Customer Reviews


37 Reviews
5 star:
 (21)
4 star:
 (6)
3 star:
 (3)
2 star:
 (4)
1 star:
 (3)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping look to the future, and the technology once there
Ray Kurzweil isn't renowned for his authoring talents and is better known for his inventions. I remember many years ago owning a copy of Kerzweil's voice recognition program (I forget the exact title) and being impressed with its accuracy. Kerzweil is also renowned for his work in digital music and a vast array of other fields.
In this book the author expands on his...
Published on 19 Oct 2005 by Gordon Copestake

versus
74 of 77 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing given the pedigree
I am a great fan of technology forecasting (and the Singularity - known as the Geek's Rapture - in particular) and fervently believe in extrapolating today's trends to illuminate the possible paths ahead. While this book has the scientific credibility to power the batteries, the filament (Kurzweil's opinion) is very selective in the future paths that it lights up. It is...
Published on 22 April 2010 by Amerfas


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping look to the future, and the technology once there, 19 Oct 2005
By 
Gordon Copestake (Newcastle-under-Lyme, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Ray Kurzweil isn't renowned for his authoring talents and is better known for his inventions. I remember many years ago owning a copy of Kerzweil's voice recognition program (I forget the exact title) and being impressed with its accuracy. Kerzweil is also renowned for his work in digital music and a vast array of other fields.
In this book the author expands on his vision of the future as he sees it in the next 50 years. The main thrust of the book is that Moore's law is continuing and as such computing power is increasing exponentially (exponentials are a large part of this book). The premise that as computing power increases dramatically we will be able to create even more technology, with the aim to "uploading" ourselves into our computers. This at first seems like science fiction but be assured that the author looks at every detail and examines the feasibility of each stage of his premise. The results are startling, and I must admit give me a strange feeling in the gut of my stomach when I realised the full breadth of his suggestions.
This book could be considered a sequel to the author's previous books, the Age of Intelligent Machines, and the Age of Spiritual Machines. However you don't need to have read these previous books to understand the concepts involved. A basic understanding of genetics and nanotechnology would help, but are not required.
I don't know if the authors predictions will come to pass (And I honestly hope they do!) but I would recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in the future and who wants to prepare themselves in advance.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


74 of 77 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing given the pedigree, 22 April 2010
By 
This review is from: The Singularity is Near (Paperback)
I am a great fan of technology forecasting (and the Singularity - known as the Geek's Rapture - in particular) and fervently believe in extrapolating today's trends to illuminate the possible paths ahead. While this book has the scientific credibility to power the batteries, the filament (Kurzweil's opinion) is very selective in the future paths that it lights up. It is the author's subjectivity, and unabashed self-promotion that corrode the overall quality of what should have been the definitive post-human road-map.

My main issues:

Kurzweil's mortality:
A basic underlying current moving the direction of the discussion throughout the book appears to be Kurzweil's fear of death. The most frequently cited impact of the technologies he reports, are the ways in which it reduces / eliminates aging. The author is 56 years old (and is quite justifiably proud of biologically being only 40 years old), and constantly talks about how "technology X" currently in development could help avoid death in the next three decades. While it is important, making Ray live forever cannot be the most important feature of the Singularity.

The Singularity is Nearer the West Coast:
Kurzweil makes no attempt to either colour his research, or even explore the implications of the Singularity on anyone not living in California. I found this such a strong theme that it almost felt like chauvinism. The way in which he suggests the Singularity will change life are all to do with how people on the West Coast of the USA currently live. The ideas and projections would be far more accessible had he sought to stretch his horizons beyond San Diego / San Francisco.

No downsides:
Kurzweil is so optimistic he ignores completely the negative, but very human aspects of our intelligence - aggression, xenophobia, greed, hierarchy - and talks of post-humans as being saintly, benign gods working to the benefit of all pre- and post-humankind. The benefits of AI (and the Genetic / Nanotechnology / Robotics technologies in general) will almost certainly be used initially by a very small elite, to propagate their own aims and objectives above those of others. This is the story of any fundamental advance in human history - he does not explain why this most fundamental of all advances will be any different. Surely, those able to achieve a post-human state first will benefit the most, and therefore remain ahead of all others. Kurzweil does not address this topic - the onset of the Singularity, and implications of trickle transcendence - in depth anywhere.

