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The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology [Kindle Edition]

Ray Kurzweil
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (275 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $22.00
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Book Description

For over three decades, Ray Kurzweil has been one of the most respected and provocative advocates of the role of technology in our future. In his classic The Age of Spiritual Machines, he argued that computers would soon rival the full range of human intelligence at its best. Now he examines the next step in this inexorable evolutionary process: the union of human and machine, in which the knowledge and skills embedded in our brains will be combined with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our creations.




Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Renowned inventor Kurzweil (The Age of Spiritual Machines) may be technology's most credibly hyperbolic optimist. Elsewhere he has argued that eliminating fat intake can prevent cancer; here, his quarry is the future of consciousness and intelligence. Humankind, it runs, is at the threshold of an epoch ("the singularity," a reference to the theoretical limitlessness of exponential expansion) that will see the merging of our biology with the staggering achievements of "GNR" (genetics, nanotechnology and robotics) to create a species of unrecognizably high intelligence, durability, comprehension, memory and so on. The word "unrecognizable" is not chosen lightly: wherever this is heading, it won't look like us. Kurzweil's argument is necessarily twofold: it's not enough to argue that there are virtually no constraints on our capacity; he must also convince readers that such developments are desirable. In essence, he conflates the wholesale transformation of the species with "immortality," for which read a repeal of human limit. In less capable hands, this phantasmagoria of speculative extrapolation, which incorporates a bewildering variety of charts, quotations, playful Socratic dialogues and sidebars, would be easier to dismiss. But Kurzweil is a true scientist—a large-minded one at that—and gives due space both to "the panoply of existential risks" as he sees them and the many presumed lines of attack others might bring to bear. What's arresting isn't the degree to which Kurzweil's heady and bracing vision fails to convince—given the scope of his projections, that's inevitable—but the degree to which it seems downright plausible. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Kurzweil is one of the world’s most respected thinkers and entrepreneurs. Yet the thesis he posits in Singularity is so singular that many readers will be astounded—and perhaps skeptical. Think Blade Runner or Being John Malkovich magnified trillion-fold. Even if one were to embrace his techno-optimism, which he backs up with fascinating details, Kurzweil leaves some important questions relating to politics, economics, and morality unanswered. If machines in our bodies can rebuild cells, for example, why couldn’t they be reengineered as weapons? Or think of singularity, notes the New York Times Book Review, as the "Manhattan Project model of pure science without ethical constraints." Kurzweil’s vision requires technology, which we continue to build. But it also requires mass acceptance and faith.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
372 of 418 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Kurzweil does a good job of arguing that extrapolating trends such as Moore's Law is better than most alternative forecasting methods, and he does a good job of describing the implications of those trends. But he is a bit long-winded, and tries to hedge his methodology by pointing to specific research results which he seems to think buttress his conclusions. He neither convinces me that he is good at distinguishing hype from value when analyzing current projects, nor that doing so would help with the longer-term forecasting that constitutes the important aspect of the book.

Given the title, I was slightly surprised that he predicts that AIs will become powerful slightly more gradually than I recall him suggesting previously (which is a good deal more gradual than most Singulitarians). He offsets this by predicting more dramatic changes in the 22nd century than I imagined could be extrapolated from existing trends.

His discussion of the practical importance of reversible computing is clearer than anything else I've read on this subject.

When he gets specific, large parts of what he says seem almost right, but there are quite a few details that are misleading enough that I want to quibble with them.

For instance (talking about the world circa 2030): "The bulk of the additional energy needed is likely to come from new nanoscale solar, wind, and geothermal technologies." Yet he says little to justify this, and most of what I know suggests that wind and geothermal have little hope of satisfying more than 1 or 2 percent of new energy demand.

His reference to "the devastating effect that illegal file sharing has had on the music-recording industry" seems to say something undesirable about his perspective.
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158 of 175 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Technophilic ecstacy September 22, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The author is definitely one of the most inspiring of all researchers in the field of applied artificial intelligence. For those, such as this reviewer, who are working "in the trenches" of applied AI, his website is better than morning coffee. One does not have to agree with all the conclusions reached by the author in order to enjoy this book, but he does make a good case, albeit somewhat qualitative, for the occurrence, in this century, of what he and other futurists have called a `technological singularity.' He defines this as a period in the future where the rate of technological change will be so high that human life will be `irreversibly transformed.' There is much debate about this notion in the popular literature on AI, but in scientific and academic circles it has been greeted with mixed reviews. Such skepticism in the latter is expected and justified, for scientists and academic researchers need more quantitative justification than is usually provided by the enthusiasts of the singularity, which in this book the author calls "singularitarians." Even more interesting though is that the notion of rapid technological change seems to be ignored by the business community, who actually stand to gain (or lose) the most by it.

