The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence

3.8 17
by Ray Kurzweil

ISBN-10: 0140282025

ISBN-13: 9780140282023

Pub. Date: 01/28/2000

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Ray Kurzweil is the inventor of the most innovative and compelling technology of our era, an international authority on artificial intelligence, and one of our greatest living visionaries. Now he offers a framework for envisioning the twenty-first century—an age in which the marriage of human sensitivity and artificial intelligence fundamentally alters

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Ray Kurzweil is the inventor of the most innovative and compelling technology of our era, an international authority on artificial intelligence, and one of our greatest living visionaries. Now he offers a framework for envisioning the twenty-first century—an age in which the marriage of human sensitivity and artificial intelligence fundamentally alters and improves the way we live. Kurzweil's prophetic blueprint for the future takes us through the advances that inexorably result in computers exceeding the memory capacity and computational ability of the human brain by the year 2020 (with human-level capabilities not far behind); in relationships with automated personalities who will be our teachers, companions, and lovers; and in information fed straight into our brains along direct neural pathways. Optimistic and challenging, thought-provoking and engaging, The Age of Spiritual Machines is the ultimate guide on our road into the next century.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
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18 Years

Table of Contents

A Note to the Reader
Prologue: An Inexorable Emergence
Before the next century is over, human beings will no longer be the most intelligent or capable type of entity on the planet. Actually, let me take that back. The truth of that last statement depends on how we define human.
Part One: Probing the Past
Chapter One: The Law of Time and Chaos
For the past forty years, in accordance with Moore's Law, the power of transistor-based computing has been growing exponentially. But by the year 2020, transistor features will be just a few atoms thick, and Moore's Law will have run its course. What then? To answer this critical question, we need to understand the exponential nature of time.
Chapter Two: The Intelligence of Evolution
Can an intelligence create another intelligence more intelligent than itself? Are we more intelligent than the evolutionary process that created us? In turn, will the intelligence that we are creating come to exceed that of its creator?
Chapter Three: Of Mind and Machines
"I am lonely and bored, please keep me company." If your computer displayed this message on its screen, would that convince you that it is conscious and has feelings? Before you say no too quickly, we need to consider how such a plaintive message originated.
Chapter Four: A New Form of Intelligence on Earth
Intelligence rapidly creates satisfying, sometimes surprising plans that meet an array of constraints. Clearly, no simple formula can emulate this most powerful of phenomena. Actually, that's wrong. All that is needed to solve a surprisingly wide range of intelligent problems is exactly this: simple methods combined with heavy doses of computation, itself a simple process.
Chapter Five: Context and Knowledge
It is sensible to remember today's insights for tomorrow's challenges. It is not fruitful to rethink every problem that comes along. This is particularly true for humans, due to the extremely slow speed of our computing circuitry.
Part Two: Preparing the Present
Chapter Six: Building New Brains...
Evolution has found a way around the computational limitations of neural circuitry. Cleverly, it has created organisms who in turn invented a computational technology a million times faster than carbon-based neurons. Ultimately, the computing conducted on extremely slow mammalian neural circuits will be ported to a far more versatile and speedier electronic (and photonic) equivalent.
Chapter Seven: ...And Bodies
A disembodied mind will quickly get depressed. So what kind of bodies will be provide for our twenty-first-century machines? Later on, the question will become: What sort of bodies will they provide for themselves?
Chapter Eight: 1999
If all the computers in 1960 stopped functioning, few people would have noticed. Circa 1999 is another matter. Although computers still lack a sense of humor, a gift for small talk, and other endearing qualities of human thought, they are nonetheless mastering an increasingly diverse array of tasks that previously required human intelligence.
Part Three: To Face the Future
Chapter Nine: 2009
It is now 2009. A $1,000 personal computer can perform about a trillion calculations per second. Computers are imbedded in clothing and jewelry. Most routine business transactions take place between a human and a virtual personality. Translating telephones are commonly used. Human musicians routinely jam with cybernetic musicians. The neo-Luddite movement is growing.
Chapter Ten: 2019
A $1,000 computing device is now approximately equal to the computational ability of the human brain. Computers are now largely invisible and are embedded everywhere. Three-dimensional virtual-reality displays, embedded in glasses and contact lenses, provide the primary interface for communication with other persons, the Web, and virtual reality. Most interaction with computing is through gestures and two-way natural-language spoken communication. Realistic all-encompassing visual, auditory, and tactile environments enable people to do virtually anything with anybody, regardless of physical proximity. People are beginning to have relationships with automated personalities as companions, teachers, caretakers, and lovers.
Chapter Eleven: 2029
A $1,000 unit of computation has the computing capacity of approximately one thousand human brains. Direct neural pathways have been perfected for high-bandwidth connection to the human brain. A range of neural implants is becoming available to enhance visual and auditory perception and interpretation, memory, and reasoning. Computers have read all available human- and machine-generated literature and multimedia material. There is growing discussion about the legal rights of computers and what constitutes being human. Machines claim to be conscious and these claims are largely accepted.
Chapter Twelve: 2099
There is a strong trend toward a merger of human thinking with the world of machine intelligence that the human species initially created. There is no longer any clear distinction between humans and computers. Most conscious entities do not have a permanent physical presence. Machine-based intelligences derived from extended models of human intelligence claim to be human. Most of these intelligences are not tied to a specific computational processing unit. The number of software-based humans vastly exceeds those still using native neuron-cell-based computation. Even among those human intelligences still using carbon-based neurons, there is ubiqutous use of neural-implant technology that provides enormous augmentation of human perceptual and cognitive abilities. Humans who do not utilize such implants are unable to meaningfully participate in dialogues with those who do. Life expectancy is no longer a viable term in relation to intelligent beings.
Epilogue: The Rest of the Universe Revisited
Intelligent beings consider the fate of the universe.
Time Line
How to Build an Intelligent Machine in Three Easy Paradigms
Suggested Readings
Web Links

