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233 of 261 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brave New World, October 13, 2005
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This review is from: The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (Hardcover)
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. Certainly there has been signigicant progress in aviation in the last 50 years, but not like the 50 years before that. In some says it's worse. I suspect that since 9/11 the time it takes to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco (from the time you get to one airport to the time you leave the other) may be longer now than it was in the 1950's.

Why has this happened? A lot of this has to do with social conditions, not technological ones. Supersonic trasport never got off the ground (so to speak) in part because people didn't want the sonic booms near populated areas. These same social factors may well put the brakes on a lot of what Mr. K predicts.

It's not that Mr. K's book isn't based on hard science. It's positively larded with science, so much so that my eyes tended to glaze over many times. It's just that he doesn't seem very critical. While he does acknowledge the existence of contrary opinion, he quickly (albeit politely) dismisses any cautionary thoughts. Those who disagree with his beliefs are clearly stuck-in-the-mud, nay-saying Luddites.

Mr K is obviously a brilliant, well-informed scientist. I don't have enough knowledge to judge the accuracy of his facts, except in a few situations. When that does occur, though, I become unimpressed. For example, he spends a few pages talking about the increases that have occured in life expectancy, and uses this to project further increases to 150 years and then to 500 years. But he fails to distinguish between life exoectancy and life span. The former has indeed increased, but the latter has not. I am certain Mr. K knows the difference. His failure to make the distinction is misleading and disingenuous. It makes me wonder about the veracity of the rest of the book.

As to the book itself, it's far too long. He repeats his points so much it seems as though he thinks that by mere repetition the reader will become more convinced that he's right. And some parts of the book are simply annoying, like the smug pseudo-conversations among past, present, and future personages that appear throughout the work.

To his credit, though, his optimisim about the future is refreshing, and certainly an antidote to the dystopian views typical in literature and Hollywood (Brave New World, 1984, Blade Runner, Mad Max, The Terminator, Waterworld, etc.).

The bottom line here is that Mr. K. doesn't seem to remember that virtually all predictions about the future are wrong, since the predictions are simply extrapolations of current trends. The future is never what we think it will be, and Mr. K is no exception.

Then again, he could be right. If so, I just hope I can live long enough to enjoy the sigularity, so I can have my body filled with nanobots and my brain uploaded to (as he would say) a suitable substrate. Maybe being a cyborg won't be so bad.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 12, 2008 7:49:19 AM PDT
Kurzweil speaks about exponential increasing on information tecnologies, not on EVERY aspects of life. He says that future technological revolutions will transform today tecnologies into information tecnologies. ex: as nanotechnology arrives, manufacturing will turn into a information technology. This is why we're not seeing today exponential grow in life expectancy, flying speed etc.

On the other side, I think Kurzeil is VERY MUCH optimistic. I hope is he is rigth...

Posted on Mar 5, 2009 8:01:09 PM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Jul 13, 2011 2:06:33 PM PDT
One preposterous idea is that the merged brains and computer will use the Internet as the source of knowledge. There had better be a really good B.S. filter! Uploading one's brain to a computer would allow life to continue indefinitely. Get rid of the body. A possible solution to the huge future problem of overpopulation. What about hacking? Could someone hack into your virtual existence? Sounds like a B movie script.

Posted on Sep 19, 2011 10:11:04 AM PDT
Exponential increases in certain fields of human endeavor are definitely occurring.

Unfortunately the ones that matter most to the well-being of mankind do not have the potential for such rapid evolution.

Posted on Jul 29, 2012 11:52:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 29, 2012 11:58:25 PM PDT
John St John - that was a great review. Personally I hope I die before anyone downloads me into a robot - being human needs body and soul not just intelligence I think and immortality is over rated - I mean it just gives you longer to think about the pointlessness of existence!

Posted on Dec 2, 2012 4:49:29 AM PST
This review is critically refreshing!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 8, 2013 7:32:43 AM PST
AngryDan says:
Ghost in the Shell 2.0
It's not a B movie, it's excellent. See the Stand Alone Complex series as well. It's like a crime procedural set in the future where the crimes committed are hacking people.

Posted on Feb 14, 2013 10:57:56 PM PST
Cole says:
My only issue with this review is that Kurzweil has, in fact, made predictions before and was scarily right, which makes me doubt your judgement of his supposed optimism.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 2, 2014 8:01:46 PM PST
Kurzweil has also made predictions that were staggeringly wrong. If you cherry-pick his predictions (which he likes to do) you might be impressed by how spot-on some of them were. But that is really just a result of his having made such a huge number of predictions -- some of them had to have turned out right. If you read "The Age of Spiritual Machines" it becomes very clear, very quickly, that he has no more idea about the future than anyone else. In the fifteen years since he wrote it, most of the predictions have been way, way off.
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