The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

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9780670033843: The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

Book by Kurzweil Ray

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Praise for The Singularity Is Near

One of CBS News’s Best Fall Books of 2005

Among St Louis Post-Dispatch’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2005

One of Amazon.com’s Best Science Books of 2005

“Anyone can grasp Mr. Kurzweil’s main idea: that mankind’s technological knowledge has been snowballing, with dizzying prospects for the future. The basics are clearly expressed. But for those more knowledgeable and inquisitive, the author argues his case in fascinating detail…. The Singularity Is Near is startling in scope and bravado.”

—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Filled with imaginative, scientifically grounded speculation…. The Singularity Is Near is worth reading just for its wealth of information, all lucidly presented…. [It’s] an important book. Not everything that Kurzweil predicts may come to pass, but a lot of it will, and even if you don’t agree with everything he says, it’s all worth paying attention to.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[An] exhilarating and terrifyingly deep look at where we are headed as a species…. Mr. Kurzweil is a brilliant scientist and futurist, and he makes a compelling and, indeed, a very moving case for his view of the future.”

The New York Sun

“Compelling.”

San Jose Mercury News

“Kurzweil links a projected ascendance of artificial intelligence to the future of the evolutionary process itself. The result is both frightening and enlightening…. The Singularity Is Near is a kind of encyclopedic map of what Bill Gates once called ‘the road ahead.’”

The Oregonian

“A clear-eyed, sharply-focused vision of the not-so-distant future.”

The Baltimore Sun

“This book offers three things that will make it a seminal document. 1) It brokers a new idea, not widely known, 2) The idea is about as big as you can get: the Singularity—all the change in the last million years will be superceded by the change in the next five minutes, and 3) It is an idea that demands informed response. The book’s claims are so footnoted, documented, graphed, argued, and plausible in small detail, that it requires the equal in response. Yet its claims are so outrageous that if true, it would mean … well … the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of utopia. Ray Kurzweil has taken all the strands of the Singularity meme circulating in the last decades and has united them into a single tome which he has nailed on our front door. I suspect this will be one of the most cited books of the decade. Like Paul Ehrlich’s upsetting 1972 book Population Bomb, fan or foe, it’s the wave at epicenter you have to start with.”

—Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired

“Really, really out there. Delightfully so.”

—Businessweek.com

“Stunning, utopian vision of the near future when machine intelligence outpaces the biological brain and what things may look like when that happens…. Approachable and engaging.”

—the unofficial Microsoft blog

“One of the most important thinkers of our time, Kurzweil has followed up his earlier works … with a work of startling breadth and audacious scope.”

—newmediamusings.com

“An attractive picture of a plausible future.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Kurzweil is a true scientist—a large-minded one at that…. What’s arresting isn’t the degree to which Kurzweil’s heady and bracing vision fails to convince—given the scope of his projections, that’s inevitable—but the degree to which it seems downright plausible.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[T]hroughout this tour de force of boundless technological optimism, one is impressed by the author’s adamantine intellectual integrity…. If you are at all interested in the evolution of technology in this century and its consequences for the humans who are creating it, this is certainly a book you should read.”

—John Walker, inventor of Autodesk, in Fourmilab Change Log

“Ray Kurzweil is the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence. His intriguing new book envisions a future in which information technologies have advanced so far and fast that they enable humanity to transcend its biological limitations—transforming our lives in ways we can’t yet imagine.”

—Bill Gates

“If you have ever wondered about the nature and impact of the next profound discontinuities that will fundamentally change the way we live, work, and perceive our world, read this book. Kurzweil’s Singularity is a tour de force, imagining the unimaginable and eloquently exploring the coming disruptive events that will alter our fundamental perspectives as significantly as did electricity and the computer.”

—Dean Kamen, recipient of the National Medal of Technology,
physicist, and inventor of the first wearable insulin pump, the
HomeChoice portable dialysis machine, the IBOT Mobility
System, and the Segway Human Transporter

“One of our leading AI practitioners, Ray Kurzweil, has once again created a ‘must read’ book for anyone interested in the future of science, the social impact of technology, and indeed the future of our species. His thought-provoking book envisages a future in which we transcend our biological limitations, while making a compelling case that a human civilization with superhuman capabilities is closer at hand than most people realize.”

