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Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near"

Hemos posted about 9 years ago | from the don't-stop-thinking-about-tomorrow dept.

Books 970

popo writes "The Wall Street Journal has a (publicly accessible) review of "The Singularity is Near" -- a new book by futurist, Ray Kurzweil. By "Singularity", Kurzweil refers not to a collapsed supernova, but instead to an extraordinarily bright future in which technological progress has leapt by such exponentially large bounds that it will be... well, for lack of a better word: 'utopian'. "Mr. Kurzweil... thinking exponentially, imagines a plausible future, not so far away, with extended life-spans (living to 300 will not be unusual), vastly more powerful computers (imagine more computing power in a head-sized device than exists in all the human brains alive today), other miraculous machines (nanotechnology assemblers that can make most anything out of sunlight and dirt) and, thanks to these technologies, enormous increases in wealth (the average person will be capable of feats, like traveling in space, only available to nation-states today)." On one hand its fantastically (even ridiculously) optimistic, but on the other hand, I sure as hell hope he's right." Got mailed a review copy; I'm not finished yet, but I agree - optimistic perhaps, but the future does look pretty interesting.

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Well hurry the hell up then. (5, Funny)

Associate (317603) | about 9 years ago | (#13704310)

Things have pretty much sucked up to this point.

Re:Well hurry the hell up then. (1)

kianu7 (886560) | about 9 years ago | (#13704397)

Yeah, no kidding. We're in a race against time. The second coming of Christ could occur any time and then we wouldn't have an opportunity to fully enjoy this new technology.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'd rather be playing Playstation VR (Virtual Reality) than burning in hell. :)

The Bible is no inconsistant with the matrix (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 9 years ago | (#13704451)

Whaddya think The Rapture is?!! That's when everybody uploads their brains into teh cybermind to become one with the noospheric godhead.

Re:Well hurry the hell up then. (1)

SWroclawski (95770) | about 9 years ago | (#13704462)

If you'd watched Neon Genesis Evangelion then you'd know we can simply fight off the angels with giant robots.

This is another looney (3, Funny)

Philip K Dickhead (906971) | about 9 years ago | (#13704512)

Who thinks because he manages to be a brilliant engineer, he understands histoory and human nature. They ought to lock him into a rubber room with Bill Joy, and see who comes out alive.

How cuckoo is Kurzweill really, when he makes another mint from selling his science fiction to the remaining U.S. population, not yet burning The Origin of Species?

Re:Well hurry the hell up then. (5, Insightful)

MindStalker (22827) | about 9 years ago | (#13704401)

Yes, I'd much rather be plowing fields daily and walking by foot in the snow to the store. Oh yea, things may seem suckey, but only in comparison to your wishes. Trust me, utopia will be sucky too, such is the vastness of human desire.

Re:Well hurry the hell up then. (4, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 9 years ago | (#13704508)

" Things have pretty much sucked up to this point."
Yea we still have thousands of children with Polio in Ironlungs...
Actually the world is a pretty good place in most developed countries. It is even a lot better than it was 50 years ago in the developing countries.
The correct way to look at it is not that the present sucks, but how can we make the future better.

WSJ Writer is Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit Fame (5, Informative)

Hulkster (722642) | about 9 years ago | (#13704315)

The writer of the WSJ piece was Glenn Reynolds who is identified as "a professor of law at the University of Tennessee but is probably better know for his InstaPundit.Com Blog. [] Interesting piece - Glenn has been published numerous times in the WSJ and (staying out of politics because people get overly zealous about this), writes some darn good stuff IMHO.

HULK's Halloween decorations webcam is up! []

Yeah right! (0)

David Off (101038) | about 9 years ago | (#13704322)

I'll have what he's smokin'

Re:Yeah right! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704385)

The kind of naïve optimism in the article is always better and more constructive than being cynical.

I sure miss the optimism and belief in the future that I've seen in texts from the 60s. Granted, I wasn't alive then, but when people under much heavier constant threat of nuclear annihilation appear to beat our time in optimism, something's wrong.

Optimisim sells... (5, Insightful)

ankarbass (882629) | about 9 years ago | (#13704323)

You can sell more copies of a book that talks about how we will all be rich and immortal than you can of one that predicts more of the same.

Yeah (1, Insightful)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | about 9 years ago | (#13704426)

I've heard a talk by this guy, and he comes off as a charlatan who likes the spotlight. He also tends to suffer from a lack of historical perspective - I'm sure there were many "innovations" made 300 years ago that made it seem like the same effect was at play - time has a way of winnowing out what proves revolutionary and what is forgotten.

There's no way to say whether the current period will look revolutionary until hundreds of years have passed. I don't think we're currently in a period that resembles that between 1450-1700.

Re:Optimisim sells... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704454)

if everyone is "rich" what does that do to the economy? or will the economics of the future be slightly different? corporations would never let shit like this happen.

