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

4.0 out of 5 stars 157 customer reviews

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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: #44,926 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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Customer Reviews

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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
Homo Sapiens - it was fun as long as it lasted. Enter Robo Sapiens.
Humanity is doomed and is going to be replaced ! In Kurzwells words:"Within 100 years there will be a strong trend toward the merger of human thinking with the world of machine intelligence. Most conscious entities will end up having no permanant physical presence".
Starting from Moores law of ever more powerful computers, Kurzweil takes us through the steps towards the big upload, where human brains are scanned and uploaded as software to conscious computers. Starting with direct neural pathways for high bandwidth connections between the human brain and intelligent computers - the final step where the brain is moved inside the computer wont seem so immense. And obviously everybody will want the to take the steps before, where perception and interpretation are enhanced, as well as memory and reasoning etc.
Kurzweil quotes Arthur C. Clarke: "When a scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong".
If I wasn't convinced before - I am now, after reading Kurzweils book - we are just waiting for the upload ! And considering the Clarke quote I wont pay to much attention to those who will be sceptical of Kurzweils claims.
The upload story is reason enough for reading the book. But the book gives more. I.e. a good introduction to a lot of the "almost present day" technologies, that definitely will become real within the next 10 to 20 years. Plus, a number of good insights into the highly interesting subject "what is intelligence".
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Format: Hardcover
Suppose that, in 1899, someone had published a book predicting that in a hundred years we would be living, on average, into our mid seventies; communicating instantaneously around the world; hurtling through the air in metal birds; watching theatre on little boxes; visiting other planets; and creating new lifeforms in our laboratories. Practical, no-nonsense readers of such a book would doubtless have concluded that the author was a lunatic. Yet here we are. Given the viral nature of memes; the creative cross-fertilization that occurs when people are connected; and the exponential growth of technology in general and of connectedness in particular, it is reasonable to conclude that we ain't seen nothin yet. Take a glimpse at Ray Kurzweil's vision of our future, and you'll be inclined to agree.
There will be people who think that Kurzweil has written a crazy book, but from the perspective of our descendants a hundred years from now, the book might not seem crazy enough. Kurzweil has the insight to recognize that we are creating technologies that will change everything, utterly. Imagine a world in which you can plug in extra processing power or memory, in which you can download to your mind many lifetimes of knowledge and experience, in which consciousness can be shared, in which you can experience what it is like to be your spouse or what it is like to be a bat. Imagine a world in which you will not have to die. The imaginations of science fiction writers pale in comparison to what real science has in store for us, and Kurzweil has given us a sneak peek at some of the most profound possibilities.
On two fronts-computer science and genetics-we are taking charge of our own evolution. Kurzweil deals skillfully (and entertainingly) with the former.
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