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Unlike predictions for the future that rely on either the writings of ancient mystics or the whims of modern pundits, the projections for the next century contained in The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence come from the bright mind and rigorous research of Ray Kurzweil, a hands-on technical visionary. And what Kurzweil sees in the future is a brave new world of machines more capable and powerful than anything we have now.
This excerpt, the prologue, is a bold outline for a revolution in the relationship between humanity and the tools we use. Prologue: An Inexorable Emergence
The gambler had not expected to be here. But on reflection, he thought he had shown some kindness in his time. And this place was even more beautiful and satisfying than he had imagined. Everywhere there were magnificent crystal chandeliers, the finest handmade carpets, the most sumptuous foods, and, yes, the most beautiful women, who seemed intrigued with their new heaven mate. He tried his hand at roulette, and amazingly his number came up time after time. He tried the gaming tables, and his luck was nothing short of remarkable: He won game after game. Indeed his winnings were causing quite a stir, attracting much excitement from the attentive staff, and from the beautiful women.
This continued day after day, week after week, with the gambler winning every game, accumulating bigger and bigger earnings. Everything was going his way. He just kept on winning. And week after week, month after month, the gambler's streak of success remained unbreakable.
After a while, this started to get tedious. The gambler was getting restless; the winning was starting to lose its meaning. Yet nothing changed. He just kept on winning every game, until one day, the now anguished gambler turned to the angel who seemed to be in charge and said that he couldn't take it anymore. Heaven was not for him after all. He had figured he was destined for the "other place" nonetheless, and indeed that is where he wanted to be.
"But this is the other place," came the reply.
That is my recollection of an episode of The Twilight Zone that I saw as a young child. I don't recall the title, but I would call it "Be Careful What You Wish For. As this engaging series was wont to do, it illustrated one of the paradoxes of human nature: We like to solve problems, but we don't want them all solved, not too quickly, anyway. We are more attached to the problems than to the solutions.
Take death, for example. A great deal of our effort goes into avoiding it. We make extraordinary efforts to delay it, and indeed often consider its intrusion a tragic event. Yet we would find it hard to live without it. Death gives meaning to our lives. It gives importance and value to time. Time would become meaningless if there were too much of it. If death were indefinitely put off, the human psyche would end up, well, like the gambler in The Twilight Zone episode.
We do not yet have this predicament. We have no shortage today of either death or human problems. Few observers feel that the twentieth century has left us with too much of a good thing. There is growing prosperity, fueled not incidentally by information technology, but the human species is still challenged by issues and difficulties not altogether different than those with which it has struggled from the beginning of its recorded history.
The twenty-first century will be different. The human species, along with the computational technology it created, will be able to solve age-old problems of need, if not desire, and will be in a position to change the nature of mortality in a postbiological future. Do we have the psychological capacity for all the good things that await us? Probably not. That, however, might change as well.
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. And here we see one profound difference between these two centuries: The primary political and philosophical issue of the next century will be the definition of who we are.
But I am getting ahead of myself. This last century has seen enormous technological change and the social upheavals that go along with it, which few pundits circa 1899 foresaw. The pace of change is accelerating and has been since the inception of invention (as I will discuss in the first chapter, this acceleration is an inherent feature of technology). The result will be far greater transformations in the first two decades of the twenty-first century than we saw in the entire twentieth century. However, to appreciate the inexorable logic of where the twenty-first century will bring us, we have to go back and start with the present.
Transition to the Twenty-First Century
Computers today exceed human intelligence in a broad variety of intelligent yet narrow domains such as playing chess, diagnosing certain medical conditions, buying and selling stocks, and guiding cruise missiles. Yet human intelligence overall remains far more supple and flexible. Computers are still unable to describe the objects on a crowded kitchen table, write a summary of a movie, tie a pair of shoelaces, tell the difference between a dog and a cat (although this feat, I believe, is becoming feasible today with contemporary neural nets -- computer simulations of human neurons), recognize humor, or perform other subtle tasks in which their human creators excel.
One reason for this disparity in capabilities is that our most advanced computers are still simpler than the human brain -- currently about a million times simpler (give or take one or two orders of magnitude depending on the assumptions used). But this disparity will not remain the case as we go through the early part of the next century. Computers doubled in speed every three years at the beginning of the twentieth century, every two years in the 1950s and 1960s, and are now doubling in speed every twelve months. This trend will continue, with computers achieving the memory capacity and computing speed of the human brain by around the year 2020.
