Neelesh Marik's Reviews > The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil
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Aug 09, 2011

For anyone interested in, and/or connected to the world of technology, this opus by Ray Kurzweil will be an immensely enjoyable read. The author is an inventor, entrepreneur, thinker, futurist but most importantly an exponent of the evolutionary school of ‘Transhumanism’, which celebrates the power and the process of emerging technologies changing the very definition of what it means to be human.

The basic premise of the book is what is called the ‘Law of accelerating returns’, mathematically empiricized through a large number of logarithmic plots of data. The exponential growth in the price-performance equation of computation (originally trend-set by the famous Moore’s law) is applicable to a wide range of technologies in the information revolution of the 21st century. The three salient ones are: genetics or biotechnology which exponentially increases the capacity and performance in the field of biology, nanotechnology which brings about mastery to materials and mechanical systems, and finally robotics or ‘strong AI’ which reverse engineers the human brain and combines the resulting insights in increasingly powerful computational platforms.

The future GNR (genetics, nanotech and robotics) will not come about from the exponential explosion of computation alone, but rather the interplay and enormous synergies emerging from the intertwined technological advances, ultimately leading to what the author calls the ‘Singularity’, a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability wherein all biological limitations will be transcended. He even postulates a date for this: namely the year 2045 when the non-biological intelligence created will be 1 billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today!

In his fascinating thought process of establishing how this will happen, the author deals with many related and contrarian viewpoints and insightfully analyses their implications: the information based theory of physics proposed by Edward Fredkin and Stephen Wolfram and the gymnastics of the cellular automata, the paradigm of Three-Dimensional Molecular Computing and related technologies, the anthropic principle and the deterministic paradox, chaos and complexity theory, the Church-Turing hypothesis, John Searle’s Chinese room analogy (this particular critique has been near brutal!), William Dembski’s Intelligent Design theory, Bill Joy's Relinquishment advocacy, and of course the Deep Fritz draws of computer chess.

Many people have labelled Kurzweil as a materialist and a reductionist. I do not agree with that – although he is an unstoppable optimist, I think his Chapter 7 demonstrates a deep appreciation of human consciousness and raises some fundamental existential questions about what really constitutes human essence. ‘I am the pattern that water makes in a stream as it pushes past the rocks in its tracks. The actual molecules of water change every millisecond, but the pattern persists for hours or even years’.

Like any pragmatic technologist, a careful consideration of the promise-peril duality of the singularity has been dealt with in Chapter 8.

In summary, this book makes one look forward to reversing or at least arresting the aging process, because there is so much fun to be had in the coming years!


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