The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

Written by: Ray Kurzweil

The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology Book Cover
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 mach 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.
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The Singularity is Near When Humans Transcend Biology Reviews

TK Keanini
The beauty of Kurzweil is that he really goes his homework before he authors a book.

Age of Spiritual Machines had more style to it but this book is very dense in terms of domain knowledge.

I miss the metalogue he had going with himself. Maybe I just like those voices in my own head. :-)
Theacrob
This was a challenging read for someone like me who misses the pre-cell phone days. Changes are coming and they will come more quickly. I am resigned.
Yevgeniy Brikman
A wonderfully eye-opening read on the profound changes that are going to happen in society as a result of technology. Kurzweil makes a compelling argument that technology has been growing and improving at an exponential rate and a slightly less convincing one that it will continue to do so. But even if Kurzweil is off slightly in his math, the difference will be a matter of a few decades, and not centuries, which means life is going to change more than anyone expects very, very soon.

To some exte A wonderfully eye-opening read on the profound changes that are going to happen in society as a result of technology. Kurzweil makes a compelling argument that technology has been growing and improving at an exponential rate and a slightly less convincing one that it will continue to do so. But even if Kurzweil is off slightly in his math, the difference will be a matter of a few decades, and not centuries, which means life is going to change more than anyone expects very, very soon.

To some extent, this is clearly already happening. We are in an age with all human knowledge available instantly via the Internet, supercomputers in our pockets, self-driving cars, and other technologies that would seem inconceivable even two decades ago. And since tech growth is non-linear, it's almost inconceivable what will be available two decades from now.

One issue I take with Kurzweil's assumption though is that virtually all systems have a form of "friction" built in and once you hit a certain threshold point, it takes exponentially more and more effort to get past that point. Some examples:

* We are seeing bottlenecks with CPU speeds, as Moore's law, which he cites often in the book, seems to be at its limits (instead of making CPUs faster, we're just adding more of them now, which isn't the same)
* We can build software systems with millions of lines of code, but they become incredibly hard to manage, update, and understand
* We can make our devices smaller and smaller, but our batteries actually have to get larger and larger, and we've seen relatively little advancement in that field
* We can learn an incredible amount of information, but that means each new person has to spend longer in school to learn all that is known before they can start contributing

Kurzweil claims that we'll just keep coming up with new paradigms of technology to get past these bottlenecks--e.g. we'll invent AI to solve many of these problems for us--but I'm not sure that follows from the data and just seems like wishful thinking to me. I also find Kurzweil's explanation of how to prevent these immensely powerful technologies (e.g. self-replicating nanobots, evil AI) from destroying us to be underwhelming. He talks about building defenses up front, which is a good idea, but as an example, he talks about building self-replicating nanobots to defend against out-of-control self-replicating nanobots, which, especially given the state of modern programming, can only make you think that the former will almost inevitably be the cause of the latter...

There are other claims in the book I find problematic, such as the very optimistic view of AI. Kurzweil seems to believe that AI will have all of our strengths, but none of our weaknesses. But what if emotions, including irrational and destructive ones, are an inherent part of intelligence? What if making mistakes is an inherent part of creativity? What if those weaknesses are precisely what make the strengths possible?

It's fun stuff to contemplate. In fact, much of the book is. For example, there is a wonderful discussion of what it means to be human or conscious. It clearly has little to do with biology, as every single cell in your body (perhaps every atom) is replaced every few weeks, and yet "you" remain. What makes you, you, as it turns out, is merely a pattern. You are no more and no less than a set of data. Death is a tragedy because that unique pattern of data is lost. Isn't it fun to consider the fact that some day, we may be able to capture all of that data and create a backup somewhere, just like you might backup your computer hard drive?

Throughout the book, Kurzweil tends to discuss many cutting edge technologies that were in development around 2005. Reading the book more than 10 years later, it's interesting to see that a small handful have become mature, but the rest feel just as out-there now as they did a decade ago. At times, Kurzweil gets a little to deep into the details of a particular technology, or a scientific debate, or just arguing with his critics, and you have to skim quickly, but for the most part, the book is well worth reading for anyone into tech, SciFi, or just curious about how our future is likely to evolve.
As I always do in my reviews, here is a collection of my favorite quotes from the book:
“What, then, is the Singularity? It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”

“There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality.”

“The future is widely misunderstood. Our forebears expected it to be pretty much like their present, which had been pretty much like their past. Exponential trends did exist one thousand years ago, but they were at that very early stage in which they were so flat and so slow that they looked like no trend at all. As a result, observers' expectation of an unchanged future was fulfilled. Today, we anticipate continuous technological progress and the social repercussions that follow. But the future will be far more surprising than most people realize, because few observers have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.”

“The most popular data-compression techniques use similar methods of finding redundancy within information. But after you've compressed a data file in this way, can you be absolutely certain that there are no other rules or methods that might be discovered that would enable you to express the file in even more compact terms? For example, suppose my file was simply "pi" (3.1415...) expressed to one million bits of precision. Most data-compression programs would fail to recognize this sequence and would not compress the million bits at all, since the bits in a binary expression of pi are effectively random and thus have no repeated pattern according to all tests of randomness. But if we can determine that the file (or a portion of the file) in fact represents pi, we can easily express it (or that portion of it) very compactly as "pi to one million bits of accuracy."”

“Wolfram makes the following point repeatedly: "Whenever a phenomenon is encountered that seems complex it is taken almost for granted that the phenomenon must be the result of some underlying mechanism that is itself complex. But my discovery that simple programs can produce great complexity makes it clear that this is not in fact correct.”

“The reason memories can remain intact even if three quarters of the connections have disappeared is that the coding method used appears to have properties similar to those of a hologram. In a hologram, information is stored in a diffuse pattern throughout an extensive region. If you destroy three quarters of the hologram, the entire image remains intact, although with only one quarter of the resolution. Research by Pentti Kanerva, a neuroscientist at Redwood Neuroscience Institute, supports the idea that memories are dynamically distributed throughout a region of neurons. This explains why older memories persist but nonetheless appear to "fade," because their resolution has diminished.”

“Although we have the illusion of receiving high-resolution images from our eyes, what the optic nerve actually sends to the brain is just outlines and clues about points of interest in our visual field. We then essentially hallucinate the world from cortical memories that interpret a series of extremely low-resolution movies that arrive in parallel channels.”

“Work by physiology professor Benjamin Libet at the University of California at Davis shows that neural activity to initiate an action actually occurs about a third of a second before the brain has made the decision to take the action. The implication, according to Libet, is that the decision is really an illusion, that "consciousness is out of the loop." The cognitive scientist and philosopher Daniel Dennett describes the phenomenon as follows: "The action is originally precipitated in some part of the brain, and off fly the signals to muscles, pausing en route to tell you, the conscious agent, what is going on (but like all good officials letting you, the bumbling president, maintain the illusion that you started it all).”


SIGMUND: But a virtual body is not a real body.
RAY: The word "virtual" is somewhat unfortunate. It implies "not real," but the reality will be that a virtual body is just as real as a physical body in all the ways that matter. Consider that the telephone is auditory virtual reality. No one feels that his voice in this virtual-reality environment is not a "real" voice.


“Will robots inherit the earth? Yes, but they will be our children.—MARVIN MINSKY, 1995”

“Computer scientist Elaine Rich defines AI as "the study of how to make computers do things at which, at the moment, people are better.”

“The problem here has a lot to do with the word "machine." Your conception of a machine is of something that is much less valued—less complex, less creative, less intelligent, less knowledgeable, less subtle and supple—than a human. That's reasonable for today's machines because all the machines we've ever met—like cars—are like this. The whole point of my thesis, of the coming Singularity revolution, is that this notion of a machine—of nonbiological intelligence—will fundamentally change.”

“Later in this century it will seem remarkable to people that humans in an earlier era lived their lives without a backup of their most precious information: that contained in their brains and bodies. Is this form of immortality the same concept as a physical human, as we know it today, living forever? In one sense it is, because today one's self is not a constant collection of matter, either. Recent research shows that even our neurons, thought to be relatively long lasting, change all of their constituent subsystems, such as the tubules, in a matter of weeks. Only our pattern of matter and energy persists, and even that gradually changes. Similarly, it will be the pattern of a software human that persists and develops and slowly alters.”

“Technology typically starts out with unaffordable products that don't work very well, followed by expensive versions that work a bit better, and then by inexpensive products that work reasonably well. Finally the technology becomes highly effective, ubiquitous, and almost free”

“The portion of a manufactured product's cost attributable to the information processes used in its creation varies from one category of product to another but is increasing across the board, rapidly approaching 100 percent. By the late 2020s the value of virtually all products—clothes, food, energy, and of course electronics—will be almost entirely in their information. As is the case today, proprietary and open-source versions of every type of product and service will coexist.”