Re:Optimisim sells... (4, Insightful)

isomeme (177414) | about 9 years ago | (#13704532)

I don't know; Jared Diamond seems to be selling a lot of copies of Collapse.

Re:Optimisim sells... (3, Insightful)

archen (447353) | about 9 years ago | (#13704561)

Which brings up the point, do you really WANT to live 300 years? We already tend to go downhill after our 20's, and each decade after is compounded by more health problems. Now some people will claim that uber-nano technology, and some franken-science will keep us in great shape, but simply put; every part in our body wears out with time.

We seriously can live pretty long as it is. If you can't live it up in the first ~70 years, you're probably not going to get more out of the next 230. Not to meantion that the cost of upkeep to your health goes up significantly with time. When you're 18 you just need a couple shots and general care for accidents. When you're 80, just falling down can be a very costly ordeal.

And as a side point, the world progresses by generations. The additude and bias of the last generation is replaced by the fresh more adapted views of the next generation. As a whole, humanity grows by death of the old, and birth of the new. Think your government representitives are bad now, then think of what would happen if a guy who was born in 1750 was making the decisions on stuff like the Internet

Whether he's right or not won't matter.. (0)

sam_paris (919837) | about 9 years ago | (#13704330)

We'll all be dead by then..

I sure as hell hope he's right.

Freeze your head when you die (1, Funny)

nightsweat (604367) | about 9 years ago | (#13704356)

And then put a big sign on it that says, "HAAAAA! You pussies don't have the smarts or the guts to regrow me a new body and bring me back! Hahahahahahah!"

Re:Freeze your head when you die (1)

dancingmad (128588) | about 9 years ago | (#13704425)

Oblig. Futurama quote:

Bender: [Wearing a fly outfit] Welcome to the future, human slave. [Old man
                    gasps. Bender laughs] Ah, relax, chum. I'm not really a giant fly.
                    [Takes off the mask] I'm a horrible robot! [Makes a scary face and
                    advances on the man, spinning his head]

Mega Rich (-1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 9 years ago | (#13704337)

Unfrortunately this will only be accessible to the super mega ultra rich.
The rest of us will carry on being the work horses of the world.

Rightly so as well, because without us the world would stop turning (not literally).

Re:Mega Rich (5, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 9 years ago | (#13704428)

Unfrortunately this will only be accessible to the super mega ultra rich.

I really have no idea why people keep holding to this idea. The "super mega ultra rich" are by no means the powerhouse they once were. Today's society instead revolves around the needs of the middle class. If the middle class will be unable to afford it in the near future, the "super mega ultra rich" aren't going to be able to afford it (or even have it available) now.

Sure, the "super mega ultra rich" can afford nicer stuff than you and I, but they certainly don't have much that you and I don't have. A quick comparison list:

They have -> We have
Expensive Sports Car -> Affordable Sports Car
$3000 Cell Phone -> $0-$500 Cell Phone
Jet Plane -> Cessna
Mansion -> Spacious Home
Ming Vase -> A Vase that you can use

The world isn't what it was in the time of H.G. Wells. I seriously doubt you'll be seeing the "poor" eating the "rich" anytime soon. :-)

Re:Mega Rich (1)

CaffeineAddict2001 (518485) | about 9 years ago | (#13704517)

Your missing something: The rich have employees, there is no equivalent to that for the middle class. This is the fundamental difference between the middle class and upper class. The middle class think about WHAT they can buy, the upper class thinks about WHO they can buy.

Re:Mega Rich (1, Insightful)

SparafucileMan (544171) | about 9 years ago | (#13704531)

i guess you haven't seen the statistics on the steady decline of the U.S. middle class since the 1970s?

Re:Mega Rich (2, Insightful)

RandomPrecision (911416) | about 9 years ago | (#13704566)

I think we have differing definitions of 'middle class'. I didn't think I was poor, but let me add my family to the list: I have Ancient car that has to be resuscitated every year or so Serendipitously discounted cell phone, normally $100, but I got it for free Eh, we've never vaguely considered getting our own plane Tiny home Tupperware Maybe society does orbit your 'middle class', but that's still pretty far above me.

Sounds awesome but... (1, Insightful)

five40kix (853950) | about 9 years ago | (#13704339)

it's now the 21st century and I'm still waiting for my Jetson's like flying car.

No flying cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704340)

People will grow wings and fly themselves. Their onboard computers will be programmed to output that delightful flying car sound from the Jetsons.

Semi-topical link. (3, Insightful)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | about 9 years ago | (#13704341)

For those of you who enjoy fiction, Accelerando [] by Charles Stross [] is one of the best fictional treatments of the Singularity I've had the pleasure of reading. In Accelerando one of the characters refers to the Singularity as the 'rapture of the nerds'. Great stuff.

Seriously, though, will we be able to actually pinpoint a time and say 'this is when the Singularity occurred'? I'm sure that a person from the 19th century, when confronted with the complexity of life today, would contend that the Singularity has already happened, but this time is still (largely) comprehensible to us. As time marches on, and things become steadily more complex, won't humans, augmented by increasing levels of technology, maintain at least a cursory connection?

