity’.
One could consider Kurzweil’s analysis in Singularity as optimistic or simply improbable. Perhaps he isn’t furtherest out on the limb of analyzing trends into our future. About the time I began reading Kurzweil I found a book by Frank Tipler (1998) entitled “Physics of Immortality”. This book is another in a long series of what, in this instance, a general relativist has to say about a very distant earth’s future. He writes about tech developments such as ‘universal constructors’ and ‘travel into a ‘distant future’ of universal collapsing ‘shear forces’ available for use to our advantage.
It is mind expanding to extrapolate ideas brought to our attention by the ‘Singularity’ and books on related subjects. This is probably a good thing since it jars society into thinking about earth’s future and its effects on human society. Do our governments and representatives read books of this sort? Should they?
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Too much stuff...
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on May 3, 2015
This is my absolute favorite book! It's brilliant, & it gives me so much hope for the future!
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self absorbed...boring
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on April 27, 2015
Thought proving kind of read, however, loaded with some redundancy. This could be a though read if your not technically inclined or into this stuff...
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on April 18, 2015
Fantastic reading. This book changed the way I see the world and Human race.
Kurzweil exposes a structure to explain the pace of information technology evolution. He shows how well this structure explains the past - recent and remote. Finally he uses it to make fantastic predictions about our near future - fantastic but plausible.
As a base for Kurzweil's claims, the book is full of references to research of other teams which allows for a lot of supplementary reading.
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on April 15, 2015
For me, this book immediately helped me understand and appreciate science fiction stories. It explains how many of the unbelievable capabilities in the future can be actualized, because of the exponential growth of technology.
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on April 1, 2015
What a tour de force. This guy is so smart, reading his book makes smoke pour out my ears!
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on April 1, 2015
This is a good book for anyone interested in what technologies will emerge during this century. Interestingly, while this book was written in 2004, most of the discussions are still relevant today and it is impressive to see that he was already talking about these technologies at that time. Some of the ideas presented were even new to me, although I follow closely the development of science and technology.

He brushes nicely many of the core concepts related to transhumanism and similar philosophies regarding our future while not going too far in his speculations. By not going too far I mean that most of his propositions are somewhat backed by current technologies and knowledge and are not just spitted out crudely. There are some parts that are a bit redundant and I would've liked more philosophical discussions and arguments, but it is non the less an informative book.

I would recommend it also to the more technophile and futurist readers out there; there is still information that might surprise you in some way.
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on March 22, 2015
Everyone should read this book.
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