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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 27 April 2016
Very good book and well researched however much of the time I get the impression that Kurzweil is completely ignorant of the effect of politics on social and technological development.
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on 19 October 2005
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.
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on 30 April 2008
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.
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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.
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on 30 July 2009
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.
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on 22 April 2010
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!!
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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]
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on 12 April 2009
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.
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on 16 March 2009
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.
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I was once a `singularitarian', but when Ray Kurzweil failed to predict the financial clash of 2008, in The Singularity is Near, I wondered. The book even has a financial graph, with curves going upwards `exponentially'... Another buzz-word I learnt from Ray Kurzweil and my hero, Terence McKenna. I'm having second thought about being a disciple now!

The psychedelic philosopher, Robert Anton Wilson, once joked that a disciple is an s looking for a b to attach itself to! We can learn much from b's and disciples, like myself, and so without further ado, let us examine many b's and hols from the last few decades; to taste our present singularity religion.

Let us use a few examples of b's and s'holes from the archives of history to see how this singularity got started (this is more Terence McKenna's version, but both McKenna and Kurzweil overlap in many ways). In the 1950's, a stiff academic called Richard Alpert, wasting his life away at Harvard University by running rats around a maze, discovered a magical potion that lifted a strip off of the great veil. He told his colleagues, one being Dr Timothy Leary, mentioned above, and off they went to found a new cultural revolt; the LSD revolt. Dr Leary's vehicle of preference was chemical LSD, off course, because of the mind expanding quality of the drug. Indeed, chemical LSD would expand Tim's mind, like a big balloon, to see over the game. The game being the military industrial complex and monkey politics that millions from that youthful generation realised was a con. Instead of war, this generation tuned into cosmic consciousness, free love and hot pants. So what was all that about?

Fast forward 30 odd years, to the late 1990's, and the LSD revolt gave birth to electronic LSD, that is, cyberspace. Fast forward another 20 years and this is the world we are now living in and we are indeed in a Technicolor wonder-land. This wonder-land is supposed to be the measure of all happiness. These days we are happy with our technology, and rightly so. We have Android phones that allow us to hold the net in the palm of our hand. Internet highways allow us to meet interesting people - the people I meet online are far more interesting than the people I meet in my home town-, and our computer games throw us all into wondrous realities; other worlds, with virtual galaxies that allow all, including the poorest among us, to be who the heck we want to be; without being judged by the authorities or nosey neighbours etc.

You get the picture; obviously, because this is our 21st century; lit up in neon lights. And it gets better; people like the silicon valley entrepreneur, Ray Kurzweil, promise that our techno-smarts is only the beginning and sometime soon, we will all be enjoying the equivalent of a technological orgasm. Kurzweil and his followers call this future state, the singularity. The singularity is the eschatology with batteries, a bit like the apocalypse, but rather than fire and burning in Hell for a zillion years, we all get our consciousness uploaded into a virtual reality existence and be immortal and live in a 4D mansion, with a 3D TV implanted inside our brain. This technological Nirvana is taken seriously by allot of very clever people!

All this hubris is drowning out the descending voices, like that of the guy who coined the word `virtual reallity', Jaron Lanier. Lanier who is arguing that today's cyberspace is moving you and I towards a new techno-serfdom; a psychedelic cage that will strip our humanness and turn us all into gadgets! This is a different picture from the romantic hopes of 1990's cyberspace. Indeed, when I was in school, I myself believed in this type of techno progress.

Back in the 1990's, my friends and I would listen to the futurist philosopher, Terence McKenna, give spellbinding talks on the subject of the then embryonic information super highway. McKenna was convinced of the Utopian possibilities of the Internet. Cultural free for-alls and other fun ontology's promised by the Internet would free our minds from the work-cycle, awaken the collective unconscious, demolish the cultural pillars of Christian civilisation and kick the doors off heavens hinges; phew!. This brave new world was going to herald the cultural singularity and the new dawn; and finally, we were all to transcend to silicon light, (You had to be there I guess). According to McKenna and indeed Jaron Lanier -and most silicon entrepreneurs at the time- the Internet will allow us all an existence in the radiant afterglow of a post-western civilisation. Capitalist values will be swept away, along with adverts and 'male dominator' politics, "We'll go there and we'll leave the Earth and dance forever in the hallways of the astral imagination" (McKenna)! Jaron Lanier now admits this was foolish and he's trying to warn us all before 'lock in' will halt our humanness and turn us all into slaves.

In his book, You Are Not a Gadget, Lanier is arguing that if we fast forward 20 odd years from now, then capitalism is indeed wobbling at the foundations (but not at the top you see). This means that we serfs are suffering down bellow, toiling as we always have done, unpaid and unrecognized; and it gets worse. While we work for nothing, like when we write unpaid reviews on Amazon or 'help' Wikipedia, the 'lords of the clouds' have monopolised the creative surplus and are squeezing the masses until the pips squeak! Only the lucky few who control the means of production reap the money harvest, whilst we serfs toil away in cyberspace, unpaid and de-personalised in the gas of collective surfing; billions of gremlins looking at a screen is our future. Jaron Lanier is no Luddite and he personally knew Terence McKenna and Tim Leary and all the movers from the idealistic 1990's, and this is why his book is essential for our future. It's a warning like Huxley and Orwell, but not as happy. Let us hope that Jaron Lanier will be as wrong about his negativity for the future as McKenna was wrong about his utopianism. Only time will tell.

That was a downer... wasn't it?
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