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The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (2005)

by Ray Kurzweil

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2,536325,307 (3.89)18
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.--Publisher description.… (more)

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This is a long and technically complex book. Much of the information is based on current research efforts and extrapolation of this work in an exponential growth model. Mr. Kurzweil is highly knowledgeable and well read. He has given much thought to his speculations. I as most people see his predictions as reasonable in some cases but as overly optimistic in most cases. It is hard to predict the future but his ideas on merging with technology to overcome death are highly questionable. He covers a lot of territory in his book and some of his anticipation of technological advances are likely in the fields of nanotechnology and robotics. ( )
  GlennBell | Sep 3, 2022 |
[The singularity:] is not a certainty but in my opinion is a plausibility in the working lifetimes of most people here, that there will be perhaps something superhuman come along. We will either create or become something superhuman, in various ways.
Vernor Vinge

Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.
Alvin Toffler

You can't write this story. Neither can anyone else.
John W. Campbell

This is a difficult book to review. It's a futurist treatise on how ever-accelerating changes will change society. And it's a love letter to technology, Mr. Kurzweil is obviously enamored of computers. It's also very well written, particularly for such a dense topic. The Singularity is Near reads like a cross between an academic paper and an Isaac Asimov science popularization.

The basic premise is that technology is progressing at an ever-increasing rate, and at a certain point, change will continue so rapidly that it's difficult to predict anything beyond that point, the singularity. It's a fascinating concept, and one I've been introduced to in the fiction of Charles Stross. The future will not look like the present with better tech, it's going to be pretty unrecognizable. Possible technologies such as genetic engineering, nanotech manufacturing, and robotics and artificial intelligence (the author's "GNR" triumvirate), will transform not only how we live but what we think of as a human being. Artificial intelligences, critical to the theory of the singularity, are by definition capable of expanding their own capabilities, and will drive much change.

It's an ambitious work, and not the first book the author has written on this topic. It does have weak spots, namely the tendency to assume that technology will progress according to plan, not accounting for technological setbacks very well. All we've seen in the last few centuries is progress, so of course that's all we ever will see.

To the book's credit, it does include a chapter on the dangers of these technologies. The "grey goo" scenario, where out of control self-replicating nanobots consume our biosphere for raw materials, is particularly chilling, but there are other equally deadly ways for hostile "strong" AI or perhaps genetically engineered plague vectors to wipe out the human race. Responses to the critics of the arguments presented in the book tends to be dismissive, however.

The Singularity is Near is hardly a book to be read during a lazy afternoon on the beach, but it's very rewarding and thought-provoking if you stick with it. ( )
  neilneil | Dec 7, 2020 |
Kurzweil never fears controversy and this one doesn't disappoint in this area. The Singularity is that point in which $1000 worth of computing power equals the processing power of the human brain. He predicts that it will come along around 2040 and that three different but powerful technologies will power it: genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. He provides plenty of support for his belife as well as acknowledging the potentional problems along the way. I'm not sure I buy it completely, but I did make me think, and occationally unsettle me. A must for tech junkies! ( )
  Colleen5096 | Oct 29, 2020 |
This was a fairly heavy book to read and frankly I hope none of it comes true. 😕 ( )
  Arkrayder | May 5, 2019 |
This is a comprehensive account of the state of the art of three interconnected technologies: genetics, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. A major premise is that progress in these fields is proceeding at an exponential pace. I’ll accept that, but unfortunately I got around to reading this large volume almost fifteen years too late! Some of Kurzweil’s predictions have already come true, many seem just as far off as they must have when the book was written. But that is the nature of writing about the future; reading these kinds of books is best done in the present.
My biggest objection to the work, however, is Kurzweil’s use of the word “intelligence” without clearly stating what he means by it. He does not usually include “artificial” along with it, so he intentionally leads the reader to assume that his massively more powerful computers are intelligent in the same sense as humans. Not until a much later chapter does he discuss “consciousness.” This concept he brushes away as being impossible to detect in anyone or anything other than oneself.
He mentions that he is like “the pattern that water makes in a stream as it rushes past the rocks in its path. The actual molecules of water change every millisecond, but the pattern persists for hours or even years.” I like that. Very poetical. But I’d like more specifics. Where is this pattern. It affects physical reality. It is caused by physical objects, and physical laws. But the pattern itself isn’t really physical. It is metaphysical. Maybe with the help of Kurzweil’s intelligent machines, we’ll eventually figure it all out some day. ( )
1 vote drardavis | Jan 14, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kurzweil, Rayprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marcandalli, EnricoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mesmin, AdelineTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sala, Virginio B.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventory as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success.
- Nikola Tesla, 1896, inventor of alternating current
To my mother, Hannah,
who provided me with the courage to seek the ideas
to confront any challenge
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At the age of five, I had the idea that I would become an inventor.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.--Publisher description.

