Ray Kurzweil is the inventor of the most innovative and compelling technology of our era, an international authority on artificial intelligence, and one of our greatest living visionaries. Now he offers a framework for envisioning the twenty-first century--an age in which the marriage of human sensitivity and artificial intelligence fundamentally alters and improves the way we live. Kurzweil's prophetic blueprint for the future takes us through the advances that inexorably result in computers exceeding the memory capacity and computational ability of the human brain by the year 2020 (with human-level capabilities not far behind); in relationships with automated personalities who will be our teachers, companions, and lovers; and in information fed straight into our brains along direct neural pathways. Optimistic and challenging, thought-provoking and engaging, The Age of Spiritual Machines is the ultimate guide on our road into the next century.
Those with some theological training might recall Alfred Loisy’s quip about early Christianity: “They expected the coming of the Kingdom; what arrived was the Church.” So with Kurzweil: He expected the emergence of the Spirit; what arrived was FaceBook and Google.* There is a great deal that is theological in the attitudes of those who write about modern technology. Kurzweil puts forth a belief in a sort of pantheistic God of the Universe. If not the Pope, he is certainly a Patriarch of the Church of Electronic Technology and continues to inspire the faithful with his revelatory scriptures.
Kurzweil’s Age of Spiritual Machines is a watershed moment in the high-tech movement. It’s a sort of gospel, a prophetic document that has inspired a quasi-religious culture. It is a book with a cosmic perspective, connecting modern technology to the origin and the final destination of the Universe. Technology, according to Kurzweil, is the Alpha and the Omega of existence, not just the existence of members of the species Homo sapiens, but the existence of everything. Without technology the Universe itself would not exist because there would be no knowledge of it.
Apart from this last solipsistic (and presumably jocular) thought, Kurzweil’s argument is both attractive and explanatory. If it misses a few marks about the future, who cares. Prophets are concerned with ultimates not with the details of how we get there. Who knows but he could be right: Facebook and Google could be carriers of the Spirit. After all, Donald Trump is considered by American evangelicals as the anointed instrument of God. The Spirit is reported to blow where it sees fit, so who can have serious doubts - about either FaceBook or Trump.
The central trope which Kurzweil uses to organise his prophecy is that of evolutionary biology. His presumption is very Spinoza-like:**that there is purpose in the Universe. This purpose doesn’t become conscious of itself until the emergence of the first intelligent apes but it has been there all along, from the moment of slight asymmetries in the Big Bang, to the formation of atoms, to the chemical evolution of that signal breakthrough of DNA. From there it was inevitable that life would take control, particularly human life, but also progressing to forms we can only speculate about.
Throughout this evolutionary progression, there is crucial, pre-genetic component, an inherent coding mechanism, which, building progressively on itself, initially generates the laws of physics (including the phenomenon of time), promotes sub-atomic and chemical interactions, leads to the emergence of the complex genome, then explodes into the miracle of human language and of the tools which are the product of language. Every step in this progression is a technological advance, an advance whose pace has been accelerating from the start.
This is stirring stuff. It is no mere boosterism for high-tech; it’s a cultural manifesto as well thought out as the Gospel of John or Marx’s Das Kapital . It provides a myth of origin and an explanation for the way things are that are concise and self-contained in their completeness. The manifesto is also ethically directive. The Universe has purpose, inert matter has purpose, life itself has purpose, and (implicitly) individual human lives are inherently purposeful and should join with the cosmic intentionality.
And that purpose? Kurzweiler is clear about that: “Evolution’s grandest creation—human intelligence—is providing the means for the next stage of evolution, which is technology.” We are manifestly here to make machines. On the face of it, this appears crass and narrow-minded. But keep in mind that Kurzweiler includes language as part of technology, in fact, as information, the foundational component of all technology, even that of atoms and molecules. So his prediction of ‘next stage’ includes not just machines (or not even primarily machines) but the proliferation and self-generation of knowledge. Or to put the matter in terms more compatible with his entire theme: the autonomous existence of language.
In this view of the world, language will come into its own, creating both itself and the machines that propagate it. Presumably language knows that it needs both a source of energy derived from the chaotic entropy which surrounds it, and ‘users’ of language, or at least an audience for itself. The obvious solution of course is to get human beings to pay for the use of the language to which they have become accustomed (addicted?). Hey, presto, Kurzweil got it exactly right. The Spirit he had in mind arrived right on schedule in Facebook and Google. Better than the predictions of Jesus and Paul, therefore. I suppose it all depends on the definition of Spirit in both cases.
* From the Age of Smart Machines (Zuboff 1988), to the Age of Intelligent Machines (Kurzweil 1990), to the Age of Spiritual Machines (Kurzweil 1998), to the Age of Surveillance Capitalism (Zuboff, 2018) in 30 years! The epochs just seem to keep coming, but apparently never the ones that are expected.
** Or perhaps even more aptly resembles the evolutionary theism of the priest-biologist Teilhard de Chardin whose concept of the noösphere, a realm of pure thought that emerges from the biosphere of living things, is the final destination of earthly development. Formulated in the early 20th century, de Chardin’s ideas were of course condemned as heretical by the Church (as were those of his contemporary, Alfred Loisy). See: https://www.goodreads.com/review/edit...
"Once a computer achieves a human level of ability in understanding abstract concepts, recognizing patterns, and other attributes of human intelligence, it will be able to apply this ability to a knowledge base of all human-acquired...knowledge.”
I appreciated the conceptual framework for looking at the future provided by Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Having dabbled in some other readings by futurists, I'd heard many of the predictions before. However, the way Kurzweil explained why specific innovations/advancements would occur was still engaging (especially when one recalls that this book came out nearly 20 years ago)!
Where Kurzweil falls short is predicting the when of these advancements. Being way way too optimistic often makes him come across as hyping the future rather than predicting it. Still, Kurzweil provides a glimpse of a potential future that is prophetic and thought provoking. 3.5 stars.
The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, Ray Kurzweil
Raymond "Ray" Kurzweil is an American author, computer scientist, inventor and futurist. Aside from futurism, he is involved in fields such as optical character recognition, text-to-speech synthesis, ...