Re:Semi-topical link. (1)

ksheff (2406) | about 9 years ago | (#13704414)

so how does it compare to Kurzweil's fiction?

Re:Semi-topical link. (1)

patrick_jones (95543) | about 9 years ago | (#13704415)

It is a great book (even if I haven't quite finished it yet) but I believe that "the rapture for nerds" is a phrase originally concocted by Ken Macleod in his Autumn Revolution series. And it's said by a character who is most definitely anti-singularity...

Re:Semi-topical link. (3, Interesting)

adavies42 (746183) | about 9 years ago | (#13704456)

There are several different types of Singularities postulated by the various SF authors who have been involved in popularizing the term over the last few decades. In Vinge's original Singularity, in Marooned in Realtime, the entire human race (minus a few people in stasis bubbles) simply vanished--uploaded, transcended, no one knew. In Stross' novels, the main marker is usually the awakening of a superhuman AI.

Re:Semi-topical link. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704464)

Er, no, we'll be able to pinpoint a time at which the exponential growth predictably stopped and Kurzweil was finally put into a nuthouse.

Re:Semi-topical link. (4, Insightful)

meringuoid (568297) | about 9 years ago | (#13704568)

Seriously, though, will we be able to actually pinpoint a time and say 'this is when the Singularity occurred'?

I shouldn't think so. Whenever singularities appear in any model of the real world, it generally means a breakdown of the model. So this singularity means an acceleration of technological advance to a point where our ability to forecast breaks down and we really can't say what will happen.

A singularity would have it that we get ever-accelerating advance, heading skyward to infinity at some finite time. I dislike, therefore, forecasts that the singularity will bring utopia. It need not. The singularity could very easily bring extinction. It could bring hell on earth. It could bring a tyranny beyond the dreams of 1984, in which no proletarian revolt could ever succeed because we've all got Seven Minute Specials waiting to go off inside us. To be quite honest, I think our best hope is extinction, but leaving successors - which is, let's face it, the best hope of any species that there ever was. In addition, I don't mind whether this means our genetically enhanced, cybernetic, hyperevolved biological descendants, or our superintelligent quantum-computing AI offspring. What do I care about DNA, after all? A sentient robot I might build is as much my offspring as a human child I might father.

I agree with the concept of the singularity - there are advances coming whose impact on society we won't be able to predict until it happens - but not that it will necessarily be good.

Re:Semi-topical link. (2, Insightful)

GrayCalx (597428) | about 9 years ago | (#13704572)

I'm not sure if we'll be able to pinpoint when a Singularity occured, if one ever does. It may be more of a case of in hindsight we can recognize a single point in time that started it all, but at the time of occurance we may not be able to realize whats truly happening. The thing about The Singularity is that the result of it will be so... overwhelming, if not catastrohphic, we will definitely be aware of one when its happened.

For example for those not familiar. Picture a time when nanotechnology as developed to the point of being able to replicate anything (extreme i know but we are talking sci-fi here). Imagine with this replicator anything can be made: books, tvs, cars, jets, tanks, nuclear weapons, money... at that point whats the value of money? These machines could replicate themselves and everyone would have a replicator. Everyone has everything... material things then become worthless. Class structure collapses in on itself as everyone is on a level plain. What becomes valuable? Information... bandwidth... trust? Society as we know it now will collapse and crumble. In my opinion, it will not be a pleasant time.

I'm kind of describing an economic singularity one that Stross wrote of in Singularity Sky. Although the technology as a result from such a thing would be tremendous, I'm not sure a society can deal with such a drastic change all at once.

Technology (2, Insightful)

mysqlrocks (783488) | about 9 years ago | (#13704344)

Yes, but all of his wonderful technology could be used by people that want to preserve their own power and wealth. Why does he assume that it will be used for "good" purposes? Look at nuclear energy, for example. It's a powerful source of energy but the same technology is used to make nuclear weapons.

Re:Technology (1)

Forbman (794277) | about 9 years ago | (#13704377)

Look at nuclear energy, for example. It's a powerful source of energy but the same technology is used to make nuclear weapons.

The same theory is used for all three (fission power, fission bombs, fusion bombs), but not the same technology, otherwise wouldn't we have fusion reactors by now? There isn't really any technology in neutron fission chain reaction. Moderating the reaction, well, yes, there is technology there.

Some parts are more optimistic than others (0)

jandrese (485) | about 9 years ago | (#13704346)

Some of this stuff may happen in my lifetime (I'm probably too old to get the 300 year treatment), but a lot of it looks really pie-in-the-sky to me. To me this reads like those futurists who predict everything in the hopes that they're right on at least one thing so they can write a book later gloating about how they successfully predicted something and gloss over all of the other predictions that didn't pan out.

Is the future so bright... (0)

Torgo's Pizza (547926) | about 9 years ago | (#13704347)

...that I'll have to wear shades? Also, does the book mention that in the utopian future that repeat stories will be eliminated? What about Beowulf clusters of those brainy head computers?