Since this book is aimed primarily at a wide audience, and not professional researchers, the author does not include detailed arguments or definitions for the notion of machine intelligence or a list of the hundreds of examples of intelligent machines that are now working in the field. Indeed, if one were to include a discussion of each of these examples, this book would swell to thousands of pages.
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230 of 258 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brave New World October 13, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
To say that Mr. Kurzweil is a bit of an optimist is like saying Shaq is a bit on the tall side. Mr K is positively bubbling with enthusiasim. Had it not been taken by Joe Namath a suitable title might have been "The Future's So Bright I Just Gotta Wear Shades". But therein lies the problem. Mr K comes across more like a passionate evangelical than a reasoned scientist. Whenever someone is absolutley convinced about the rightness of his assumptions I become skeptical.

If you're reading this you know the premise of the book. Mr. K maintains that the pace of technological change (and by technology he means the really cool technologies, like infotech, biotech, and nanotech) is not simply increasing, but increasing exponentially, so fast that we will soon reach a point where man and machine have become one, and are brains are a million (or maybe a billion) times more powerful. When this happens everything we know will have changed forever.

Moreover, this is not someting that will happen at some vague time in the far future. It's just around the corner. Mr. K even gives us a date: 2045.

While reading the book I kept thinking, What if Mr. K had written this in the mid 1950's? Certainly he'd have backup for his basic premise--the changes that occured in the first half of the 20th century were indeed tremendous. Take aviation, a hot technology in those days. Mr. K would no doubt have observed that we went from Kitty Hawk to the Boeing 707 in just 50 years. Projecting ahead, Mr. K would have concluded that the second half of the century would see an even greater rate of advancement, so that by now we'd all have our own personal flying devices, zipping off to Europe in just minutes.

But that hasn't happened.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read. The singularity is near but what "near" ...
Good read. The singularity is near but what "near" really means is debatable. Kurzweil touches a great topic; he's an unabashed believer that it's at hand. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Ryan B. Richards
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read.
Considered one of this era's greatest thinkers. Intriguing ideas. I hope he is correct in his projections.
Published 3 days ago by Gentle Giant
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolute brilliance
Absolutely brilliant. This man is a genius, no doubt about it in my mind. Perhaps why Google had the foresight to hire him as one of their Directors of Engineering. Read more
Published 7 days ago by A Reader
1.0 out of 5 stars Less than 1 star
It is now June 2014 when I am writing this and we have been through the Great Recession which the author said couldn't happen. Read more
Published 20 days ago by Sandra Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars Kurzweil's hypotheses sound crazy . . .until you read his arguments...
Kurzweil's hypotheses sound crazy . . .until you read his arguments and then you are like "yeah . . .makes sense. Read more
Published 21 days ago by AMB
5.0 out of 5 stars Becoming dated but full of great ideas
Like so many forward looking texts, Ray Kurzweil's book has suffered a little from the intervening time since writing. Read more
Published 26 days ago by Bob Powell
4.0 out of 5 stars inspiring
A great book about where technology is heading based on achievements accomplished as far. A philosophical approach about humanity and what may happen when computers are smarter... Read more
Published 1 month ago by iason
3.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, but wildly over-optimistic
Ray Kurzweil paints a vivid picture of a future transformed by technology, used to serve the appetite of ever expanding intelligence in the form of a merger between biological... Read more
Published 1 month ago by T. Bischel
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavy stuff - gets you thinking.
A bit dated - 2006 publish date. I used his website to get some updates. Quite technical. I think Kurzweil is very well known in the field.
Published 2 months ago by Dave Blanchard
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not Sci-Fi, it's Sci-Future!
For someone who doesn't hold a degree, such as myself, I found this book very digestible. It's thick with technical terms, especially in mathematical models, yet its written in a... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Paul Dal Porto
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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.



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Why?
Dear Joy:

You bring up three possible arguments against the desirability of the Singularity scenario.

1. "Virtual reality is NOT reality"

Here, I think that we have to be careful. Our experience of what we call "reality" is deeply mediated through our brains. We never... Read More
Feb 12, 2006 by Trystero |  See all 8 posts
This book is a complete joke.
I agree that Kurzweil is a business man, but as I watch how deeply we are mapping out all the various networks in cells, and how are beginning to simulate cells in silico, and slices on of brain in silico as well, and how we are beginning to exploit DNA and billion year old molecular motors and... Read More
Dec 2, 2005 by Alex Alaniz |  See all 11 posts
The New Kind of Religion descirbed in the book
This could very well happen. Einstein wrote, "The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all... Read More
Mar 26, 2010 by Irfan S. |  See all 3 posts
What happens after the singularity?
What happens after the singularity?
I too have been looking for a plausible prediction of our post-singularity future. Over the years I've only found two highly believable descriptions of this singularity afterlife:
1) The novel "Forever Pleasure: A Utopian Novel" describes a... Read More
Aug 26, 2011 by Jarek |  See all 3 posts
The Economics of the Singularity / Accelerating Technology
And every Luddite through history has argued that and has been wrong.... so very, very wrong. Human beings adjust birth rates and the flow of labor into fields based on the way labor pays and what jobs are available. Kurzwiel gets -alot- wrong in the sections he talks about economics, but to... Read More
Mar 27, 2012 by E. Hayden |  See all 2 posts
If you liked The Singularity is near..try Memories with Maya - The... Be the first to reply
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