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The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence Hardcover – January 1, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0670882175 ISBN-10: 0670882178

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

How much do we humans enjoy our current status as the most intelligent beings on earth? Enough to try to stop our own inventions from surpassing us in smarts? If so, we'd better pull the plug right now, because if Ray Kurzweil is right we've only got until about 2020 before computers outpace the human brain in computational power. Kurzweil, artificial intelligence expert and author of The Age of Intelligent Machines, shows that technological evolution moves at an exponential pace. Further, he asserts, in a sort of swirling postulate, time speeds up as order increases, and vice versa. He calls this the "Law of Time and Chaos," and it means that although entropy is slowing the stream of time down for the universe overall, and thus vastly increasing the amount of time between major events, in the eddy of technological evolution the exact opposite is happening, and events will soon be coming faster and more furiously. This means that we'd better figure out how to deal with conscious machines as soon as possible--they'll soon not only be able to beat us at chess, but also likely demand civil rights, and might at last realize the very human dream of immortality.

The Age of Spiritual Machines is compelling and accessible, and not necessarily best read from front to back--it's less heavily historical if you jump around (Kurzweil encourages this). Much of the content of the book lays the groundwork to justify Kurzweil's timeline, providing an engaging primer on the philosophical and technological ideas behind the study of consciousness. Instead of being a gee-whiz futurist manifesto, Spiritual Machines reads like a history of the future, without too much science fiction dystopianism. Instead, Kurzweil shows us the logical outgrowths of current trends, with all their attendant possibilities. This is the book we'll turn to when our computers first say "hello." --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

According to the law of accelerating returns, explains futurist Kurzweil (The Age of Intelligent Machines), technological gains are made at an exponential rate. In his utopian vision of the 21st century, our lives will change not merely incrementally but fundamentally. The author is the inventor of reading and speech-recognition machines, among other technologies, but he isn't much of a writer. Using clunky prose and an awkward dialogue with a woman from the future, he sets up the history of evolution and technology and then offers a whirlwind tour through the next 100 years. Along the way, he makes some bizarre predictions. If Kurzweil has it right, in the next few decades humans will download books directly into their brains, run off with virtual secretaries and exist "as software," as we become more like computers and computers become more like us. Other projections?e.g., that most diseases will be reversible or preventable?are less strange but seem similarly Panglossian. Still others are more realizable: human-embedded computers will track the location of practically anyone, at any time. More problematic is Kurzweil's self-congratulatory tone. Still, by addressing (if not quite satisfactorily) the overpowering distinction between intelligence and consciousness, and by addressing the difference between a giant database and an intuitive machine, this book serves as a very provocative, if not very persuasive, view of the future from a man who has studied and shaped it. B&w illustrations. Agent, Loretta Barrett; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Germany, Italy and Spain; simultaneous Penguin audio; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (January 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670882178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670882175
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #471,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ray Kurzweil is a prize-winning author and scientist. He was named Inventor of the Year by MIT in 1988 and was awarded the Dickson Prize, Carnegie Mellon's top science prize, in 1994. He is the recipient of nine honorary doctorates and honors from two American presidents. He lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

Kurzweil is not an economist or a sociologist.
Richard K. Edwards
It has long been a staple of science fiction that humans will be replaced by artificial intelligence, what Kurzweil calls "spiritual machines."
Dennis Littrell
Pick up this book, read it, make your friends read it, and enjoy the time you spend discussing it.
Johnny NYC

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Johnny NYC on December 5, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book got me excited. It changed the way I think about the future, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the possibilities that the future holds.
Kurzweil presents his theories a lot more convincingly than I can, but I've certainly tried a lot since I read this book. It stimulates philosophical debate on the nature of life and intelligence, but grounds its philosophical wanderings in believable theory.
The book is not without its problems. The jump into the future of nanotechnology leaves is abrupt and the Law of Accelerating returns is not a law but a trend. He ignores the possibility of social movements or government action to prevent Artificial Intelligence research once it reaches a certain level. When he speaks about specific aspects of humanity or sex, he reveals an incomplete understanding of the way people feel and love.
But these flaws only serve to remind the reader that the book is indeed speculation, not fact. And the speculation is beautiful, absolutely inspiring. It introduced possibilities and ideas that I'm still turning over in my mind, and it did it all with clear, entertaining writing that a non-scientist like me can understand.
Pick up this book, read it, make your friends read it, and enjoy the time you spend discussing it. The resulting conversations will be so much more interesting than your usual social fare.
In fact, read a book like this every year, whether it's something totally off the wall (Robert Anton Wilson's "Prometheus Rising") or a little more grounded in current science (Kevin Kelly's "Out of Control"). It will broaden your "reality-tunnel" and get your mind working with big, fun concepts.
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117 of 129 people found the following review helpful By Spiff on September 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ray Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines' is an intelligent look at what the future might be holding for us all. Like other similar titles - Visions by Michio Kaku comes to mind - Kurzweil tries to predict where science will take us. Unlike `Visions' however, this book is considerably more focused on computer technology and artificial intelligence, and I would only recommend it if you're not looking for a much broader answer to the question of where we are headed. Kurzweil never intended to cover other matters, and reading the Prologue will be enough to understand that most of the book will explore the rising of machine intelligence to a level that will surpass the capabilities of the human brain.
Kurzweil starts by describing the exponential growth of computer power, Moore's Law, and transistor-based computing. The present and the future are described until quantum effects start becoming a problem and a completely new kind of technology becomes necessary (some alternatives are mentioned, Quantum computation is of course, mentioned). The book proceeds to more metaphysical subjects, and questions if we can create another intelligence form more intelligent than ourselves. Can the created exceed the creator?
It will then proceed to cover consciousness and feelings; Kurzweil gets philosophical in what in my opinion is one of the book's weakest chapters The methods available to solve a wide range of intelligent problems (when combined with heavy doses of computation) will follow, in a chapter that covers subjects from recursive formulas to neural nets, and of course, enough space is dedicated to Alan Turing, the father of all modern computers.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Ray Kurzweil is well known for the myriad of inventions he has pioneered, from the original Kurzweil Synthesizer through a series of computerized appliances designed to make life easier for the handicapped. He is less well known for his previous book, "The Age of Intelligent Machines," and for his shockingly accurate past prognosticating on the future of technology (he missed calling the chess match victory of Deep Blue against Kasparov by one year...making the prediction a decade or more ago). Now Kurzweil is weighing in on what the astounding exponential advance of computer processing power is going to mean to the human race. In short, he goes way, *way* out on a limb, and flatly predicts that human minds and bodies will have largely combined and integrated with super-powerful computers within 100 years from today. Furthermore, he convincingly extrapolates present advances in computing power to predict that a $1,000 desktop PC in the year 2020 will have equal computing power to a human mind. Then 40 years after that, by 2060, a desktop computer will have the combined computing power of every human mind on earth. And that curve will continue increasing until individual computers within the next hundred years will have the computing power of billions of human minds. In the face of that, Kurzweil predicts, human beings will assimilate with the new super-intelligence of machines, in order to bypass biological evolution and supercharge not only our minds but also our bodies, which will be remade and redesigned in virtually any way we might find compelling and useful. In short, Kurzweil is predicting the emergence of a new species within the next 100 years, as machine intelligence exceeds carbon-based intelligence by millions of powers. Scary? Not at all.Read more ›
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