Obviously bad puns and cliches are going to be around in the future.

Re:Is the future so bright... (1)

KDan (90353) | about 9 years ago | (#13704506)

You'll be fine, unless you're particularly sensitive to Orange...

The future is bright...


What about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704350)

witty comments that write themselves?

Dear Science (3, Funny)

dancingmad (128588) | about 9 years ago | (#13704353)

Where is my flying car.

Get on it. I was promised one more than 50 years ago.

Re:Dear Science (1)

nekoniku (183821) | about 9 years ago | (#13704389)

Screw the flying car; I want my jet pack!

Re:Dear Science (5, Funny)

Peldor (639336) | about 9 years ago | (#13704504)

Screw your jet pack, I want loose alien chicks!

Re:Dear Science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704444)

How about this? []

Re:Dear Science (5, Funny)

JanneM (7445) | about 9 years ago | (#13704449)

Where is my flying car.
Get on it. I was promised one more than 50 years ago.

Dear Public,

We'll deliver you your flying car once you show you can handle the responsibility. They aren't a toy, you know. And your current record with wheeled cars frankly doesn't inspire confidence. Maybe next year.

All the best,


Agreed (1)

ritRadical (770569) | about 9 years ago | (#13704359)

I read Kurzweil's book The Age of Spiritual Machines and I have to say he's pretty damn optimistic about what the future brings. (i.e., people uploading their brains to the Internet, nanobot swarms able to create anything). But he's also invented some really cool technologies (poetry writing software that generates original poetry after studying a set of poems, one of the first OCR's for blind people). A lot of people consider him a looney, but with the way technological change is increasing every year, the idea of a Singularity doesn't seemed too far-fetched.

Living to 300+ ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704365)

Mr. Kurzweil (...) imagines a plausible future (...) with extended life-spans (living to 300 will not be unusual)

That sounds cool and all, but ... "When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not. Hmm?"

I want my hover car. (2, Insightful)

bigtallmofo (695287) | about 9 years ago | (#13704367)

extraordinarily bright future in which technological progress has leapt

This really sounds like one of those "In the year 2000, people will be..." If this type of thing were remotely true, I'd be driving a hover car to work right now. And yes, I know they exist but I don't know a single person that has even the remotest possibility of owning one.

I guess you have to come up with this kind of thing to sell books or articles. I would imagine nobody would be buying a book envisioning the year 2025 as pretty much the same as today with more hard disk space and faster CPUs.

The problems of today... (5, Insightful)

manonthemoon (537690) | about 9 years ago | (#13704371)

aren't with the technology. We have "utopian" level technology compared to 80 years ago right now. The problem is with the people.

Look at Russia. Rampant alcholism, suicide, murder, gansterism, etc. Yet it is perfectly capable of sending off spaceships and creating high level technology.

I appreciate and welcome all the anticpated advances- but unless we create a worldwide civil society that is robust, honest, and representative; it won't make a dime's worth of difference.

Re:The problems of today... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704524)

And free of drugs, porn, and piracy, right?

The singularity isn't so bright (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704372)

... enormous increases in wealth (the average person will be capable of feats, like traveling in space, only available to nation-states today)."

Also only available to nation-states (and ex KGB), the nuclear weapon!

I don't know if the world will be a better place when every single person has the capability to blow it up.

Huh? (2, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | about 9 years ago | (#13704379)

Naturally, Mr. Kurzweil has little time for techno-skeptics like the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Richard Smalley, who in September 2001 published a notorious piece in Scientific American debunking the claims of nanotechnologists, in particular the possibility of nano-robots (nanobots) capable of assembling molecules and substances to order. Mr. Kurzweil's arguments countering Dr. Smalley and his allies are a pleasure to read -- Mr. Kurzweil clearly thinks that nanobots are possible -- but in truth he is fighting a battle that is already won.

The battle has been "won" in that "nanotechnology" has been repackaged to refer to "really small stuff", rather than to Drexlerian nano-assemblers. I'd be interested in reading what Kurzweil says (although I give the benefit of the doubt to chemists with empirical data over "futurists") but it's not like anyone has successfully demonstrated anything approaching Diamond Age proportions.

Re:Huh? (1)

tcopeland (32225) | about 9 years ago | (#13704482)

> The battle has been "won" in that "nanotechnology" has been repackaged
> to refer to "really small stuff", rather than to Drexlerian nano-assemblers.

Well said. Same goes for AI; those who declare that "we now have have AI" mean "we now have good chess programs".

Re:Huh? (1)

Otter (3800) | about 9 years ago | (#13704548)

In fairness, I left out the reviewer's point, which is that "the battle has been won" because environmentalists are opposed to nano-assemblers. Still, though, the fact that someone opposes doing something hardly proves that it can be done!

