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The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence Paperback – Jan 1 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (Jan. 1 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140282025
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140282023
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 2 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 157 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #9,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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How much do we humans enjoy our current status as the most intelligent beings on earth? Enough to try to stop our own inventions from surpassing us in smarts? If so, we'd better pull the plug right now, because if Ray Kurzweil is right we've only got until about 2020 before computers outpace the human brain in computational power. Kurzweil, artificial intelligence expert and author of The Age of Intelligent Machines, shows that technological evolution moves at an exponential pace. Further, he asserts, in a sort of swirling postulate, time speeds up as order increases, and vice versa. He calls this the "Law of Time and Chaos," and it means that although entropy is slowing the stream of time down for the universe overall, and thus vastly increasing the amount of time between major events, in the eddy of technological evolution the exact opposite is happening, and events will soon be coming faster and more furiously. This means that we'd better figure out how to deal with conscious machines as soon as possible--they'll soon not only be able to beat us at chess, but also likely demand civil rights, and might at last realize the very human dream of immortality.

The Age of Spiritual Machines is compelling and accessible, and not necessarily best read from front to back--it's less heavily historical if you jump around (Kurzweil encourages this). Much of the content of the book lays the groundwork to justify Kurzweil's timeline, providing an engaging primer on the philosophical and technological ideas behind the study of consciousness. Instead of being a gee-whiz futurist manifesto, Spiritual Machines reads like a history of the future, without too much science fiction dystopianism. Instead, Kurzweil shows us the logical outgrowths of current trends, with all their attendant possibilities. This is the book we'll turn to when our computers first say "hello." --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

According to the law of accelerating returns, explains futurist Kurzweil (The Age of Intelligent Machines), technological gains are made at an exponential rate. In his utopian vision of the 21st century, our lives will change not merely incrementally but fundamentally. The author is the inventor of reading and speech-recognition machines, among other technologies, but he isn't much of a writer. Using clunky prose and an awkward dialogue with a woman from the future, he sets up the history of evolution and technology and then offers a whirlwind tour through the next 100 years. Along the way, he makes some bizarre predictions. If Kurzweil has it right, in the next few decades humans will download books directly into their brains, run off with virtual secretaries and exist "as software," as we become more like computers and computers become more like us. Other projections?e.g., that most diseases will be reversible or preventable?are less strange but seem similarly Panglossian. Still others are more realizable: human-embedded computers will track the location of practically anyone, at any time. More problematic is Kurzweil's self-congratulatory tone. Still, by addressing (if not quite satisfactorily) the overpowering distinction between intelligence and consciousness, and by addressing the difference between a giant database and an intuitive machine, this book serves as a very provocative, if not very persuasive, view of the future from a man who has studied and shaped it. B&w illustrations. Agent, Loretta Barrett; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Germany, Italy and Spain; simultaneous Penguin audio; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: 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.
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Format: 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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Format: 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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