“Death is a tragedy. It is not demeaning to regard a person as a profound pattern (a form of knowledge), which is lost when he or she dies. That, at least, is the case today, since we do not yet have the means to access and back up this knowledge. When people speak of losing part of themselves “when a loved one dies, they are speaking quite literally, since we lose the ability to effectively use the neural patterns in our brain that had self-organized to interact with that person.”

“Some observers refer to the post-Singularity period as "posthuman" and refer to the anticipation of this period as posthumanism. However, to me being human means being part of a civilization that seeks to extend its boundaries. We are already reaching beyond our biology by rapidly gaining the tools to reprogram and augment it. If we regard a human modified with technology as no longer human, where would we draw the defining line? Is a human with a bionic heart still human? How about someone with a neurological implant? What about two neurological implants? How about someone with ten nanobots in his brain? How about 500 million nanobots? Should we establish a boundary at 650 million nanobots: under that, you're still human and over that, you're posthuman?”

“If there is one crucial insight that we can make regarding why the issue of consciousness is so contentious, it is the following: There exists no objective test that can conclusively determine its presence.”
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul :: The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis :: Sleeping Dogs :: Flat Stanley :: Issola
Seth Benzell
If you've been paying any attention to the internet or science fiction, you have probably run into the concept of the singularity in one way or another. There are several versions of this idea, from the most limited (once we have developed a human level machine intelligence, it will likely be a short time until we have super-human machine intelligences) to the most expansive (all technological changes are accelerating, and this acceleration is itself accelerating). Mr Kurzweil, perhaps the leadi If you've been paying any attention to the internet or science fiction, you have probably run into the concept of the singularity in one way or another. There are several versions of this idea, from the most limited (once we have developed a human level machine intelligence, it will likely be a short time until we have super-human machine intelligences) to the most expansive (all technological changes are accelerating, and this acceleration is itself accelerating). Mr Kurzweil, perhaps the leading prophet of the singularity (the choice of title is not arbitrary) takes this view to the extreme. Technology is exploding and it will be WONDERFUL. He posits that if you live to 2029 you will get to live forever, that around that time a human level AI will emerge, and that within a few centuries Man (and its benign, respectful, ultra-wise descendants) will stretch to occupy all of the universe within reach (Kurzweil suggests that even the speed of light will yield to our powerful virtue!)

When I began this book, I thought I would be rating it a 2. Most of the ideas are tired for me. While I don't understand enough science to say so definitively his take on the progress of nano-science seems particularly far-fetched and unmoored to the realities of research. Where he does seem to be on track is with his predictions about AI though. While other branches of science he was optimistic about - nano tech and bio tech in particular - have sputtered along, AI tech has continued to grow by leaps an bounds. Is it ridiculous to think that we might have GAI by the time I am 40? What would the consequences be if everything went OK? This book is most successful when it sticks to arguing that AI tech has been growing more rapidly than generally acknowledged, and pointing out possible upside consequences of this trend.

Kurzweil is here to spread the good news. In the most effective sections of the book, he imagines a dialogue between a contemporary human, humans at different points of his Utopian future, and various historical characters (Freud, Darwin, and Ned Ludd most notably). In these sections I feel he successfully makes the case that a singularity COULD be a very good thing for almost everyone. While Ludd levels valid objections, each of these is at least potentially addressed. Would the machines wipe us out? Not if they love and respect us. Would life lose meaning without death? Not if approached with the correct attitude. Would we still be human after these radical changes? We would be human if we wanted to be. Would people live valuable lives in a virtual reality? Yes, and especially if we were allowed to interact with each other.

This book has 3 major failings however. First, as noted above, the book seems much more accurate in its science when talking about AI tech than when talking about nano or bio tech. This is a serious drawback, because Kurzweil believes these innovations to be important, if not critical, complements to GAI in his vision. Second, while he makes a long, anecdotal case that technological change is accelerating, he leaves out important counterarguments. I am thinking in particular here about a branch of economic research indicating that technological innovations may be getting increasingly hard to find (the 'fishing out' hypothesis). The idea that future ideas might be harder to discover -- intuitively very plausible! -- is not represented beyond a strawman. Finally, and most importantly, Kurzweil in his zeal rejects almost out of hand the possibility of a catastrophe from the singularity. While he does note that some techs are dangerous (and he discusses - novel to me - the idea of an immune system of nano-bots to fight anyone trying to maliciously start a grey-goo scenario) he does not see this possibility for AI. However it is clear to me that the creation of a super-intelligence will be one of the most dangerous moments in human history. If a super powerful being decides it wants to rule us it will. Therefore it is incredibly important that we think through the consequences of bringing such a being into existence.

Such is the thesis of the next book I review - a great complement to this one - Superintelligence by Bostrom.
Christopher Willey
I’m kinda glad I hadn’t read this before my TEDx talk. Just like with Kelly’s ‘Inevitable’ and ‘What Technology Wants,’ the two books by Kurzweil - read out of order - gave me new concepts to synthesize, which I did, only to read them fully flushed out in the prior text. Whoopsies. Ahh well... so it goes.

This is a delayed reaction to this text because there was quiet simply a lot to unpack. If you’ve been following my reading updates at all you’d know I’m on to something, and chasing it with ferv I’m kinda glad I hadn’t read this before my TEDx talk. Just like with Kelly’s ‘Inevitable’ and ‘What Technology Wants,’ the two books by Kurzweil - read out of order - gave me new concepts to synthesize, which I did, only to read them fully flushed out in the prior text. Whoopsies. Ahh well... so it goes.

This is a delayed reaction to this text because there was quiet simply a lot to unpack. If you’ve been following my reading updates at all you’d know I’m on to something, and chasing it with fervor. These texts give me the ideas without giving me the deep mathematical concepts connected. It’s honestly making me feel a bit cheapened. I’m ALMOST ready to take on an online course or two from MIT or Khan academy to catch up on some of the things I’ve missed... like any math after College Algebra or any Physics at all. We’ll see.

This book is chalk full of the author's hubris and wild speculation. The most painful moments where the canned dialogue between characters in different timelines. It was a charade to simply give Kurzweil a ‘dumb questioner’ of the concepts a possibility to ‘explain’ the implications of the concepts, but it was done so ham handed IMHO. Heck, if one wanted to see the implications of this tech- just watch Black Mirror.

I negotiate with 60% of the material, but there is a solid 40% that either has already occurred, or is a dead reckoning for our current trajectories. In truth, some things are foreboding, but that’s the thing with Technology- it’s scary and wonderful in uneven breaths. (It has to be uneven because more people do things that are sustainable than not- otherwise we wouldn’t be here.)
Kurzweil started the Singularity University - https://su.org and SingularityHub https://singularityhub.com which continually updates great memes for our culture. Places like this - straight up - give me hope. Give these two sites a look.

Here are my favorite takeaways from this text:

-Stories are meaning patterns of Information.
-I am a pattern of matter and energy that persists over time. (My cells change, my patterns vary slightly, but “I” persist.)
-Technological evolution is a continuation of biological evolution.
-There are 6 Epochs of Evolution- though I DEEPLY question the nature of the 6th. Feels colonial and Borg like in it’s assimilation mentality. *(If you’ve read it - Please share your opinions in comments)*
-The life cycle of an invention
-Copy, Upload, and Re-instantiate - mind blowing
-The principles of Information Technology - E.G. Once we understand the principles of information, we’ll have a similar opportunity to understand, focus, and concentrate and amplify.
Quotes:
“That our intelligence is just above the threshold to understand itself results from our native ability. Combined with the tools of making: to envision, refine, extend, and alter abstract increasingly subtle models of our own observations.”

“As we apply our intelligence and the extension of our intelligence called technology to understanding the powerful patterns in our world for example human intelligence, we can re-create and extend these patterns and other substrates. The patterns are more important than the materials that embody them.”
Boni Aditya
The book is extremely boring to read and has layers and layers of complexity trying to prove the same thing over and over again! That technology will grow exponentially, but he fails to understand that technological progress can't be predictable, most of the book is based on assumptions and citations about relevant research that is being pursued and then extrapolated. Of course that might appear to be the sane way to predict the future of technology but he is blinded too much by optimism.

The wr The book is extremely boring to read and has layers and layers of complexity trying to prove the same thing over and over again! That technology will grow exponentially, but he fails to understand that technological progress can't be predictable, most of the book is based on assumptions and citations about relevant research that is being pursued and then extrapolated. Of course that might appear to be the sane way to predict the future of technology but he is blinded too much by optimism.

The writing style is filled with jargon, the author has no concern about the reader, he dumped everything that he wants to say or is available to defend his cause, without the tiniest concern about how the books might be digested by the users. The book is so heavy that I had to pause, google for many things and then fit them together to understand what was written. The book is also a huge huge one, spanning more than 600 pages. It is impossible to retain interest in the book after a while. Your whole thought process is muddled and you have no clue about the direction in which the whole book is progressing. Anyway many times I found myself bored to death and at times bamboozled by the amount of stuff that is put forth going in random directions; The book is badly written and the editing is worse.