The summary isnt really true (4, Informative)

imsabbel (611519) | about 9 years ago | (#13704380)

"singularity" says nothing about "bright future" or "utopia" per sé, but more descripes a point where the ever increasing innovation rate makes predictions impossible.

Re:The summary isnt really true (1)

Peldor (639336) | about 9 years ago | (#13704557)

"singularity" says nothing about "bright future" or "utopia" per sé, but more describes a point where the ever increasing innovation rate makes predictions impossible.

So what you're saying is Kurweil needs to sell this book fast because he'll be out of job REAL SOON NOW.

Kurzweil is not an optimist (5, Funny)

L. VeGas (580015) | about 9 years ago | (#13704381)

Pessimist: "That glass is half empty."
Optimist: "That glass is half full."
Kurzweil: "The self-cloning milk in that glass will replicate thanks to nanobots and end world hunger."

Re:Kurzweil is not an optimist (1)

Associate (317603) | about 9 years ago | (#13704489)

Chemist: The glass is completely full.
Physicist: The glass is 99.9% empty.
Buddhist: Gulp.

Re:Kurzweil is not an optimist (1)

kianu7 (886560) | about 9 years ago | (#13704510)

Yeah, I think you're right in that nanotechnology will be a major contributor to us achieving singularity. Increased computer processing power, alone, isn't going to make it happen, in my opinion.

Re:Kurzweil is not an optimist (3, Funny)

denison (735014) | about 9 years ago | (#13704564)

Engineer: "The glass is twice as big as it needs to be."

Sounds like he has read ... Iain M Banks (4, Interesting)

MosesJones (55544) | about 9 years ago | (#13704387)

Iain M Banks (to be confused with the non-sci-fi writer Iain Banks) has written a lot of book about "The Culture" a man/machine symbiosis that has created a utopian society in which people get what they need.

Actually it sounds also like Robert Heinlein, Asimov and most other Sci-Fi writers I've ever read. But mostly like Iain M Banks who books are a cracking read.

Living to 300... of course we will, we'll have to work till we are 280 though.

Re:Sounds like he has read ... Iain M Banks (1)

dpilot (134227) | about 9 years ago | (#13704533)

>a utopian society in which people get what they need.

Not a bad idea at all. But all too frequently, what we need is different from what we want. There's the rub.

It sounds like a utopian dream, but a couple of things scare me about it.

* Terrorists "NEED" nuclear and biological weapons. This one is all-too-easy to imagine.

* For that matter, there are Christian Apocolyptics who "NEED" to end the entire world.

* The wealthy "NEED" to preserve their station in life, which essentially comes from their control of something scarce. Read "The Forever Peace" by Joe Haldeman for an example where Kurzweillian technology is carefully restricted in order to preserve the status quo. (side point of the book)

* Given the above points, I "NEED" a way to get off of this rock, and go someplace else with "similarly enlightened" people. (My definition, of course.)

Let's compare this to the previous article (1)

denison (735014) | about 9 years ago | (#13704395)

We'll all live 300 years and nanobots will make everything out of dirt and sunlight. In other news, OpenBSD's new heap protection mechanism is boon to security! []

If heap protection is still news then it's doubtful that the utopian future will come to pass anytime soon.

but he hasn't accounted for human nature (1)

ChipMonk (711367) | about 9 years ago | (#13704398)

Say what you will about the innate good and/or evil in humanity. There have always been people who want what you have, simply because you have it and they don't. Until the time comes that human nature itself changes, all these wonders of technology will remain neutral tools, reflecting their flawed users more than any utopian vision.

Well... (1)

smagruder (207953) | about 9 years ago | (#13704409)

if the U.S. can get rid of its anti-science President, and if the world can go through a real energy revolution of new alternatives coming online, then the possibilities are endless.

If we don't run out of oil first... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704410)

From what I hear, the "peak oil" [] crisis stands a decent chance of obliterating human society as we know it before any of this wonderful stuff can happen. I would love it if someone would make a good argument why this isn't the case, but I've yet to hear one.

before Utopia... (2, Funny)

ynohoo (234463) | about 9 years ago | (#13704412)

Could the Christians PLEASE get their "Rapture" out of the way first before our "Singularity" arrives?

Re:before Utopia... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704442)


powerful computers (2, Funny)

BushCheney08 (917605) | about 9 years ago | (#13704422)

...vastly more powerful computers (imagine more computing power in a head-sized device than exists in all the human brains alive today)

And we shall call it "Marvin"

Will there be... (0, Redundant)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | about 9 years ago | (#13704427)

Flying cars?

Kurzweil's site (1)

op12 (830015) | about 9 years ago | (#13704430)

He's got a very interesting website [] .

Try talking to the chatbot, and clicking on the link to "The Brain."

Peak Oil (1)

marsipan (641873) | about 9 years ago | (#13704431)

Ray's probably right, but we have to make it past the collapse from a crumbling petrol society first!

