In this book, Ray Kurzweil, a renowned inventor and futurist, presents a view of the future that is both beautifully optimistic and shockingly unbelieIn this book, Ray Kurzweil, a renowned inventor and futurist, presents a view of the future that is both beautifully optimistic and shockingly unbelievable, at least at first glance. In the past, Ray has been very successful at predicting future technological trends from past performance, and so it will be interesting to see how his predictions pan (or don’t pan) out.
Ray’s predictions are based upon the future performance of three main technological trends, what he calls GNR, which stands for Genetics (including the rest of the biotech industry), Nanotechnology (especially including molecular manufacturing), and Robotics (including all the improvements in computational power and eventually encompassing “Strong AI”). As a computer scientist, I am not really qualified to comment much on the feasibility of his predictions regarding Genetics and Nanotechnology. However, I can attempt to comment somewhat on his predictions in the realm of computing.
In the realm of computational improvements, his predictions are remarkably well founded in past trends that have continued for a very long time. The reasoning goes like this: because computational advances in the past have followed a very smooth and consistent trajectory over long periods of time, they may well continue on those trajectories into the future. Most surprising? These past rates of advancement are all exponential, which leads to amazingly rapid future advancement, advancement that can very quickly reach levels that boggle the mind, or the brain, quite literally (more on this later). Of course, there are many things that could prevent this continuation, especially “hitting the limit” of what we can produce. However, Kurzweil is correct that there are very good reasons to believe that we are nowhere near those limits, and so that is unlikely to be a reason why these trends would not continue, at least for a good long while.
If advancements in computer technology continue into the future at anywhere near the rates we have seen in the past, then it would be difficult for his predictions in this one area to not be at least somewhat accurate. Indeed, the book was released in 2005, and (as of this writing) the last six years of computational progress have unfolded EXACTLY as predicted. So far so good. Whether or not that continues remains to be seen. Because the trend is exponential, future improvement will be MUCH more drastic than past, again, IF they continue. Even if they don’t, it was well worth the read to be made more fully aware of these trends. Indeed, even if they do not continue, the reason for that failure will be all the more interesting to me after having read this book. How far along his predictions for the future we get will depend on just how long these exponential improvements can be maintained, which is a fascinating and engaging question.
So, what do these predictions in computing power mean for the future? Well, quite simply, they mean that we will have the computing power to simulate the functionality of a human brain on our super computers by around 2013. In fact, last time I looked at the list of the top 500 super computers performance, we could arguably perform a functional simulation of a human brain today depending on your assessment of the computation needed for a functional simulation of the brain, which should be somewhere from 10^14 to 10^16 CPS (we have reached the lower of these two numbers now). By about 2035 our super computers should reach the approximately 10^19 CPS needed to not only simulate the functionality of the brain, but to simulate every dendritic connection in the brain. Similarly, by about 2030-2035, a $1000 desktop computer should be able to do the functional simulation, while our super computers will have far more computing power than does a single human mind. Because the improvement is exponential, by about 2050 a simple $1000 desktop computer should be able to simulate the functionality of all human brains on the planet! And THAT is impressive. Especially since most of us should still be around to see, or not see, this take place.
I did a similar computation to his back in 2001 or so. Back then, my predictions were almost identical to his, and have continued right on course. Again, so far.
Another fascinating question involves whether we will be able to take advantage of all that computing power in order to create something truly intelligent. Again, there is really good reasons to believe that we will (see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetec...).
However, when things get into the biological and nanotechnological realms, Ray becomes less convincing. As I have said before, the strength of his computing predictions rest on his ability to show clear and smooth trends through past performance improvements. But, in my opinion, he fails to do this with either nanotechnology or biotechnology. Now, the trends might indeed exist, but he failed to convince me of that fact using the data in his book. And this is important, because almost ALL of his really grandiose predictions require the production of molecular manufacturing. He tries to provide a trend that I could use to see that the size of our machines is shrinking exponentially. There is one graph to this effect on p. 82, but it is actually NOT LABELED. You have no idea WHAT device is getting smaller, or if the size of this device has anything to do with molecular manufacturing. If you go to the web page, it turns out to be transistor size that this graph is showing. But it is unfortunate that you have to search his web page for this information. And then, after you have this information, you are left to wonder if our improvements in transistor sizes will have any bearing on the sizes of our manufacturing machines. You certainly can’t extrapolate a trend from transistor size to predict when molecular manufacturing will become available. He does successfully show that the nanotechnology industry is growing exponentially in terms of its size, money spent, and the number of scholarly citations per year, but again, none of that will allow me to project to a time when molecular manufacturing will be possible.