Way too long:
The ideas encapsulated in the book are important, and the author goes into them in some detail - which is essential. While technology forecasting is by its very definition speculative, it is not structured at all well in this book, and could have been made far more accessible. In each chapter Kurzweil will speak in detail about a particular research group or theme - these sections could have been tabulated, showing probabilities of success, impacts on the singularity timing or aspect, etc - this would have made the overall view far easier to grasp, and the act of speculation much more scientific.

Bottom line: Some good - most bad. Based on this book, the only geek getting the Rapture is Ray!!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Contains some wonderful ideas., 30 April 2008
By 
Luke A. G. Palmer "Luke Palmer" (Norfolk, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Singularity is Near (Paperback)
For those of you who don't know, Ray Kurzweil is the man who invented Optical Character Recognition, along with various other pattern-recognition technologies. He is well-versed in what technology is theoretically capable of, and has spent his professional life trying to make it do these things.

I have nothing but good things to say about Ray Kurzweil, and this book in particular. The ideas that he puts forward may seem very optimistic, sometimes verging on techno-fanaticism, but nothing he is saying is negative. If he's right, the human race only has to survive until the 2040s and things will markedly improve.

However excellent I found the technological predictions made in this book, there are two points that brought it down to four stars. First, and a matter I admit is one of personal preference, there were far too many graphs to do with economy and business. This is an American book, so capitalism has to figure somewhere, and he is forgiven. The other point is that some of the speculations he is making are sociological ones and these are far more spurious than any technological speculations. However, they are not fundamental to what he is arguing.

All in all, an excellent, if at times overwhelming, read. I heartily recommend it as an introduction to transhumanism and futurism.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligence as imperialism?, 16 July 2006
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
The role of the "futurist" is difficult and often thankless. The more daring of the tribe, among whom Kurzweil is prominent, will apply deadlines to forecasts. That's always risky, and failure to meet them appears to undermine the concept. Kurzweil, however, is able to brush aside such trivial complaints to focus on the bigger issues. How fast is technology improving and how will these advances affect humanity. For him, the answer is clear - humanity and technology will merge. The result will be Version 2.0 of humanity with enhanced intellect and bodies that will not "wear out". Kurzweil's "Singularity" is that point at which the merger will be complete. And final - a word to keep in mind.

The basis of his thesis is the advance of technology, typified by GNR [Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics]. While these sound intimidating, one need not be highly conversant with the technologies to understand his argument. He explains them all clearly. Basing his project on the well-known "Moore's Law" - computing power will double every eighteen months - Kurzweil shows how computer processing capacity will soon outstrip that of the human brain. Once that transformation is achieved, it will be a short step to enhance existing technology to reforming the human body. The heart, an inefficient and vulnerable pump, can be replaced by a easily repairable mechanical version. The grumbling intestinal tract can dispense with all those E. coli bacteria and an energy transfer mechanism, requiring greatly reduced resources can take its place.

To transform the speed and capacity of a silicon-based device to a carbon-based biological entity seems anomalous to some and blasphemous to others. Kurzweil dismisses the second objection and carefully explains how the first is short-sighted. While computers run on a digital system, the brain runs on a combination of digital storage and analog processing. In many respects, replacement limbs and organs, "smart" weaponry, and much medical diagnosis already is automated and transmitted around the planet for analysis. Kurzweil takes us a major step beyond this - he even addresses the notion of human intelligence encompassing the cosmos. This is the "Anthropic Principle" writ very large, and on a practical basis.

Kurzweil uses a tried and true method to address the concerns he anticipates. Creating or adopting various characters such as "Molly 2004", Ned Ludd, "George 2048" - even Charles Darwin and Bill Gates, he's able to pose and answer questions of common concern. He even stages an argument between bacteria at life's origins about how evolution will lead them to become something more "advanced". It's a mild fantasy, but a serious object lesson in this context. He would be a tough debater on this topic. One thing is clear: the objections on "moral" grounds are thoroughly addressed through this means. The technological issues are a given in his estimate. From the evidence he presents, he's close to the mark.