Energy problems before and after the singularity (1)

CdXiminez (807199) | about 9 years ago | (#13704445)

Does he address the possible slow-down of technological and economical development because we run out of energy and haven't found alternatives to oil and gas yet?
Does he address the risk of global overheating if we find an infinite source of energy?

Kurzweil is dead wrong (5, Insightful)

jamie (78724) | about 9 years ago | (#13704453)

Ray Kurzweil is dead wrong. I respect his work but his impossibly optimistic projections are misleading. Here's one numerical example. Kurzweil has claimed [] "human life expectancy" was increasing by "150 days, every year," and that shortly, increases in life expectancy would be beating Nature in the footrace:

with the revolutions coming in genomics, perdiomics, therapeutic cloning, rational drug design, and the other biotechnology revolutions, within 10 years we'll be adding more than a year, every year, to human life expectancy. So, if you can hang in there for another 10 years, (don't spend all of your time in the French Quarter!), this will be the increase in human life expectancy. We'll get ahead of the power curve and be adding more than a year every year, within a decade.

The accompanying graph is staggering but only shows five points of data. Its top point shows a life expectancy of 77 years in 1999 or so, which of course is not human life expectancy. Human life expectancy is about 65, ranging from about 43 in poor countries to 79 in the richest country. Kurzweil's statement only applies to the wealthy; in much of Africa, life expectancy fell dramatically during the 1990s.

And since he's clearly talking about life extension, the reader should be aware that there is no exponential curve at the top of the lifespan. His numbers gained mostly from improvements in child nutrition and antibiotics, and there aren't any continued improvements to be made in those (quite the opposite, actually). If we look at the average continued life expectancy for Americans aged 75, between 1980 and 1985 they gained 0.2 years; 1985-1990, 0.3 years; 1990-1995, 0.1 years; 1995-2000, 0.4 years; 1997-2002, 0.3 years. This is good. But it's not exponential lengthening of lifespan.

Oh, and the "decade" within which he promised we'd be ahead of the curve is now half over. The above quote is from 2000.

The main logical error Kurzweil makes is simply that he thinks computers will get smarter because they get faster. Readers who believe the one has anything to do with the other need to go back to Dreyfus' 1972 classic What Computers Can't Do. From there, start reading over the painful history of what is now called "strong A.I.", and what used to be just called "A.I.", to see how necessarily limited our efforts have become. Kurzweil elides over this distinction in the worst way. He starts by saying that computers are now as smart as an insect -- which is unrefutable because nobody can quantify what that means -- and proceeds to predicting that they will be as smart as people once they get n times faster. No, I'm sorry, all that means is that they will be as smart as n insects. Whatever the hell that means.

Mostly I wouldn't care. Fantasy is fun. Except that Pollyannaish predictions of paradise-yet-to-come persuade people that the problems we create for ourselves are irrelevant. If you think the Rapture or the Singularity is going to make all currently conceivable problems laughable, little things like massive extinction and global warming turn into somebody else's problem. They're not -- and our grandchildren, with their very fast and non-sentient computers, and their non-300-year lifespans, are going to be kind of ticked that you and I spoiled the planet.

Ah, long life, utopian heroin (1)

Pope (17780) | about 9 years ago | (#13704457)

Why is that all the Futurists/Utopianists claim super extended lifespan as some great feat? How do they stop the natural deterioration of the human body, exactly? I don't know about you, but I'd rather have an exceptional 70 year live that a mediocre 300 year one.

Longevity is overrated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704458)

How is an extended lifespan a factor for a "Utopian" society? Longevity should not be assumed to be an automatic plus -- by extending our lifespans we won't be extending our years spent in idle retirement. We'll be tagging everything else proportionately -- lifespan increase by 10% = work/study time increase by 10%.

If we had an additional 25th hour in our days, I'm pretty sure we'll soon be wishing for a 26th.

Needs (4, Insightful)

cowscows (103644) | about 9 years ago | (#13704463)

The whole premise is actually kind of simple I think. There's three basic components to everything that we use in our lives. Raw materials, Energy, and Design. Stuff needs to be thought up(design), it requires ingredients to build(raw materials), and it takes energy to make/use/operate it. Some things, like digital media, have negligible raw material requirements, but they still fit the mold.

  So if we can make computers that can actually think well enough to do the design, then getting design done faster just requires better computers. I think it's safe to assume that computers will continue to increase in power. Whether or not they'll become "intelligent" is harder to predict, but lets say for the sake of the singularity that they do.

We also need plentiful energy. If this whole fusion power thing ever pans out, we'll have that.

Raw materials are a little harder. Making things just out of dirt is a bit simplistic. because there's lots of different minerals and such present in dirt, and they're not all suitable for any purpose. There's lots of stuff available in the earth, but extracting it, even if it becomes easy, will most likely be rather destructive. The solution is to make spaceflight reliable enough that we can mine other places, asteroids and the like.

Although that seems to me to be a short term solution, because most things in space are pretty far away. Unless there's some sort of major star trek-ish breakthrough in propulsion, it's never going to be all that simple.