—Raj Reddy, founding director of the Robotics Institute at
Carnegie Mellon University and recipient of the Turing Award
from the Association for Computing Machinery

“Ray’s optimistic book well merits both reading and thoughtful response. For those like myself whose views differ from Ray’s on the balance of promise and peril, The Singularity Is Near is a clear call for a continuing dialogue to address the greater concerns arising from these accelerating possibilities.”

—Bill Joy, cofounder and former chief scientist, Sun Microsystems

About the Author

Ray Kurzweil is one of the world’s leading inventors, thinkers, and futurists, with a twenty-year track record of accurate predictions. Called “the restless genius” by The Wall Street Journal and “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes magazine, Kurzweil was selected as one of the top entrepreneurs by Inc. magazine, which described him as the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison.” PBS selected him as one of “sixteen revolutionaries who made America,” along with other inventors of the past two centuries. An inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and recipient of the National Medal of Technology, the Lemelson-MIT Prize (the world’s largest award for innovation), thirteen honorary doctorates, and awards from three U.S. presidents, he is the author of four previous books: Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (coauthored with Terry Grossman, M.D.), The Age of Spiritual Machines, The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life, and The Age of Intelligent Machines.

RAY KURZWEIL

The Singularity Is Near

 

WHEN HUMANS TRANSCEND BIOLOGY

PENGUIN BOOKS

To my mother, Hannah,
who provided me with the courage to seek the ideas
to confront any challenge

Acknowledgments

I’d like to express my deep appreciation to my mother, Hannah, and my father, Fredric, for supporting all of my early ideas and inventions without question, which gave me the freedom to experiment; to my sister Enid for her inspiration; and to my wife, Sonya, and my kids, Ethan and Amy, who give my life meaning, love, and motivation.

I’d like to thank the many talented and devoted people who assisted me with this complex project:

At Viking: my editor, Rick Kot, who provided leadership, enthusiasm, and insightful editing; Clare Ferraro, who provided strong support as publisher; Timothy Mennel, who provided expert copyediting; Bruce Giffords and John Jusino, for coordinating the many details of book production; Amy Hill, for the interior text design; Holly Watson, for her effective publicity work; Alessandra Lusardi, who ably assisted Rick Kot; Paul Buckley, for his clear and elegant art design; and Herb Thornby, who designed the engaging cover.

Loretta Barrett, my literary agent, whose enthusiastic and astute guidance helped guide this project.

Terry Grossman, M.D., my health collaborator and coauthor of Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, for helping me to develop my ideas on health and biotechnology through 10,000 e-mails back and forth, and a multifaceted collaboration.

Martine Rothblatt, for her dedication to all of the technologies discussed in this book and for our collaboration in developing diverse technologies in these areas.

Aaron Kleiner, my long-term business partner (since 1973), for his devotion and collaboration through many projects, including this one.

Amara Angelica, whose devoted and insightful efforts led our research team. Amara also used her outstanding editing skills to assist me in articulating the complex issues in this book. Kathryn Myronuk, whose dedicated research efforts made a major contribution to the research and the notes. Sarah Black contributed discerning research and editorial skills. My research team provided very capable assistance: Amara Angelica, Kathryn Myronuk, Sarah Black, Daniel Pentlarge, Emily Brown, Celia Black-Brooks, Nanda Barker-Hook, Sarah Brangan, Robert Bradbury, John Tillinghast, Elizabeth Collins, Bruce Damer, Jim Rintoul, Sue Rintoul, Larry Klaes, and Chris Wright. Additional assistance was provided by Liz Berry, Sarah Brangan, Rosemary Drinka, Linda Katz, Lisa Kirschner, Inna Nirenberg, Christopher Setzer, Joan Walsh, and Beverly Zibrak.

Laksman Frank, who created many of the attractive diagrams and images from my descriptions, and formatted the graphs.

Celia Black-Brooks, for providing her leadership in project development and communications.

Phil Cohen and Ted Coyle, for implementing my ideas for the illustration on page 322, and Helene DeLillo, for the “Singularity Is Near” photo at the beginning of chapter 7.

Nanda Barker-Hook, Emily Brown, and Sarah Brangan, who helped manage the extensive logistics of the research and editorial processes.

