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Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ [Hardcover]

Richard Dooling

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Book Description

Sept. 30 2008
Will the Geeks inherit the earth?

If computers become twice as fast and twice as capable every two years, how long is it before they’re as intelligent as humans? More intelligent? And then in two more years, twice as intelligent? How long before you won’t be able to tell if you are texting a person or an especially ingenious chatterbot program designed to simulate intelligent human conversation?

According to Richard Dooling in Rapture for the Geeks—maybe not that long. It took humans millions of years to develop opposable thumbs (which we now use to build computers), but computers go from megabytes to gigabytes in five years; from the invention of the PC to the Internet in less than fifteen. At the accelerating rate of technological development, AI should surpass IQ in the next seven to thirty-seven years (depending on who you ask). We are sluggish biological sorcerers, but we’ve managed to create whiz-bang machines that are evolving much faster than we are.

In this fascinating, entertaining, and illuminating book, Dooling looks at what some of the greatest minds have to say about our role in a future in which technology rapidly leaves us in the dust. As Dooling writes, comparing human evolution to technological evolution is “worse than apples and oranges: It’s appliances versus orangutans.” Is the era of Singularity, when machines outthink humans, almost upon us? Will we be enslaved by our supercomputer overlords, as many a sci-fi writer has wondered? Or will humans live lives of leisure with computers doing all the heavy lifting?

With antic wit, fearless prescience, and common sense, Dooling provocatively examines nothing less than what it means to be human in what he playfully calls the age of b.s. (before Singularity)—and what life will be like when we are no longer alone with Mother Nature at Darwin’s card table. Are computers thinking and feeling if they can mimic human speech and emotions? Does processing capability equal consciousness? What happens to our quaint beliefs about God when we’re all worshipping technology? What if the human compulsion to create ever more capable machines ultimately leads to our own extinction? Will human ingenuity and faith ultimately prevail over our technological obsessions? Dooling hopes so, and his cautionary glimpses into the future are the best medicine to restore our humanity.

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Review

Praise for Richard Dooling:
Rapture for the Geeks

“Nimble and entertaining . . . A fascinating historical review of our longtime obsession with machines.”
—David Takami, Seattle Times

“Surprisingly engrossing, quick-witted.”
New York Observer

“One doesn’t expect a nonfiction book to be fascinating, chilling, thoughtful, and funny in equal measure. This one is. My question: When computers become smarter than humans, and especially if they take over, will they regard Rick Dooling as dangerous, prescient, sympathetic . . . or irrelevant?”
—Kurt Andersen

“Dooling really is onto something here.”–Ars Technica


Bet Your Life
“Manages to invoke Double Indemnity, the Old Testament, and Fountains of Wayne with equal vehemence and thriller wit. . . . If you’re not hooked, you’re one dead mackerel.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Fascinating . . . A socially relevant satire [that’s] midway between John Grisham and Carl Hiaasen.”
The New Yorker

Brainstorm
Brainstorm is simply brilliant—hilarious, thought-provoking, and masterfully crafted. The characters are fantastic and irresistible but completely believable, and their banter is so witty and natural that a reader can forget they are debating ideas at the cutting edge of brain science and philosophy.”
—Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works

“Exuberant . . . deeply pleasurable . . . Here is a whodunit that achieves a comic fugue-state mastery of the language of our sexually charged, violent, technocratic society.”
—Colin Harrison, New York Times Book Review

Blue Streak: Swearing, Free Speech and Sexual Harassment
“A charmingly impudent essay on language and sexual politics . . . an extremely clever and creative sort of literary acting out.”
—Richard Bernstein, New York Times

White Man’s Grave
“A bravura display of satire . . . Dooling evokes the humane checks and balances of a deep world: the logic, you might say, of its magic.”
—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review

About the Author

RICHARD DOOLING is a novelist, screenwriter, and lawyer, a visiting professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times. He is the author of Critical Care, Brainstorm, Bet Your Life, and the novel White Man’s Grave, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with his wife, children, and computers.

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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Start, Poor Finish Nov. 14 2008
By James B - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While this book started out well, it dropped off quickly from there. Very readable, fairly humorous, but not very techinical it began with a good introduction to the future of technology and AI, but devolved from there into a series of largely irrelevant essays on computer programming. The author, a lawyer, not an engineer, becomes overly fascinated with his own knowledge and repeatedly just threw in snippets of code or tech jargon, apparently for no other purpose than to impress us with his knowledge. Also most annoying were his completely pointless rants about Microsoft. Now I have nothing particular against Microsoft bashing, but it didn't have anything to do with the subject of the book. I can get that for free on the Internet on any Linux forum out there, so why should I have to pay $15 for the honor?

In all a decent intro to the subject though, at least I know what books I want to read now.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To a niche audience, this book is awesome! Jan. 6 2010
By Scott S. Trimble - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Reading some of the other customer reviews on here kind of bums me out. It seems like people are judging this book based on their own expectations rather than for what it is: an entertaining tour of the most important ideas about artificial intelligence.

I loved this book. But I realize that I am a quirky guy who happens to be fascinated by theoretical science, and who is already fairly well-read about the singularity concept. For me, the book was an entertaining opinion-piece in which Dooling takes the reader on a tour of singularity's main ideas, while making sure to keep the reader entertained the whole way. He touches all the bases from Moore's Law to basic programming concepts (and hits on most of my favorite topics including consciousness, free will, and memes), and he gives the reader a glimpse at the contributions and opinions of all the key personalities from Ray Kurzweil to Bill Joy. Rather than being in depth and technical, the book presents the ideas in an everyman style, and Dooling provides enough specific links and references to point anyone interested in learning more about specific technical topics in the right direction.