I guess the point is, design and energy are almost like a switch. Either we'll have a couple big breakthroughs that'll bust those two wide open, or we won't. But even if we got cheap brains and cheap energy, the raw materials issue seems like it'd be a harder problem. If you're looking for a long term investment, land would probably be a good one, because it's the hardest thing for us to make more of.

Oblig. Futurama Quote (1)

dancingmad (128588) | about 9 years ago | (#13704468)

Nixon: Computers may be twice as fast as they were in 1973, but your average voter is still as drunk and stupid as ever. The only thing that's changed is me. I've become bitter and, lets face it, crazy over the years, and once I'm swept into office I'll sell our children's organs to zoos for meat, and I'll break into people's houses at night and wreck up the place! Mwahahahahahaha!!

Interesting predictions... (1)

lonedfx (80583) | about 9 years ago | (#13704471)

The Singularity is a term coined by futurists to describe that point in time when technological progress has so transformed society that predictions made in the present day, already a hit-and-miss affair, are likely to be very, very wide of the mark.

Oh, the irony...

lone, dfx.

I think it's quite the opposite (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704475)

I think it's totally the opposite. I think we already passed a sort of "singularity", and we're sitting at a new plateau of technology. Most every technology is just a realization of the potential made available by discoveries made in the late 19th and early 20th century. Some new discoveries are being made, but nothing on the scale of 100 years ago. I think over the next century, the pace of growth of technology will slow and eventually stall, until we have another burst of discovery like we had a century ago.

Inflation? (1)

Jugalator (259273) | about 9 years ago | (#13704476)

enormous increases in wealth (the average person will be capable of feats, like traveling in space, only available to nation-states today)

Isn't that what we see today with inflation?

that won't sell (1)

crabpeople (720852) | about 9 years ago | (#13704479)

"Kurzweil refers not to a collapsed supernova, but instead to an extraordinarily bright future in which technological progress has leapt by such exponentially large bounds that it will be... well, for lack of a better word: 'utopian'."

theres no money to be made when everyone is happy. As long as the focus of society is on amassing capital, their will be no utopia.

the only singularity coming our way is his asshole (1)

SparafucileMan (544171) | about 9 years ago | (#13704480)


laugh, it's funny.

anyway Kurz is full of it. exponential increase in technology doesn't get you anywhere if your population is increasing exponentially as well. and once population stops increasing exponentially technological "progress" won't increase exponentially either.

being able to feed and cloth 3,000 people to build a stealth bomber is only possible when there are 3,000 (or whatever number, i'm not making claim of an exact linear relationship) people in Africa, ferrying their 3% annual food growth abroad in the form of debt.

Kurzweil is a looney. he follows in the footsteps of the other millions of people who have been preaching the technological religion ever since agriculture was invented. according to them, we were supposed to be in "utopia" centuries ago...

Snakeskin oil (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704484)

This version comes in paperback.

I call dupe. (1)

xerxesVII (707232) | about 9 years ago | (#13704486)

Didn't we already have The People vs. Common Sense?

mopi... (1)

Feyr (449684) | about 9 years ago | (#13704487)

for those that think such an utopia is desirable, i'd like to introduce you to another book.

slashdot, meet The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect []

a bit far fetched, but not that far from what is suggested in the one under review here.

While we're on the subject of fantasy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704494) the future we'll also be able to bend space and time by sneezing and create new universes to live in and become a god of, and never ever feel pain and never die.

Well, actually, none of that will ever happen. But if you THINK it could happen, then just maybe your denial could grow strong enough to eat your conscious mind and in your coma-like self induced sleep you could really believe everything you imagine.

None of that bullshit he predicts will ever occur. It's not probable at all, it is merely POSSIBLE, in some alternate reality where nobody needs to focus on real life issues like paying bills or going to school. Sure, if everyone stopped eating and shitting and breathing and just put all their remaining life energy into a vast consciousness these inventions could become real.

Who the fuck needs nano machines to make shit out of dirt and light? We can already make stuff without them so it's pointless. Who needs a machine to think that much? We get things done now with how much we currently think. Who the fuck needs to live that long? We can hardly accept how long we live now and we constantly get more depressed as we age because we realize more and more that the world is shit and we wish we were young and innocent and simple and guarded from the world by our parents and institutions and stuff. And who the fuck needs to be so wealthy? Why don't we just try and reduce the poverty level a little first, and maybe when we dont have millions of people homeless we can try and increase wages hundreds and thousands of times?

Things don't change unless they need to. That's why we don't have all the shit that was predicted in the past century. Now get over your imaginations and clean the dishes you lazy fucking bastards.

What about planet earth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704495)

Ok so we have advanced technologically and will continue to do so exponentially. Woo hoo! But what about earth? There is that big @ss hole in the ozone which require people to wear 50SPF sunblock instead of 25 back in the day. Air pollution? Where is all that clean/pure source of energy? Cleaner cars? Global Warming?! I love technology as much as the next person, but I would love to be alive and in good health to experience it, rather than be all screwed up becuase of what we have done to ourselves. Global warming should be taken care of ASAP else these weather anomolies will continue to worsen, such as hurricanes. Why dont you write a book on how to help earth WITH the technology that we can create? Not to just benefit humans.