The Age of Spiritual Machines is a non-fiction book by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil about artificial intelligence and the future course of humanity. First published in hardcover on January 1, 1999. In the book Kurzweil outlines his vision for how technology will progress during the 21st century.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و پنجم ماه اکتبر سال 2002میلادی
عنوان: عصر ماشین های معنوی؛ نویسنده: ری کورزویل؛ مترجم: سیمین موحد؛ تهران، پیکان، 1380؛ در 566ص؛ کتابنامه از ص 499، تا ص558؛ شابک: 9643281590؛ موضوع: هوش مصنوعی - کامپیوترها از نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م
نخستین بار این کتاب را، هفده سال پیش از امروز، که روز پنجم ماه دسامبر سال 2019میلادی است، خوانده ام؛ کتابی درباره ی هوش مصنوعی، و آینده انسانیت است، که توسط مخترع و آینده پژوه «ری کرزویل»؛ نوشته شده، کتاب نخستین بار توسط انتشارات «وایکینگ» در روز اول ماه ژانویه سال1999 میلادی، منتشر شد؛ در این کتاب، «کرزویل» چشم انداز خود را، پیرامون چگونگی پیشرفت فناوری، در طول سده ی بیست و یکم میلادی، توضیح داده است؛ «کرزویل» باور دارد: فرگشت (تکامل زیستی)، گواهی بر این است که انسانها، روزی روزگاری دستگاهی خواهند ساخت، که از خودشان هوشمندتر خواهد بود؛ «کرزویل» میافزایند: توانایی پردازش رایانه ها به طور نمایی رشد میکند؛ «کرزویل» مینویسد: این افزایش، یکی عناصر دخیل در آفرینش هوش مصنوعی است؛ کسب دانش خودکار، و الگوریتمهایی همانند: بازگشتی (ریکورژن)، شبکه های عصبی، الگوریتمهای ژنتیک، و ...، در دسترس خواهند بود؛ «کرزویل» پیش بینی میکنند: ماشینهای با هوش سطح-انسانی، و مقرون به صرفه، در چند دهه ی آینده، در دسترس خواهند بود؛ و بیشتر جنبه های زندگی را، دچار دگرگونی خواهند کرد؛ ایشان میگویند: نانوتکنولوژی: بدنمان را تقویت؛ و سرطان را درمان میکند؛ و حتی انسانها از طریق رابطهای عصبی مستقیم، به رایانه متصل میشوند؛ و یا تمام وقت؛ با واقعیتهای مجازی زندگی میکنند؛ او پیش بینی میکند، که ماشینهایی ظاهر خواهند شد، که از خود اختیار، و حتی «تجربیات معنوی» داشته باشند؛ ایشان میگویند: انسان میتواند تا انتهای بشریت زندگی کند، و تفاوتی نیز بین ماشینها، و انسانیت، وجود نداشته باشد؛ او پیش بینی میکند، که هوشمندی به بیرون از زمین، گسترش خواهد یافت، تا زمانیکه آنقدر قوی شود، تا بر سرنوشت دنیا تأثیر بگذارد...؛
تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 23/04/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
As an AI person, I have mixed feelings about this book. Half of me says that it's nonsense: the author comes across as ludicrously optimistic, indeed quite out of touch with reality, and saturated with hubris to the point where it's starting to crystallize out in his hair. Who could ever take this crap seriously?
The other half points out that, even though AI has a terrible history of overhyping itself, the errors are often not as bad as they first appear. People in the 50s did indeed make themselves look stupid when they said that a computer would be the world's best chess player within 10 years. But if you compare them with Dreyfus, who wasted a lot of time arguing that computers would never, even in principle, be able to play Grandmaster-level chess, I know who I think came out looking dumbest. The AI people were off by a factor of at most 10, really nothing very serious.
So when Kurzweil says that the Singularity's going to be here by September 2014, or whatever his latest projection is, sure, he's dreaming. But I don't see why it's so obvious that it won't happen by, say, 2150. If you plot rate of technological progress over the last 50,000 years, is "exponential" really a crazy word to use?
I think his hyper-optimistic projections are largely driven by his hope that the Singularity will get here in time to make him personally immortal. He's quite upfront about this. And although the thought of an immortal Kurzweil is indeed pretty scary, I'm not sure it's enough to justify dismissing all his ideas out of hand.
In The Age of Spiritual Machines author, and futurist, Ray Kurzweil prognosticates the rise of intelligent machines (among other things). The book was written in 1999, and he has predictions for 2009 so there’s been enough time for some of his predictions to be tested. Unfortunately he fares very, very poorly. See for yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Age_...
The ones he gets right were those things that were either already available in 1999 or are incremental extensions of things that were. But this is something anyone can do. For example, I predict that vehicles will get better gas mileage in 2021 than today (in 2011) and that there will be an increased reliance on biofuels and renewable energy. I’m a genius right?
His predictions for 20 and 30 years will prove to be more wildly off the mark. For example, Kurzweil predicts that in 8 years (2019) we will have virtually eliminated all paper documents and books. In reality, paper consumption is increasing.
I’ll grant you that the line between being a futurist and being a crackpot is a fine one indeed, but Kurzweil is an unabashed crank. I say this because a responsible futurist would couch his vision of the future in caveats and disclaimers as well as make sure the reader understood where the authors knowledge ended and where speculation begins. A crank, on the other hand, stands on the street corner predicting that the end of the world will occur at a specific date and time with a confident assurance that refutes all doubt. Kurzweil takes the latter approach and is wrong again and again.
The reality is that no one can predict the future, and history is littered with the detritus of ill conceived prophesies. But why does Kurzweil get it so wrong? PZ Meyers has a succinct answer to this question with regards to computer intelligence: "Ray Kurzweil does not understand the brain". Kurzweil believes existing computer software and circuitry can replicate brain function. Perhaps someday, but at the moment we are no closer to developing machine intelligence than we were when the ENIAC was the state of the art. We still have much to learn about the brain and until we understand it (assuming we can understand it), there is little chance of constructing a machine able to replicate it’s function. This is the same mistake of hubris that humans made when they thought Biosphere could replicate a complete ecosystem. We simply do not have knowledge of sufficient breadth or depth to comprehend the intricate and complex inter-relationships that make up an integrated ecosystem.