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Book description
Kurzweil il guru dell' hi-tech spiega come cambierà la civiltà — A Non è una impresa facile leggere per intero le 651 pagine del libro di Ray Kurzweil intitolato "La singolarità è vicina". La tesi di fondo è che l' umanità è alla vigilia di una trasformazione senza precedenti. I progressi della tecnologia si succedono in modo esponenziale, facendo cambiare rotta alla storia; nel 2027 l' intelligenza dei computer supererà quella dell' uomo; la fusione tra uomini e macchine creerà una intelligenza non-biologica miliardi di volte più potente di quelle di oggi, avviando una nuova civiltà. Ma sono ragionamenti complessi, questi suoi, che intrecciano il pensiero del filosofo Arthur Schopenauer, con le avventure fantascientifiche di Arthur Clarke e gli scritti scientifici di premi Nobel della fisica, della medicina e dell' economia. Eppure chiunque incontri Kurzweil, o lo ascolti nelle conferenze (per le quali si fa pagare 25mila dollari), o legga qualche pagina dei suoi libri, capisce subito che è destinato a lasciare un segno. "Se avrà ragione - ha scritto Fortune in un ampio servizio che gli ha appena dedicato - il futuro dell' umanità sarà più strano (e più brillante) di quanto potreste pensare". Secondo il Wall Street Journal è "un genio irrequieto", mentre Forbes lo definisce come il "giusto erede di Thomas Edison". "Ray è sicuramente il migliore di tutti nel disegnare il futuro dell' intelligenza artificiale", dice il presidente della Microsoft Bill Gates, che lo ha invitato due volte a cena e che, proprio la settimana scorsa, in un eccezionale faccia a faccia con Steve Jobs della Apple, ha dichiarato che "viviamo in un periodo eccezionale per le invenzioni che cambiano la storia". Kurzweil è prima di tutto un inventore. Nato nel 1948 a Queens, una delle 5 circoscrizioni di New York, da genitori ebrei scappati da Vienna prima della guerra, "scoprì" i computer a 12 anni e a 17 vinse un premio internazionale per una macchina capace di elaborare gli spartiti di Beethoven e Chopin. Iscrittosi al Mit (ora ha anche 13 lauree honoris causa), creò una società che aiutava gli studenti a scegliere il corso di studi: la vendette poco dopo per 100mila dollari. E non è stato certo l' unico affare d' oro. Da un lato le sue invenzioni non sono passate inosservate: si devono a lui il primo sistema per il riconoscimento ottico dei caratteri, la prima macchina per aiutare i non-vedenti a tradurre la scrittura in parole, il primo scannerizzatore piatto, il primo strumento musicale che riproduce il suono di un pianoforte a coda (richiesto da Stenie Wonder). Da un altro lato ha sempre lanciato e rivenduto società hi tech: nel 1980, ad esempio, incassò 6,25 milioni di dollari cedendo alla Xerox la Kurzweil Computer Products e dieci anni dopo guadagnò 12 milioni trasferendo le attività nel settore musicale alla coreana Young Chang. Kurzweil è anche un sostenitore dell' uso della tecnologia per raggiungere l' immortalità. Si rende conto, naturalmente, che i tempi non sono maturi. Ma la vera sfida è dimostrare che la scienza sta per cambiare le coordinate dell' economia, e quindi della storia dell' uomo.
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