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The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology Kindle Edition
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
From the Back Cover
"Ray Kurzweil is the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence. His intriguing new book envisions a future in which information technologies have advanced so far and fast that they enable humanity to transcend its biological limitations-transforming our lives in ways we can't yet imagine."
"A brilliant book with deep insights into the future from one of the leading futurists of our time."
-Marvin Minsky, Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT
"If you have ever wondered about the nature and impact of the next profound discontinuities that will fundamentally change the way we live, work, and perceive our world, read this book. Kurzweil's Singularity is a tour de force, imagining the unimaginable and eloquently exploring the coming disruptive events that will alter our fundamental perspectives as significantly as did electricity and the computer."
-Dean Kamen, physicist and inventor of the first wearable insulin pump, the HomeChoice portable dialysis machine, the IBOT Mobility System, and the Segway Human Transporter; recipient of the National Medal of Technology
"One of our leading AI practitioners, Ray Kurzweil, has once again created a 'must-read' book for anyone interested in the future of science, the social impact of technology, and indeed the future of our species. His though-provoking book envisages a future in which we transcend our biological limitations, while making a compelling case that a human civilization with superhuman capabilities is closer at hand than most people realize."
-Raj Reddy, founding director, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University; recipient of the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery
"Ray's optimistic book well merits both reading and thoughtful response. For those like myself whose views differ from Ray's on the balance of promise and peril, The Singularity is Near is a clear call for a continuing dialogue to address the greater concerns arising from these accelerating possibilities."
-Bill Joy, cofounder and former chief scientist, Sun Microsystems --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B07H2M361D
- Publisher : Duckworth (February 11, 2010)
- Publication date : February 11, 2010
- Language : English
- File size : 3310 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 1011 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #584,674 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Anyone who has ever played around with the arithmetic of compounding and exponential growth knows how crazy the numbers get as growth feeds on itself. The phenomenon is quite real in the world, and it describes everything from viral epidemics to Warren Buffet's fortune. Kurzweil applies the exponential growth paradigm to the future of technology. He sees not only change itself accelerating, but the rate of change too, if you can go back to your high school calculus and wrap your mind around that stomach-churning concept. The math starts quickly approaching infinity, which is why it's so weird.
"Singularity" is a common term-of-art among theoretical physicists, who apply it to a variety of seemingly irrational constructs, such as an infinitely large mass compressed towards an infinitely small point. Kurzweil co-opts the term for his own purpose here to mean the point in time where artificial intelligence starts exceeding human intelligence. Thereafter, it takes over its own programming and, being so powerful, does a better and better job of it. Because things are already moving so fast today, the accelerating rate of change means that Kurzweil's Singularity is closer than even optimists might imagine - hence the book's title. He projects it to occur somewhere in the middle of this century. Afterwards, nothing will ever again be the same.
In physics, unimaginable things start happening at singularity points, like energy explosions within black holes. Following Kurzweil's Singularity, the most garish science fiction fantasies start becoming commonplace. The combination of genetics, nanotechnology and robotics - which he refers to collectively as GNR - will transform all aspects of human existence. He believes, for example, that nanobots released into a person's bloodstream, will facilitate a comprehensive (that is to say, 100%) map of that person, including genetic code and nervous system, that can be uploaded and downloaded at will onto new "substrates". In other words, robotic copies of human beings - body, mind, memories, and (one presumes) soul - can be made that will appear indistinguishable from the originals. And for that matter, those originals themselves can be re-shaped at will, giving us all the opportunity to become brilliant, strong, happy, and beautiful.
Kurzweil tells us that artificial circuits replicating themselves at a molecular level will merge with the biological circuits that constitute our nervous systems, giving rise an "enhanced" human super-intelligence. Once this starts happening, what we now call the Internet will in effect become telepathic, giving these enhanced humans instantaneous access to all available knowledge and information as they fashion their brave new world. You see how explosive this gets? And it's just the beginning.
Once the process gets underway, the evolving super-intelligence keeps expanding until it permeates the entire planet and, still accelerating, eventually the universe. Kurzweil suggests that movement though time-space "wormholes" should one day facilitate rapid travel beyond our own galaxy, taking the process literally everywhere.