So … unfortunately, while computers have become faster, they are still very, very dumb. As a result, I’m left to having to read and write my own review of this book (using a keyboard no less – another failed Kurzweil prediction) while my dumb computer whirrs away inanely beneath my desk.
Hey kids - it's me again. I originally wrote this review in 2011. It's now 2019 the next milestone year for which Kurzweil made specific predictions. I thought it would be fun to see how he did.
As a reminder, a list of his 2019 predictions may be found here.
Let's get started!
Predictions by Ray Kurzweil in his book The Age of Spiritual Machines: 2019
1. The computational capacity of a $4,000 computing device (in 1999 dollars) is approximately equal to the computational capability of the human brain (20 quadrillion calculations per second).
Kurzweil thinks that the brain is like a computer, or conversely that a sufficiently complex computer can perform all the functions of a brain. Yes, there are similarities … my brain can do math, a properly programmed computer can as well. Yet they are also very different things and there’s no reason to expect our computers to become conscious.
2. The summed computational powers of all computers is comparable to the total brainpower of the human race.
Whatever. That’s as useful as comparing apples to kangaroos.
3. Computers are embedded everywhere in the environment (inside of furniture, jewelry, walls, clothing, etc.).
Nope. I’m also not quite sure why my couch would need a computer. To detect whether my butt is cold or fat shame me if I’ve gained weight? Fuck you couch … my wallet is in my pocket and I just got paid!
4. People experience 3-D virtual reality through glasses and contact lenses that beam images directly to their retinas (retinal display). Coupled with an auditory source (headphones), users can remotely communicate with other people and access the Internet.
VR goggles exist, but they don’t use retinal display. Obviously if they are displaying an image you could use them to display a computer screen and people communicate using computers, so I’m not sure why that second claim is a big deal.
5. These special glasses and contact lenses can deliver "augmented reality" and "virtual reality" in three different ways. First, they can project "heads-up-displays" (HUDs) across the user's field of vision, superimposing images that stay in place in the environment regardless of the user's perspective or orientation. Second, virtual objects or people could be rendered in fixed locations by the glasses, so when the user's eyes look elsewhere, the objects appear to stay in their places. Third, the devices could block out the "real" world entirely and fully immerse the user in a virtual reality environment.
He’s really big on glasses. Yeah, this is a plot device in a number of sci-fi stories. But this is still the only place it exists (outside of certain specialized military applications) … stories.
6. People communicate with their computers via two-way speech and gestures instead of with keyboards. Furthermore, most of this interaction occurs through computerized assistants with different personalities that the user can select or customize. Dealing with computers thus becomes more and more like dealing with a human being.
Nope, thank goodness. Cubical life would be unbearable with all my co-workers screaming and gesturing at their computers all day. I don’t think Kurzweil really thought this one through (or maybe he’s never worked in an office environment).
7. Most business transactions or information inquiries involve dealing with a simulated person.
Most? No – it’s limited to very basic transactions and situations where the computer is limited to asking a few very basic yes/no questions (and about a third of the time it has to re-ask the question). Also – it’s less efficient than human interaction, which is why everyone hates it.
8. Most people own more than one PC, though the concept of what a "computer" is has changed considerably: Computers are no longer limited in design to laptops or CPUs contained in a large box connected to a monitor. Instead, devices with computer capabilities come in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes.
Sure. Although the “unexpected shapes” being referred to must be rectangles and the “unexpected sizes” being referred to are tablets and phones.
9. Cables connecting computers and peripherals have almost completely disappeared.
I wish. Wireless exists, but most desktop computers are still tethered by cables (ever heard of a USB?).
10. Rotating computer hard drives are no longer used.
Ha ha! No. Although solid state boot drives are on the rise they are still much, much more expensive.
11. Three-dimensional nanotube lattices are the dominant computing substrate.
I don’t know what the hell this means, though it sounds kind of cool. But no. The dominant computing substrate is still silicon (and it’s the only commercial substrate).
12. Massively parallel neural nets and genetic algorithms are in wide use.
Nope. Artificial intelligence has yet to come to fruition. Maybe someday.
13. Destructive scans of the brain and noninvasive brain scans have allowed scientists to understand the brain much better. The algorithms that allow the relatively small genetic code of the brain to construct a much more complex organ are being transferred into computer neural nets.
Not really. We have MRI but the information it provides is quite crude (where’s the blood flowing). I’m not quite sure what he’s getting at with that last claim, but neural nets really aren’t much of a thing outside university labs.
14. Pinhead-sized cameras are everywhere.
Pinhead? Nope. Everywhere? Nope.
15. Nanotechnology is more capable and is in use for specialized applications, yet it has not yet made it into the mainstream. "Nanoengineered machines" begin to be used in manufacturing.
Nanotechnology is another of those overly hyped technologies we’ve been hearing about forever, but the breakthroughs are always 5-10 years in the future.
16. Thin, lightweight, handheld displays with very high resolutions are the preferred means for viewing documents. The aforementioned computer eyeglasses and contact lenses are also used for this same purpose, and all download the information wirelessly.
Sure, but cell phones and digital displays were around in 1999 (I had one of those PDA thingies for example), so I don’t think this is much of a prediction. There he goes again with the ‘glasses’. This part is wrong outside of a few glassholes, but we certainly have wireless.
17. Computers have made paper books and documents almost completely obsolete.
I’m surrounded by paper documents as I type this. But I think this is certainly the trend. Digital books outsold paper a few years ago.
18. Most learning is accomplished through intelligent, adaptive courseware presented by computer-simulated teachers. In the learning process, human adults fill the counselor and mentor roles instead of being academic instructors. These assistants are often not physically present, and help students remotely.
Most?!? Not even close.
19. Students still learn together and socialize, though this is often done remotely via computers.
Often? No. Sometimes? Yes.
20. All students have access to computers.
Sure. I had “access to a computer” in high school in 1982, so this isn’t really much of a prediction.
21. Most human workers spend the majority of their time acquiring new skills and knowledge.
No. We spend most of our time doing work.
22. Blind people wear special glasses that interpret the real world for them through speech. Sighted people also use these glasses to amplify their own abilities.
What the f*ck is it with Kurzweil and glasses? Nope.
