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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adds some new angles to the Singularity hypothesis, November 1, 2012
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This review is from: Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World (Kindle Edition)
The idea of the Singularity has been under discussion since Vernor Vinge coined the term in 1993, but it wasn't until Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near" in 2005 that the debate really entered the broader mainstream. Unfortunately, in the seven years since, the debate itself hasn't progressed much beyond the original talking points. Kurzweil argues for the power of exponential growth in information processing and the downstream effects that will have on biotech, robotics, AI and nanotech. Critics question whether Moore's Law can continue, whether it's possible to reverse engineer the brain, whether neurons can be modeled in silico, etc. In many respects, the whole debate seems to be awaiting further developments in technology to clarify whose assumptions are right.

One of the topics largely MIA in this debate has been a rigorous look at the social and economic changes in the decades prior to a Singularity. Technologists tend to focus on the specific technologies that may or may not appear on that road, but few have brought a formal economics background to examine the effects on broader sectors like education, child selection, life insurance, etc.

As an economics professor, James Miller brings that disciplinary "lens" to the debate, and the field is richer for his contribution. I heard him speak at the 2008 Singularity Summit and found his talk to be one of the most thought-provoking because of his focus on societal implications and rational decision-making. Thus, when this book appeared, I was eager to learn more about how to think rationally about possible economic implications IF a Singularity transition is in our future.

On the plus side, Miller takes an admirably agnostic view on HOW the Singularity might appear. He properly focuses on the four different paths (AI, intelligence augmentation via genetics/nootropics, network effects, and man/machine mergers) and examines each one in turn. The book makes some new contributions (at least for me :>) in the depth with which he examines the eugenics scenario and how increased intelligence selection might be pioneered outside the USA. He also shares his own experiences with nootropics, discussing some of the pros and cons he's experienced with admirable candor.

On the negative side, there's far less here about the economic implications on existing industries and societal sectors than I'd hoped. In his 2008 talk, he made some great predictions about the declining value of formal education and rising expenditures on defense for a population that saw a Singularity coming in the near future. There was much less of these ideas here than I'd expected, and it's a missed opportunity.

Overall, I'd recommend this book for those who are already familiar with the existing Singularity debate. While not the most balanced review of the entire debate for someone who's completely unfamiliar and just getting started, it would make a terrific followup read as the 2nd or 3rd book for those who are just starting to explore these ideas.
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