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The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Bane73 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book a lot. Really was complimentary to my other latest reads along this line: Kaczynski's Manifesto (very negative for technology) and Bill Joy's article in Wired magazine (mixed opinion). If you want a pretty thorough discussion on this topic (this author is very positive for technology), these are the 3 I would suggest. Personally, I find appeal in both Kaczynski's views and Kurzweil's so I suspect the reality that bares out will resemble something along Joy's take on the subject. Though for sure not everything Kurzweil predicts in the book will come to pass quite how he envisions or on precisely the calendar he postulates, 10 years after he wrote it a fair amount of what he predicted for today is either a reality or pretty close to it. The neatest thing I learned from this book was the concept of a neural net. Once you learn the concept of that you realize not only how it might be possible for computers to become (seemingly or in actuality) a whole lot more intelligent (at some future point), you also realize an important attribute in raising that little 2 year old running under your feet: constant exposure to multiple new life-experiences (yes, yes, I know that should be common sense... the point is, you'll understand the WHY of it). Pretty cool stuff. Makes a good, thoughtful read I think. To say that, unequivocally, computers will never become self-aware, makes one sound a bit (to me, anyway) like the people who said, unequivocally, that humans could never fly or go to the moon. Never say never, history has shown that what seems impossible today will tomorrow be common place.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is flat-out the most intelligent and provocative look I¿ve seen describing the development and direction of artificial intelligence. Ray Kurzweil is a true believer in AI, and he makes a convincing case for the emergence of a superior intelligence. And he¿s talking this century, folks, maybe within the next four or five decades. These are the key points of his thesis, as I see them: ¿Computational power is growing exponentially and will continue doing so for the foreseeable future. By 2020, the computational power of a $1,000 computer will be about equal to that of the human brain. After that, computers leave us in the dust. ¿Biological evolution is slow and has taken us about as far as it can. It¿s already being replaced by technological evolution, the enhancement (or replacement) of slow, biological processes by engineered processes (e.g. neural networks). ¿The mind is just a complex machine. Issues such as consciousness, free will and the soul can be endlessly debated, but fundamentally, we are just a complex machine, currently the most complex one on the planet. But that will change. ¿Our bodies, also a complex machine, can also be re-engineered or replaced. Great strides are being made to simulate or replace our senses. ¿Technological innovation proceeds inexorably during the next few decades, rapidly transforming our objects and ourselves. By the end of the century, there will be virtually no distinction between human and artificial intelligence. This is a fascinating thesis, a real mind-blower. Forget about a Star Trek or Star Wars future; that¿s not where we¿re going. Well, maybe Star Trek. Consider the Borg with personality and a sense of humor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Simply stunning! Kurzweil starts with the basics, and paints an incredible picture of the future. He covers every aspect of the progression from the human dominated world of today to a human inspired but technology centric world of tomorrow. This isn¿t a no holds barred ¿gee whiz let¿s look at what¿s possible¿ book. It¿s a scientific and explanatory treatment of the subject matter that explains as it goes. From Moore¿s law, to what scientists and the great philosophers said about what defines consciousness, the soul and death. Strap yourself in and read this book if you are curious about how far technology might take us in our lifetime. It¿s exiting, and it¿s scary. You may also want to loose that weight and take your vitamins. Over the course of the next 50 years we will quite possibly reach the first time in human history where individuals may have to choose whether they want to live forever.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There's no denying it--the book is interesting; so interesting, in fact, that I read it in one sitting. That's not to say, however, that I didn't find it unsettling, even disturbing, at times. In its almost rapturous portrayal of the future, it fails to address several very important issues; for example, if I copy my brains onto a computer, what exactly is "I"? Am I the original person or the computer? Unless the "I" somehow encompasses both (in which case my existence would not come to an end with the death of one of the two elements), it is not something I would want to do--if I'm dead, I doubt that I'd take solace in knowing that a copy of myself exists somewhere. The author does mention these issues, but he either avoids them entirely or addresses them briefly and unwillingly, and