I did not like most of the book, it wasn't interesting. I did not expected to be entertained by this book, but it wasn't revolutionary either, there is so much depth in analysis about various parts of the brian, the dendrites, the distance between each nerve cell and the capillary and the consequences of such location to explaining how the brain is built, how it combines neurons and how we can replicate all the brains processes, though it uses a combination of digital and analog apparently we can replicate the entire thing with only digital stuff and how the parallel processing capacity can be achieved. He also explains about quantum computing, laser computing and various other forms of computer that can be built, that are built along with the circuity. There is so much information that I don't really need to know. Why is the author hell bent upon proving everything till the last word, and demonstrating stuff that is happening in similar nodes all around the world. I consider this an overload of unnecessary information. I am ready to take the authors word if he says something about neurons because I know that he has done adequate research to come to this conclusion, but the author goes in a rage and rant, explaining in the minutest detail about why his statement is right and how to build such a system! He could have merely cited that in a separate link online. Thus if I was really interested to understand that particular concept in depth I would go visit that link, thus the book is rife with such diversions, he would go so far away from the initial train of thought down the rabbit hole that when he comes back we have no clue and we have completely forgotten the initial thread.

I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND THAT YOU READ THIS BOOK!
Evan
I read this book because I found it on the Marine Commandant's reading list and the topic sounded interesting. I thought this book was great with a few caveats. First, he delves into some theoretical physics concepts that are still pretty sketchy 13 years after the book was published. That's fine for a futurist, but I really wish he would have spent way less time on molecular assemblers. He could have summarized it by saying we want to use ribosome-like structures to build stuff besides proteins I read this book because I found it on the Marine Commandant's reading list and the topic sounded interesting. I thought this book was great with a few caveats. First, he delves into some theoretical physics concepts that are still pretty sketchy 13 years after the book was published. That's fine for a futurist, but I really wish he would have spent way less time on molecular assemblers. He could have summarized it by saying we want to use ribosome-like structures to build stuff besides proteins. Since 13 years have passed, some of his hopes have been shown to be flat-out wrong, such as the potential of torcetrapib (which actually increases chances of a heart attack) and ubiquitous virtual reality by the second decade of the 21st century. I think you have to accept that futurists will be wrong with their timing. ;)

My takeaway from the book is that artificial intelligence will improve until a computer is finally more intelligent than a human. At that point, the computer will become incredibly more intelligent than humans very quickly (because it can do millions of calculations/operations in the time it takes humans to do much). Separately, advances in nanotechnology and biotechnology will basically allow humans to become more machine than biology. The scarier part is his when Altered Carbon becomes reality. In other words, humans can upload their minds into computer memory. They can keep it there (in a better-than-life simulation) or download elsewhere as they choose.

He also spends a lot of time arguing that machines will become conscious beings, but I don't really have an opinion there.
Shane Thompson
I had been listening to some podcasts and checking out Coursera courses on machine learning. One of the references to 'seminal works' that I kept hearing was Kurzweil's The Singularity is near. Other reviews describe this work as an 'impact book', and I think that's a good single word to describe it in that this book will change how you view the future. It took me about a quarter of the book to get my mind to a place where I transitioned from reading speculative philosophical science fiction int I had been listening to some podcasts and checking out Coursera courses on machine learning. One of the references to 'seminal works' that I kept hearing was Kurzweil's The Singularity is near. Other reviews describe this work as an 'impact book', and I think that's a good single word to describe it in that this book will change how you view the future. It took me about a quarter of the book to get my mind to a place where I transitioned from reading speculative philosophical science fiction into giving more respect to the author's position. He talked through concepts three or four steps beyond where any of my independent thought exercises left me. Certainly controversial, but founded in a logic case that - even if you don't agree with - provides a solid base for ongoing constructive discussion. Topics that stood out to me specifically were the idea of non-biological enhancements (read the transition from the ubiquitousness of calculators, to smartphones, to the next step) and the evolving presence of non-biological intelligence. Ultimately, things get a bit hairy when he starts laying out the transition (not just addition) from biological to non-biological consciousness and the post singularity universe.

In 2017, the book feels completely relevant and has aged just fine. The topics are still as relevant and some of the AI functions he describes have become more visible in the horizon. Also interesting that Kurzweil is not just a writer, but is also an employee of Google hired to work in this field.

Definitely have a read of this book, think through some of the scenarios he lays out and keep learning on the topics of AI and machine learning.
Roger
I wasn't very impressed with this book, especially given Ray Kurzweil's reputation. I realize he has the reputation for accuracy, sagacity, and precise scientific futurism, but to the extent that his purpose in writing this book was to convince his reader that the Singularity is a good thing, I think he fails. I am not convinced.

But to be fair, I probably can't be convinced. I hold to certain a priori theological, philosophical, and ethical conclusions that preempt the conclusion that the Singu I wasn't very impressed with this book, especially given Ray Kurzweil's reputation. I realize he has the reputation for accuracy, sagacity, and precise scientific futurism, but to the extent that his purpose in writing this book was to convince his reader that the Singularity is a good thing, I think he fails. I am not convinced.

But to be fair, I probably can't be convinced. I hold to certain a priori theological, philosophical, and ethical conclusions that preempt the conclusion that the Singularity as Kurzweil describes it -- and if it ever can or does occur -- ever could be described as "good."

Aside from that, the only other criticism I have of this book is that it's an "everything but the kitchen sink" piece of writing. Kurzweil put a lot of information in this book that probably wasn't entirely necessary to his argument. He also repeats information quite a bit. He's not a bad writer, but just (maybe) an inefficient one.
Camille
Interesting book that describes a lot of possible future developments of technology, and their possible uses and implications on our lives and society.

I just wish Kurzweil had mastered the art of "conditional speaking"...
it gets tiring to go through an entire book of predictions with no single shred of doubt expressed at any point..
Whether or not we choose to believe that technology *can* develop that fast (and I think Kurzweil does makes a compelling point that it can and will), I don't think Interesting book that describes a lot of possible future developments of technology, and their possible uses and implications on our lives and society.

I just wish Kurzweil had mastered the art of "conditional speaking"...
it gets tiring to go through an entire book of predictions with no single shred of doubt expressed at any point..
Whether or not we choose to believe that technology *can* develop that fast (and I think Kurzweil does makes a compelling point that it can and will), I don't think anyone can predict in which direction it will go!

Some people have said this book is the Bible of the Singularitianism as new religion.. and that felt true in the way it was mostly throwing affirmations into my face and asking me to just believe them (while implying that if I didn't, it was my own fault from not being enlightened enough)

In summary : Glad i read it, gave me a lot to think about... Even happier to be done with it, painful from a literary standpoint :(
Lina Csillag
This was quite a reading. I stumbled on to the term "Singularity" before even hearing about Ray Kurzweil. What caught my interest was the idea of a harmonic symbiose society between high artificial intelligence and humans in the future. It also sparkled an idea for my next independent film. And I must say - to begin my research on this subject with the futurist Ray Kurzweil is like using neon colors for a first painting. He helds the most radical, and in some regards, provocative ideas revolving This was quite a reading. I stumbled on to the term "Singularity" before even hearing about Ray Kurzweil. What caught my interest was the idea of a harmonic symbiose society between high artificial intelligence and humans in the future. It also sparkled an idea for my next independent film. And I must say - to begin my research on this subject with the futurist Ray Kurzweil is like using neon colors for a first painting. He helds the most radical, and in some regards, provocative ideas revolving computer science and technology in general. I am inspired by his boldness in way of thinking, and in most cases, well-grounded arguments. Though, although he rebuts many contra-arguments, I still think he missed a few. My biggest issue with his thoughts, is his perception of reality - or more precisely - virtual reality. I agree with him, that it does and can have its advantages. But I honestly think he has a more sympathetic view towards virtual reality because he didn't grow up with computers being a big part of his life, like us millennials. Therefore I believe he thinks that switching from virtual to real reality is going to be easily controllable for us humans (although he said we preferably would live in virtual reality in the future). Having a brother who's deeply, deeply involved in virtual reality through gaming, I've felt it close to my own skin having a person around you disappearing more and more from the real reality. I am therefore very conscious about the downside of "making the easy choice", which is living in virtual reality. You don't have to fight for a good life. Everything is right there at your fingertips. And that's the danger. It threatens self-disciplin, it threatens will power, and in the end it threatens morality. And in reality, we need real reality for virtual reality to exist.
George Davidson
The only reason I'm giving this book a 4 instead of a 5 is that I don't like the author's conclusion and have some serious issue in general with the Singulatarian point of view.

Having said that, this book is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the world today and where it and technology are leading us. It was not what I was expecting in terms of a doom/gloom scenario, but very positive about the possibilities facing mankind. It brings up several really big ones:

Humans will become immort The only reason I'm giving this book a 4 instead of a 5 is that I don't like the author's conclusion and have some serious issue in general with the Singulatarian point of view.