Ken Linde and Matt Bridges, who provided computer systems support to keep our intricate work flow progressing smoothly.

Denise Scutellaro, Joan Walsh, Maria Ellis, and Bob Beal, for doing the accounting on this complicated project.

The KurzweilAI.net team, who provided substantial research support for the project: Aaron Kleiner, Amara Angelica, Bob Beal, Celia Black-Brooks, Daniel Pentlarge, Denise Scutellaro, Emily Brown, Joan Walsh, Ken Linde, Laksman Frank, Maria Ellis, Matt Bridges, Nanda Barker-Hook, Sarah Black, and Sarah Brangan.

Mark Bizzell, Deborah Lieberman, Kirsten Clausen, and Dea Eldorado, for their assistance in communication of this book’s message.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., for his thorough review of the nanotechnology-related material.

Paul Linsay, for his thorough review of the mathematics in this book.

My peer expert readers who provided the invaluable service of carefully reviewing the scientific content: Robert A. Freitas Jr. (nanotechnology, cosmology), Ralph Merkle (nanotechnology), Martine Rothblatt (biotechnology, technology acceleration), Terry Grossman (health, medicine, biotechnology), Tomaso Poggio (brain science and brain reverse-engineering), John Parmentola (physics, military technology), Dean Kamen (technology development), Neil Gershenfeld (computational technology, physics, quantum mechanics), Joel Gershenfeld (systems engineering), Hans Moravec (artificial intelligence, robotics), Max More (technology acceleration, philosophy), Jean-Jacques E. Slotine (brain and cognitive science), Sherry Turkle (social impact of technology), Seth Shostak (SETI, cosmology, astronomy), Damien Broderick (technology acceleration, the Singularity), and Harry George (technology entrepreneurship).

My capable in-house readers: Amara Angelica, Sarah Black, Kathryn Myronuk, Nanda Barker-Hook, Emily Brown, Celia Black-Brooks, Aaron Kleiner, Ken Linde, John Chalupa, and Paul Albrecht.

My lay readers, who provided keen insights: my son, Ethan Kurzweil, and David Dalrymple.

Bill Gates, Eric Drexler, and Marvin Minsky, who gave permission to include their dialogues in the book, and for their ideas, which were incorporated into the dialogues.

The many scientists and thinkers whose ideas and efforts are contributing to our exponentially expanding human knowledge base.

The above-named individuals provided many ideas and corrections that I was able to make thanks to their efforts. For any mistakes that remain, I take sole responsibility.

The Singularity Is Near

PROLOGUE

The Power of Ideas

I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success.

—NIKOLA TESLA, 1896, INVENTOR OF ALTERNATING CURRENT

At the age of five, I had the idea that I would become an inventor. I had the notion that inventions could change the world. When other kids were wondering aloud what they wanted to be, I already had the conceit that I knew what I was going to be. The rocket ship to the moon that I was then building (almost a decade before President Kennedy’s challenge to the nation) did not work out. But at around the time I turned eight, my inventions became a little more realistic, such as a robotic theater with mechanical linkages that could move scenery and characters in and out of view, and virtual baseball games.

Having fled the Holocaust, my parents, both artists, wanted a more worldly, less provincial, religious upbringing for me.1 My spiritual education, as a result, took place in a Unitarian church. We would spend six months studying one religion—going to its services, reading its books, having dialogues with its leaders—and then move on to the next. The theme was “many paths to the truth.” I noticed, of course, many parallels among the world’s religious traditions, but even the inconsistencies were illuminating. It became clear to me that the basic truths were profound enough to transcend apparent contradictions.

At the age of eight, I discovered the Tom Swift Jr. series of books. The plots of all of the thirty-three books (only nine of which had been published when I started to read them in 1956) were always the same: Tom would get himself into a terrible predicament, in which his fate and that of his friends, and often the rest of the human race, hung in the balance. Tom would retreat to his basement lab and think about how to solve the problem. This, then, was the dramatic tension in each book in the series: what ingenious idea would Tom and his friends come up with to save the day?2 The moral of these tales was simple: the right idea had the power to overcome a seemingly overwhelming challenge.

To this day, I remain convinced of this basic philosophy: no matter what quandaries we face—business problems, health issues, relationship difficulties...

Présentation de l'éditeur :

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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