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

by Ray Kurzweil

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,654355,619 (3.87)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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Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Just watched Kurzweil on Rogan. Realized this book had been in the “currently reading” category since 2017.
I had to close it. AI is here. ( )
  guhlitz | Mar 14, 2024 |
A key book in the trans-human philosophical development: Ray Kurzweil unleashes the thesis that by 2032 we would hit a point of no return with respect of machine intelligence. The book is a must read even if much of it is subject to discussion.

Philosophically the most interesting aspect is that computational power is automatically aligned with intelligence and with sustainable existence. While many of the discussions since this work note how coexistence with general AI might be impossible, that exponential growth may damage the environment, that intelligence in the true sense should account for all other conscious versions of itself. ( )
  yates9 | Feb 28, 2024 |
Why would I read a futurist’s book of predictions eighteen years late??? Well, being a technology educator and sci-fi hobbyist, it’s a book I should have read eighteen years ago. Kurzweil is a polarizing figure. He’s made bold and aggressive predictions his whole career. He had some big successes, but many of his predictions have failed to meet his timelines. But in an age of Generative AI, Musk’s Neuralink, Quantum computer advances, and broad implementation of nanoparticles in material science, medicine, and device engineering, I wonder if the criticisms have been premature.
Let’s be realistic, the explosion of interest in Generative AI (or as some call it – ‘plagiarism machines’ or ‘computer models that can lie’) has brought us no closer to ‘the singularity.’ However, it has made AI more conversational and has the potential to bring more existing information to more people faster. In addition, clearly technology adoption rates have accelerated (at least in some cases). It took Facebook four and a half years to reach 100 million users, ChatGPT reached that milestone in two months.
In this bestseller, Kurzweil takes on predictions around GRN (Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics/strong AI). He explores the potential advances on human brain interfaces, brain reengineering, and uploading the brain into a computer. Crazy stuff, right? Well, he does include over 100 pages of notes and references. This is not just some person making wild predictions, it is supported with a substantial amount of research and expertise. Is it crazy to think we become more integrated with technology when 95% of the world is covered by broadband networks? When the average screen time in the U.S. is over seven hours, when nearly 7 billion humans own a smart phone, and the average person checks their mobile device over 95 times per day? At some level, humans have already merged with technology. The global active implanted medical device market size is $26.82 billion and most consider it in its infancy.
Ultimately, the book is about ‘the Singularity.’ This is a future event where technology advances so rapidly that human life will be transformed and unrecognizable. Likely outcomes are where advanced AI exceeds humans as the dominate force, or more likely, according to Kurzweil, humans and AI’s merge.
Even reading this book eighteen years later, I found it to be well researched, intriguing, bold, and useful. Don’t expect a perfect roadmap and timeline to our species’ future but do expect a great deal of well thought out implications, extrapolations, and forecasts. Four stars. I, for one, welcome our new A.I. overlords, they can’t do any worse in managing the planet than we are. ( )
  Kevin_A_Kuhn | Aug 11, 2023 |
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 |
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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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Epigraph
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
Dedication
To my mother, Hannah,
who provided me with the courage to seek the ideas
to confront any challenge
First words
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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