Having said that, this book is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the world today and where it and technology are leading us. It was not what I was expecting in terms of a doom/gloom scenario, but very positive about the possibilities facing mankind. It brings up several really big ones:

Humans will become immortal
Through augmented intelligence we will become billions/trillions of times more intelligent than we are today
This development is inevitable as show by the exponential chart and growth of technology over time.

It's a bit of a stark future as it pretty much transforms everything, and the whole take on successfully dealing with nanotechnology seems a bit unrealistic, but we'll see.

2045 here we come!
Tim Abraham
Interesting read. I've always wanted to see what Kurzweil's whole spiel is. This book is his most recent (I believe) and was written about 10 years ago. So we can sort of grade him on some of his near term predictions on the future. One of the technologies he's most bullish on is nanotech - something that I'm not hearing a ton about in 2018. Biotech is also not commanding nearly as much attention as Mr. Kurzweil wrote it would. Meanwhile, AI, computing power, and Moore's Law continue to accelera Interesting read. I've always wanted to see what Kurzweil's whole spiel is. This book is his most recent (I believe) and was written about 10 years ago. So we can sort of grade him on some of his near term predictions on the future. One of the technologies he's most bullish on is nanotech - something that I'm not hearing a ton about in 2018. Biotech is also not commanding nearly as much attention as Mr. Kurzweil wrote it would. Meanwhile, AI, computing power, and Moore's Law continue to accelerate and we're starting to see more interest in virtual goods and virtual realities.

Overall I think he's a great thinker but might be timing his predictions to come true *just* before he reaches very old age, when in reality it might take a tad longer.
Tarun Rattan
This book is a storehouse of information on disruptive and emerging technology. It took me a while to read this book and even more to digest everything in the book. I would be referencing this book often to understand some the complex concepts explained in layman's terms by the author. This is an important book and provides an achievable vision for humanity, the author seems confident that we'll reach the singularity in little more than decade and if that happens it would be a real achievement f This book is a storehouse of information on disruptive and emerging technology. It took me a while to read this book and even more to digest everything in the book. I would be referencing this book often to understand some the complex concepts explained in layman's terms by the author. This is an important book and provides an achievable vision for humanity, the author seems confident that we'll reach the singularity in little more than decade and if that happens it would be a real achievement for human race as then humanity would finally be in full control of its destiny. Reaching singularity would enable us to move beyond the crutches of religion & God and would finally enable humanity to achieve its full potential.
Travis Lindeman
A pretty hefty book. A tour-de-force of scientific progress since approximately the 1960's and a foreshadowing of what is to come. Machine learning is on the brink of outpacing biological intelligence- which need not be a bad thing the way movies make it out to be. Kurzweil covers a lot of ground and does so in an approachable manner. There is a great deal of speculative idealism but mostly I think readers will be astonished to find out where science is now and where it will be sooner than we th A pretty hefty book. A tour-de-force of scientific progress since approximately the 1960's and a foreshadowing of what is to come. Machine learning is on the brink of outpacing biological intelligence- which need not be a bad thing the way movies make it out to be. Kurzweil covers a lot of ground and does so in an approachable manner. There is a great deal of speculative idealism but mostly I think readers will be astonished to find out where science is now and where it will be sooner than we think.
Ted
Someone needs to explain to Ray that correlation does not imply causation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correla...). Mr. Kurzweil juxtaposes many graphs of exponential phenomena, and claims that, because the shapes of the curves are the same, there is a causal link. After wading through several chapters of spurious claims about intelligence based on fallacious correlations and no other evidence, I threw the book in the trash. Sorry, Mr. Kurzweil, but without evidence and rational argument, ther Someone needs to explain to Ray that correlation does not imply causation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correla...). Mr. Kurzweil juxtaposes many graphs of exponential phenomena, and claims that, because the shapes of the curves are the same, there is a causal link. After wading through several chapters of spurious claims about intelligence based on fallacious correlations and no other evidence, I threw the book in the trash. Sorry, Mr. Kurzweil, but without evidence and rational argument, there's just nothing there but wish fulfillment.
Dominika
If you're looking for some hard science insporation for your hard sci-fi, this manages to be engaging and understandable, explaining a lot of concepts behind the technobabble (or at least the ones you really care about). I also found Ray Kurzweil's narrative and view of the future to be rather endearing, focusing on these exponential leaps and how humanity will transcend the bounds of biology and I am just READY for the transhumanist technocult.

Also of note, I have some of the OCR software that If you're looking for some hard science insporation for your hard sci-fi, this manages to be engaging and understandable, explaining a lot of concepts behind the technobabble (or at least the ones you really care about). I also found Ray Kurzweil's narrative and view of the future to be rather endearing, focusing on these exponential leaps and how humanity will transcend the bounds of biology and I am just READY for the transhumanist technocult.

Also of note, I have some of the OCR software that he had created so I appreciate Ray Kurzweil for his contributions towards accessibility.
Julia
If I wanted to write a sci-fi novel, I'd start here. Lots of interesting predictions backed by data and research. He goes off the deep end in the middle but ends on a strong note.

I still think he is overly optimistic about the reliability of complex software though, as well as his timeline for general AI. Finally, sometimes I think that our exponential progress might be slowed down a bit since some of this generations brightest minds work on social media apps and click bait instead of figuring o If I wanted to write a sci-fi novel, I'd start here. Lots of interesting predictions backed by data and research. He goes off the deep end in the middle but ends on a strong note.

I still think he is overly optimistic about the reliability of complex software though, as well as his timeline for general AI. Finally, sometimes I think that our exponential progress might be slowed down a bit since some of this generations brightest minds work on social media apps and click bait instead of figuring out how to get to Mars. But I have hope that things will get better soon.
Jonathan Cassie
It’s pretty easy to slag a book like this, full as it is with thousands of predictions about the state of future society. While many of these predictions seem far-fetched, even now 12 years after the book’s publication, I’m giving the book 5-stars simply for its audacity, which I can’t help but appreciate. I would very much like to read its sequel, which doesn’t yet exist, so that he could reflect on what hasn’t yet come to pass, what has that has surprised him, and what he thinks about the 2045 It’s pretty easy to slag a book like this, full as it is with thousands of predictions about the state of future society. While many of these predictions seem far-fetched, even now 12 years after the book’s publication, I’m giving the book 5-stars simply for its audacity, which I can’t help but appreciate. I would very much like to read its sequel, which doesn’t yet exist, so that he could reflect on what hasn’t yet come to pass, what has that has surprised him, and what he thinks about the 2045 Singularity date he’s set.
Sévérin Grimm
Very enthusiastic description of what could be our near and a little further future and what we, human beings, could become.

However, I'm not sure to be as confident as Mr. Kurzweil in all the benefits of singularity.

I don't know what knowledge in futurology and science people who believe that this book is more science fiction than science, but I think they should update their knowledge, because it seems to me that the author has stuck to current science and technology and what they could offer u Very enthusiastic description of what could be our near and a little further future and what we, human beings, could become.

However, I'm not sure to be as confident as Mr. Kurzweil in all the benefits of singularity.

I don't know what knowledge in futurology and science people who believe that this book is more science fiction than science, but I think they should update their knowledge, because it seems to me that the author has stuck to current science and technology and what they could offer us soon.
Sanika
Couldn’t make it to the end. Ray Kurzweil hasn’t backed up his claims with a lot of cogent evidence. Also, the way the book is structured is awfully boring. Most of what he says seems to be repetitive (that may be because I have already read a truckload of articles on the AI revolution, consequently making the longwinded explanations in this book seem unnecessary to me).
I‘d rather learn more about this idea from scientific papers, articles and videos than through this book.
Gardener
This book changed my entire world-view and outlook. Before reading it, I was a linear thinker. Now I'm a Singulitarian. The book contains graphs that are very compelling. Kurzweil makes an irrefutable argument that technology is developing at exponential rate and there can be only one outcome. Singularity.
Adam Miller
This seems more wishful thinking from an old dude who hoping for magical rejuvenation. I’m quite a bit younger than him and I’m not feeling hopeful after reading this - but that’s cuz the book is ~15 years old now and many of his predictions already look sort of silly. Otherwise this book is either too technical, or not technical enough.
Timeo Williams
For those interested in what the most prominent futurist of our time predicts for the future - read other reviews on this book by those of us in the community or read the book.

I had difficulty staying present while reading this. I think the two most repeated words in this book is nanobots and AI/intelligence/machines.

Have fun!
Erin
Kurzweil is a great writer and intelligent man, but some of the conclusions he draws (from solid facts) seem more like techno-optimism than logic. I think he misses out of too much of the human element, our brains have evolved over millions of years and cannot be so easily 'converted' to a binary state.