In my opinion, Dooling also makes some noteworthy contributions in the form of opinions and hypothetical scenarios. I've spent considerable time reading about artificial intelligence, and Dooling came up with quite a few interesting twists to the usual analysis that were new to me! As long as you have sufficient background knowledge, you will be able to tell when Dooling gets into opinion/speculation mode, and you should take it as such. For example, I personally disagree with his idea that singularity might be just another form of religion, but I am glad to have been exposed to the interesting idea. Bottom line: it is a book of ideas and hypotheticals, not a book about technical information. And I think it's filled with some superb ideas!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Some interesting content, but you have to look for it. Nov. 6 2009
By Brian Stiff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book in hopes that it would offer a detailed, analytical discussion of the origins, present state, and possible futures of machine intelligence. In that regard, I'm disappointed. I suppose the subtitle would more aptly read, "Based on Hunter S. Thompson's narrative style, but with the gonzoness". The book dwells more, as other reviewers have noted, on vaguely relevant citations of jargon, quotes taken out of context, snarky comments on hacker and gamer culture, and insubstantial, plebeian drive-by sniping at Microsoft. Sure, the discussion of the parallels between Faust and the scientists of the Manhattan Project is fairly interesting, but I believe this is old hat for most geeks. The 25-page anecdote describing the conspiracy of a father and son to circumvent the wife/mother's effort to get the boy involved in sports instead of the playing World of Warcraft was entertaining, but took up 23 pages more than it needed to. There is definitely no engineering insight into machine intelligence, unless you're able to find something that I missed in the author's retrospective of the early days of word processing and the supposition that Microsoft is trying to screw us all to death with their license enforcement and lack of file-format portability. Several other folks have mentioned the tongue-in-cheek code snippets that the author included; I think he'd actually have been ahead to include, instead, a sprinkling of illustrations from XKCD.

Prior to reading this book, I'd read the wikipedia article discussing the Technological Singularity. It offered a much more concise and technically insightful discussion of this material. I wish I'd saved my money and time, and stopped there, and spent my time reading in-flight magazines instead of trying to get value from this book.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rupture of the Geek Feb. 5 2009
By W. Richman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There are some interesting/funny bits in the book, but as another reviewer pointed out, Dooling seems to become so enamored with his own breadth of knowledge that he just _has_ to share it with you. All of it. After running it through a blender. The most interesting parts are the quotes he uses from knowledgeable people in the various fields, but his attempts to interpret what he thinks they're trying to say don't often make a lot of sense. I appreciate his position on the "open source software" movement, and I share his loathing for all things Microsoft, but I'm not sure what either of these things has to do with artificial intelligence. Then, in chapter "12.5" he goes off on a rambling rant concerning why Richard Dawkins isn't in a position to say that "god" doesn't exist. He apparently has some kind of ax to grind on the subject, because he pretty well beats it to death. I'm not sure I'm even going to finish reading the book at this point. Overall, it's neither particularly funny nor particularly insightful. It's as though he wrote the whole thing while admiring himself in the mirror. Not pretty.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book, and I know nothing about its subject... April 4 2009
By William E. Adams - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Except that at age 64, with less than ten years experience on a home PC, doing the simplest of operations (including, some would say, 756 or so simple-minded reviews on Amazon) I am smart enough to still be afraid of computers and all the related digital technologies they pioneered. Mr. Dooling comes across in this non-fiction contribution as a guy I would definitely love to share some whiskey with. In an ideal world, the whiskey would be expensive, and would be his, and we would speak of anything but the subject of this book. (I've read two of his novels, although for some reason I did not review them here.) According to Dooling, we face a future in which "machines" are rapidly becoming so much "smarter" than humans, that our enslavement is more likely than not. (Some elites may survive to do for the machines the few tasks they might not be able to accomplish for themselves, but I won't be one of those. I face a rather quick execution if the world Dooling describes does come to pass while I still live.) How much tongue is in his cheek over the course of this humorous, scary look at the near-future? I can't say, because I have no background. It is a tribute to the man, however, that I finished this one understanding so much more than I expected to comprehend. He likes and quotes Emily Dickinson, my favorite poet, and that always disposes me kindly toward an author. He likes and quotes Albert Einstein, who lived only ten miles from me during my first ten years of life. (My father used to drive down Mercer Street in Princeton NJ on a regular basis, and reported Einstein sightings to the rest of the family.) Here is one from Albert that I had never come across before: "Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal." Since the great scientist died in 1955, he was not speaking of the same exact matters that concern Dooling now, but you get the point, and if you plan to read this book, you likely disagree with it. There are many laugh-out-loud moments here, but a bunch of them are of the black humor mode. The book offers a lot of serious food for thought as well. I think the scariest passage is on page 137, quoting a programming guru, Bill Joy: "I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil...whose possibility spreads well-beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals." In other words, wait 20 years and the next "Unabomber" can, via technology, do bio-terrorism to whole cities rather than send "package explosives" to one office. Yikes. Follow up that nightmare with the quote 11 pages onward, attributed to one Edward Heller: "Man: A creature that, upon the irrefutable evidence of his history, cannot control himself" (could someday be) "in control of all life on earth" (via super-computers.)Yikes again.

I don't think Richard Dooling hates technology at all, at all, as the Irish say, but he sees not just the bright side of the 21st Century, and it is of course, the dark side that we must anticipate. The book isn't perfect. From page 216 to 235 it is mostly about God, religion, atheists and what the super-computers of the future will think about those subjects and do about them. He has serious moments here, and parody sections, and perhaps goes on too long in this vein, although in my opinion, he comes out on the right side of things. All in all, I thank my friend Jim Clark of Kansas for sending this one to me, but I believe it is very worth reading, even for technophobes like me, and even if I had paid for it. Can there be higher praise for a writer than that?

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