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The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence

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The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence [Paperback]

Ray Kurzweil
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Editorial Reviews 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

From Publishers Weekly

Kurzweil's reasoned scenarios of a "post-biological future" are as harrowing as any science fiction. That's the appeal of listening on tape to the inventor and MIT professor's provocative speculations on what could occur once computers reach or surpass human-level intelligenceAthen start to self-replicate. Computers, with their integrated circuit chip complexity, are sneaking up on us on an accelerated curve, he argues, citing the example of chess master Gary Kasparov's shocking loss to IBM's machine Deep Blue in 1997. Do computers represent "the next stage of evolution"? Will technology create its own next generations? Kurzweil suggests a timeline inhabited by "neural-nets," "nanobot" robots and scenarios of virtual reality where sexuality and spirituality become completely simulated. It's bracing and compelling stuff, propelled by the author's own strong egotistical will to prove his version of the future. Reader Sklar is thoughtful, if at times overly heavy on the ironies. Simultaneous release with the Viking hardcover. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

With the coming of the millennium, there is no shortage of predictions about what the next century will hold. Inventor, computer scientist, and futurist Kurzweil (The Age of Intelligent Machines, LJ 6/1/91) has produced a vision of the 21st century in which he predicts that a $1000 personal computer will match the computing speed and capacity of the human brain by around the year 2020. But Kurzweil does more than simply prognosticate about the future?he provides a blueprint for the next stage of human evolution, in which we will begin to develop computers more intelligent than ourselves. Then we must ask ourselves whether these new thinking machines are indeed conscious entities. This superb work is a thoughtful melding of technology, philosophy, ethics, and humanism. Highly recommended.
-?Joe J. Accardi, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

What will the world look like when computers are smarter than their owners? Kurzweil, the brains behind some of today's most brilliant machines, offers his insights. Kurzweil (The Age of Intelligent Machines, not reviewed) posits that technological progress moves at exponential rates. If we apply that standard to the future of computer evolution, another 20 years or so will give us machines with as much memory and intelligence as ourselves. This projection involves a certain faith in as yet unforeseeable technical breakthroughs. There is no obvious way to reduce the size of an electrical circuit beyond a few atoms' width, for examplebut the speed of circuits is a function of their size. Kurzweil gets around this limit (known in the computer industry as Moore's Law) by suggesting a relationship between the pace of time and the degree of chaos in a system; as order increases, the interval between meaningful events decreases. In other words, a more highly evolved system will continue to evolve at increasing speed. While this seems more a matter of faith than an inevitable law of nature, the history of technology (as Kurzweil summarizes it) seems to bear out the relationship. He extrapolates the future of computer technology, offering both a detailed time line and imaginary dialogues with a fully intelligent computer from a hundred years in our future. (This sort of imaginative exercise inevitably partakes to some degree of science fiction.) The book's deliberately nonlinear organization offers a variety of paths through the subject matter, as well, and Kurzweil encourages the reader to take whichever approach is attractive. While much of the material (Turing tests, AI research) will be familiar to readers who have followed the growth of computer science, Kurzweil's broad outlook and fresh approach make his optimism hard to resist. Heavy going in spots, but an extremely provocative glimpse of what the next few decades may well hold. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"The Age of Spiritual Machines will blow your mind. Kurzweil lays out a scenario that might seem like science fiction if it weren't coming from a proven entrepreneur." -- San Francisco Chronicle

"Kurzweil paints a tantalizing -- and sometimes terrifying -- portrait of a world where the line between humans and machines has become thoroughly blurred. -- Boston Globe Book Review

"Ray Kurzweil's book is a real stunner. He predicts that in the fairly near future people will be half-human, half-machine." -- Forbes Magazine

"The book is an ambitious blueprint for the future, mapping out the next century of technological evolution and exploring the moment when PCs will attain and then surpass the capabilities of the human brain." -- Business 2.0

"This is a book for computer enthusiasts, science fiction writers in search of cutting-edge themes and anyone who wonders where human technology is going next." -- New York Times Book Review

"What Kurzweil brings to the table is sobriety... compelling predicitions and delicious presumption into into his fascinatic speculations about the future." -- Wired Magazine

"What will the world look like when computers are smarter than their owners? Kurzweil, the brains behind some of today's most brilliant machines, offers his insights -- an extremely provocative glimpse of what the next few decades may well hold." -- Kirkus Reviews

His book ranges widely over such juicy topics as entropy, chaos, the big bang, quantum theory, DNA computers... neural nets, genetic algorithms, nanoengineering, the Turing test, brain scanning... chess-playing programs, the Internet--the whole world of information technology past, present, and future. This is a book for computer enthusiasts, science fiction writers in search of cutting-edge themes, and anyone who wonders where human technology is going next. -- The New York Times Book Review, Collin McGinn

Of course, we've heard it all before. But what Kurzweil brings to the table is sobriety. While he exudes a boyish optimism, there is little of the booster's jargon in his book. -- Wired, Paul Bennett --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Ray Kurzweil is a prize-winning author and scientist. Recipient of the MIT-Lemelson Prize (the world’s largest for innovation), and inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame, he received the 1999 National Medal of Technology. His books include The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Age of Intelligent Machines.