There will be critics contending Kurzweil ignores this or that issue. He does address the issue of "terrorism" and notes preventive measures must be applied up front. The biggest omission, however, is the social one. He argues that the declining cost of technology will allow it to be applied universally. Still, there remain questions about distribution and willingness. It's abundantly clear that the first applications of the Singularity will occur in the developed countries by people who can afford it. Declining costs require a time frame, and what can occur between inception of the programme and universal application escape Kurzweil's notice. While he proposes "brain imaging" from carbon humanity to silicon humanity, he ignores the breadth of possible personalities that will undergo the process. Will a radical fundamentalist of any stripe retain a similar worldview after becoming "immortal"? In a similar vein, how many cultures will wish to participate in the enhancement? Will the Singularity initiate a new form of imperialism, the "immortals" dominating the MOSH [Mostly Original Substrate Humans]? And will the MOSH form along cultural or "ethnic" lines? Kurzweil's unspoken assumption is that everybody else does indeed wish to be like us - even more so.

If Kurzweil ignores these questions, preferring to let others resolve them while he concentrates on the technical issues, we can still find this a valuable study. It's not something that can be lightly dismissed. There's far too much valid information and prediction in here for short-sighted criticism. Kurzweil has done a great service in collecting and summarising the state of today's technology. If his projections frighten you, that doesn't refute his foundation for them. There is nothing fabricated here, and if nothing else, you can use his information to develop your own future scenarios. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly detailed about an incredible future, albiet a little optimistic, 30 July 2009
This review is from: The Singularity is Near (Paperback)
Although the "singularitarian" sounds a bit cultish, Ray Kurzweil makes a convincing case for the approaching singularity based on sound arguments, data and his credentials (MIT educated and still giving guest lectures @MIT). Although some of his predictions for 2010 made in 2005 are bit too optimistic (computers in clothing, ubiquitous), the computing power predictions are spot on, and even perhaps conservative. This means that while we will have computing power and sofware AI equivalent to the brain by 2029, the actual singularity may happen a little later, perhaps by a decade, due to the slower impact of technology to ALL of society due to economics and politics (although he has addressed that). The singularity may even have the potential to drive change of the economic model from supply-and-demand capitalism to a more resource-based economy due to the abundance (lack of scarcity) of energy and food in the 2030's.

It doesn't however address the dark side of technology too much: the potential of mass produced robots to temporarily cause mass unemployment for a decade or two until personnel skills are updated; self-replicating nanobots that reproduce until they consume all the matter and energy in the universe, and large scale terrorist attack using bio/nano-technology, etc.

Otherwise, an excellent read worth the time and money for it makes you think about the future and decisions regarding your personal life, career path and investments.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The apocalyse is nigh, 15 Jun 2009
This review is from: The Singularity is Near (Paperback)
Julian Jaynes rounds out his wonderful The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind with a sanguine remark that the idea of science is rooted in the same impulse that drives religion: the desire for "the Final Answer, the One Truth, the Single Cause".

Nowhere is this impulse better illustrated, or the scientific mien so resemblant of a religious one, than in Ray Kurzweil's hymn to forthcoming technology, The Singularity Is Near. For if ever a man were committed overtly - fervently, even - to such a unitary belief, it is Ray Kurzweil. And the sceptics among our number could hardly have asked for a better example of the pitfalls, or ironies, of such an intellectual fundamentalism: one one hand, this sort of essentialism features prominently in the currently voguish denouncements of the place of religion in contemporary affairs, often being claimed as a knock-out blow to the spiritual disposition. On the other, it is too strikingly similar in its own disposition to be anything of the sort. Ray Kurzweil is every inch the millenarian, only dressed in a lab-coat and not a habit.

Kurzweil believes that the "exponentially accelerating" "advance" of technology has us well on the way to a technological and intellectual utopia/dystopia (this sort of beauty being, though Kurzweil might deny it, decidedly in the eye of the beholder) where computer science will converge on and ultimately transcend biology and, in doing so, will transport human consciousness into something quite literally cosmic. This convergence he terms the "singularity", a point at which he expects with startling certainty that the universe will "wake up", and many immutable limitations of our current sorry existence (including, he seems to say, the very laws of physics) will simply fall away.

Some, your correspondent included, might wonder whether, this being the alternative, our present existence is all that sorry in the first place.

But not Raymond Kurzweil. This author seems to be genuinely excited about a prospect which sounds rather desolate, bordering on the apocalyptic, in those aspects where it manages to transcend sounding simply absurd. Which isn't often. One thing you could not accuse Ray Kurzweil of is a lack of pluck; but there's a fine line between bravado and foolhardiness which, in his enthusiasm, he may have crossed.

His approach to evolution is a good example. He talks frequently and modishly of the algorithmic nature of evolution, but then makes observations not quite out of the playbook, such as: "the key to an evolutionary algorithm ... is defining the problem. ... in biological evolution the overall problem has always been to survive" and "evolution increases order, which may or may not increase complexity".