Power (1)

sdo1 (213835) | about 9 years ago | (#13704501)

There will always be some percentage of humans that crave power. We can never get to a state where everyone has everything they need/want because those who have power would have to relinquish it, and that isn't going to happen.


Singularity Spoiler (1)

Ruvim (889012) | about 9 years ago | (#13704507)

Here is the spoiler: the Sun does become Supernova in the end of book, wiping out everything.

A more balanced vision (1)

G4from128k (686170) | about 9 years ago | (#13704511)

The World is Flat [] offers a more balanced, more near-term vision of this. Friedman's vision is neither utopian or dystopian. The technologies that Kurzweil discusses aren't for everyone, and won't benefit everyone equally. Yes, technology does permit massive improvements in productivity for many activities, but not all. Those people, companies, and countries that can't (or refuse to) compete globally won't share Kurzweil's utopia. For some, the future may be a race to the bottom, for others it's about enjoying a nice slice of a growing global pie.

Who to believe! (1)

Some guy named Chris (9720) | about 9 years ago | (#13704513)

First, I read something like Olduvai Theory [] which paints such a dire picture of our civilization, basically proposing that we have collectively "shot our wad", and that we have wasted our one chance at an industrialized society.

Then, Kurzweil paints an equally extreme but opposite view of the world. One is left wondering which to trust more.

I hope Kurzweil is right, but I really worry about a return to the stoneage. I'd make a lousy caveman.

Already written, already read (1)

MadMan2 (3669) | about 9 years ago | (#13704514)

Seems to me that Kurzweil has been reading way too much Peter F Hamilton (specifically Night's Dawn trilogy & Pandora's star). Could someone please reset his OCtatoos?

Collapse is near (1)

jurgen (14843) | about 9 years ago | (#13704516)

I ultimately believe in Kurtzweil's future... but unfortunately I'm afraid it isn't all that near. Yes, technology is assymptotically accellerating, but as of right now we've overshot the carrying capacity of our planet, the flexibility of our economic and financial systems, and the power of our political structures to make the right decissions.

The next step, just a bit short of the singularity, is collapse. The collapse has already begun, btw... it's not years away, it's in progress and becoming more and more obvious month by month. Wars, hurricanes, oil prices market crashes... it hasn't quite sunk in yet, but it's starting to, and panic will set in shortly.

If and when we recover, eventually we'll make it Kurtzweil's future. But how deep and wide the collapse is going to be we can't know right now.


I extrapolate from the last 50 years (1)

dario_moreno (263767) | about 9 years ago | (#13704518)

that these incredible computers will be programmed in Fortran like the supercomputers of today have been for 50 years, or (even worse) run some flavour of Windows, that nuclear fusion will be only 20 years away in the future, that cars will not fly, have a lot of electronic gizmos but an internal combustion engine, and that two thirds of the world population will live on a dirt floor with no access to education, sanitation or medication, and launch wars against the other third for religious reasons. The rich however will be AIDS and cancer free. There will not be any space travel, only very good quality and free videoconferencing and virtual worlds/3d games allowing one to be virtually anywhere in the universe.

Not "Utopia" (2, Informative)

magarity (164372) | about 9 years ago | (#13704525)

an extraordinarily bright future in which technological progress has leapt by such exponentially large bounds that it will be... well, for lack of a better word: 'utopian'.
More's Utopia was a vision of a place where Marxist Socialism actually worked. It had nothing to do with technological progress.

Imagine more computing power (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704529)

"imagine more computing power in a head-sized device than exists in all the human brains alive today"

Given the MTV generation, don't we have this already?

Slashunits! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704544)

imagine more computing power in a head-sized device than exists in all the human brains alive today

Yay! We've got not one, but two new Slashdot units of measurement. How many nanofootballfields is a head-sized device? How many Libraries of Congress per second can all the human brains alive today process?

Very Interesting (2, Informative)

evil agent (918566) | about 9 years ago | (#13704556)

I read Kurtzweil's paper about why we're heading towards a Singularity. I highly recommend it. If you have some free time, that is. It'll take you 2 or 3 hours. You can find it here [] but I suggest you click on "Printable Version" cause it will be easier to read without all of those links.

After reading it, you'll clearly see that there is a fine line between genius and madness. And I can't say which side of the line he's on.

And.. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13704560)

And Duke Nukem Forever will STILL not be released!

Right, that's the obligatory reference out of the way.

Living to 300 ... (3, Interesting)

ta ma de (851887) | about 9 years ago | (#13704573)

Why stop there, fuck 300. How about we don't have to die. Why wouldn't the same chemical modifications that would allow for a 300 hundred year lifespan continue to work forever?
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