Visit Ray Kurzweil on the web:


Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From the Introduction: Ray Kurzweil is one of the great scientists, inventors, and visionaries of the 20th Century. Dr. Kurzweil has spent a lifetime teaching computers how to act like human beings. He taught them to see, developing the first Charge Coupled Device (CCD) Flat Bed Scanner in 1975. He taught them to read, creating the first Omni-Font ("any" font) Optical Character Recognition software in 1976. He taught them to listen, with the first commercially marketed Large Vocabulary Speech Recognition Software in 1987. He taught them to speak, with the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind in 1976. And he taught them to sing, when in 1984 he developed the first music synthesizer capable of emulating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments so well that even professional musicians couldn't answer "Is it real or is it Kurzweil?"

In 1990, Ray Kurzweil shook the world of computer science with the publication of his book, The Age of Intelligent Machines. What is going to happen, Kurzweil asked, when computers go beyond mere input/output formulas and begin to actually think for themselves? They will clobber the world chess champion by 1998, he predicted (this happened in 1997), and people will be able to visually navigate a global network of interconnected computers, he said (five years before the World Wide Web). Lauded as a visionary, the recipient of nine honorary doctorate degrees, honored by two U.S. Presidents, the "restless genius" that is Ray Kurzweil has dropped another bomb in the scientific community by asking the simple question, "What happens when machines exceed human intelligence in every measurable way?"

The answer: We enter The Age of Spiritual Machines. That's right, machines that not only see and feel and speak and think, but machines that surpass human intelligence -- machines that have consciousness, their own agendas, and the ability to achieve their goals without human assistance. What will happen to us when evolution replaces us as the dominant species on the planet? This is not science fiction any longer, says Kurzweil. His new book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, is based on interdisciplinary research into state-of-the-art technology, laying a scientific foundation that supports his incredible predictions for the next century.

The article, below, was written for us by Dr. Kurzweil as a summary of some of the major points in his book. Beneath the article, you'll find additional information about The Age of Spiritual Machines. Enjoy!

An Epochal Event in the History of Life on Earth

A threshold event will take place early in the Twenty-First century: the emergence of machines more intelligent than their creators. By 2019, a $1,000 computer will match the processing power of the human brain -- about 20 million billion calculations per second. Organizing these resources -- the "software" of intelligence -- will take us to 2029, by which time your average personal computer will be equivalent to a thousand human brains.

Once a computer achieves a level of intelligence comparable to human intelligence, it will necessarily soar past it. For one thing, computers can easily share their knowledge. If I learn French, or read War and Peace, I can't readily download that learning to you. You have to acquire that scholarship the same painstaking way that I did. But if one computer learns a skill or gains an insight, it can immediately share that wisdom with billions of other computers. So every computer can be a master of all human and machine acquired knowledge.

Keep in mind that this is not an alien invasion of intelligent machines. It is emerging from within our human/machine civilization. There will not be a clear distinction between human and machine in the Twenty First century. First of all, we will be putting computers --neural implants -- directly into our brains. We've already started down this path. We have neural implants to counteract Parkinson's Disease and tremors from multiple sclerosis. We have cochlear implants that restore hearing to deaf individuals. Under development is a retina implant that will perform a similar function for blind individuals, basically replacing the visual processing circuits of the brain. A couple of weeks ago, scientists placed a chip in the brain of a paralyzed individual who can now control his environment directly from his brain.

In the 2020s, neural implants will not be just for disabled people. Most of us will have neural implants to improve our sensory experiences, perception, memory, and logical thinking. These implants will also plug us in directly to the World Wide Web. This technology will enable us to have virtual reality experiences with other people -- or simulated people -- without requiring any equipment not already in our heads. And virtual reality will not be the crude experience that people are used to today. Virtual reality will be as realistic, detailed, and subtle as real reality. So instead of just phoning a friend, you can meet in a virtual French cafe in Paris, or stroll down a virtual Champs D'Elyse, and it will seem very real. People will be able to have any type of experience with anyone -- business, social, romantic, sexual -- regardless of physical proximity.

One approach to designing intelligent computers will be to copy the human brain, so these machines will seem very human. And through nanotechnology, which is the ability to create physical objects atom by atom, they will have human-like -- albeit greatly enhanced -- bodies as well. Having human origins, they will claim to be human, and to have human feelings. And being immensely intelligent, they'll be very convincing when they tell us these things.

We will also be able to scan a particular person -- let's say myself -- and record the exact state and position of every neurotransmitter, synapse, neural connection, and other relevant details, and then reinstantiate that information into a neural computer of sufficient capacity. The person that then emerges in the machine will think that he is (and had been) me. He will say "I was born in Queens, New York, went to college at MIT, stayed in Boston, walked into a scanner there, and woke up in the machine here. Hey, this technology really works."

But wait. Is this really me? For one thing, old Ray (that's me) still exists. I'll still be here in my carbon-cell-based brain. Alas, I will have to sit back and watch the new Ray succeed in endeavors that I could only dream of. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From AudioFile

Reading the entrails of artificial intelligence and molecular biology, inventor Kurtzweil here posits a twenty-first century of sentient (a word he misuses) machines so sophisticated that they gain a soul (a word he avoids, though it is what he means). The great amount of multisyllabic techno-babble compounds problems for his narrator. How is Alan Sklar going to make these swampy phrases clear and still keep an eye on the author's trajectory? Sklar opts for the industrial film voice-over approach. Going phrase by phrase, he lets the threads of thought fend for themselves. While admirably smoothing out the rough spots, he soon grows dull for want of attention to the book's architecture. Y.R. (c) AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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