- Paperback: 672 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books (September 26, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143037889
- ISBN-13: 978-0739466261
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 443 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
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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. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Kurzweil is one of the worlds most respected thinkers and entrepreneurs. Yet the thesis he posits in Singularity is so singular that many readers will be astoundedand 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 couldnt 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." Kurzweils vision requires technology, which we continue to build. But it also requires mass acceptance and faith.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top customer reviews
Kurzweil points to an exponential evolution of Information technology, whereas religions and philisophies consider the core of evolution being growing Empathy. Is there a contadiction or a complimentary view ?
Kurzweil brings us to open our minds to an exponetial growing (to the second degree) information world, where the singularity point would be reached in 2040. Point at which non-biological intelligence (information) would outgrow the biological information evolution of mankind.
Considering that our own biological body would itself be gradually enhanced we would ourselves experience an exponential growing evolution capable to outreach the Universe. But also our human « embodied » self could be maintained alive for an infinite time. Our DNA + brains could be reverse engineered and copied into non-biological bodies (whatever shape they have).
But now consider that our physical – three dimensional + time – is itself a creation of our soul which is infinite and part of another dimension that is not limited to the physial world and not limited to it 's laws governing the physical dimension.
If you have difficulty to accept the idea of a « soul », or consider it is just a projection of humans to accept our death as a final end to the existence, then just try to assume something external to this physical dimension created our physical world and all the laws governing it – from the Big Bang to the appearance of Life, Intelligece and the concept of growing Evolution.
Kurzweil considers the ultimate evolution being our future ability to outgrow the Universe with Information, and “reduces” our human existence – even if exponentially growing – to information.
Even puts the core to our physical world as being information, rather than energy and matter.
A very challenging and interesting approach, which must be considered with an open mind.
And it does not contradict the vision (or spiritual approach) to evolution whereas a soul is projecting itself to our limited physical world to experience the evolution of mankind empathy. As Jeremy Rifkin points out (The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis) the evolution shows an ever growing empathy which itself is linked to growing means of communication and producing/consuming energy. By the way, I'm pointing to Jeremy Rifkin, not as a religious guru but just because he is NOT a religious guru. Rifkin's observation reconciles the core of most religions and phlisohical reflexions about the existence and direction of evolution. And Rifkin made no link to the existence (or non-existence) of a soul, it's a link I make personally.
Kurzweil forcasts the projection of human consciousness into total virtual reality. But this would only be a surrogate of real life. Our empathy grows through difficult and sometimes painful choices made during our life. The experience of total virtual reality – very convenient to meet with somebody far away – would shield us from these difficult and painful choices. The same way I can be injured and even die in a computer game without being injured in my physical body.
If you assume the existence of a soul (again with an open minded approach) then something does survive our biological existence. That soul decides the major obstacles and encounters it will experience in its chosen (with guidance?) next physical life – call it destiny – allowing the embodied self to make choices during his physical life, each choice bringing him some experience of growing (or decreasing) empathy. So each physical life has a definite reason to be limited in time. We might have made some wrong choices (wrong towards growing empathy) our death allows us then to understand what happened and make choices for the next physical life allowing the evolution towards growing Universal empathy.
That means also that a human brain does not contain all the elements contained in the soul. The human brain would then « just » be a relay to our non-physical soul. What is the exclusive part of the soul, not being contained in our brains, is unknown. But at least does limit our exponentially growing information technology to ever copy/backup/replicate a human being as a whole, as the exclusive soul components would be missing.
And what happens to a Human body version 2,0 with infinite life extension ? Our soul would be kept emprisonned in a body without the ability to reconsider past choices and bring some new challenges to pursue it's evolution ?
No answers, but Kurzweil excellent book at least opens questions about the core of our existence.
You may know me as the genial, white-haired book reviewer, but I once had a secret identity. I was Doctor D. Filed, the mad scientist, and my job was to introduce children to "the future," around when they were nine years old.
You may remember "the future." We would zoom round the galaxy, meeting alien races, living forever, and having robot computers that were smarter than we are. However, all this would happen many years from now, and our great-great-grandchildren's great-great-grandchildren might catch a little glimpse of it. Otherwise the future we ourselves encountered would be just like today, only more so.
However, Ray Kurzweil has been doing the math on those last two things, and he has a revised date for when we'll be immortal and have super-smart computers. And his date is . . .