But to suppose an evolutionary algorithm has "a problem it is trying to solve" - in other words, a design principle - is to emasculate its very power, namely the facility of explaining how a sophisticated phenomenon comes about *without* a design principle. Evolution works because organisms (or genes) have a capacity - not an intent - to replicate themselves. Nor, necessarily, does evolution increase order. It will tend to increase complexity, because the evolutionary algorithm, having no insight, is unable to "perceive" the structural improvements implied in a design simplification. Evolution has no way of rationalising design except by fiat. The adaptation required to replace an overly elaborate design with more effective but simpler one is, to use Richard Dawkins' expression, an implausible step back down "Mount Improbable". That's generally not how evolutionary processes work: over-engineering is legion in nature; economy of design isn't, really.

This sounds like a picky point, but it gets to the nub of Kurzweil's outlook, which is to assume that technology evolves like biological organisms do - that a laser printer, for example, is a direct evolutionary descendent of the printing press. This, I think, is to superimpose a convenient narrative over a process that is not directly analogous: a laser printer is no more a descendent of a printing press than a mammal is a descendent of a dinosaur. Successor, perhaps; descendant, no. But the "exponential increase in progress" arguments that Kurzweil repeatedly espouses depend for their validity on this distinction.

The "evolutionary process" from woodblock printing to the Gutenberg press, to lithography, to hot metal typing, to photo-typesetting, to the ink jet printer (thanks, Wikipedia!) involves what Kurzweil would call "paradigm shifts" but which a biologist might call extinctions; each new technology arrives, supplements and (usually) obliterates the existing ones, not just by doing the same job more effectively, but - and this is critical - by opening up new vistas and possibilities altogether that weren't even conceived of in the earlier technology - sometimes even at the cost of a certain flexibility inherent in the older technology. That is, development is constantly forking off in un-envisaged, unexpected directions. This plays havoc with Kurzweil's loopy idea of a perfect, upwardly arcing parabola of utopian progress.

It is what I call "perspective chauvinism" to judge former technologies by the standards and parameters set by the prevailing orthodoxy - being that of the new technology. Judged by such an arbitrary standard older technologies will, by degrees, necessarily seem more and more primitive and useless. The fallacious process of judging former technologies by subsequently imposed criteria is, in my view, the source of many of Ray Kurzweil's inevitably impressive charts of exponential progress. It isn't that we are progressing ever more quickly onward, but the place whence we have come falls exponentially further away as our technology meanders, like a perpetually deflating balloon, through design space. Our rate of progress doesn't change; our discarded technologies simply seem more and more irrelevant through time.

Kurzweil may argue that the rate of change in technology has increased, and that may be true - but I dare say a similar thing happened at the time of the agricultural revolution and again in the industrial revolution - we got from Stephenson's rocket to the diesel locomotive within 75 years; in the subsequent 97 years the train's evolution been somewhat more sedate. Eventually, the "S" curves Kurzweil mentions flatten out. They clearly aren't exponential, and pretending that an exponential parabola might emerge from a conveniently concatenated series of "S" curves seems credulous to the point of disingenuity. This extrapolation into a single "parabola of best fit" has heavy resonances of the planetary "epicycle", a famously desperate attempt of Ptolemaic astronomers to fit "misbehaving" data into what Copernicans would ultimately convince the world was a fundamentally broken model.

If this is right, then Kurzweil's corollary assumption - that there is a technological nirvana to which we're ever more quickly headed - commits the inverse fallacy of supposing the questions we will ask in the future - when the universe "wakes up", as he puts it - will be exactly the ones we anticipate now. History would say this is a nave, parochial, chauvinistic and false assumption.

And that, I think, is the nub of it. One feels somewhat uneasy so disdainfully pooh-poohing a theory put together with such enthusiasm and such an energetic presentation of data (and to be sure, buried in Kurzweil's breathless prose is plenty of learning about technology which, if even half-way right, is fascinating), but that seems to be it. I suppose I am fortified by the nearby predictions made just four years ago, seeming not to have come anything like true just yet:

"By the end of this decade [i.e., by 2010] computers will disappear as distinct physical objects, with displays built in our eyeglasses and electronics woven into our clothing"

On the other hand I could find scant reference to "cloud computing" or equivalent phenomena like the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing project which spawned schemes like SETI@home in Kurzweil's book. Now here is a rapidly evolving technological phenotype, for sure: hooking up thousands of serially processing computers into a massive parallel network, giving processing power way beyond any technology currently envisioned. It may be that this adaptation means we simply don't need to incur the mental challenge of molecular transistors and so on, since there must, at some point, be an absolute limit to miniaturisation, as we approach it the marginal utility of developing the necessary technology will swan dive just as the marginal cost ascends to the heavens; whereas the parallel network involves none of those limitations. You can always hook up yet another computer, and every one will increase performance.

