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The Singularity Is Near Paperback – Sept. 26 2006
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—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
—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.’”
“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known, 2) The idea is about as big as you can get: the Singularity—all the change in the last million years will be superceded by the change in the next five minutes, and 3) It is an idea that demands informed response.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.”
“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.”
“An attractive picture of a plausible future.”
“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.”
“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 five other 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, and How to Create a Mind.
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- Pg 25: “We will have the requisite hardware to emulate human intelligence with supercomputers by ...” - This is right, at least based on his back-of-the envelope analysis around pg 125.
- …”and with personal-computer size devices by ” - absolutely not.
- Pg 25: “we can expect computers to pass the Turing test, indicating intelligence indistinguishable from that of biological humans, by ”. You can track the winners of the Loebner prize and some other Turing-style tests to see that this prediction is on track, but also the most competitive chatbots are almost universally judged to be non-intelligent.
- Pg 312: “Computers arriving [in 2010] will become essentially invisible: woven into our clothing, embedded in our furniture and environment.” This is laughably wrong. Kurzweil goes on to talk about VR technologies: “We will also have augmented reality with displays overlaying the real world to provide real-time guidance and explanations.” Google glass came out in 2014 and almost caught on but did not. VR headsets are getting popular for video games though.
The book also includes a lot of predictions about 3D molecular computing, nanotechnology, carbon nanotubes. In early, however, 2020 google searches for topics concepts reveal articles like IEEE’s “Whatever happened to the Molecular computer” or a emaciated quarter-page wikipedia article on carbon nanotube computers. Google trends demonstrates that searches involving the term “nanotechnology” have exponentially declined since 2004. I don’t take issue with somebody being excited about upcoming technology (e.g. I’m excited about photonic computing, quantum computing, and TPU’s), but Kurzweil comes off as a charlatan when he presents each of the above technologies as if they have some fundamental advantage over competing technologies, and time has proven false one of the core claims of his book on the coming promise of “GNR”.
Then there are places where Kurzweil’s reasoning is just wrong. For example, showing off the exponential increase in US education expenditures (pg 108) using fixed 2001 dollars without considering the exponential decrease in purchasing power due to 2-4% annual inflation. He makes plain factual errors alluding to Turing’s “conception of a universal computer in 1950” (pg 94) or his description of quantum entanglement (pg 120). Cumulatively, small errors like these were enough to ruin Kurzweil’s credibility by around page 150. It would be well enough if he avoided topics requiring domain-specific knowledge, but his attempts and failures to dive into these fields and present content-sensitive arguments unmask him as a creative mind bootstrapping over the thin air of speciousness.
So I decided to jump ahead to the criticisms chapter but didn’t find any consolation in the arguments he chose to defend against. For example, the defense he put forth with respect to the “Chinese room” were not only jumbled and unfocused, but parts of it had already been addressed by Searle, 20 years prior in the ‘84 Reith lectures! Punctuated by yet more disproven claims (his claim that “if an [entity capable of convincingly answering questions]...really doesn’t understand human language, it will be quickly unmasked by a competent interlocutor” fails to anticipate the rise of chatbots and DeepFake technology). To cap the section off, he proposes a different version of the thought experiment, names “Ray Kurzweil’s Chinese Room”. There’s a certain stink of self-grandiosity that comes with the author of an idea naming the idea after himself upon conception.
By giving these criticisms I don’t mean to completely discredit Kurzweil, but to demonstrate that in the places where he transitions from techno-fantasy to testable predictions that reference real world technology he is mostly wrong, which means the book is best read as science fiction. And as a science fiction novel its written in a very boring and self-absorbed style, despite having promising content throughout. 2/5
Top international reviews
The extrapolation into the future starts to feel like the “culture” civilisation in an Iain M Banks Sci Fi novel. Difficult to know who got what ideas from who.
Don’t know whether to be optimistic or terrified about the future. I’m nearly 50 years old, so I’ll definitely be taking my Statins, vitamins and blood pressure pills in the hope that I can “live long enough to to live forever”
The author doesn't explore the implications of the singularity for anyone outside of the western world, and spends little time exploring the potential risks and downsides (war, exploitation, or perhaps just a 'Terminator' style end of the world!). In fact, outside of the US was quite rare.
The 'dialogues' between people from different times were so cringe-worthy that I had to flick past these also.
In summary, interesting ideas, probably available elsewhere in a less annoying format!
He has a brilliant grasp of his subject and i would imagine in person he is a tour de force as a speaker.For me however when he started to explain human 2.0 and 3.0 he lost some of his power. When the human organs have all been replaced bar the skin are we still human. The virtual reality sex model is hilarious and deeply troubling. If we can always have the object of our desires virtually,then Pandora'S box is well and truly open.How do real human relationships exist if both partners prefer a younger slimmer model in virtual reality.
I did enjoy the read but i am not a Luddite but very wary of technology which allows me to live to 200.
Lastly I wonder what will happen if when we start to get smarter and closer to the singularity if we will only find new and more troubling ways to hurt,cheat and murder one another?
I for one can't see why Kurzweil's main predictions are wrong.