Ivan Taylor
I was of two minds about this book. I was fascinated by the possibility related to the subject but I was skeptical much of the time I was reading. As someone who has worked with Artificial Neural Networks, Genetic Algorithms and Expert Systems, I think the timelines are much longer than Kurzweil predicts but maybe he is right that the Singularity is inevitable at some time in the future.
Branimir
Very technical and detailed. I thought I would like it a lot more than I did.
Can't explain the reason. I quess the sentiment of the book is very precise but the writting isn't concise. I think all of the main arguments and thoughts could be covered in a smaller book.
At the end I got a feeling I was just waiting for it to end. Also a diggresion, but the guy (Kurzweil) is just afraid of death.
Simon Hohenadl
This book has opened my eyes to the future of humankind. It is somewhat repetitive, partly seems more like a rant against other scientists and does not answer all questions it poses (e. g. what about overpopulation?), but nonetheless paints a compelling picutre of the rest of this century that dwarves mony other concerns that one might have about the years to come.
Alayna Rakes
I'm sure this would have been more exiting had I read it ten years ago. His timing is already off, and it is repetitive, but it is a topic I'm very interested in. Any suggestions for a newer book in a similar topic? Perhaps focusing on the possible impact of the singularity?
Mark Bates
WHEW....What a tome....this book was very popular in the community of Geeks and Nerds of which I like to think I am a proud member. It was very deep and hard to follow, philosophy, religion, tech, and history. I think I tracked about 25 to 40 percent of the book.
Panz
I feel that if every other sentence was taken out and this book being half its length, it would convey much of the same content while being less of an exhausting read. His insights are important bordering alarmist.
Gunther Meliton
Definitely a book to read, and a book to think about. Mainly because he could be right. In any case is an optimistic view of the future, which is the first step for a better future and for keeping motivated generations.
Yuchen Xin
Read it. Gave up. Picked it up. Gave up again. The book is essentially centered around a very simple idea, which is that technology development is not linear but exponential. Yet the book is a bit too verbose for the beginners who wanna just have a brief idea of the topic.
Kathleen Henry
A long and meandering book. Kurzweil’s habit of referring to himself and his other books was annoying at best as was his rather noticeable writing tic (parentheses). An interesting topic turned into a tough slog.
Douglas Spadotto
Certamente me provocou, causando maravilhamento e ao mesmo tempo incomodação. De qualquer maneira, me informou sobre o que pode vir.

P.S.: a visão quase exclusivamente norte-americana me incomodou, então é porque era focada demais mesmo.
Niklas
Just no. This books is only about one hypothesis, technological "singularity". Then all the rest of the books is he just trying to prove his point. Fascinating idea, but he is over-fitting his data and not critiquing his own ideas the least.

And it's not even that technically written.
Roberto Suarez
Hermoso

Simplemente genial apasionante en una narrativa fina y congruente te va guiando por los confines de la imaginación y el alcance del ser humano, la inteligencia y el desarrollo tecnológico
Suparnkumar Sathe
Amazing book. Lots of futuristic technologies discussed, many many details. Only negative part is too many details, too many never heard technologies make one lose interest in between. still a great read.
Mitesh Patel
A fascinating book on infinite possibilities. Mesmerizing indeed. Kurzweil is definitely the “glass is half full” author and portrays a very exciting future for the humankind. Brilliant
Prato
Optimistic with his timeline and slightly repetitive at times, Kurzweil builds a very strong case for the Singularity.
Michael Reibel Boesen
Classic. A bit long. From way before the "Singularity movement" turned into the consultant-driven semi-religious state it is today.
Seth Kahan
Highly stimulating. Kurzweil is compelling, offers a positive view of the future delivered with intellectual rigor and spiced with humor. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Great for science and math geeks.
R
Really interesting concepts. Also, burdensome to complete.
Mike Mike
Simply put, it could have been condensed to about 1/3 to 1/2 the size.
Mark
Mr Kurzweil has convinced me that the singularity is not only possible, but inevitable. And a lot closer to being reality. I'm a believer. Just hope I'm alive to see and experience it.
Daniel
Ray Kurzweil does a thorough analysis of all facets of future technology and leaves it to the reader to draw conclusions.
Philip G
A fascinating read that I’m grateful to finally be done with. Given the years that have passed since its publishing I’m curious to know how Kurzweil would respond to it today.
George Atuan
Great book but I hope Ray predictions are wrong (even though i think he is right :( ).
Gaurav Deshpande
How can you say the intelligence is less intelligent than a superior intelligence built by itself?
Schoenend
He makes a good point but he could also have made that point within 200 pages, with a little less bragging about him being some tech-Nostradamus.
Luke
Awesome. Makes me optimistic about the future.
Jeanine Johnson
Enthusiastic forecast of future achievements that has shaped the visions of Silicon Valley style innovators.
Vitali Green
This book is referenced all over the place, and pops up frequently in popular culture. It is a very long, very well researched and cited, and very serious book.
Gerhard Buys
An insightful view of man and machine's intertwined futures.
Ron
It's a classic, and very long-winded and a bit too full of itself, not to mention out of date. However, it's an eye-opening read, and force the big picture in sight. Makes me think, "I for one welcome our machine overlords."
Isaac
Haven't read the whole thing - but about half. Interesting exploration of the vision of the ontology of the human person. Kurzweil has been right about the exponential increase in technological innovation.
Abe
This book was very long, and at points very verbose. However, it was still an enjoyable read, if only for the ideas it contains. Some of Ray's predictions are already here, while others are still far away, but not completely out of reach. It is amazing to see the transformation happening in front of our eyes, and wonder when machine intelligence eventually surpasses ours, will we still be able to comprehend what's happening.
Mahesh Kumar
The book starts with interesting facts. If Singularity is to make all the humans with same intelligence and all other capabilities, there is no way to distinguish one person to other, what is the purpose of such an advancement? not convinced at all.
Bikash
The rate of technological development is ever increasing. We all know that. But making this a law and predicting wild futures within our lifetime by Kurzwail based on this one thing was completely unrealistic. Just one example, he predicts reverse aging and a win over death in a few decades. Feels like science fiction and nothing more. Also, repeating the same stuff over and over again do not make him right. This could have been a 300 page book instead of 600 without missing anything. Nice imagi The rate of technological development is ever increasing. We all know that. But making this a law and predicting wild futures within our lifetime by Kurzwail based on this one thing was completely unrealistic. Just one example, he predicts reverse aging and a win over death in a few decades. Feels like science fiction and nothing more. Also, repeating the same stuff over and over again do not make him right. This could have been a 300 page book instead of 600 without missing anything. Nice imaginations though - just doesn't pass as realistic predictions.
Rossdavidh
Some books have a "big idea", some do not. Both can be fun and/or informative, but it's good to know which you're getting into when you start. Are we to expect the author to wrap it all up into an overarching theme by the end, or is this "just" a series of bite-sized essays? Occasionally, it is hard to tell until the end.

No such troubles here. Ray Kurzweil tells you from page one that this is a Big Idea book. Essentially, Kurzweil says the world is going to end. And, he says, it will be fun.

The Some books have a "big idea", some do not. Both can be fun and/or informative, but it's good to know which you're getting into when you start. Are we to expect the author to wrap it all up into an overarching theme by the end, or is this "just" a series of bite-sized essays? Occasionally, it is hard to tell until the end.

No such troubles here. Ray Kurzweil tells you from page one that this is a Big Idea book. Essentially, Kurzweil says the world is going to end. And, he says, it will be fun.

The intriguing thing about Kurzweil's "The End is Really F*&^ing Nigh" thesis, is that the essence of his argument is "things will keep accelerating at the same pace they have been". Some time is spent discussing the difference between linear growth rates (equal times, result in equal amounts of increase) and exponential growth rates (equal times, result in equal percentage increases).

Most of our technology, and hence in recent years most of our economy, has been operating on exponential growth for a few centuries now, if not perhaps even further back. Theoretically, they may always have been, with a century in the Renaissance giving the same increase in human knowledge that a millennium required in ancient times, and 10 millennia in pre-historic times. Most people, if they consider it at all, assume that at some point the exponentially increasing rate of technological progress will have to stop at some point, or at least slow down.

Kurzweil's book asks, what if it doesn't? How much information could we pack into the world, if we actually went so far as the laws of physics allow us to? And at the current rates, how long will it be before we reach what he calls the Singularity?

The Singularity would be the point when information and intelligence have reached their maximum density on the planet, and more or less fused into one Gestalt. If you are the sort to believe that greater knowledge enables greater empathy enables greater wisdom, this could be a good thing. If you are the sort to believe that greater knowledge enables greater arrogance enables greater authoritarian ego trips, this is a disaster. Kurzweil is clearly in the former camp.

What sets Kurzweil's book apart from most TEOTWAWKI ("The End Of The World As We Know It") tomes, that I'm aware of, is the number of charts, graphs, and referenced sources on economic growth. In some sense, his scenario is the default, and anyone who wants to argue otherwise might be expected to give good reason why we would expect things to slow down.

