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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The future may be more interesting than you think
Kurzweil's book tries to predict what our lives would be like in the year 2100 (yes, one of his predictions is that we'll all still be "alive" in 2100 - for the reason I put "alive" in quotes, you'll have to read the book).
A common theme you see in many science-fiction books and films that try to depict life on earth in 2100, or life of advanced...
Published on Jan. 4 2004 by Nadav Har'El

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, yet disappointing
I found Kurzweil's view of the future to be rather flat and unimaginative. What will we do when we have a computer that can do a million more computations than the average human brain? According to Kurzweil, we will use it to emulate a million human brains. Why bother? All Kurzweil seems to be able to imagine this awesome amount of computing power being used for is...
Published on Jan. 4 2004


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The future may be more interesting than you think, Jan. 4 2004
By 
This review is from: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Paperback)
Kurzweil's book tries to predict what our lives would be like in the year 2100 (yes, one of his predictions is that we'll all still be "alive" in 2100 - for the reason I put "alive" in quotes, you'll have to read the book).
A common theme you see in many science-fiction books and films that try to depict life on earth in 2100, or life of advanced aliens, is the striking similarity between the way of life of these creatures and our current lives. Star-Trek is a good example. Sure, Captain Kirk shoots a laser gun, gets teleported and eats food generated by a machine, but in his world humans (or other carbon-based life forms) still rule, travel physically in the universe, get cured by a human doctor, and so on. More unusual life forms are either relegated to one episode, or given bizarre flaws to explain their rarity (e.g., Commander Data).
So, what will earth really look like in 97 years, in 2100? What will it look like in just 17 years, in 2020? Kurzweil sets out to predict the answers to these questions, and he does so in an enjoyable writing style and using his extensive technical knowledge and visionary approach. He will shock most readers by his predictions which initially seem outlandish, but on second thought suddenly sound very reasonable and very possible - and perhaps even - undeniable.
The basic premise of this very interesting book is what Kurzweil calls "The Law of Accelerating Returns". Moore's law, stating (roughly) that the computing power of a $1000 computer doubles every 12 months, is an example of Kurzweil's more general law. But Moore law only talks about integrated circuits made from transistors - this law only became relevant in the 1960s, and will most likely stop being relevant sometime in the next decade. But Kurzweil demonstrates that the same "law" of computing acceleration has been valid ever since 1900 (!): The first computers were mechanical, then came computers using electro-mechanical relays, then came vacuum tubes, then stand-alone transistors and finally integrated circuits and VLSI; Computing continued to accelerate at an almost constant pace throughout all these changes in paradigms and technologies, and Kurzweil argues that it will continue to do so - even if we need to replace our IC-based computers by computers based on massively-parallel neural networks, nanotechnology-manufactured computers or even quantum computers.
Once you understand Kurzweil's basic premise and agree that it is plausible (he explains it very well and very convincingly), the unavoidable consequences are staggering. The most obvious thing that is going to happen if computing accelerates in its current pace, is that around 2020, a $1000 computer will have the computing power of a human brain. Very quickly afterwards the computer "intelligence" will surpass those of humans. In the following decades other advances in technology like self-replicating nanotechnology will make relying on human labor and thinking not only unnecessary - it will even be stupid. Sending a human for exploration missions in outer space in a large UFO-like spaceship would be extraordinarily silly, when you could send a computer sized like a grain of rice and having the intelligence of a thousand humans. By 2100, computer intelligence and the original human intelligence that started it all will be completely inseparable, according to Kurzweil. I don't want to spoil your fun of reading the book, so I won't reveal here more of Kurzweil's predictions.
Kurzweil's book isn't perfect, of course. It discusses philosophical and moral issues very sparingly. It downplays "modes of failure" (like computer viruses, renegade nonobots) and the effect of Luddites and underdeveloped countries. It is very conservative economically (Bill Gates will remain the richest person in 2050, in 2020 there will be many more lawyers than doctors, because Intellectual Property will be the most important economic issue).
All-in-all Kurzweil's book is very thought-provoking and I strongly recommend it. Even if most of his predictions never come true, it really shines a light on the question of what might happen as computers get stronger and stronger, too strong to be used merely as a platform for "cute" GUIs like Mac OS/X or MS-Windows :)
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, yet disappointing, Jan. 4 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Paperback)
I found Kurzweil's view of the future to be rather flat and unimaginative. What will we do when we have a computer that can do a million more computations than the average human brain? According to Kurzweil, we will use it to emulate a million human brains. Why bother? All Kurzweil seems to be able to imagine this awesome amount of computing power being used for is virtual sex and a cheap shot at immortality.
But is it really immortality? Only if you consider having a copy of yourself as having immortality. In truth, the real you, the carbon based you will eventually die anyhow.
Like most transhumanist thinkers, Kurzweil's view of the future is little more than a thinly veiled religious philosophy where technological innovation is god. Kurzweil spends much of the early part of the book emphazing how inexorable and unstoppable technological evolution is and connecting it to what passes in Transhumanist religion for the moment of Creation: the Big Bang.
It never seems to dawn on Kurzweil that there is something ironic in only engaging in virtual sex with a "lover" whose appearance you are able to freely modify at will. In what sense is this love rather than mere masturbation?
Kurzweil believes with unquestioning religious fervor that if the human brain is capable of abstract thought, then being human is completely reducible to abstract thought. He believes this so implicitly and yet so firmly that he never even bothers to really think about whether this might not be the case.