23. Retinal and neural implants also exist, but are in limited use because they are less useful.
Crude retinal implants exist, I think the most high tech one at the moment has 1,500 pixels, but they aren’t terribly useful. Same with neural implants they are crude and often stop working due to scarring.
24. Deaf people use special glasses that convert speech into text or signs, and music into images or tactile sensations. Cochlear and other implants are also widely used.
Jesus – get a room with your glasses if you love them so much for Christ’s sake. Nope.
25. People with spinal cord injuries can walk and climb steps using computer-controlled nerve stimulation and exoskeletal robotic walkers.
Not really. I’ve seen a few prototypes, but nothing is in production. Most use a wheelchair.
26. Computers are also found inside of some humans in the form of cybernetic implants. These are most commonly used by disabled people to regain normal physical faculties (e.g. Retinal implants allow the blind to see and spinal implants coupled with mechanical legs allow the paralyzed to walk).
27. Language translating machines are of much higher quality, and are routinely used in conversations.
The first part is a definite “yes”! They aren’t “routinely used in conversations” though.
28. Effective language technologies (natural language processing, speech recognition, speech synthesis) exist.
A hit! Speech recognition is fairly robust and has been proliferated fairly widely.
29. Anyone can wirelessly access the internet with wearable devices such as computerized glasses, contacts, and watches.
If you have the money and you’re within cell phone service you can access the internet with your phone. ~glasses~ … again.
30. Traditional computers and communication devices such as desktop PCs, laptops, and cell phones still exist, but most of their functions can be performed by wearable gadgets. Examples include reading books, listening to music, watching movies, playing games, and teleconferencing.
Wearable gadgets? I’ve never read a book or watched a movie with something I’ve worn. I bet he means the frigging glasses thing again.
31. Devices that deliver sensations to the skin surface of their users (e.g. tight body suits and gloves) are also sometimes used in virtual reality to complete the experience. "Virtual sex"—in which two people are able to have sex with each other through virtual reality, or in which a human can have sex with a "simulated" partner that only exists on a computer—becomes a reality.
No. Futurists have been talking about this forever though.
32. Just as visual- and auditory virtual reality have come of age, haptic technology has fully matured and is completely convincing, yet requires the user to enter a V.R. booth. It is commonly used for computer sex and remote medical examinations. It is the preferred sexual medium since it is safe and enhances the experience.
Not even close (cue the collective sigh of disappointment from the involuntarily celibate nerds).
33. Worldwide economic growth has continued. There has not been a global economic collapse.
Oopsie … except for that little global economic collapse in 2008. Otherwise I buy this one.
34. The vast majority of business interactions occur between humans and simulated retailers, or between a human's virtual personal assistant and a simulated retailer.
What is a “simulated retailer”? People certainly shop on line, but I wouldn’t consider a shopping cart icon on a web site a “simulated retailer”. Nope.
35. Household robots are ubiquitous and reliable.
Nope. The whole ‘robot’ thing has also been used a bit in sci-fi, but like jet packs, I’m still waiting. We have Roombas though.
36. Computers do most of the vehicle d0riving—humans are in fact prohibited from driving on highways unassisted. Furthermore, when humans do take over the wheel, the onboard computer system constantly monitors their actions and takes control whenever the human drives recklessly. As a result, there are very few transportation accidents.
Nope. This is beginning to occur, but self-driving cars still have the unfortunate tendency to run people over. This is coming though, and I for one can’t wait.
37. Most roads now have automated driving systems—networks of monitoring and communication devices that allow computer-controlled automobiles to safely navigate.
Nope, I wish it were here though.
38. Prototype personal flying vehicles using microflaps exist. They are also primarily computer-controlled.
Ha ha! Where’s my fucking jetpack!
39. Humans are beginning to have deep relationships with automated personalities, which hold some advantages over human partners. The depth of some computer personalities convinces some people that they should be accorded more rights.
My cell phone is my besty ... not.
40. Most decisions made by humans involve consultation with machine intelligence. For example, a doctor may seek the advice of a digital assistant. A lawyer might utilize a virtual researcher. Or a shopper may receive recommendations from a software program that has learned his or her shopping habits.
Nope. Although I’ve become an expert at ignoring annoying adverts based on my web browsing habits.
41. While a growing number of humans believe that their computers and the simulated personalities they interact with are intelligent to the point of human-level consciousness, experts dismiss the possibility that any could pass the Turing Test.
42. Human-robot relationships begin as simulated personalities become more convincing.
43. Interaction with virtual personalities becomes a primary interface.
44. Public places and workplaces are ubiquitously monitored to prevent violence and all actions are recorded permanently. Personal privacy is a major political issue, and some people protect themselves with unbreakable computer codes.
Kind of. There are certainly quite a few cameras in public places and privacy is certainly an issue (thanks to crappy software security and the fact that companies are so easily hacked).
45. The basic needs of the underclass are met. (Not specified if this pertains only to the developed world or to all countries)
Depends what you mean by ‘basic needs’. Food insecurity is still a big problem in the U.S. More so in developing countries.
46. Virtual artists—creative computers capable of making their own art and music—emerge in all fields of the arts.
Nope. There are certainly digital artists, but each is a human using a computer as their tool for creativity. There have been some experiments with computer generated art (such as music), but it universally sucks.
47. Most flying weapons are bird-sized robots. Some are as small as insects.
The Predator drone is the size of small airplane. Nope.
48. Average life expectancy is over 100.
Not even close! In fact life expectancy is falling in the U.S. thanks to the fact that we do not have universal health care.
49. Computerized watches, clothing, and jewelry can monitor the wearers health continuously. They can detect many types of diseases and offer recommendations for treatment.
Fitbits and Apple watches monitor basic functions like heart rate and sleep. They cannot detect “many types of diseases”.
CONCLUSION: You can judge for yourself. I'd also like to point out that MY prediction in 2010 that "His predictions for 20 and 30 years will prove to be more wildly off the mark." Was EXACTLY RIGHT. Clearly, I'm the one who should be the futurist while Kurzweil should spend less time fethishizing about glasses.