I suppose it's easy to be smug as I type on my decidedly physical computer, showing no signs of being superseded with VR Goggles just yet and we're already six months into the new decade, but the point is that the evolutionary process is notoriously bad at making predictions (until, that is, the results are in!), being path-dependent as it is. You can't predict for developments that haven't yet happened. Kurzweil glosses over this shortfall at his theory's cost.

Olly Buxton
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable book to read, 12 April 2009
This review is from: The Singularity is Near (Paperback)
Singularity is near is a book that tries to predict future technological developments.Ray Kurzweil is very optimistic about the future. According to him in about 20 years time,we will have Fully intelligent computers and Nanofactories in our homes. Artificial Intelligence will help us in our daily lives and Nanofactories will provide us with everything we need. But beyond 20 years Kurzweil thinks no-one can predict what will happen as AI would be billions of times more intelligent that homo-sapiens. Therefore a less intelligent being can not predict what a more intelligent one can do.
Ray bases his predictions on the exponential trend that development of technology is following. Mainly Moor's law of doubling of computers processing power.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scarier than Stephen King, 16 Mar 2009
By 
Robert Macmillan (Windsor, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Singularity is Near (Paperback)
If Kurzweil is wrong in his predictions and there is no technical revolution just around the corner, the worst that that can be said is that he has written an incredibly thought-provoking book that all intelligent people should read. But if he's right, all the human race is shortly to be either wiped out or made immortal. Of course, that just sounds like silly hype but if you've read the book and can say why it's hype please let me know.

I for one can't see why Kurzweil's main predictions are wrong.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A prediction about humanity's destiny, 8 Jun 2007
By 
Rolf Dobelli "getAbstract" (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This is a strange and powerful tome. Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil makes predictions that are sweeping in their implications and bold in their specificity. In fact, some readers may think they sound more like science fiction than science. He discusses developing artificial intelligence, downloading consciousness, redesigning the body using nanotechnology and other seemingly improbable developments. Then, he goes out on a limb to predict how and when these technological advances will all intersect - a historical moment called the "singularity." At that point, he says, if humans have used technology properly, they will become godlike, solving all their problems. Kurzweil devotes nearly 80 pages to articulating and responding to the criticisms of skeptics. However, even if you reject most of Kurzweil's ideas, you can still benefit from reading his book. It is thoroughly researched, with roughly 100 pages of notes and references, and conceptually challenging. Kurzweil works hard to make it lively and accessible, providing graphs, quotations, sidebars and imaginary debates among spokespersons for various points of view. The result can become overwhelming, but it is always thought-provoking. We recommend this book to executives who are seriously interested in planning for the future, and to curious minds everywhere.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading - transformational ., 5 Sep 2011
This review is from: The Singularity is Near (Paperback)
I have now read this book twice and fairly convinced with Ray's arguments on how the rate of technological change is increasing,and where it will eventually lead. I try my best to be as sceptical as possible and analyse all of the arguments in this book, but still come to the conclusion that most of Ray's ideas will most probably come true.

If they do, then....wow..

If you fully understand this book, fully comprehend its message , you immediately start to see the world in a different way.

Many of the other reviewers here express the thought that Ray is too optimistic, or that a select few people will hold all of the power . But surely, it is by spreading the "Singularity" meme to the general population and to our politians, that we can prevent such negatives from occurring.

It is , by far, one of the most important books written, and by far the most awe inspiring "meme" that has ever been presented to me.

Please , please, take time to read and fully comprehend its message. Read this and "The God Delusion" and "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins and combine the two ideas to come up with a personal philosophy based on Science, Reason and the beauty of the universe which gives a real meaning to life way beyond that based on superstitions and falsehoods.

Now that last paragraph sounds really insane...sorry I know.
Read those books and see if I'm right.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Singularity is Near
The Singularity is Near by Raymond Kurzweil (Paperback - 9 Mar 2006)
Used & New from: 11.00
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews