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Just what exactly is a technological singularity? Can the universe’s history be split up into six neat epochs? What type of impact will the coming revolution in Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics have on you and me, the average person?

Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near came out in 2005, and the movie releases continues to be pushed back, and is now listed as an early 2011 release. I am unsure how this movie is going to work, but I’m picturing a documentary similar in style to What the Bleep Do We Know?

Author: Ray Kurzweil

What is it about? Just as he did in 1999 with The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil once again writes about the future course of humanity and its interactions with computers and artificial intelligence by using  Moore’s Law (the amount of transistors which can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit increases exponentially, doubling every two years) as a basis for his predictions. The Singularity is described as the point in technology’s evolution when artificial intelligences surpass human intelligences as the most advanced and capable life forms on Earth. Kurzweil predicts it will occur around 2045.

Excerpts: From the section We Are Becoming Cyborgs:

“The human body version 2.0 scenario represents the continuation of a long-standing trend in which we grow more intimate with our technology. Computers started out as large, remote machines in air-conditioned rooms tended by white-coated technicians. They moved onto our desks, then under our arms, and now into our pockets. Soon, we’ll routinely put them inside our bodies and brains. By the 2030s we will become more non-biological than biological. As I discussed in chapter 3, by the 2040s nonbiological intelligence will be billions of times more capable than our biological intelligence.” – Ray Kurzweil, 2005

My Two Cents: I found this much more engaging to read than his previous book. It’s a tough read at times, especially in the very wordy Achieving the Computational Capacity of the Human Brain chapter. I particularly liked Kurzweil’s splitting of the universe’s history into six epochs:

Epoch 1: Physics and Chemistry – Begins with the Big Bang, with the elements and physical properties forming in this time.

Epoch 2: Biology and DNA – Genetic information is stored in biological molecules and evolution takes place slowly, over generations, rather than within organisms’ lifetimes.

Epoch 3: Brains – Evolutionary information is now stored in neural patterns, as life has evolved to the point where complex and fast central control centers (brains) are necessary for survival.

Epoch 4: Technology – Humans become the only species able to develop technology, which is also subject to evolution and most importantly, not restricted to biological means of storing data.

Epoch 5: The Merger of Human Technology with Human Intelligence – The epoch which Kurzweil suggests we are beginning to enter, where technology begins to achieve the fine structures and capabilities of biological entities.

Epoch 6: The Universe Wakes Up – Human/machine civilization will expand its reach into the cosmos, saturating the universe and converting all inanimate matter into substrates for computation and intelligence.

I think this breakdown of the universe’s history (and future) into six epochs is quite revealing and interesting to think about. It shows how each successive epoch is shorter than the one before it, suggesting exponential growth. Just think, for the first 10 billion years or so, the universe expanded, elements were formed, stars were born, stars died, and then finally the Earth was formed about 4.6 billion years ago. It wasn’t until just 200,000 years ago that humans started to appear in the fossil record. And lastly, it wasn’t until 60 years ago that computers as we know them started to appear, and already we are approaching the point where our own technology is getting ready to surpass us!

You might like it if you like: The Age of Spiritual Machines, The Matrix, computers, technology.

4 Comments

  1. Interesting read is either directly from http://www.kurzweilai.net/news/frame.html?main=news.html or using the RSS feed from the same place. You can sometimes see the progress to the Singularity.

    • Thanks for the link. Ray Kurzweil astounds me sometimes.

  2. Amazing yet slightly scary book. His talk on ted.com http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ray_kurzweil_on_how_technology_will_transform_us.html is an abbreviated version of the book and when (not if) it catches your interest read the book.

    Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

    ‘Many scientists and engineers have what I call “scientist’s pessimism.” Often, they are so immersed in the difficulties and intricate details of a contemporary challenge that they fail to appreciate the long-term implications of their own work, and the larger field of work in which they operate. They likewise fail to account for the far more powerful tools they will have available with each new generation of technology.’

    ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’

    ‘One windy day two monks were arguing about a flapping banner. The first said, “I say the banner is moving, not the wind.” The second said, “I say the wind is moving, not the banner.” A third monk passed by and said, “The wind is not moving. The banner is not moving. Your minds are moving.” ‘

    ‘Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.’

    Thanks for the book Dev, great read.

  3. No problem Kevin; I was pretty sure you’d like it.

    I love that quote about scientist’s pessimism, as well as the organized knowledge one. I had both of those quotes bookmarked in my copy.


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