therein lays the main flaw of the book. Still, it is informative, entertaining, and worth a read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The existence of Ray Kurzweil is proof that God bestows talents unequally on his children. Ray has a gift for making extremely hard subjects easy and fun to read. He delights in proving the unbelievable by rebuilding, from a new foundation, the way that we perceive reality. Yet Mr. Kurzweil¿s authoring skills go almost unnoticed when compared to his reputation as inventor. Kurzweil is the father of advanced speech recognition, the Kurzweil synthesizer, the Kurzweil Reading Machine, and some of the most groundbreaking technologies of our age. Yet most people that know him do not think of him primarily as an author or an inventor. Most people consider Ray a prophet. In his 1990 book, The Age of Intelligent Machines, Ray foretold the technology gains of the nineties. Most of his predictions seemed outrageous at the time ¿ predictions such as a global computer network tying most every PC together or an economic boon realized by the start of the information age. Now that these prophecies have come true, even his most adamant critics are hailing the accuracy of his vision. In his newest book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray tells us what will happen in the next twenty years, and he gives us a glimpse of life beyond. Our current lives have no reference to the predictions that he makes. To take his prophecies out of the context of the book is to make them unbelievable. Yet by the time you finish his publication, the preposterous will become logical. Reading The Age of Spiritual Machines is akin to having a close encounter with an alien spacecraft. After your experience, you will know the truth. Yet you will be unable to share the truth with your friends for fear that they will think you are nuts. This book has inspired some of the greatest fiction on the Internet. Among the the best is the story 'Michael Evolves' in the authorslounge dot com.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is simply amazing! Its portrait of the computing world to come (as well as the developing one of today) is both facinating and horrifying. From nanobots to quantum computers, Kurzweil explains in understandable and engaging prose what the future will bring. While I disagree with his 'LAW of Accelerating Returns,'--perhaps 'trend' would be better--it makes no difference. Whether or not the developments he discusses happen in 20 or 40 years isn't very important in my opinion; the simple fact that they will EVENTUALLY occur make the book more than worthwile.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone who doesn't see the dark side of these predictions simply isn't paying attention. I found this book profoundly disturbing, particularly because many of the predictions seem plausible based on today's information. While computers can be used in a number of positive ways, the implications for merging computers with humans can only diminish the human sole. To suggest, as the author does, that this is the next step in human evolution may be a reasonable conclusion, but also one that is frightening. The battle between machines and humans in 'The Terminator' may not be so far fetched. This book is thought-provoking at other levels, as well. There are real implications for investing in computer-related companies, for example. All in all, this is a brain teaser and highly recommended.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
i've been reading ray kurzweil's the age of spiritual machines. my first introduction to this piece came from our lady peace's fourth album, a concept album based on the book. now i must be perfectly honest. even though our lady peace is one of my favorite bands and the concept of the concept itself seemed rather nifty . . . concept albums are rather . . . cheesy at best, so for that reason alone i did not investigate kurzweil's book. however, the other day i was at the bookstore and was browsing the math and science sections. a title caught my eye: the singularity is near. this is kurzweil's most recent book. so the rule of not reading things too out of order insisted that i get the shiny covered age of spiritual machines . . . not gonna lie, i do dig the book. it's out there, but the guy has been right about *some* of his predictions he had for 1999 (made in the late 80s) and a few of his ideas were right about the late single digits of this century. his concise explanations of what computer can do now (or in 1998, rather) were the most effective method kurzeil has to tell his story, and it's the story that's central to the book, of where we're headed. he's the first futurist i've encountered whose projections of the near and distant future all tend toward the self rather than outward and upward - to space and beyond and all the rest. usually there is talk of colonizing other planets (soon) before we destroy ours, but kurzweil remains fixated upon the notion of intelligence and the line that he imagines to fade away in the near future between that which is originally human and originally machine. his interjected conversations that close each chapter half added a 'human' plot line, and half broke up the otherwise intriguing text. toward the end of the book, they make the author come off as more creepy than informative, but that may have been part of the deal, especially in this 2099 that sounds nothing that's within any of our comfort zones. in closing, i must rescind my initial dismissal based on expected pretension and say that while the age of spiritual machines wasn't exactly life changing, it was a neat picture of one of mankind's possible trajectories [glimpsual futurism.] to paraphrase another reviewer from the san fran chronical, it would seem an awful lot like science fiction if he hadn't been right about other phenomenon already.