Nordic Track Book Club Review: The Singularity is Near, Part 1

Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near is a seminal treatise on the future that many might disagree with. Still, the concept of the Singularity has always fascinated me.  There are other books on my Nordic Track book list pertaining to the Singularity, but I feel Ray Kurzweil is its prominent voice.  The Singularity is Near finally reached the top of my book stack, so here ya go.   I thought I’d do something different with this book.  Rather than provide a review with excerpts when I finish the book like I normally do, that I’d blog on it in bits instead.  Today’s bits include the Prologue and Chapter 1.  Some entries are extracts while others are paraphrased for brevity.

Prologue: the Power of Ideas

p.3  Over the last twenty years, I have come to appreciate an important meta idea: that the power of ideas to transform the world is itself accelerating.  Although people readily agree with this observation when it is simply stated, relatively few observers truly appreciate its profound implications.  Within the next several decades, we will have the opportunity to apply ideas to conquer ago-old problems–and introduce a few new problems along the way.

p.4  This, then, is the story I wish to tell in this book.  The story is predicated on the idea that we have the ability to understand our own intelligence–to access our own source code, if you will–and then revise and expand it.

Chapter One: The Six Epochs

p.7  The key idea underlying the impending Singularity is that the pace of change of our human-created technology is accelerating and its powers are expanding at an exponential pace.  Exponential growth is deceptive.  It starts out almost imperceptibly and then explodes with unexpected fury.

This book will argue…that within several decades information-based technologies will encompass all human knowledge and proficiency, ultimately including the pattern-recognition powers, problem-solving skills, and emotional and moral intelligence of the human brain itself.

The Singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human but that transcends our biological roots.  There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality.

Many commentators on these changes focus on what they perceive as a loss of some vital aspect of our humanity that will result from this transition.  This perspective stems, however, from a misunderstanding of what our technology will become.  All the machines we have met to date lack the essential subtlety of human biological qualities.  Although the Singularity has many faces, its most important implication is this: our technology will match and then vastly exceed the refinement and suppleness of what we regard as the best of human traits.

p.10  The first idea is that human progress is exponential (that is, it expands by repeatedly multiplying by a constant) rather than linear (that is, expanding by repeatedly adding a constant).  The second is that exponential growth is seductive, starting out slowly and virtually unnoticeably, but beyond the knee of the curve it turns explosive and profoundly transformative.

…appraisal of technical progress when measured at today’s rate of progress (instead of a future rate of progress.)

p.25  When scientists become a million times more intelligent and operate a million times faster, an hour would result in a century of progress (in today’s terms).

Principles involved in the Singularity.  The traditional strength of machine intelligence include the ability to remember billions of facts precisely and recall them instantly.  A mastered skill can be performed repeatedly at high speed, at optimal accuracy and without tiring.  Machines can share their knowledge at extremely high speed compared to human knowledge-sharing…

p.29  Some would say that we cannot comprehend the Singularly with our current level of understanding.  For that reason, we cannot look past its event horizon and make complete sense of what lies beyond.


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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.