On the other hand, if you extrapolate from the data Kurzweil is using, the Singularity will come during our lifetimes (which, by the way, will probably be substantially extended due to our increasing knowledge of how our bodies work). Saying "things will keep changing faster and faster" sounds plausible. Saying "we will all merge into a planet-wide consciousness greater than any of us can imagine", sounds less so. But perhaps I am lacking sufficient imagination.

In the end, whether you find yourself agreeing with Kurzweil's thesis or not, it is intriguing to read it as a thought experiment, if nothing else. If we kept getting more and more knowledgeable and technologically adept, what would that mean? Would we want that? Would we have a choice? Would we allow others to have a choice? And what would "we" even mean, in such a context?

Kurzweil asserts that the human species, ever since it invented language, has been engaged in an ever-accelerating quest for more information. Going further, he points out that life itself consists largely of matter developing newer and better ways (DNA, neurons) to store and manipulate information. Taking this perspective, the matter of our planet has been engaged, for several billion years, in a long quest to become conscious, a quest which is nearly complete, and can be expected based on current rates to reach its finale (the Singularity) in less than a century.

If you eat right, exercise, look both ways before crossing the street, and get just a little bit lucky, you could be there to see it.
Jeffrey Romine
As one reviewer put it, you find yourself reading more than and skimming, slightly, and as many reviewers noted, this is because it’s hard to swallow so much science fiction. For Christian readers out there, it's good to be cautious as to easy belief regarding either the promise or the peril of artificial intelligence, remembering that unless you yourself are a practicing technologist, the best you can do is adopt an opinion. And, while assenting to the knowledge of someone else establishes opin As one reviewer put it, you find yourself reading more than and skimming, slightly, and as many reviewers noted, this is because it’s hard to swallow so much science fiction. For Christian readers out there, it's good to be cautious as to easy belief regarding either the promise or the peril of artificial intelligence, remembering that unless you yourself are a practicing technologist, the best you can do is adopt an opinion. And, while assenting to the knowledge of someone else establishes opinion, it is quite a weaker thing to assent to the speculation of others.

On the other hand, Ray Kurszweil is someone who merits attention. Rare is the prophet whose predictions come true, and Ray’s masterful ‘voice of technology’ has justly earned him his notoriety. I found this thirteen-year-old book still merits reading, particularly for someone new to the topic like myself; wanting a substantive treatment on the topic, wanting to hear out an insider, and willing to overlook the transgression that other reviewers did not.

What I like about him is his positivity regarding the promise over the peril, advocating a common-sense insight as to the inevitably of AI and what it holds in store. The book reads fluently, albeit a bit verbose, and I’m glad to have it marked ‘read’ in my Goodreads column.
Luca
The author studies the history of evolution (with major focus on the recent chapter, the one characterized by technology taking over what Mother Nature had been doing for ages) with an ultra-rational approach. He expects artificial intelligence to become superior to human intelligence by the middle of the 21st century (2045) and he calls this event the Singularity. Once that happens, the ability of machines to share knowledge and quickly upgrade will help them speed up the evolutionary process t The author studies the history of evolution (with major focus on the recent chapter, the one characterized by technology taking over what Mother Nature had been doing for ages) with an ultra-rational approach. He expects artificial intelligence to become superior to human intelligence by the middle of the 21st century (2045) and he calls this event the Singularity. Once that happens, the ability of machines to share knowledge and quickly upgrade will help them speed up the evolutionary process to a point where only a few years will be necessary to achieve epic feats, such as enabling immortality or using matter in the universe to perform gigantic-scale computation.

His main argument against those thinking these achievements will take a much longer time is that everything in the technological sphere has been improving at an exponential pace. We tend to make predictions based on our local, current history, which looks linear, and by extrapolating that to the long term. We should instead look at the historical trend and extend that.

The author relays the latest technological discoveries and advances as of 2004 (time of completion of the book), with special attention devoted to GNR, Genetics, Nanotechnologies, and Robotics (truly, Artificial Intelligence). He talks about the implications on health (nanobots running in our bloodstream could cure all diseases and keep up from ageing, essentially making us nearly immortal), education (brain implants could help us acquire skills and remember notions much more effectively), business (self-replicating nonobots could construct any item leveraging basic materials, so the value of companies would all be in the IP of the design, and no longer in scale, production, delivery, etc., doing to hardware what internet did to software). He also discusses the risks, such as majorly intelligent machines toying with us, or gone-awry self-replicating nanobots turning into an unbeatable virus.

Overall a must read for tech and innovation enthusiasts. The author is strongly biased towards his point of view and at times incapable of honest self criticism (although he seems to try). I can't say whether the sources are accurate, but he's backed by many well-respected business men and researchers, so we can assume he's not entirely off on at least some of the topics.

My main disagreements are the following:
- The timing of the Singularity. He expects it to take place around 2045. He's failing to consider that the exponential pace of technological advancement we've seen for centuries could hit the wall of an effect that so far has been second order, due to the relatively slow pace of change, but that could become dominant, as the pace picks up immensely: the ability of humans to adapt to changes fast enough. While I agree that technology makes it easier for us to adopt new technology, in a sort of virtuous cycle, this doesn't mean that we won't see a significant slowdown in the pace of evolution, which could easily push the Singularity further off in the future by many decades.
- The actual happening of the Singularity. The author claims that no other intelligent species exists in the universe (or more accurately in our light sphere), otherwise we'd pick up their signals. Because expansion after the Singularity is so fast, this species would have already reached every corner of the universe with their presence. He states the only case in which we might believe there had been other, is if they had all self destroyed by now. He deems this highly unlikely. I disagree. I believe it might instead be highly likely, and that this explains why we don't pick up on any other intelligent presence: perhaps the incredible power that technology is giving us is just incredibly unlikely not to lead to complete extinction, when yielded for a sufficiently long time and/or brought to the extremes of what he calls the Singularity.
Brad Please See Mine
In one of my high school English classes, we compared Kurtz from Heart of Darkness to R. P. McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest around the theme of "Visionary or Madman." While reading The Singularity is Near, this dichotomy continually popped into my head in relation to Ray Kurzweil.

On the one hand, he makes a compelling case for the rapid advancement of technology reaching a tipping point where machines are so interconnected with one another and intertwined in society, that they are In one of my high school English classes, we compared Kurtz from Heart of Darkness to R. P. McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest around the theme of "Visionary or Madman." While reading The Singularity is Near, this dichotomy continually popped into my head in relation to Ray Kurzweil.

On the one hand, he makes a compelling case for the rapid advancement of technology reaching a tipping point where machines are so interconnected with one another and intertwined in society, that they are able to share information in a way that will radically transform human life. If recent advancements in artificial intelligence continue, wherein computers do not merely run off of pre-defined scripts but are able to actually learn and change their own patterns, who's to say that they won't develop some type of self-awareness? As computational speed and power increases along with parallel processing, the seeming limitations of machines could be broken down. When tracing the evolution of computing, the rapidity of paradigm shifts is evident and can easily make fools of those who proclaim that change will slow or cease. It seems that erring on the side of optimism is the most pragmatic course of action.

On the other hand, Kurzweil’s vision of the singularity and the timeline for when it will be achieved is at best naively unrealistic and at worst insanely idiotic. He primary thesis is that by about the year 2050, the abilities of computer processing and artificial intelligence will be so advanced, that they will be able to access all information in the universe instantly, leading to insights about the the world and life that will enable biological organisms and machines to transcend all known physical and mental limitations. This point at which all forms of information and energy can flow seamlessly from any point in the universe to another is known as the singularity, when all elements in the universe become one. Furthermore, biology and machinery will become inextricably intertwined. This is where Kurzweil really tests the limits of plausibility. His belief that nanorobots could be used inside human bodies to repair blood vessels or penetrate the blood-brain barrier within the next decade or so defies the laws of physics and biology. In addition, he all but completely ignores the macroeconomic forces and entrenched interests that would never permit such a rapid transformation to occur.

His primary evidence that humanity and the universe will undergo such a revolutionary metamorphosis is the exponential growth and advancement of computational processing power (and technology in general) over the past several millenia. He is certainly accurate about the rate of technological progress and this trend should not be ignored. His extrapolation of this pattern to the whole of the universe and all of its biological organisms and societies, however, is a dubious leap.

Kurzweil would have been better off writing a short exposition on the progress of technology and the potential implications for society and humanity. There are certainly a number of thought-provoking ideas, such as the notion of morality with a robot of sufficient artificial intelligence to experience emotions or what could be gleaned from an individual’s personality or perception based on a computerized read-out of his brainwaves. These are important questions for a society devoted to technological advancement. Unfortunately, the voluminous tome comes off as a desperate plea to convince readers to join the cult of singularitarians, repeating over and over again his mantras as the answer to everything: “exponential rate of growth” and “nanobots.” While Kurzweil may ultimately be a visionary, he will certainly be considered a madman for as long as anyone living in his lifetime will know.
Mark
Kurzweil's vision of the future is an entertaining read. The science is clearly laid out and easy to understand. This book offers a lot of intellectual entertainment and is a great launching pad for coffee shop debates about the future of technology and what it means to be human.