I realize that my amateur's survey of Kurzweil's thinking here makes him sound like a crank. However, let there be no mistake: he is an accomplished scientist and a highly sophisticated thinker. MIT-trained, he's an expert in artificial intelligence and has put his ideas into practice as a successful tech entrepreneur. Most of this book is not even devoted to prognostications, but to an in-depth review of research currently underway that lays the practical groundwork for virtually everything he talks about (except maybe the wormhole business). While he makes numerous leaps of faith in taking us from here to there, none of his forecasts represent sheer fantasy. He is an extremely good writer, and while staying true to what is in fact pretty complex science, describes it all in a way that makes it reasonably clear to lay readers.
For all his hardcore materialism, Kurzweil also has a whimsical streak. Every 50 pages or so, he breaks up his text with imaginary light-hearted debates among himself (appearing as "Ray"), various historical figures - Darwin, Freud, etc. - and a person named "Molly", who seems to be a student. Molly is bright, curious, skeptical, and not in the least bit awed by Ray or the others. The thing about Molly is that she appears in two separate guises: Molly 2004 (the year this book was being written), and Molly 2104, which is of course well beyond the Singularity. One of Kurzweil's key forecasts is that future science will learn how to arrest and even reverse the aging process, allowing people more-or-less to live forever at whatever age they choose. So Molly has made it through the Singularity and returned as a still-young woman to speak about it from experience.
Kurzweil is fully aware of the potential downside to his vision. He devotes one long chapter to what he calls "The Deeply Intertwined Promise and Peril of GNR". He devotes another even longer chapter to responding to critics, who have attacked his ideas from every possible perspective. While he treats most criticisms respectfully, in the end he largely dismisses them all. One partial exception and the one specific fear he himself does seem to harbor is of self-replicating nanobots. He and other scientists who seriously debate such stuff even have a short-hand term for this specter: The Grey Goo Problem. Were self-replication somehow to spin out of control, Kurzweil explains to us that in a matter of days it could, in theory, consume the Earth's entire biomass and reduce it to "grey goo". This is indeed a troubling prospect, since this endangered biomass includes all of us.
Interestingly, the cluster of criticisms that he responds to most gently are those arising from a spiritualist perspective. In one of his imaginary debates with "Molly", she repeatedly asks "Ray" if he believes in God. Ray surprises by dodging the question every time rather than saying no. Badgered into a corner, he finally avers: "For the sake of your question, we can consider God to be the universe, and I said that I believe in the universe." This sounds suspiciously like a yes, albeit with a twist. He then goes on to explain how his entire vision can be described as a picture of the universe "waking up" as enhanced human intelligence pervades its many corners. Religious people of an unorthodox bent might be tempted to embrace this image as God's self-realization. Fundamentalists of every stripe, however, were they to take K's cosmology seriously at all, would view it with disgust as the self-realization of God's Opposite Number.
For me, the most unnerving question that this book triggers is who will control these accelerating technologies. Reading through many passages of the book, I found it hard not hard to be thinking about Nazi scientists beavering away at the design of their Master Race, or North Korean labs re-programming the neural patterns of citizens lacking enthusiasm for Kim Jong-Un. Kurzweil seems to trust in the pragmatic good will of the scientific community, buttressed by regulation. However, not all scientists have good will, and he says nothing about who he supposes will regulate the regulators. I also find it hard to see what joy or challenge there could be in a world where machines or enhanced humans dominate everything. People choosing not to become "enhanced" would either have it forced upon them or face life as a sub-species. The line between utopia and dystopia here is pretty fuzzy, and I find it a little scary that Kurzweil doesn't seem to care. Maybe I've seen too many science fiction movies.
All that aside, I highly recommend this book. Decades ago when I was in college I used to describe about every other book I read as "changing my life", as we said in the day. Nowadays, no book changes my life, although the best ones still move the needle for me. Whether I like it or not, this one has me looking at things a little differently than I did before.
This book could be the basis for a taut psychological thriller or a science fiction horror story. It describes, in quite explicit detail, the willful and deliberate extinction of mankind. Let me say right here in the beginning that the author does not consider what he describes as the extinction of mankind because he believes that everything that makes us human resides in our brain and that will inevitably be understood, mapped and duplicated in an AI neural network, consciousness included. Therefore he considers the resulting Superintelligent AI, albeit non-biological, as completely human and therefore mankind simply transformed from biological to non-biological. He even uses the theory of evolution to describe the transformation of mankind from biological to biotechnical and finally to completely non-biological. I disagree with him that such a change in mankind has anything to do with evolution because evolution is considered to be a process inherently void of any external or internal construction, direction, or influenced by an intelligent agent. His stretch of the term evolution inserts into the normal process of evolution the development and final transformation of mankind from biological to non-biological, which is constructed, directed, and influenced by an external intelligent agent, man.