I talked to a good friend of mine today at brunch who has a PhD in cellular and molecular biology about some of the science and the futurisms in Kurzweil's book. My friend said immediately, "he sounds like a physicist, and those crazy physicists will invent things like the particles that don't know which way they are going until they are 'observed' because they don't know what is really happening." I said, "it's like a physicist's version of the "god of the gaps." And he agreed. Of course, being in a carbon-based field, he may be slightly prejudiced against a non-carbon-based orientation. I wonder what Solomon would have to say about Kurzweil's theories. I was really annoyed to be tricked into realizing that I am a "Luddite" on the future by agreeing with a well-reasoned essay, only to find out I was agreeing with, yes, Ted Kazinski (with out the bombs).
After getting to the end of the book and the future that sounds worse than any heaven or hell invented by any theist any where, I looked up one of my favorite Swinburne poems to comfort myself in my carbon-based reality. Here is the ending of the poem:
Swinburne, The Garden of Proserpine
From too much love of living, From hope and fear set free, We thank with brief thanksgiving Whatever gods may be That no life lives forever; That dead men rise up never; That even the weariest river Winds somewhere safe to sea.
Arthur C. Clarke's 3rd law holds that "any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic." While we know this technology is currently being developed, on schedule, it's simply difficult to imagine the implications for humanity without it seeming somehow contrived. "Deus ex machina;" so it comes to this.
Again, while I am convinced the premises are valid and the argument is sound, and therefore accept his projections as nearly true, it does not make them easier to believe. And yet, as Mark Twain said, "truth is stranger than fiction." The truth is not bound by plausibility.
Ultimately, my esteem for this book is derived primarily from Kurzweil's apparently thorough research prior to extrapolation, not to mention the fact that his projections have been vindicated through the decades.
My lack of esteem is mostly due to his intoxication with the possibilities of the utopian world. This becomes more apparent toward the end of the book. To me, it smells like a religious mindset, which clouds judgment. Many futurists tend toward the same utopian fantasy, and I among them, but I think we should resist it by choice of pragmatic virtue and epistemic fidelity.
Call me a wet blanket, I don't care. My concern is to be right as often as possible, which often requires being wrong, and religious devotion to any idea precludes the latter.
Regardless, I think Kurzweil's projections are accurate enough to be a viable technologist's almanac. Get ready for a strange future.
Kurzweil wrote this book in 1999. I regret to inform you that it has not aged terribly well to a reader like me in 2020. The book's predictions for the years 2009 and 2019 contain a lot of wishful thinking. Most of the good stuff that he predicted for 2019 is probably still decades or even centuries away. My disappointment is personal. I really wish that the year 2019 would have been how K. imagines it - with massively increased life spans, the practical abolition of keyboards, silicon chips in our clothes and walls (!), and androids just about ready to pass the Turing Test! Even where he correctly estimated the nature of change - for example regarding the increasing ubiquity of smart devices and the increasing presence of virtual reality - his time scale is way off.
So, the book fails as prophecy. But it has value as semi-grounded Utopian literature. Nobody can predict the future but Kurzweil has a pretty good grasp of some of the major technological trends of our life time. Exponential growth will likely dominate the next hundred years. Economic growth will have to face several ecological and other crises but is likely to accelerate. However, will this be good for us? Kurzweil assumes so. But there are several dangers and obstacles that societies and individuals face in taking full advantage of these new technologies. As the only major source of existential worry, Kurzweil discusses the possibility of runaway self-replicating machines as an existential threat. Sadly, he spends less time discussing the serious possibility of dystopian political structures run by humans or androids. As technology improves, the arms race between private encryption and public control will escalate. Governments and corporations will want to manipulate and oppress the population with the help of Big Data and direct surveillance technologies. We are already seeing that happen in China and Silicon Valley, and the future looks less bright.
At the same time, I do believe that Kurzweil is right regarding the LONG TERM trend. Technological development and economic development will both intensify and lead to massive increases in human welfare and happiness. Unless we destroy or permanently enslave/enfeeble ourselves, the combination of A.I., neural network, and algorithmic governance solutions holds the promise to liberate humanity from the persistent bondage of millions of years of evolutionary baggage - at least if it becomes wedded to a liberal democratic framework of permissionless innovation.
So, should you read this book? Not necessarily. There are more up to date books out there. But keep an eye out for the hyper-optimists like Mr. K even in these dark times; they might have the last laugh - especially since our future descendants may well have transcended the concept of laughter by then... in which case the "last laugh" may concretely be the last laugh of humanity - and perhaps the last opportunity to express emotion as we know it. Kurzweil's "last laugh" may yet coincide with the final expiration of the "last man" and their worries. Or maybe we will find some other equilibrium point of development that is less dramatic, where the old human show still goes on, warts and all... In either case, I have no doubt that things will look very different. And Kurzweil will be there to entertain the guests. Or at least someone who looks remarkably like him.
Ray Kurzweil has been accused by some as being incredibly optimistic in his vision for the future of humanity and the computer's that we've created. His predictions, however, have an uncanny way of coming to pass, at least in large part. Spiritual Machines was written in 1999 and speaks of the advances that computers will make in the twenty-first century.
Now, a decade later, it is possible to look at the first of Kurzweil's predictions, helpfully listed out in a chapter labeled "2009" and evaluate them. He missed the mark, badly, on a few things -- we've not yet reached a point where most books are consumed electronically, nor do we interface with out computers mostly through voice -- but he is more often right than wrong, and even when the predictions fall short, it's usually in a way that leaves the reader saying "well, not YET" ... these things will come, they've just been a little slower in getting here than predicted.
Kurzweil is an unapologetic transhumanist - a person who believes that mankind can and should continue the evolutionary process through voluntarily seeking to "upgrade" his own body via technology. Whether this is done by re-engineering cells, creating remedies to sickness at the DNA level, inventing nanobots, or digitizing the human conscience and moving it to a machine reality seems to matter less to Kurzweil than that we continue to pursue all evolutionary options. Indeed, he would likely argue that we not only must force this self-evolution, but that we are incapable of NOT doing it. Even should our machines rise up, Terminator-like, and destroy us all, Kurzweil would still view this only as another evolutionary process. After all, was it not Homo Sapiens' superior intelligence and technology which allowed us to beat out the other human variants, such as the neanderthal?