This is the deal; evolution has brought humanity to the brink of a knowledge explosion that will ultimately expand our consciousness to fill the universe with knowledge. First we will change our biology through genetic m Kurzweil's vision of the future is an entertaining read. The science is clearly laid out and easy to understand. This book offers a lot of intellectual entertainment and is a great launching pad for coffee shop debates about the future of technology and what it means to be human.

This is the deal; evolution has brought humanity to the brink of a knowledge explosion that will ultimately expand our consciousness to fill the universe with knowledge. First we will change our biology through genetic manipulation resulting in vastly extended life span and perfect health. Then nano technology will enable the manufacture of machines to enhance biological structures followed by atomic level by bio-mechanics that simulate and then surpass every human function. Humans will gradually morph into machines as more and more physical functions, including the brain are augmented and the improved. A gradual transition will make irrelevant whether our bodies are biological or technological. Finally, nano technology will allow us to turn matter itself into computational devices. This will further exponentially boost intelligence. The end point is the conversion of all the matter in the universe into quantum computers. Future human intelligence will have as much in common with today's thought processes as an amoeba has opinions about us.

What could go wrong go worng go werong[aoss[x?!?!

Kurzweil himself tosses out a few dangers. My favorite is the escape of self reproducing nano-bots that consume all the planet's carbon in a spectacular nano-population explosion and leaves Earth a lifeless globe (originally wrote blob, but physics rules) of gray slime whizzing through space; bummer. I also enjoy his argument against the existence of extra-terrestrial life. Odds are overwhelming that if other life exists, multiple civilizations would have long ago achieved the Singularity and they would be obvious!

Regardless of gray slime peril or the disappointment of accepting E.T. isn't out there, Kurzweil expresses his ideas with great optimism. He is personally looking forward to eternal life where his consciousness is machine hosted and every fantasy perfectly simulated. He claims to have slowed his own aging process by consuming 150 different supplements a day. Can I get extra cheese on that?

I have no doubt that many of his prophesies will come true in some form. But I don't see humans shedding biology and strapping into an eternal galaxy wide quantum computer.

I see two fundamental flaws with his prophesy. One is that not all technological advances are exponential. They plateau, generally when running into a natural constraint. Take, for example flight (the function of lift). This technology has grown exponentially during the twentieth century but is hitting the physical wall of moving a material (aircraft) through a medium (air), while resisting gravity.

My other objection revolves around the definition of a human being. For those who believe we are merely animated chemical and biological structures, the singularity is totally possible. On the other hand, I believe we are fundamentally spiritual beings and that reality is a lot weirder than we can imagine. A machine will never host a human spirit because a machine is a creation of human thought. Technology is the product of rules and order. It takes the randomness of nature to produce a truly living structure capable of hosting the spark of life. Human's cannot create true randomness, only simulations. At best we can sample it from the effects of nature or the meaningless (to functionality) defects in the stuff we build.

To sum it up, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well presented and highly debatable vision of the future.
Taylor Barkley
I like this book because he takes far out ideas to their logical conclusion. Like if we can make atoms into computers, the universe will be a computer! Good source for cocktail chatter.
Jason Arias
If you're looking for Terminator-esque daymares and nanobot night terrors this is a good place to start.

No, it's not that bad. Well, it kind of is. The lengths that Kurzweil is ready to go to justify Post-Humanism (the next evolutionary step that, in his opinion, humankind needs to propel itself in) is pretty frightening.

One of my favorite reasons he gives for the need for us to merge with computers (though he does state it is not one of his top reasons) is based on Simulation Theory--the theo If you're looking for Terminator-esque daymares and nanobot night terrors this is a good place to start.

No, it's not that bad. Well, it kind of is. The lengths that Kurzweil is ready to go to justify Post-Humanism (the next evolutionary step that, in his opinion, humankind needs to propel itself in) is pretty frightening.

One of my favorite reasons he gives for the need for us to merge with computers (though he does state it is not one of his top reasons) is based on Simulation Theory--the theory that our universe is just a simulation program, like an advances "The Sims" video game on a godlike PS5. I'm not saying he's necessarily wrong, anything's possible. But Kurzweil states that whoever invented this program (that we may or may not be living in) is probably viewing us interact. And that that person, or persons, will eventually get bored if we stop evolving in new and/or strange ways. If that external programmer gets bored with this human ant-farm then he might discontinue the simulation. In other words, our world will end if we're not "entertaining" enough. God will literally pull the plug. I'm thinking two things if that is the case.

First of all, Donald Trump is has enough scary-as-hell clown-like qualities to probably satiate any bored Grand Programmer, at least through this election process. But also I'm wondering (much like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas) "What am I, a clown? Am I here for your amusement or something?"
If God is just some bored nerd that needs us to entertain him, then maybe it's time to shut this thing down already.

Jason 2020: Just joking Grand Programmer, look, if you did create all this then you created me with the capability to say what I just said, right?

Grand Programmer: Well, it's alright. You have no idea what you're really saying since you are stuck in a simulation based in the past, and I'm the future programmer your current civilization hasn't birthed yet.

Jason 2035: Wait, until you see how cool the insides of your computer is, Jason 2016, you shouldn't knock it.

If you thought that last little dialogue was interesting (and not an alarming schizophrenic break from reality) there are many portions of this book that may appeal to you. Kurzweil has numerous imagined conversations between Debbie 2004, Debbie 2025, an AI named Greg (from the latter 2000's), other people from various years, and Kurzweil himself--referred to in third person.

If all of this sounds like nonsense, but you'd just like to hear a grown man, sounding like an eighteen year old boy, talking about how many real and imagined ways you can have virtual sex with either real or imagined people in both real and imagines places then this may still be the book for you.

Or if, like me, you enjoy the uses of technology but don't trust it enough to submit your entire being over to--I haven't owned any modern day device that hasn't glitched after seven years, usually sooner--and want to see what the modern day Holy Grail looks like so that you can choose, but choose wisely, if ever presented with the option then you might find some of the stomach curdling idea within these pages a necessary burden of knowledge.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this book is one of the weirdest things I've ever read. And I love weird, but...

Look, if this book was fiction it would be a five-star read, hands down. But due to the cult-like sentiment, and unnerving allure it may have for multitudes of Millennials, the fear factor has pushed the star count down, way down, for me.

Jason 2035: By submitting this review you may be vastly altering me.

Jason 2016: Oh, shut up already.
Sheffy
Isaac Asimov’s SciFi novel “The Foundation” starts with a prophesy from Hari Seldon, a futurist who creates the field of “psychohistory” to mathematically predict how the future will more or less unfold for civilization. Futurist Ray Kurzweil channels his inner Seldon (and he surely knows it) to lay out the singularity--the point at which humans merge with technology. Needless to say SciFi has imagined this eventuality in many variations, so Kurzweil methodically lays out his vision based on law Isaac Asimov’s SciFi novel “The Foundation” starts with a prophesy from Hari Seldon, a futurist who creates the field of “psychohistory” to mathematically predict how the future will more or less unfold for civilization. Futurist Ray Kurzweil channels his inner Seldon (and he surely knows it) to lay out the singularity--the point at which humans merge with technology. Needless to say SciFi has imagined this eventuality in many variations, so Kurzweil methodically lays out his vision based on laws of physics (well, he presumes we will eventually push the laws to their boundaries, and some limits, like the speed of light, may even be surmountable...). And I mean methodically--I listened to the dry audionarrative, 25 hours; I’m not sure if I could have gotten through--let alone lifted--the hardcopy, but the listening makes it particularly hard to absorb his many calculations of computer speeds, et al. In his vision, human civilization is not all of a sudden overtaken by robots, but rather the smooth transition is already happening. We use glasses to help us see better, what about artificial hearts when ours fail, virtual reality is here, so merging with technology is a gradual, if slippery, slope.

To distill this long work into a few soundbites: technology builds exponentially, not linearly--it may seem linearly at first, but if you map progress over human history from stone age and the “wheel”, how many advances have come in the past century, decade, year... Even Moore’s law that computing speed doubles every 2 years would have hit an absolute limit in the number of transistors that can fit on a chip, but Kurzweil points out that exponential growth persists because of paradigm shifts to new technologies circumvent saturation. Kurzweil sees technology driven in three areas: biotechnology, nanotechnology, and robotics. He saves his biggest predictions for the realm of neuroscience--claiming A) The brain is a very sophisticated computer; B) We are learning more and more about how it works and some day we will model enough of it to understand it; C) With Moore’s Law, our advances in computer science ensure we will easily have the computing power to far exceed the calculations the brain is making (let alone the speed, since computers aren’t constrained by historical biological squishiness) D) Ergo, we can create a computer that can do every calculation a brain can do E) Ergo, the computer will be artificial intelligence matching and ultimately far superseding humans since human consciousness is an emergent property of our brains. Once we can download our brains, we can achieve immortality. We won’t need our biological systems--humans will evolve into machines, but according to him, it will still be characteristically human. Ultimately we will figure out how to harness the universe to be a calculator for nearly unlimited intelligence (or maybe that is what the universe already is--someone has set physical parameters as part of a computer experiment...)

