Saturday, May 31, 2008

203 pages of The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil

I come to The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil with a bias to like it. Kurzweil is a fascinating man, and I applaud his efforts to invent machines to help people with visual handicaps to read. The primary reason that I am reading the book, however, is that I now know Toshi Hoo, who is co-director, co-producer, and editor of the forthcoming documentary with the same title. (Since I last looked at the Internet Movie Database, there are many more details. At one point, it only listed Toshi and Kurzweil as involved.)

As you can tell from my title, I have not actually finished The Singularity is Near, a large book of 652 pages of which 496 are text. Kurzweil explains his subject well and can at points be very entertaining, and I especially like the imagined conversations involving figures from the past, present, and future that end the chapters. Some sections include many graphs and can be skimmed through pretty quickly. Other sections require slow thoughtful reading. The author includes much detail, but his arguments are accessible. I have just not made enough time to finish.

I wish the book was commercially available in audio. I would enjoy listening while I pull weeds and trim the shrubs. With as much gardening as I have before me, I could finish in another week.

The subject should interest anyone who wonders about our future. Kurzweil predicts that artificial intelligence will become more and more powerful in the next several decades. This is not of itself a surprising prediction, but the author proposes that the key is reverse engineering the human brain. The brain has much more duplication and is self-organizing, while current computers are very linear in their decision-making. Brains are more flexible and can to some extent repair themselves. They also use much less energy and produce less heat than power hungry computers. Kurzweil wants future computers to be as cold as rocks when preforming their calculations.

There is so much more in the first 200 pages than I indicate in this summary. The aim of the book as a whole is to describe the singularity - the point at which human and technical intelligence become one. Kurzweil believes this will be good because humans will have shaped the technology. The technology will enhance humans.

Of course, there is much to discuss and weigh ethically. Many people will fear these developments. Others may wish to have their brains uploaded to more lasting equipment than the human body.

I look forward to the documentary. I suspect it will bring more readers to the book. It will also serve those people who are interested in the subject but are unwilling to start such a big book. I hope to schedule the DVD for our film discussion group.

Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Viking, 2005. ISBN 0670033847

1 comment:

CitizenReader said...

I have tried to read Kurzweil, both in book and audio form. Could never get through it! Perhaps it is time to try again, with this title.