The Age of Spiritual Machines is an absolutely fascinating book even if you think Kurzweil's a crackpot. I don't. I share the belief that he's an optimist, and that some of the predictions he makes won't come fully to pass, or happen as quickly. Still, I feel that he is able to look at the future with an unflinching eye and, drawing from a wide variety of reputable sources (the footnotes in the book are so voluminous that they take up an entire chapter unto themselves), make many compelling statements about what humankind's ever-advancing technological capabilities may bring.
This was by a wide margin the best book I've read so far this year, and one of the best of the last several years.
ری کورزویل-نویسنده کتاب- خود یکی از فعالان انقلاب فناوری اطلاعات است. اولین نمونه های سیستم های اسکن تشخیص متن و تبدیل متن به گفتار و نیز فعالیت هایی بر روی تلفیق موسیقی و علوم کامپیوتری از اقدامات وی است. با این حال وی نه تنها یک تکنسین صرف، که یک آینده نگار(فیوچریست) نیز هست که بسیاری از پیش بینی های وی به تحقق پیوسته . عمده ترین دیدگاه وی در کتاب حاضر، نظریه ای است که توسط وی توسعه یافته و آن تکامل هوش است. بر طبق این نظریه،از ابتدای خلقت و خصوصاً با ظهور حیات، هوش ناچیز موجود در طبیعت با سرعتی تصاعدی افزایش یافته است تا نهایتاً در انسانها به عنوان هوشمندترین موجودات شناخته شده به ظهور می رسد. اما این همه ماجرا نیست. زیرا انسانها با خلق ماشینهای محاسب (کامپیوترها) نوعی از هوش غیر آلی را سبب شده اند که هرچند در ابتدای کار بسیار ناتوان یا تک بعدی به نظر می رسد، اما می تواند در آینده و براساس فرایندهای تکاملی، چنان توسعه یابد که حتی از خالق خود (انسانها) نیز پیشی گیرد. به باور نویسنده، آنچه در آینده شاهد خواهیم بود، انسانهایی هستند که قدرت فکری خود را با تلفیق با مغزهای کامپیوتری توسعه داده اند و لذا زمانی خواهد رسید که مرز میان انسان و ماشین و انسانهای تلفیق شده با ماشین چنان کمرنگ می شود که ناگزیر خواهیم بود در برداشت خود از مفهوم انسان تجدید نظری اساسی کنیم. شاید این کتاب، تبیینی علمی از آنچه باشد که در فیلم ها یا داستان های علمی-تخیلی شاهدیم، منتها از منظری کاملاً دقیق و منطقی همچنین برخی ملاحظات چنین تغییرهایی و عوارض جانبی چنان پیشرفت های بنیادینی بحث شده است. اگر فریب عنوان کتاب را نخورید و ماشین های معنوی را با ماشین های عارف و مومن! یکی نشمارید، خواندن این کتاب مفید و تا اندازه ای نگران کننده خواهد بود
يتابع هذا الكتاب الشيق التطور الكبير والحاصل في قطاع التكنولوجيا ويستعرض بشكل علمي اعتماداً على التطورات السابقة ويتبنأ بالتطورات القادمة وبالثورة التكنولوجية والتي ستحصل في العقود القادمة ويتحدث عن ماهيتها ومدى تأثيرها في حياة البشر وكيف ستكون سيطرة الآلات الذكية في حياة البشر
After reading this book I was completely giddy about the future. Everything suddenly seemed possible, nothing impossible, all without invoking anything supernatural. This is what I was looking for to replace my lost religion. Ray Kurzweil pointed out the now obvious end result of the rapid exponential advances in computer technology. Others discovered the trends long before but Ray Kurzweil put it all together in one incredibly fun book to read. Kurzweil’s thesis rests on the exponential growth of computer power/memory/speed and the inevitability of computers one day exceeding human level intelligence. As a byproduct all sciences including biology, chemistry, and physics, will progress exponentially as well converging into a technological singularity. This is the event horizon where humans today cannot comprehend what lies beyond because our knowledge, and possibly minds, are currently too feeble. However, Ray Kurzweil still attempts to imagine what lies beyond the singularity and that’s where the book gets fun. Kurzweil imagines a world where anything is possible, which includes living forever, intelligent nanomachines, super machine intelligences, enhancing our brains and bodies beyond recognition, eradicating poverty, living in a utopian society, travelling across the universe with ease, and even creating new universes altogether. It’s fun to imagine and after reading I was a complete believer. However, with time I honed my skeptical skills and tempered my enthusiasm by realizing that this is still all speculation and not science. One thing has not changed though, and that is my excitement for advancing computer technology and the belief that one day man will create a machine that excels in every human activity.
The title of this book is misleading -- this has nothing to do with touchy-feely pseudoscience or religion. Rather it is a convincing preview of the 21st century, based on predictable advances in technology. It's also a useful guide for writers and readers of science fiction. (It makes me better appreciate the vision of Neal Stephenson, especially Diamond Age, where nanomachines pervade the world.)
Most compelling is his description of likely advances over the next 20 years -- where working prototypes of the underlying technology already exist. In this realm, Kurzweil, the entrepreneurial inventor responsible for the Kurzweil Reading machine, the Kurzweil synthesizer, advanced speech recognition, etc., speaks with convincing authority.
"Emerging in late 1998 is the 'tactile mouse,' which operates like a conventional mouse but allows the user to feel the texture of surfaces, objects, even people." (p. 143) "The intelligence of our present-day intelligent computers is narrow, which can provide effective solutions for the narrow deficits of most disabled persons. The restricted intelligence of the machine works effectively with the broad and flexible intelligence of the disabled person... With regard to the major physical and sensory disabilities, I believe that in a couple decades we will come to herald the effective end of handicaps. As amplifiers of human thought, computers have great potential to assist human expression and to expand creativity for all of us." (p. 178)
He sees computer intelligence matching human intelligence within 20 years, and then far surpassing it, with annual doubling of power. First comes virtual reality; then nanotechnology where the reality is "real." (This sounds like Star Trek's holodeck not with holograms but with physical objects and intelligent "people" assembled instantaneously by nanotechnology.)