I have the advantage of reading this a decade after it was written, so my health skepticism in his claims has some merit. Nanotechnology was all the rage in 2005, and while it still has potential, the buzz has cooled off a bit. As a PhD in neurobiology, I find his understanding, or at least, his simplifications of biology to be naive. But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that we will crack artificial intelligence someday, so his message, if not his timeline is at least in the right direction.
David
Well, I finished Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near." Very interesting book, though I'm still digesting the contents. I'm not going to attempt to summarize it, but I will say that I would recommend it as reading for anyone who thinks they will be alive more than 10 years from now, since even if he's wrong about 90% of what he predicts, he discusses the issues- and he's probably closer to right on 90% of what he says.

I was thinking as I read the book about one thing I disagree with his analy Well, I finished Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near." Very interesting book, though I'm still digesting the contents. I'm not going to attempt to summarize it, but I will say that I would recommend it as reading for anyone who thinks they will be alive more than 10 years from now, since even if he's wrong about 90% of what he predicts, he discusses the issues- and he's probably closer to right on 90% of what he says.

I was thinking as I read the book about one thing I disagree with his analysis about - he points out that as technology advances and gets cheaper, it spreads out, and quickly reaches the point where most of the globe has the new technology. Additionally, since the time between first adopters and laggards is speeding up, (for example, it took decades longer for telephones to spread to 50% of the population than it took cell phones,) the wealth disparity among people will disappear.

I'm going to have to disagree with the analysis, which I hope I presented fairly, if quickly. As technology accelerates, the growth accelerates as well - the difference one hundred years ago between the haves and have nots was smaller than it is now because the "haves" had less. A particular distance on the x-axis has a much larger difference the farther along an exponential curve the further along we go. I fear that even if the distance in terms of availability of technology in time between the haves and have-nots is decreasing exponentially, the technology curve is further along, and the gap will continue to grow. To illustrate this mathematically, we can see that two exponential growth curves offset by any finite amount grows arbitrarily far apart at some point. I'm not sure that this is surmountable.

To illustrate this point more anecdotally, let's assume that in the year 2030, Bill Gates gets his brain upgraded to integrate a nonbiological computer-based component, as one of the second generation of implants, enhancing his intelligence. He can now model understand computer user's preferences many times better then he previously could, and even manages to produce a version of Windows that doesn't suck. He can also understand market forces and pick a near-perfectly differentiated pricing model for Windows XY, and makes several billion more dollars over the next couple of months. Noticing his newfound brilliance, he realizes that the best way to spend his newfound money is to buy more computing capacity for himself, and does so, further widening the gap between him and us non-enhanced people. In fact, excepting the tendency he has recently displayed to give money to charity, I see no hope for anyone else in the world - he will continue to improve his personal computational ability, and grow his wealth to an unprecedented extent, (as if this has not already happened,) continually improve himself, and not share any of his newfound, proprietary technology since he understands that it will allow others to catch up with his lead, which given his 1 week, 10 billion dollar lead in computational ability, can now never happen - this is what those time-offset exponential curves meant earlier.

I was unimpressed by Kurzweil's discussion of the topic, but given how long the book was, it is entirely possible that this topic, being one of the least important things he discussed, was simply shortchanged in the book due to space considerations.
Neelesh Marik
I'm now fully prepared to embrace the cyborg future that awaits us all. That's right, we're all going to be cyborgs someday. Or some other non-biological form of life- at least according to the author of this doorstop, Ray Kurzweil.

Kurzweil is a futurist who made his bones studying trends in technology- which is how he came up with his theory on the Singularity. Basically, he says that technology is accelerating so fast that at a certain point (he says 2045- pretty ballsy of him to put a date o I'm now fully prepared to embrace the cyborg future that awaits us all. That's right, we're all going to be cyborgs someday. Or some other non-biological form of life- at least according to the author of this doorstop, Ray Kurzweil.

Kurzweil is a futurist who made his bones studying trends in technology- which is how he came up with his theory on the Singularity. Basically, he says that technology is accelerating so fast that at a certain point (he says 2045- pretty ballsy of him to put a date on it) artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence and take over technological development and after that, things will change so fast that our ultimate future will be beyond anything our imagination can conceive of right now.

So how do we get to this magic moment? Kurzweil's theory hinges on a process that's already begun- first, decoding our biology and launching a biotechnology revolution that will eventually lead to us reverse engineering the brain so we can more completely understand how it works. Once that happens, artificial intelligence that can actually pass the 'Turing Test' (have a 30 minute conversation with a human and pass for a human) becomes a lot more conceivable. These advances, combined with perfecting nanotechnology for any number of uses eventually lead to Kurzweil's Singularity moment.

As for the future? Well, we're essentially going to be able to live forever and transfer ourselves to various non-biological platforms ranging from mind up loading to total body replacement to being made entirely of 'foglets' or nanobots that instantly change form. It's going to mind-blowingly cool, according to Kurzweil.

Well, color me unconvinced. First, there's the dicey problem with predictions- especially about the future. More often than not, they fall short. I can conceive of medical breakthroughs that would significantly extended our lifespan and breakthroughs in nanontechnology that allow us to move away from fossil fuels and generally make life better all around, but living forever? Mind uploading? Artificial intelligence? Hmmm... not sure I buy into that.

But I will acknowledge that this book isn't exactly written for 'non-majors' either. That long, long chapter about reverse engineering the human brain? Total gibberish to me- and I free admit I skimmed through it. However, Kurzweil does deserve a lot of credit for kickstarting some really deep philosophical debates- ones that, whatever the future may hold for technology we're going to have to confront as things like biotechnology and nanontechnology and potentially even some form of artificial intelligence emerge- what does it mean to be human? If there is nothing biological left, are we still human? If we upload into a new body or onto a computer- are we still human? Do biological ties define us as human or can we transcend them and truly change what it means to be human?

Overall: Crazy heavy reading but incredibly thought provoking and well worth a read if you want to know what a big, wild, optimistic vision of the future looks like. It may be fundamentally utopian in nature, which to me casts doubt on it's overall veracity, but that doesn't mean it's not interesting.
Douglas
On the one hand, I don't have a snappy comeback for the fact that computation has been getting exponentially faster and cheaper for the past 115 years. One could argue that it was three distinct periods of exponential growth, as opposed to one long period of double exponential growth, but exponential growth is still a pretty big deal. When one considers that Moore's Law is good for another 10-15 years, depending on whom one listens to, it's not a big stretch to think that people will be working On the one hand, I don't have a snappy comeback for the fact that computation has been getting exponentially faster and cheaper for the past 115 years. One could argue that it was three distinct periods of exponential growth, as opposed to one long period of double exponential growth, but exponential growth is still a pretty big deal. When one considers that Moore's Law is good for another 10-15 years, depending on whom one listens to, it's not a big stretch to think that people will be working on what to do when Moore's Law hits the wall in the mean time. It's not a big stretch to think that something as small as either molecules or individual atoms will be used to represent 1's and 0's. It's not a big stretch to think that either quantum computing or biological computing will be utilized in the future, bringing a significant parallelism to computing.

I wouldn't mind having computers do some of the grunt work that humans currently do. For example, it would be nice to mention a book, and immediately have all the the store reviews, weighted by the number and percentage of people who found them useful. Kurzweil imagines it being projected on to your retina, or wired into your prosthetic optic nerve, but I'm happy with seeing on my PDA for the time being. It's not a big stretch to think of computer systems that know me better than I do, because they observe and data mine my individual choices. David Gelerntner talked about this five years ago. So certain weak connotations of humans transcending biology have already been contemplated. As I write this, I see a picture in my mind's eye of a framework where someone could select portions of a web page or a set of web pages, and request that some computation or database manipulation be done on the selected portions.

To summarize, I'm ok with what Kurzweil has said about advances in technology in the first hundred pages or so.

On the other hand, Kurzweil talks about the impacts and consequences of these advances in technology with the same glib, foregone-conclusion tone that he uses when discussing technology. I tried imagining the other day what living to 200 would be like, and what it would be like visiting my great-great-great-great-grandchildren. Kurzweil considers this as an unqualified good, but I believe it's a lot trickier than that. Likewise for many other technologies.

There are many critics of this book, and Kurzweil has tried to answer them all. He mentioned Bill Joy's article "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" multiple times in the course of the book, but considers Joy to be offering a friendly alternate perspective, as opposed to being an opponent of the future. He spends the most time responding to philosophers John Searle (author of the famous "Chinese Room" thought experiment) and William Dembski (advocate of intelligent design).

Kurzweil sees us as about 40 years away from the singularity, moving on a smooth exponential path since the dawn of the universe. I say there will be some very interesting twists and turns along the way.
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