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was fantastic. It awakened my whole desire to continue to strive towards AI. When I was a child I wanted to talk about the things he does in his book (some of them anyway), but life has a way of making you forget your dreams and becoming jaded. Anyway, this book kickstarted the whole desire in me again! It was entirely well written, very factual and extremely entertaining for anyone who has even the slightest interest in what our future may hold.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started the book quite excited and sympathetic to Kurzweil¿s position, I came away feeling sceptical and that I had been ripped off by a philosophical lightweight. I have long been interested in AI and more recently reading about an idea called the 'singularity' on the Internet: the idea that technology, specifically computing power, is improving so rapidly that were will soon live in a world of superintelligent AI. The average 2004 computer may have the equivalent intellectual capacity of a mouse, but by 2020 (or 2030 or 2010) a computer will have the processing power of a human brain, with capacities way beyond the human brain shortly thereafter. The manifesto of 'accelerating returns' reaches its most detailed expression in 'The Age of Spiritual Machines' by Ray Kurzweil. Most of the book is philosophy of mind, something I am familiar with having taken philosophy of mind to Masters level. The basis with which Kurzweil argues is called 'physicalism': the belief that all processes are ultimately physical processes. Thus all states in humans are due to the states of their cells, specifically neurons (hormones are not mentioned: perhaps because they are too messy). The brain is thus a kind of computer. I was surprised he did not cite the bible of neural physicalism, Churchlands' 'Neurophilosophy' (a much better book by the way). There is a branch of AI that seeks to model computational processes after neurons called 'neural networking' or 'connectionism'. Software has been developed in attempt to have computers function in ways analogous to a human brain. Experiments in this area have proven fruitious, it is possible to teach neural networks to recognise patterns and learn in remarkably human way. Kurzweil has examples of computer generated poetry and even painting that defy judgement that it is machine made. I found this section of the book interesting. Since computers are able to do so much that we previously though to be exclusively human, Kurzweil argues, we can extrapolate this trend into the future to find there will be (virtually) nothing a human can do that can't be done by a machine. If a machine has as much processing power as a human, can do all a human can, its spiritual status is something like that of a human. It will have a mind because 'mind', according to physicalism-connectionism, is a by-product of complex computational ability. This is a well known position in philosophy of mind called 'epiphenomenalism'. Although Kurzweil doesn¿t use the term, his entire book is based around it. I was astonished to find that the basis for Kurzweil¿s position was a citing of all the things computers can do that are considered 'intelligent' in humans. While this may be a basis for an argument that machines could be considered intelligent, it says nothing on the possibility of machine consciousness or spirituality. It is just assumed they will follow. Now I'm not saying they will not follow, it could happen IF physicalism AND connectionism AND epiphenomenalism were true. But Kurzweil never enters into any arguments about this, instead he spends much of the book providing screeds of evidence for the ongoing increasing processing power of computers. Yes, Ray, carbon nanotube computing will provide the power of the worlds current fastest computer, the NEC Earth Simulator, in a cubic millimetre. Great! But so what? Kurzweil uses the time honoured method of developing an argument ignoring the strongest objections whilst deftly demolishing the 'straw men', or minor ones. I found this book remarkably lacking in any sense of spirituality. Ray's trinity appears to be cybersex, self-promotion and money. His vision of the future is mainly through an imaginary dialogue with an imaginary female who has billions of dollars (but doesn¿t feel that rich - what else is new!) and some form of nanoholodeck or other, which she uses for sex (presumably with Ray). Ultimately it feels like a big promo for R
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Computers will never do anything more than what they are programmed to do. It is silly to even contemplate a self aware machine with a conscience ability