By 2099, his predictions become sci-fi-like. People are "software" which can be instantiated in other kinds of bodies, including nanotech ones; with everyone having (by law) several backup copies of the "software" (memories and thinking patterns) that is their identity; where there is no reason for anyone to die (in the biological sense); where human and machine minds exist together on the same universal network.
Kurzweil tells his story in the broadest possible terms, beginning (like Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time) with the creation of the universe in the first second of the Big Bang, and presenting his underlying thesis in terms of the relationship of entropy and evolution, order and disorder. He formulates and clearly explains three basic laws of nature:
The law of time and chaos: "In a process, the time interval between salient events (i.e., events that change the nature of the process, or significantly affect the future of the process) expands or contracts along with the amount of chaos." The law of increasing chaos: "As chaos exponentially increases, time exponentially slows down (i.e., the time interval between salient events grows longer as time passes.) The law of accelerating returns: "As order exponentially increases, time exponentially speeds up (i.e., the interval between salient events grows shorter as time passes.)
Kurzweil sees the advance of technology is the inevitable continuation of the evolutionary process. Moore's law about the frequency at which computer power has doubled over the last few decades is presented as a subset of a more far-reaching principle, which provides the basis for broad, fascinating, and credible 21st century predictions.
The future he paints has enormous risks as well as opportunities. Imagine "nanopathogens," the 21st century edition of today's computer viruses, and imagine the mischief that creative villains could wreak at a time when people (all people) "live" as software in computer networks. He also points out the possibility that in a world in which people are just software, a handful of minds/entities might decide that there was no need for ten billion such entities, and might decide to eliminate the masses, seeing them as an inefficient expenditure of resources. This sounds like great material for sci-fi. But should we as individuals worry about possibilities that are so far off in the future? Well, if we believe Kurzweil, people who are teenagers today, might well still be in their prime when mankind passes the technology/evolutionary threshold and ordinary people become virtually "immortal" -- with the opportunity to "live" well beyond the 21st century, if disaster (deliberate or accidental) does not intervene.
At times thought-provoking and intriguing, but ultimately unconvincing.
The words of Douglas Hofstadter pretty much summarize what I think of this book: "it's a very bizarre mixture of ideas that are solid and good with ideas that are crazy. It's as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can't possibly figure out what's good or bad."
Why am I not convinced? Well, the exponential growth of computing power over the last 100 years is hardly deniable. Extrapolating that trend and predicting that it is will continue for some time is reasonable. But my crap detector starts to go off when Kurzweil goes from there to assert that computers will exceed human intelligence (causing a technological singularity in the not-so-distant future) and to make all those overly-optimistic transhumanistic predictions. For me, the main problem is equating computing power with intelligence. To quote Steven Pinker, "sheer processing power is not a pixie dust that magically solves all your problems." My current view is that the "brain as a computer" is a very powerful and useful metaphor, but it's still a metaphor: the brain is not a computer. And as Jaron Lanier puts it, "the distance between recognizing a great metaphor and treating it as the only metaphor is the same as the distance between humble science and dogmatic religion."
Other than that, I was mainly disappointed to see that Kurzweil did not discuss different or opposing views adequately (as he apparently does in The Singularity is Near, in which he devotes a whole chapter to respond to critics). For example, he discussed the views of Roger Penrose in less than two pages, and he did not even mention John Searle other than in a footnote and in the Suggested Readings list.
So, until further notice, I will remain in the collective camp of Searle, Penrose, Lanier, and the like despite its shortcomings because I find it more convincing. (Or could it be that I find it more comfortable because it agrees more with the way I want the world to be? Perish the thought!)
In short, I would recommend skipping this book (unless you want to judge for yourself how Kurzweil's predictions for 2009 have fared) and, if you insist on reading Kurzweil, to try instead his later book, where he actually responds to critics (but, as I haven't read it yet, I don't guarantee it will be more convincing).
P.S. I can't help but to draw a parallel to projects such as FuturICT, in which it is hoped that by throwing enough data at the problem, "we might be able to construct models of complicated phenomena even when we don't have any underlying laws on which to build them." But as David Weinberger notes in "The Machine That Would Predict the Future", "the practical difficulties quickly turn exponential. There is always another layer of detail, always another factor that may prove critical in the final accounting; without a prior understanding of how humans operate, we cannot know when our accounting is final." (On a side note, this throw-more-data-at-it also reminds me of the throw-more-hardware-at-it mentality in software development.)
Wow. I'd heard about this book for years and was familiar enough with the theory of singularity, but I just kept wishing I had read this sooner. It made me realize that I should make a point of reading more books written by geniuses.
This book is prophetic. By now, many of Kurzweil's predictions have been realized (the fact that his predictions on wearable personal computers, electronic books, and text-to-speech technology were read to me by my Kindle device, which I had stowed in my coat pocket made a particular impression on me).
This book is startling and riveting. In my opinion Kurzweil is a bit overoptimistic with a kind of we'll-cross-that-bridge-when-we-get-there attitude, especially around the grey goo/self-replicating nanovirus scenario. Personally, I also have an extremely difficult time reconciling fears and philosophical objections with the transfer of consciousness/original body destruction scenarios (another area where he sort of just suggests that it will become so common as to just be accepted without second thought).
In other areas his prediction timeline has obviously already failed, but usually in a way that you can make concessions for ("well, this may have happened if it weren't for x or "well, we're almost there but not quite yet"). Retinal projection for virtual reality visualization and haptic systems come to mind. Regardless of some misses, many of the trends outlined can't be ignored and this book should probably hold a place on the reading lists of leading business schools for students to learn to recognize emerging industries.
This book certainly left me with plenty to think about, and feelings of both amazement at the explosive rate of progress in human innovation and despair about the changing but ever-present human condition.
The Age of Spiritual Machines, while seeming perhaps too optimistic when read with 2016 eyes, is nonetheless an exciting adventure to the limits of imagination. It lays out in (keeping in mind the pop-science genre) relatively technical detail the means with which our technology will develop, and the impacts these developments will have on our environment, businesses, art, and relationships. It is akin to stepping inside a museum of the future; the technocracies of Hollywood pale in comparison to the sprawling technical Utopia that Kurzweil has curated.