Achieving the basic complexity and capacity of the human brain will not automatically result in computers matching the flexibility of human intelligence. The organization and content of these resources -- the software of intelligence -- is equally important. One approach to emulating the brain's software is through reverse engineering -- scanning a human brain (which will be achievable early in the next century) and essentially copying its neural circuitry in a neural computer (a computer designed to simulate a massive number of human neurons) of sufficient capacity.
There is a plethora of credible scenarios for achieving human-level intelligence in a machine. We will be able to evolve and train a system combining massively parallel neural nets with other paradigms to understand language and model knowledge, including the ability to read and understand written documents. Although the ability of today's computers to extract and learn knowledge from natural-language documents is quite limited, their abilities in this domain are improving rapidly. Computers will be able to read on their own, understanding and modeling what they have read, by the second decade of the twenty-first century. We can then have our computers read all of the world's literature -- books, magazines, scientific journals, and other available material. Ultimately, the machines will gather knowledge on their own by venturing into the physical world, drawing from the full spectrum of media and information services, and sharing knowledge with each other (which machines can do far more easily than their human creators).
Once a computer achieves a human level of intelligence, it will necessarily roar past it. Since their inception, computers have significantly exceeded human mental dexterity in their ability to remember and process information. A computer can remember billions or even trillions of facts perfectly, while we are hard pressed to remember a handful of phone numbers. A computer can quickly search a database with billions of records in fractions of a second. Computers can readily share their knowledge bases. The combination of human-level intelligence in a machine with a computer's inherent superiority in the speed, accuracy, and sharing ability of its memory will be formidable.
Mammalian neurons are marvelous creations, but we wouldn't build them the same way. Much of their complexity is devoted to supporting their own life processes, not to their information-handling abilities. Furthermore, neurons are extremely slow; electronic circuits are at least a million times faster. Once a computer achieves a human level of ability in understanding abstract concepts, recognizing patterns, and other attributes of human intelligence, it will be able to apply this ability to a knowledge base of all human-acquired -- and machine-acquired -- knowledge.
A common reaction to the proposition that computers will seriously compete with human intelligence is to dismiss this specter based primarily on an examination of contemporary capability. After all, when I interact with my personal computer, its intelligence seems limited and brittle, if it appears intelligent at all. It is hard to imagine one's personal computer having a sense of humor, holding an opinion, or displaying any of the other endearing qualities of human thought.
But the state of the art in computer technology is anything but static. Computer capabilities are emerging today that were considered impossible one or two decades ago. Examples include the ability to transcribe accurately normal continuous human speech, to understand and respond intelligently to natural language, to recognize patterns in medical procedures such as electrocardiograms and blood tests with an accuracy rivaling that of human physicians, and, of course, to play chess at a world-championship level. In the next decade, we will see translating telephones that provide real-time speech translation from one human language to another, intelligent computerized personal assistants that can converse and rapidly search and understand the world's knowledge bases, and a profusion of other machines with increasingly broad and flexible intelligence.
In the second decade of the next century, it will become increasingly difficult to draw any clear distinction between the capabilities of human and machine intelligence. The advantages of computer intelligence in terms of speed, accuracy, and capacity will be clear. The advantages of human intelligence, on the other hand, will become increasingly difficult to distinguish.
The skills of computer software are already better than many people realize. It is frequently my experience that when demonstrating recent advances in, say, speech or character recognition, observers are surprised at the state of the art. For example, a typical computer user's last experience with speech-recognition technology may have been a low-end freely bundled piece of software from several years ago that recognized a limited vocabulary, required pauses between words, and did an incorrect job at that. These users are then surprised to see contemporary systems that can recognize fully continuous speech on a 60,000-word vocabulary, with accuracy levels comparable to a human typist.
Also keep in mind that the progression of computer intelligence will sneak up on us. As just one example, consider Gary Kasparov's confidence in 1990 that a computer would never come close to defeating him. After all, he had played the best computers, and their chess-playing ability -- compared to his -- was pathetic. But computer chess playing made steady progress, gaining forty-five rating points each year. In 1997, a computer sailed past Kasparov, at least in chess. There has been a great deal of commentary that other human endeavors are far more difficult to emulate than chess playing. This is true. In many areas -- the ability to write a book on computers, for example -- computers are still pathetic. But as computers continue to gain in capacity at an exponential rate, we will have the same experience in these other areas that Kasparov had in chess. Over the next several decades, machine competence will rival -- and ultimately surpass -- any particular human skill one cares to cite, including our marvelous ability to place our ideas in a broad diversity of contexts.
