I found it to be an intriguing read which did a really good job of exploring the potential future of humanity and beyond. Being a big fan of Ian Banks science fiction 'Culture' based novels, Kurzweil's book really entertained some of my geekiest fantasies about super intelligent AI machines (Minds), genetic enhancements, replaceable organs/limbs, neurological implants, brain machine interfacing, drug glands, nanotechnology, personality backups, space travel... and the like.
Prior to reading the book I thought of the Singularity as some sort of AI entity (like the self-aware Skynet), but Kurzweil describes it as
' a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, it's impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly changed.'
There's no questioning the rapid advancement of technology we've seen in just the past ten years or so. The continual improvements we're experiencing in the collaboration and communication of global knowledge is astounding - Google, Skype, Wikipedia, Facebook, SecondLife, but where is all this leading us?
Kurzweil extrapolates the exponential trends of accelerating returns in everything from Moore's law and computation processing power, to RAM/transistor pricing, to internet usage and bandwidth speed increases. He then uses these estimates to predict some of the key technological events that will lead to the singularity. Such as,
achieving the computational power of the human brain ~10^16 cps by 2025 (today we are at around 10^9 cps)
achieving the subtle software algorithms of the brain and its massively parallel pattern recognition abilities.
reversed engineered the brain by late 2020's
the next waves of GNR technology (Genetic, Nanotechnology, Robotics)
the human body version 2.0 - all organs replaceable or redundant, non- biological brain implants/enhancements, nanotechnology based health monitoring systems
virtual worlds indistinguishable from reality - think the Matrix.
being able to backup a copy of the human brain
achieving a type II civilization status by the end of this century.
He presents some great ideas and seemingly plausible arguments all backed up by several pages of notes and references (around 150 pages!!).
Kurzweil predicts that by 2045 the technological singularity will have occurred. Life as we know it now will be forever changed - which is a tough pill to swallow, and quite difficult to imagine.
This estimated date is somewhat supported by Intel's CTO, Justin Rattner, keynote speech at the Intel Developer Forum where he says the Gap between Humans, Machines will Close by 2050
Beyond the singularity, well, who knows apparently by 2080 we should have enough computation power to be able to compute the equivalent of all human thought over the last ten thousand years in ten microseconds!!
What will the Singularity achieve? ...
"the goal of the singularity will be to eventually engineer the universe it wants by saturating matter and energy in it's vicinity with intelligence"
One of the chapters in the book deals with the impact of these technological advances on humanity and some of the hurdles we'll have to overcome. He raises and explores some core philosophical questions like ...
What is it to be human?
Can a machine ever reach consciousness? - and how could we prove it?
Can we be truly duplicated? Is the copy really me?
It becomes apparent that Kurzweil himself intends to do what he can to extend his lifetime until the time of the singularity and then be copied and uploaded into a machine so that he can fulfil himself as a woman - KAPOW!! - yea, ok some of this stuff is a bit weird, but that aside I enjoyed his further explorations of human duplication.
For instance, if you could be duplicated exactly - every thought, memory, and behaviour and put into another body which looked exactly the same - maybe a few enhancements ;-) - or maybe you at a younger age would it still be you? Can you imagine the scientist walking in to tell you that the procedure was 100% successful and version 2.0 of you is ready to go, but now it's time to put version 1.0 of you out of commission. This predicament reminds of Hugh Jackman's character in the movie "The Prestige" and his line "Would I be the man in the box or the prestige?"
Ok, that's doesn't sound too good, but what if you were replaced piece by piece until version 2.0 was achieved - this sounds like the ultimate refactor! So Kurzweil's point is though, at what point would we stop being version 1.0? What piece of us makes us, us? - or, where is our soul/consciousness kept? Makes you think, hey?
Besides all the positives that could come out of the Singularity Kurzweil spends some time delving into some of the negatives, or what disasters may prevent the Singularity, such as ...
nanotechnology going wrong and the gray goo wiping us out globally in 90 minutes (The Blob)
releasing new breeds of deadly viruses accidentally (12 Monkeys, 28 Days Later)
asteroids smacking into earth causing an extinction event (I sure my lowflyingrocks twitter feed will let me know a fews hours after this has happened;-) (Armageddon)
Information/blueprints for things we shouldn't know about becoming widely available to the public (like skyscrapers, weapons, blackhole generators, etc.) and then falling into the wrong hands.
superior AI deciding the humans are no longer important. (Matrix)
Obviously a lot of Kurweil's predictions also attract heavy criticism.
It's a great, well written, easy to read book that stimulates the imagination as to where progress is taking us in the extreme. At the very least you could treat it as an entertaining science fiction novel with loads of great quotes. Every scientist/engineer/geek should read it.
Apparently he's making a documentary style movie to explain the Singularity which will be out sometime next year. This should thrust some of his ideas into the mainstream, so I'm expecting all the technophobes out there to work themselves into a frenzy of mass hysteria ... should be fun.
If I've been able to whet your appetite check out these blogs,feeds,videos for more singularity goodness ...
Anti-singularity ideas- http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/jun08/6273