The author seems quite comfortable with the process he describes in his book to the point that he has drastically modified his diet to try and ensure that he is alive when the early miraculous stage arrives so he may be technologically modified that he might live much longer than normal, and be cured of any biological deficiencies e.g., diabetes. He meticulously details how this process began, because it already has, but also how it will be supported and progressed and accepted by industry, the sciences, philosophies, and the majority of mankind, which is probably why the book is more than 500 pages or over 20 hours of narration. He has thought this out very extensively to the point of not just presenting his ideas but also addressing the critics of either part of his plan or the entire plan. Furthermore, he has not neglected to study and also detail the many societal institutions that are necessary to move this plan along. He notes that they already have thrown their support and money towards the current narrow forms of AI that will lead to the next acceptable stage and so on until it becomes too late to stop or take control of the process.
There is an irony that pops up very late in the book of which I cannot tell if the author himself is fully aware. For the large majority of the book it is implied that incredible technological advances in the very near future will allow mankind to end many biological problems and diseases that will lead to an almost utopian existence. I want to impress upon you that I am heavily stressing the word "almost" in the previous sentence. The author never even comes close to explicitly expressing a utopian concept. However, and this is where the irony enters, he does stress the phenomenal benefit that this incredible soft AI will have on mankind in all areas philosophical, intellectual, medical, etc. areas of human existence. With the elimination of disease, via Nano-bot technology, various levels of biotechnical humans i.e., trans-humans or "enhanced humans," will continue the march towards a Superintelligent AI, that is, an AI that has not only equaled the intelligence of man but far surpasses the intelligence of man. This Superintelligent AI will be the point of no return, the same as crossing the event horizon of a black hole, which is why the word "singularity" is in the title. It will be fully autonomous able to replicate itself and to improve itself. This leads to the extinction of mankind in that only fully conscious technological AI far smarter than a man can ever be will be in existence. However, are you ready for the irony, what his idea ultimately leads to is first the huge benefits to mankind in all areas, then to enhanced humans, and finally to completely technological Super intelligent machines, is a completely new set of problems and diseases, albeit technological diseases, also come into existence. These technological problems/diseases will also be autonomous and self-replicating which will force the new "machinekind" to create technology to fight these threats e.g., Nano-bot autoimmune systems, along with many other technological "medical" and "environmental" protection systems. All the author's idea accomplishes is removing all threats to biological humanity through extinction and replacing it with a completely technological entity with very similar, although completely technological, problems and technological diseases akin to that which it has replaced.
This book, regardless the very detailed explanations, held my interest all the way to the end. It never became stale, static, repetitious, or dull and never even approached boring. The previous statement is true even though I do not support his so-called "transformation" of man from biological to a Super intelligent non-biological entity. Once again the narration was superb and no doubt added to hold my interest in this lengthy material.
Top reviews from other countries
BIG BRAIN BOOK
generally really cool like covers many interesting things
It's very thicc, thiccest book I have
The extrapolation into the future starts to feel like the “culture” civilisation in an Iain M Banks Sci Fi novel. Difficult to know who got what ideas from who.
Don’t know whether to be optimistic or terrified about the future. I’m nearly 50 years old, so I’ll definitely be taking my Statins, vitamins and blood pressure pills in the hope that I can “live long enough to to live forever”
The author doesn't explore the implications of the singularity for anyone outside of the western world, and spends little time exploring the potential risks and downsides (war, exploitation, or perhaps just a 'Terminator' style end of the world!). In fact, outside of the US was quite rare.
The 'dialogues' between people from different times were so cringe-worthy that I had to flick past these also.
In summary, interesting ideas, probably available elsewhere in a less annoying format!
He has a brilliant grasp of his subject and i would imagine in person he is a tour de force as a speaker.For me however when he started to explain human 2.0 and 3.0 he lost some of his power. When the human organs have all been replaced bar the skin are we still human. The virtual reality sex model is hilarious and deeply troubling. If we can always have the object of our desires virtually,then Pandora'S box is well and truly open.How do real human relationships exist if both partners prefer a younger slimmer model in virtual reality.
I did enjoy the read but i am not a Luddite but very wary of technology which allows me to live to 200.
Lastly I wonder what will happen if when we start to get smarter and closer to the singularity if we will only find new and more troubling ways to hurt,cheat and murder one another?