Evolution has been seen as a billion-year drama that led inexorably to its grandest creation: human intelligence. The emergence in the early twenty-first century of a new form of intelligence on Earth that can compete with, and ultimately significantly exceed, human intelligence will be a development of greater import than any of the events that have shaped human history. It will be no less important than the creation of the intelligence that created it, and will have profound implications for all aspects of human endeavor, including the nature of work, human learning, government, warfare, the arts, and our concept of ourselves.
This specter is not yet here. But with the emergence of computers that truly rival and exceed the human brain in complexity will come a corresponding ability of machines to understand and respond to abstractions and subtleties. Human beings appear to be complex in part because of our competing internal goals. Values and emotions represent goals that often conflict with each other, and are an unavoidable by-product of the levels of abstraction that we deal with as human beings. As computers achieve a comparable -- and greater -- level of complexity, and as they are increasingly derived at least in part from models of human intelligence, they, too, will necessarily utilize goals with implicit values and emotions, although not necessarily the same values and emotions that humans exhibit.
A variety of philosophical issues will emerge. Are computers thinking, or are they just calculating? Conversely, are human beings thinking, or are they just calculating? The human brain presumably follows the laws of physics, so it must be a machine, albeit a very complex one. Is there an inherent difference between human thinking and machine thinking? To pose the question another way, once computers are as complex as the human brain, and can match the human brain in subtlety and complexity of thought, are we to consider them conscious? This is a difficult question even to pose, and some philosophers believe it is not a meaningful question; others believe it is the only meaningful question in philosophy. This question actually goes back to Plato's time, but with the emergence of machines that genuinely appear to possess volition and emotion, the issue will become increasingly compelling.
For example, if a person scans his brain through a noninvasive scanning technology of the twenty-first century (such as an advanced magnetic resonance imaging), and downloads his mind to his personal computer, is the "person" who emerges in the machine the same consciousness as the person who was scanned? That "person" may convincingly implore you that "he" grew up in Brooklyn, went to college in Massachusetts, walked into a scanner here, and woke up in the machine there. The original person who was scanned, on the other hand, will acknowledge that the person in the machine does indeed appear to share his history, knowledge, memory, and personality, but is otherwise an impostor, a different person.
Even if we limit our discussion to computers that are not directly derived from a particular human brain, they will increasingly appear to have their own personalities, evidencing reactions that we can only label as emotions and articulating their own goals and purposes. They will appear to have their own free will. They will claim to have spiritual experiences. And people -- those still using carbon-based neurons or otherwise -- will believe them.
One often reads predictions of the next several decades discussing a variety of demographic, economic, and political trends that largely ignore the revolutionary impact of machines with their own opinions and agendas. Yet we need to reflect on the implications of the gradual, yet inevitable, emergence of true competition to the full range of human thought in order to comprehend the world that lies ahead.
My recollections of The Twilight Zone episode are essentially accurate, although the gambler is actually a small-time crook named Rocky Valentine. Episode 28, "A Nice Place to Visit" (I learned the name of the episode after writing the prologue), aired during the first season of The Twilight Zone, on April 15, 1960.
The episode begins with a voice-over: "Portrait of a man at work, the only work he's ever done, the only work he knows. His name is Henry Francis Valentine, but he calls himself Rocky, because that's the way his life has been -- rocky and perilous and uphill at a dead run all the way. . . ."
While robbing a pawnbroker's shop, Valentine is shot and killed by a policeman. When he awakens, he is met by his afterlife guide, Pip. Pip explains that he will provide Valentine with whatever he wants. Valentine is suspicious, but he asks for and receives a million dollars and a beautiful girl. He then goes on a gambling spree, winning at the roulette table, at the slot machines, and later, at pool. He is also surrounded by beautiful women, who shower him with attention.
Eventually Valentine tires of the gambling, the winning, and the beautiful women. He tells Pip that it is boring to win all the time and that he doesn't belong in Heaven. He begs Pip to take him to "the Other Place." With a malicious gleam in his eye, Pip replies, "This is the Other Place!" Episode synopsis adapted from Marc Scott Zicree, The Twilight Zone Companion (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1982, 113115).
What were the primary political and philosophical issues of the twentieth century? One was ideological -- totalitarian systems of the right (fascism) and left (communism) were confronted and largely defeated by capitalism (albeit with a large public sector) and democracy. Another was the rise of technology, which began to be felt in the nineteenth century and became a major force in the twentieth century. But the issue of "what constitutes a human being" is not yet a primary issue (except as it affects the abortion debate), although the past century did witness the continuation of earlier struggles to include all members of the species as deserving of certain rights.
For an excellent overview and technical details on neural-network pattern recognition, see the Neural Network Frequently Asked Questions web site, edited by W. S. Sarle. In addition, an article by Charles Arthur, "Computers Learn to See and Smell Us," from Independent, January 16, 1996, describes the ability of neural nets to differentiate between unique characteristics.