In the end, I feel the book is much like an infomercial. If you are interested in buying what Kurzweil is selling, you'll probably like it. If not, then it is merely a way to kill a few hours.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, May 3 2010
This review is from: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Paperback)
I don't feel like writing a review so I'll keep it short and sweet. It's a very interesting read and makes you look at things from an angle you might normally not.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A mindblowing "radar update" of what's to come., July 13 2004
By 
Christian Hunter "Christian Hunter" (Austin, TX, Santa Barbara, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Paperback)
This book is an exhilarating glimpse into the future of technology, with an emphasis on when and how it could ultimately affect us: "us" as vulnerable injury prone biology, us as students, us as workers, us as socialites, and perhaps most interestingly, us as mortals.
Hard science in plain terms, Kurzweil stitches in humor and optimism to keep the reading fun, but never sacrifices the basic ambition of this book; I believe that ambition is to share his well-founded exitement about the likilihood that "just around the corner" (owing to the laws of accelerating return) things are going to get real interesting, and really strange.
While I note that plenty of reviews take issue with the pace of change Kurzweil predicts, few dispute the likilihood technologies outlined in the book (Nanotechnological production, AI, man-made/machine-made alternatives to biology such as prosthetics that work as well or better than nature designed) will ever come about, or take issue with the myriad ways in which they will have a profound effect on our individual lives, society, and the world at large.
Kurzweil is an optimist, but not a blind one. He was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. Many of his tech-prophecies have come true, and he has well earned respect in the scientific community.
Even if he's somewhat "off" on timing, or the exact embodiment these technologies will take, just throwing one of your neural legs over the sweeping impact these technologies could usher in makes this book more than a worthwhile read.
Christian Hunter
Santa Barbara, California
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent & Entertaining!, July 2 2004
By 
E. VONROTHKIRCH (Garland, TX USA) - See all my reviews
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Ray Kurzweil's Age of Spiritual Machines is an enthralling look at the future of computers and technology. While much of the book is speculative, Kurzweil both entertains and educates as he explains his claims about the future. A thought-provoking read for anyone interested in computers & technology.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Take the predictions with a grain of salt, however..., June 28 2004
By 
J A W (Norman, OK United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Paperback)
...the ideas in this book are highly stimulating and fascinating. It is basically a summary of all the wants of futurism--nanotechnology, AIs, quantum computers, holistic evolution. But instead of finding these theories spread over numerous books, Kurzweil brings them all together as emanating from one conclusion: evolution is increasing on its own order, and thus speeding up. Our technology is a part of the evolutionary process, and should not be feared.
How realistic are these visions? Foglets (nanotech clouds that can form and reshape into any object), scanning our brains into robots or computers so we can be immortal, quantum computers...Nanotech has some fundamental problems to work through, A.) how to dispose of heat and B.) that funky thing called quantum mechanics. The brain is ludicrously complex (neurons have thousands of connections), and the notion of simply scanning it into a computer and having one's memories recreated inside a new robotic shell is a bit far fetched. Neuroscience is still a hazy business, see The Undiscovered Mind and The Mind and the Brain (from different Points of View, the former Freudian, the latter a proponent of Free Will). If our memories are no longer existent in the new shell, at least the memories as we remember them (I know this is getting into "loaded question" territory), does the self remain the same? Is it the same "person", a man of meat becomes a man of machine who remembers his "old" past differently?
Nonetheless, this is a worthwhile book on where humanity may be going to, and it would probably help give you some ideas if you're a wannabe science fiction writer. You can also drop some of these concepts on your date and wow her w/ your insight and speculatory nature.
One complaint that I have about the book is I didn't care for all the quasi-conversations the author manufactures in the beginning of the latter chapters. I started skipping them.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but hard to take seriously, June 13 2004
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C GREB (Kingston, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Paperback)
His reasoning feels more like religious zeal, I just can't buy into his vision of the unbounded potential of intelligent software.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Changed my life, June 3 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Paperback)
This book changed my life. Highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Are we the Machine?, May 2 2004
By 
T. OBrien "irishmasms" (United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Paperback)
I am not sure there is anything I could say that someone else reviewing this book has not already said. My experience was hit & miss, reading the book in short spurts over a month or so a few months back. His expectations and theories of where computing is headed are intriguing, and you can easily correlate what has already happened and what has been announced to his theories. The title was published in 1999, but yet even with how fast computing has changed Kurzwell's thoughts flow along with the advances that have happened since 1999. Who knows what will happen, and the author could be a bit optimistic in his thoughts - but I think that is just a humans well wishes for our kind showing in his writing.
The suggested readings & web links will have you reading & researching for a long time to come.
I would venture to recommend this title to anyone who is interested or works with computing. Having a grasp on where we have been , and where we are (most likely) heading towards.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Another in a long line of futurist fantasy -cleverly written, April 4 2004
By 
Craig Matteson (Saline, MI) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Paperback)
This is an OK book. It is another in a long line of books that teases out of some present trend a future that seems wondrous, somewhat frightening, and somehow plausible. Mr. Kurzweil's thesis is that the next step of evolution will be that our own machines will attain consciousness through their sheer capacity and the powerful software we will write. At some point they will become more intelligent than humans and so forth.
I think two things he includes in the book point to the problem (even though the author really thinks he has convincingly dealt with them). First, on page 72 he includes a wonderful cartoon with two scientists working on a complicated formula on the blackboard. The words "Then a Great Miracle Occurs" are written in the middle of the formula. One of the scientists, pointing to these words says, "I think you should be more explicit here in step two". The weakness of this book is similar. There are lots of specific claims, but nothing much provable.
The timeline 261-280 is also in the tradition of these kinds of books. Lots of detail and specifics from the past up until the publication date of this book (which was 1999). Then we skip TEN YEARS to 2009 - a date near enough to give the book a plausible relevance, but far enough in the future that the book won't be disproved until long after it has become irrelevant. Oh, well...
As I said, there are interesting things here to read and think about, but in many ways this is really a work of science fantasy rather than a serious analysis of the future of society and technology.
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