The Singularity is Near, by Ray Kurzweil

In a short time we all will merge with our computers and take over the universe in a transformation to such a strange new state of being that it is called the Singularity, named after the unknowable state of affairs inside a black hole. So Ray Kurzweil, the “Singularitarian,” believes and preaches.

Kurzweil looks at history and sees exponential change occurring over and over again. From this he concludes that this is the way that things develop in all aspects of technology–an initial slow rise, then an exponential increase, then a leveling off until a new technology comes along in a paradigm shift to start the process again. This is most familiar from Moore’s Law, which states that computer processing power doubles every 24 months. Kurzweil sees a similar exponential growth in many other areas, and provides graphs in the book to illustrate his conclusion with the examples of cellphone adoption, Internet hosts, increase in GDP, etc. If you question that last example, check the copyright page–the book was published in 2005.

Kurzweil was born in 1948 but believes that he will live to see the benefits of MNT (molecular nanotechnology) and GNR (Genetics, Nanotechnology, Robotics) to increase the human lifespan to hundreds of years. To make it that far, he follows a strict dietary regimen, which includes taking over 250 supplements a day. This is optimism concretized.

He has developed these ideas for decades now, and so has encountered many objections. Kurzweil addresses many of them in the book. They don’t stop him long. There is no patience for dystopias; we are accumulating more knowledge, more power, more technique, and this is as unstoppable as the arrow at the end of a parabola, moving upward and outward, forever.

The objections of theists fall in with all the others and have no special place for Kurzweil. There is no bitterness or scorn for those who would block his future with an immutable human nature. He is supremely confident in his vision and does not dwell on the obstacles of fundamentalists or other believers.

“Es irrt der Mensch, solong er strebt.” (“Man will stray, as long as he strives.”) There is no Gretchen in this book, or Helen of Troy, though Kurzweil’s daughter makes a brief appearance in a discussion of virtual reality. This seems fitting. Entirely lacking is any discussion of real human relationships, families, and communities and how they will adapt to the changes that he wants to bring on.

One day Kurzweil is unlikely to say, “Verweile doch, du bist so schön!” (“Remain awhile, you are so fair!”)–because that would break the spell.

Explore posts in the same categories: Book reviews

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