As will be discussed in chapter 6, "Building New Brains," destructive scanning will be feasible early in the twenty-first century. Noninvasive scanning with sufficient resolution and bandwidth will take longer but will be feasible by the end of the first half of the twenty-first century.
Table of ContentsA 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.
How to Build an Intelligent Machine in Three Easy Paradigms
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ugh.This book is like a techno-optimist's response to the Unabomber's manifesto. My problem is that the future espoused by Kurzweil is only slightly more appealing than the Unabomber's.Specifically, I don't care for his timeline/predictions that humanity will be associating primarily with machines by 2019. That seems like an inhuman future. His idea of refinements and how much humanity will accept them also seems overly ambitious.I would point to video games as an example of the refinements that a computer can "get closer to reality"... Every year, EA Sports's claim that "It's in the Game" gets a bit more appropriate. But I think we're a long way away from people paying $35.00 to have tickets to see folks play a video game.If that's a function of the time it takes humanity to accept computers or inherent limitations in computers, I'm not sure... Either way, his predictions seem off-base.
In the first half of the book, Kurzweil constructs a sturdy foundation for the material and puts forth a number of ideas I can agree with (e.g., his defense of Eric Drexler's views on molecular technology). Ultimately, however, he fails to address (or even acknolwedge) any of the major attacks on strong AI (something he tries, and fails, to make up for at the end of The Singularity is Near) and his own scant discussion of consciousness and intentionality are laughable at best. The latter half of the book is a heavy dose of blind Extropian optimism, replete with free-market fantasies.
I gave this book 5 stars based on the beginning chapters, not the entire book. Towards the end, the book became repetitive and dragged on. It did not have to be so long.The beginning, however, stimulates the mind to the point that you don't want to think about it. What makes us us? This philosophical question is not necessarily answered, but it puts a different spin on it. What is the line between human and machine, for both humans and machines? Really makes you think about what we are and what will come in the future.
Further thinking along the lines of his first book on this theme. Some great points, although he gets into the soft porn a bit much for some readers.
A fun book, facts mixed with conjecture. Hopeful that the technological train we are riding does not stop.
I learned a lot from this book; but it still creeped me out. I read it quite a few years ago; but I remember that it wasn't very technical.
This book is an enjoyable treatise on how the world might evolve over the next century as computing power increases at an accelerating rate. It is perhaps a more technical and constructed version of the writings of a Bill Joy or even the UnaBomber. Kurzweil lays out some theories or 'laws' as he calls them, which are based on historical data, and mixes that data with some relativity theory and Moore's laws of computing. They are graspable but not so solid that they have become widely believed. Extrapolating from the laws, the books lays out a plausible future where computers become much smarter than people; and people increasingly rely on computers for their brain power. There were some issues in the book. First, I really disliked Kurzweil deciding to write a lot of the book in a pseudo Socratic Method interview with himself. Very off-putting, and this leads to my lower rating. Second, the theories or laws are not explained that well. All that said, the fellow is on to something big, and it's so easy to be a visionary without putting specific predictions down, he has to be acknowledged for going out there and making specific predictions even 100 years out. If you now mix this older book with the newer writing of Aubrey de Grey on aging and the progression of biology/medicine, etc., you get quite a picture of life in 2030 or so.
The Age of Spiritual Machine by Ray Kurzweil explores the future routes of technology. The book is a blueprint to the future and describes possible coming inventions. Kurzweil describes the coming world in which “the difference between man and machine blurs, humanity and technology fades, and where the soul and the silicon chip unite.” The book highlights the relationship between humans and machines and how they will evolve over time. He hypothesizes that these machines will mimic our intelligence and way of going about life; and that there will be no distinction between a soul and silicon chips, which are just pieces of plastic. However, Ray Kurzweil is a bit ahead of himself. He says that society will eliminate paper documents and books by 2019, but that is only three years away from us, and our society still strongly depends on paper. Society will have to accept new inventions of machines, which will take a while because us humans are take a while to step out of our comfort zone and are a bit scared of change. Humans are focused on efficiency and ease… so, if these computers help the everyday life of a human so much, they should be able to be accepted by society. Ray Kurzweil also says that by 2020, computers will have the intelligence of the human brain. However, this is only four years away. Although many computer brands are focused on the intelligence of their computers, we have a while to go until computers have the same intelligence as us. Therefore, I think the book brings up great ideas for the future, but Kurzweil is a bit off on his dates. I also think the book introduces many interesting ideas for relationships between humans and technology.
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.
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.
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
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