He claims that “We are shrinking the key feature size of technology, in accordance with the law of accelerating returns, at the exponential rate of approximately a factor of four per linear dimension per decade.” Well, he may well be right, but he didn’t prove that to me in the book. Did he get that idea JUST from the shrinking of transistor sizes? But different technologies could be shrinking at different rates. They might not, but he didn’t provide the data that would allow me to be sure. He also failed to show how big our current “self replicating” devices are (do we have any besides computer viruses), so we could place them somewhere on the trend. In any event, he predicts that the nanotechnology revolution will take off in the 2020’s if current trends continue. But unfortunately, he gave me no way of verifying that claim. It may be true, and I am not claiming that it is not true, but I am saying that I don’t have enough data tell from just reading his book. And, as I said before, this is a major problem because so much of his theory of the future depends on his prediction for when molecular manufacturing will become available.
In conclusion, the writing was good, but not great, only about three stars. Nevertheless, given the content of the book, given the import of the information, given the profound shift in world view it proposes and reasonably defends, and given Ray’s infectious optimism, the book scores five stars even with its occasional faults.
Everyone should be forced to face the realities of exponential growth, and see what those trends would predict if they continued, even if those trends do not continue. ...more
Not as good as Armageddon's Children, but not bad. It begins to loose the feel of the "Running With the Demon" series, and is picking up the feel of tNot as good as Armageddon's Children, but not bad. It begins to loose the feel of the "Running With the Demon" series, and is picking up the feel of the Shannara series. ...more
I highly recommend Stephen Batchelor's excellent book "Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening" to anyone struggling to find peaceI highly recommend Stephen Batchelor's excellent book "Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening" to anyone struggling to find peace and meaning in life without any reference to a belief in the super natural. Stephen Batchelor is an atheist. But he also admits, frankly, to being an atheist Buddhist (a member of a religion), and finds nothing incompatible in those claims. This book does an excellent job describing a form of Buddhism that can be practiced without any supernatural or dogmatic beliefs. It is an excellent work on how to synthesize Buddhism with a lack of belief in the supernatural.
Batchelor finds Buddhism completely compatible with a non-belief in the super natural elements of reincarnation and Karma, and suggests that a modern Buddhist could theoretically reject those elements of the earlier tradition. He reminds his readers that the Buddha himself suggested that we need not accept everything in his tradition to be a Buddhist, and that the central teachings of the Buddha involved the nature of suffering, and the mechanisms whereby we may overcome suffering. The other elements such as reincarnation and karma have always been considered as appendages to the core teachings, appendages that Batchelor suggests we can reject if we so choose, while remaining within the large umbrella of Buddhism.
However, he also outlines a way of viewing those ideas without reference to any sort of un-scientific world view. After all, we are all dying and being reborn in some ways every moment of our lives (which can be viewed as a form of reincarnation), and there is a sense in which things have natural consequences, (which can be viewed as a non super natural version of the law of karma).
Batchelor's book is related to Sam Harris' book "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion" (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...). However, Batchelor spends less time than Harris in off topic railings against the foolishness of every other religion but his. Batchelor also seems to recognize (in a way that Harris does not) that spirituality also needs community (the Sangha). And that once you add the Sangha to spirituality, the result is religion. So, instead of advocating for spirituality without religion (as Harris does), he instead advocates for religion (Buddhism) without dogmatic beliefs in the supernatural.
