The Singularity Is Near – Ray Kurzweil

Here are two quotes from the book to give you the big picture:

“What then is the Singularity? It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed…. The key underlying the impending Singularity is that the pace of change of our human-created technology is accelerating and its powers are expanding at an exponential pace. Exponential growth is deceptive. It starts out almost imperceptibly and then explodes with unexpected fury – unexpected, that is, if one does not take care to follow its trajectory…. We are now in the early stages of this transition.”

“There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality.”

This is the most profound books I have ever read. Kurzweil being by building a solid case for exponential growth of technology

The funniest thing in the book was a quote from Popular Mechanics in 1949 that was the result of “linear thinking”: “Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computer in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weight 1.5 tons.”

Many of us have the same mindset today when we doubt that nanobots may one day surge through our body, perhaps even as “respirocytes” (mechanical red blood cells) that will allow you to breathe underwater.

Most everyone has heard the story of the the man who asked to be paid one grain of sand the first day, and to double that for each day of the month. At the end of the month, he owned the entire kingdom. Computers and knowledge follows this same pattern. “Typically, we find that the doubling time for different measures – price-performance, bandwidth, capacity – of the capability of information technology is about one year.” Today’s “Xeon Pentium” is approximately 10,000 times more powerful than the 8086 chip of the late 1970s. Our laptops are more powerful than the computers that flew the Apollo spacecraft.

Kurzweil contradict the pundits that often quote that Moore’s law is sure to end before 2020. However, today’s chips are the fifth paradigm, and chips proceed on an “S” curve. When each S curve “maxes out”, a new paradigm is invented.

The number of citations regarding nanotechnology in scientific publications doubles every 2.4 years. The number of nanotech patents are also doubling about every year. Another profound trend is miniaturization. This is why IPOD’s can hold gigabytes of data today (where as my first XT computer circa 1982 had a $400 10-megabyte disk drive). Now I carry a 2 gig memory stick on my keychain.

The human tendency is to think linearly. That if we came this far in the last 20 years, we will move the same distance in the next 20 years. But according to geometric growth, we will do in the next 20 years about million times more than what we did last year alone.

Kurzweil then proceeds to describe the big three overlapping revolutions which have been abbreviated GNR, Genetics-Nanotech-and-Robotics (he includes “strong AI – Artificial Intelligence” as part of Robotics).

Here’s what might be coming:

2010- Computers will essentially be invisible, woven into our clothing, embedded in our furniture and equipment. According to Ray Kurzweil’s projections from the ITRS road map, we should have 10E13 bits of memory (approximate memory of the human brain) for $1000 by around 2018.

2020s – Nanotechnology based manufacturing devices in the 2020s will be capable of creating almost any physical product from inexpensive raw materials and information. Within two decades (from now), we will have a detailed understanding of how all the regions of the human brain works (live human brain scanning is one of those exponentially improving technologies. We are just now obtaining the tools to begin serious reverse engineering of the human brain’s principles of operations. The Turing test will be passed (hardware and software maybe able to fully emulate human intelligence, to the point where you cannot tell if you are talking to a human or a computer on the telephone).

2030 – Nanobot technology will provide full immersive, totally convincing virtual reality.
Human and computers/machines seem to merge during this time period, if not a total redesign of the human body.

2045 – Ray Kurzweil’s predicted date of “The Singularity”, which like a black hole, is impossible to see over the event horizon.

“A ‘Singularitarian’ is someone who understands the Singularity and has reflected on its meaning for his or her own life.” While Kurzweil has been engaging in such reflection for 20 or more years, it is time for us to begin.

If all this sounds like a bunch of bunk to you, then read Kurzweil’s Chapter Nine – “Response to Critics” and re-read Chapter Two – the exponential growth of the past.

See also my review of “The Spike – How Our Lives are Being Transformed by Rapidly Advancing Technologies” by Australian Damien Broderick.

For more information, see Wikipedia’s Entry on the Singularity

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