It is very rewarding when he nails a prediction (such as foreseeing smartphones, learning as a job unto itself, information as primary resource) and forgivable when he does not (he anticipated a far greater popularity for wearable such as the Fitbit, guessing that by 2009 these would be ubiquitous and built into virtually all accessories). If read to learn technically, a reader might find it too surface level (neural nets and the like are introduced, and the high level means to construct them is described), but this is not the real forte of the book. Instead, this book should be read as a sort of imagination catalyst, particularly for those of us who still think of computers as essentially static in their form and function.
Of particular delight were Kurzweil's personal endeavors in the field (and although I initially thought his self-titled software was a little 'self-promotionish', further research indicates that he really undersells his achievements if anything). He speaks from the perspective of an excited child but with the skills of a practiced technician. It is the vivacity of the language and excitement for the future that really cemented the book as a fun, amusement park of a read.
Great book. Definitely one that I will return to, most likely a few times. One reason for that will be that Kurzweil has a habit of quickly accelerating into the realm of mind-bending, especially in his theoretical discussions. While those were mentally taxing to fully wrap my brain around, even the most complex ones were short and succinct.
The most striking takeaway is Kurzweil's conception of technology as a continuation of "evolution by other means." Besides oblique reference to Uncle Carl, he makes a convincing case for what otherwise might seem a bit "kooky." For Kurzweil, the evolution of technology is nothing more than a continuation of the evolution of humanity, which itself is the most advanced product of evolution on the earth writ large.
No matter one's stance on his argument overall, his questions regarding the nature of intelligence and sentience vis-a-vis computers is extraordinarily thought-provoking and will doubtless one day play a more central role in public discourse than it does now. His reference to Turing's observation that "machine intelligence would become so pervasive, so comfortable, and so well integrated into our information-based economy that people would fail even to notice it" is, if reflected upon for just a moment, remarkably prescient. My own personal "line" that must be crossed to achieve "intelligence" in machines is likely much further out than my grandparents', and likely much closer in than my children's. Kurzweil believes were are at the "knee of the curve" in a path of exponential growth for technology. His argument is solid - he might be right.
Kurzweil looks at history and demostrates to us that the rate of technological progress has always been growing exponentially. And that part of the book, part one, is a lot of fun to read. Borrow the book, read this section and enjoy.
But where Kurzweil wants to go with this is into the future. And here you have to keep in mind that the book was written in 1998 so we're part of the future he's looking into. And, like many before him, not only does he not get a home run with every hit, he doesn't even get a hit every time he makes contact with the ball. But the main problem that I had with Part 3, To Face the Future, was that I found the whole section kind of boring. Our author is a better writer as a historian than as a tea-leaf reader.
The book is about machines, humanity and the ties that closely bind us. Where this is headed should make for fascinating speculation but it's entirely possible that the speculation should be left to the fiction writers. I love a good science fiction story. Maybe I'll stick with that for my glimpses into the future.
A lot of people who read this book seem to focus on the predictions that haven't come to pass, such as machines regularly passing the Turing test by 2019. (It hasn't happened, unless you count Twitter bots, but I think we've figured out those by now.) I didn't care much about the missed timelines, or even the future ones. I read it less as a predictor and more a book about what's possible. I feel like you could fashion a hundred Black Mirror episodes from this. And some of it IS eerily correct, like the importance of evolutionary algorithms, which I do think are swaying us and taking over our lives. The future of singularity, to me, seems less Ex Machina and way more subtle.
And, of course, I dig this quote, made famous by "In Repair" by Our Lady Peace:
"The year is 2029. The machines will convince us that they are conscious, that they have their own agenda worthy of our respect. They’ll embody human qualities. They’ll claim to be human, and we’ll believe them."
I put this on my to-read list and it magically appeared on my desk at work a few days later! It’s good to have friends who read…thank you JG!
It wasn’t an easy book for me to read but by then I had made my goal of 50 so I dove in. I enjoyed his theories on how evolution is speeding up while the changes in the universe seem to be slowing down. It was a little hard to wrap my brain around it, but I appreciated it. He lost me in the philosophical sections but that’s on me – I’ve never been into philosophy.
But! His predictions are pretty solid. I mean, I’m not eating things so that people can track my movement, but I do carry a tiny computer that pings out my location if I allow it to. And probably even if I don’t. Throughout the book, Kurzweil converses with Molly, a stand-in for the reader. Molly moves through time as Kurzweil remains in 1998 and she reports back the changes that are happening around her and to her.
The book is all wonderful and great, with author making solid theories about his future predictions, evolution of technology. But that's the thing. Much like the quote he used: will the Universe end with a crack or a squeak? So did the book end with be it a crack or a squeak. We start with solid stuff, and we end up in 2099, a fantastical setting of Detroit: Become Human, on the verge of considering android civil rights, basically. And while he explained that train of thought well, to me this is still going form non-fiction, to science-fiction, which felt as a derailing of sorts.
The book is good, easy to read and understand, but still full of food for thought. I can give it a solid 4 out of 5, for you might not mind the "so now, let's daydream about the future" the way I did.
Singularity AI stuff or Rapture for geeks. The argument is the computational power will eventually surpass human intelligence and Kurzweil who seems to love Moore's law and other exponential extrapolations think it will happen sooner than you think. He thought at the time it was gonna be great as other rich inventor icons seem to think. I will say the view looks a little different here on the ground. Make me a billionaire and maybe I will change my mind.
This was way beyond my comfort zone and entirely out of my scope of knowledge, so it took a long time to get through it while trying to actually retain some of the information. Kurzweil added narratives to include the layman, like me, in the reading, breaking things down a bit which I found very helpful (and sometimes humourous). I borrowed this book through an interlibrary loan after I learned it was the inspiration behind the Canadian band Our Lady Peace’s album called Spiritual Machines. Now I’m gonna hunt down the album and give it a listen. I also learned they released a follow-up album called Spiritual Machines II just last year.
An interesting focus on AI, not quite like anything else I've read or am reading at the moment. The writing style is unique and I've enjoyed reading it so far but I, unfortunately, never finished this book (didn't bring it with me when I moved). I hope to pick back up on it at the library sometime.
The author seems to think his predictions are of a much improved world, but somehow he ends up writing a dystopian fiction. As bad as real 2020 has been, I'm glad I don't live in Kurzweil's imagined 2020.