That's right, the year 2045, thirty-five years from now, less than half a lifetime. That means that more than half the people alive today will see that date. And don't take that to be some wishful thinking. Kurzweil has extrapolated the rate of change in technology and biology to arrive at that date. He points out that these technologies improve exponentially. That means that if our technology knowledge doubles every year, we are not going to see twenty times the knowledge in a decade, but two multiplied by itself ten times, or over a thousand times.
Kurzweil quotes the Human Genome Project, which after seven years of a fifteen-year process, had completed one percent of its work. However, it finished on time, because technology improved all through that period. His work is meticulously sourced, with many a footnote reference. His charts show that over and over again knowledge takes an exponential course. EDIT: I read recently of a human genome being read in four weeks, and today I hear of someone who did it in a week. Exponential enough for ya? EDIT of EDIT:An ex-ICU nurse told me today (9/9/09) that someone who nursed in an ICU as little as three years ago would have to go through months of training to get up to speed on ICU changes since then. AND THE LAST EDIT: "Complete Genomics has completed 14 genomes since March (20 human genomes in the world have been published), priced at $5000, and aims to complete 10,000 genomes by the end of 2010." (also 9/9/09, still less than twenty years since the first mapping.)
He believes that "the singularity," no matter how far away it seems today, will be here on time. This will mean that some technologies will reach their limits, but new technologies will arise before they're needed. The history of computer technology certainly bears him out. Equally biology is helping us understand the brain, so its re-creation in software is likely to happen.
You might think that there is too much to learn about the brain, but it's a reasonably simple machine with complex ways of doing things. So let's just concentrate on the higher powers, rather than reconstructing neurons. To give you an example, for more than a hundred years we have been able to fly. We've had birds around us all through human history, but we didn't copy them. Pretty much all our development has been with fixed- and rotating-wing aircraft being pulled through the air. Our "non-bird" flying has made us superior to birds, but we also have to get up there and come down safely. Hence a non-neuron brain, provided that it works at a higher level, can replace an incredibly complex series of cells.
Kurzweil believes that we'll see advances in GNR, or Genetics, Nanotechnologies, and Robotics. Our DNA will be transformed to make us unable to catch major diseases, we'll have tiny machines inside our bloodstream, and these machines will improve our health from within. The day before I wrote this I read of "bacteria-based computing," and we're already capable of putting together tiny machines atom by atom, so it's not far away.
Where does that leave us? Don't look at me - my white hair is a result of being born in World War II. I won't see the singularity - but you might. Many people try to believe that it will never happen as soon as Kurzweil says - but that's like going out in a thunderstorm "because hardly anybody gets killed by lightning." The day will come, because "Objects seen in the future are closer than they appear."
When those things happen it will cause a major disruptive force. Some understanding of what's to come makes us more able to judge these technologies when they occur. An unprepared population is likely to be panicked into making a wrong choice. I'm sure your reaction to this news was a kind of fear - when something needs fixing that you thought was OK. Kinda like your first reaction to Global Climate Change.
But just as we recognized and now are doing something toward fixing Global Warming, so we can recognize this and discuss it. It's obviously a far bigger problem, but even if the projections are off it's still likely to occur. Most people don't realize that there are more embedded computers than people in the world - chips that run your remote control, your car, and your dishwasher. We are so used to them we don't even know that they are there.
Some criticisms of this book are that it's repetitive, but Kurzweil has to show that everything points to it. His background is impeccable, but I wouldn't take dozens of pills as he does, but then I've given up living long enough to see The Singularity. I applaud him for not making the book into some kind of horror story, and his apparent optimism is simply explaining that the process will happen, and there are enough good things to look forward to dealing with it.
You may agree with Kurzweil or you may not, but at least you'll know that there is an issue coming up that you'll probably have to deal with. Parts of it may seem unlikely to happen, but you're reading this on a system that has just about all the knowledge in the world, and the half human/half computers will have direct access to it. In fact, we'll invent the last machine we need - the "inventing machine," which will be like the "mathematic machine" we call a computer, but it will invent new things and even improve itself.
So don't laugh at the white-haired book reviewer - in the late twenty-first century, and the twenty-second century, and the twenty-third century, this could be you, telling the youngsters how unlimited knowledge and life was once a figment of people's imaginations.
And if you have the slightest interest in this subject, buy this book. In 1975 - thirty-five years before now, imagine a book that told you what life would be like in 2010 - Communism crushed, a computer in just about every home, and all the knowledge in the world on tap. This book is far more important than the 1975 book, and I'll bet you wished you'd read the 1975 book and made a few wise investments. But "The Singularity Is Near" will prepare you for a major coming crisis, and you'd better be prepared.