What Harris does best is provide an insider's view of how neuroscience relates to the practice. And what Batchelor does best, is describe how to actually practice and participate in a religion (Buddhism) without reference to any super natural belief....more
I originally wrote this as a response to someone else's review. I think that it would also make a good review in its own right, so I am also posting iI originally wrote this as a response to someone else's review. I think that it would also make a good review in its own right, so I am also posting it here. First, let me briefly review the content of the review I was responding to. Their review said that they didn't like the book because they felt that it was "digging up dirt" on the prophet, and they quoted several of the brethren saying that this would be a bad idea. They pointed out that they believed that Joseph was a "hero" and that by portraying Joseph as a man and not as a hero, the book was un-faithful to Joseph. The following was my response to those thoughts:
I have spoken to Richard Bushman about his book at a symposium about helping people who's faith has been damaged by anti-Mormon propaganda. I believe that his purpose wasn't to "dig up dirt" on the prophet to show that he was "human." I agree with all the quotes he gave that implied that such an approach isn't usually a good course. However, since we are living in a world where many other people are digging up such "dirt" it isn't healthy for the enemies of the prophet to be the only ones talking about the difficult questions. When that happens, people lose their testimonies. We need good people who can honestly say, "ya, I know that about Joseph, and I believe he is a prophet anyway." From what Bushman said at the symposium, I believe that this was his motivation and purpose, and I believe that he did a good job. If you already have questions about Joseph, then this is a great resource to find answers to your questions. Sticking our collective heads in the sand is not helpful for anyone's testimony. I believe that Richard Bushman and his book, have saved the testimonies of many many people, many of them people I know.
Of course there is a danger here, in missionary speak, we don't want to "raise" the concern in order to "resolve" the concern. If you leave a cow-pie alone, it scabs over, but if you repeatedly kick it, then it stinks forever. Therefore, there must be a balance. The real question is, did Richard Bushman hit that balance? I believe that the answer to that question depends on what you think the purpose of the book was.
If he was writing for the Church, or primarily for church members, I would agree with you that he missed the mark. On the other hand, "No Man Knows My History" (essentially an anti-Mormon book) has been the standard textbook in American History classes that deal with Joseph. If Richard was trying to write a balanced textbook to replace "No Man Knows My History" in such classes, one that non-members would accept and actually be willing to use as a replacement for their un-balanced current book, then he succeeded, and did so brilliantly! If he had instead shared his testimony, then they would not have been willing to use the book. He has a testimony, and shares it often, but in other places and for other audiences. It is all about who his intended audience was. Many non-members will now be getting a much more favourable view of the Prophet than they otherwise would have been getting.
He also succeeded brilliantly if his audience was members of the Church who have questions about Joseph raised by enemies of the Lord's Prophet. Many members are now getting their questions about the prophet answered by someone who can say "yes, that happened, but does that really mean that Joseph wasn't a prophet?" Often what happens instead is that someone with a question who asks for answer is given the a response from a well meaning but ignorant member that goes something like: "I have never heard that before! It must be a lie!" Usually this is followed by the questioner turning to the history, only to find out that it isn't a lie, and really did happen. Then our questioning member feels lied to not by enemies of the Church, but by the Church itself, and then they leave the Church. This just should not happen. As a teacher of the Gospel, the book has been remarkably helpful for me, and has helped me to be better prepared to answer my student's questions.
If Bushman had written another biography that praised all of Joseph's successes and ignored all the hard questions, (and we already have plenty of those) then the secular world would still be using "No Man Knows My History" and believers with questions about the first vision, seer-stones, treasure hunting, polygamy, and the restoration of the endowment, would still have no sympathetic source to go to. The enemies of the Church would again be the only people dealing with the hard questions. What a shame that would be!
In the end, the world is better off because Bushman wrote this biography. Bushman's purpose wasn't to "dig up dirt" on the prophet, but rather to point out that the "dirt" that has already been dug up really isn't as bad as people sometimes think. Once it is placed in its historical context, and once we see Joseph as a man, then the so called "dirt" isn't such a big deal, and we can get back to the work of thinking of Joseph as the Prophet of God, and the "Hero" that he was.
Information comes from bibliographies, certainty comes from the Spirit of God and in no other way. I know that Joseph was a prophet of God because the Spirit of God has told me that this is true. What I now have because of Brother Bushman's wonderful bibliography is more information about Joseph's life.
Some have suggested censuring people, and preventing them from writing such biographies, thinking that this will save testimonies, but I believe that Bushman's book will help more people's testimonies than it will hurt. Further, if you believe that Bushman got Joseph's life wrong then the answer is that we need more biographies being written, not less. The great thing about biographies, is that if you disagree with the conclusions of one, by all means, write your own. As someone who has written and published a bit about Church topics, I know how hard it can be to do a good job, make everyone happy, and say the right things for your intended audience without offending some other audience. Let's see if you can do a better job! If you can, I will be happy to give your biography a good review too :-)...more