The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology The Singularity is Near discussion


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The Likelihood of the Singularity

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message 1: by Jordan (new) - added it

Jordan Catapano Kurzweil's predictions are obviously founded on expert reseach and a unique foresight. The concept of the Singularity and technology's propensity for exponential development is argued very precisely in his book; however, Kurzweil provides little consideration for other factors that influence technology and society, such as war, economics, and just the degree of human inclination for rapid change. I'd like to ask, how truly likely is it that the exponential development of technology Kurzweil forecasts can occur in the real world?


Alex I think you're partially right when saying he doesn't consider other factors. I can see how society will be disinclined to completely adopt the idea that we should all become machines, however I don't think he excludes these considerations completely, but thinks that they won't factor in the final outcome of things to come.

I'm not completely through reading the book and have only stumbled into the 3rd chapter, but I am inclined to get through the rest and see what he's thinking.

To answer your question of likelihood... well, that's a bit tough. I do believe that he's accurate in saying that Biotech, Nanotech and Super AI will nevertheless lead to a greater humanity, but I'm skeptical of the way society will adopt these changes even when there's nothing to hold it back.

As for his estimate of reaching this Singularity within a few decades, well... I don't know. I hope it's within the next 30 years since I may be able to take advantage of it myself :)


Doug Bulleit I've been through this book twice now, and even attended Kurzweil"s Singularity University. And, while I'm convinced that it is, on the whole, an extraordinary work, it also leaves room for reasonable readers to disagree reasonably.
Space here doesn't allow for a lot of elaboration. But, the truly engaged reader may want to get a copy of the newly published DVD documentary THE TRANSCENDENT MAN: it's an excellent profile on Kurzweil but even-handed enough to disclose some of the seams in his "reasoning."


message 4: by Fred (last edited Jan 19, 2013 10:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fred Beshears In my opinion, our desire (and need) to master nature by increasing our collective knowledge and intelligence is what is driving society toward the Singularity. Many dislike the idea of trying to master nature and would prefer to live in harmony with nature instead. The folks in this camp tend to believe if we could limit our desire for mindless consumption, society could transition to a stationary state economy and avoid the environmental collapse that comes, they fear, from unlimited growth. Kenneth Boulding once expressed this concern well when he observed: "Anyone who thinks that exponential economic growth can go on forever on a finite planet must either be a madman or an economist."


Unfortunately, nature may not be willing to live in harmony with us indefinitely. More specifically, here are existential threats such as large asteroids and super volcanoes that are not of mankind's making. Therefore, although we could probably do with less mindless consumption, it behoves us to buildup our scientific know how, our mastery of nature, if we want to be able to deal with whatever nature dishes out.


One important way to increase our know how is to increase our intelligence. Also, since things could go very wrong for us on earth, if we want to preserve our knowledge we shouldn't keep all of our eggs in one basket. Therefore, building settlements in space should be one of our objects. And, since it appears that humans might have a hard time living in space, we may need to adapt the human form to make this possible. Hence the interest in transhumanism.


If one adopts a transhumanist view of economics, the traditional factors of production (land, labor, capital) should be replaced with more general factors such as knowledge, energy, and materials. The build up of knowledge gives us greater power to capture and direct energy to transmute matter into more useful forms. The build up of knowledge also allows us to deal with the grand challenges that were introduced many years ago in books like the Limits to growth.

One way to accelerate the build up of knowledge, and to integrate knowledge from diverse sources, is to develop artificial intelligence software. Of course, since many fear that AI software may become smarter than us, we look for way to keep up. In his latest book - How to Create a Mind - Kurzweil predicts that we will develop brain-computer interfaces that expand the capacity of our neocortex. In his vision of the future, eventually enhanced humans will do most of their thinking in the clouds.

If I'm still alive when/if this becomes an option, I'd probably want to be one of the enhanced humans. And, if immortality became an option, I'd probably go for that, too. Of course, earth could become fairly crowded if we all became immortal beings capable of replicating ourselves. Therefore, space colonization will also be in the cards. Since it may be very hard for unenhanced humans to live long in space, my guess is that those who do live in space will become cyborgs or robots. Now, we may want to be robots that retain human form (or we may want to switch from one form to another). This idea has been around for a long time in science fiction - e.g. Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica, etc.

In any event, that's my take on why some of us may indeed end up as robots in a post-singularity world far, far away.


message 5: by Joe (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joe Zarro Reading this book about 5 years ago and following the news since, reading other books on automation and exponential growth, I'm thoroughly convinced of the basic premise -- technology is growing at an exponential rate and we are now at the "knee of the curve." This is a life-altering thing to accept (this book has indeed profoundly changed my life), but I must admit that I live as though I do not accept truly believe it (I do quaint things like "save for retirement" and "have children"). If you follow the escalator of logic that exponential growth presents to you, then you'll find yourself at a destination that makes you strange and out-of-touch with the rest of the world (but not wrong). So I guess my answer is, yes I believe a singularity is coming, but I don't act like it (and maybe I should).


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