Month: October 2010

The Singularity Is Near

I read a lot of books. In fact, it’s hard for me to believe sometimes that the average American reads fewer than 3 books per year, according to at least one recent fuzzy math tally

Because if that number is true, then there must be at least two dozen of my fellow citizens who aren’t reading a single book to get to the average when I’m added in.

I read so much, in fact, that about 7-8 years ago, I found I was spending way too much on Amazon to possess books that 9 times out of 10 might have been modestly entertaining or informative, but not really worthy of keeping. So I shifted my habit and began to patronize the local library, which only further fed my reading diversity.

Thus, now when I turn to Amazon, it’s only to purchase a book that I can’t seem to find in a local library or it’s to purchase a book that I’ve read that has made a large enough impression to be one that I know I’ll want to return to many times.

One such book I read this summer that I recommend is The Singularity is Near, by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. (That’s Ray, on the left, with Peter Diamandis, another pretty interesting gent.)

It made such an impression, that – looking back to my posts this year – I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned it yet.  Because the book speaks to many topics that are very aligned with my personal instincts and interests regarding the future impact of technology on humanity.

What is the singularity? In Kurzweil’s words in the opening chapter, the singularity is a “future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”

Then, for the next 100 pages of the book, as if he were a defendant’s worst nightmare, Kurzweil walks you through the case for the singularity, with a systematic, step-by-step analysis of important societal and technological trends that is compelling and persuasive.

When do we reach the singularity? Kurzweil’s conclusion:

“I set the date for the singularity – representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability – as 2045. The non-biological intelligence created in that year will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today.”

Wow.

Of course, on the other hand, balancing out Kurzweil’s analysis, you’ve got a great deal of de facto evidence to validate the claim – and I include myself, when I say this – that people are stupid and that we will never allow such a future to be manifested, no matter how positive the benefits may be.

Let’s call that version of the future “the Dilbertarity,” with its chief propagandist being Scott Adams, whether he would accept the claim or not.

In any event, I urge you to check out The Singularity is Near from your local library.  Or, if you want to get a taste of some of the topics, browse the Singularity Hub.

And, if you count yourself as a skeptic, then do yourself a favor and start with Chapter Nine of the book, “A Response to Critics,” which you can think of as Kurzweil’s closing argument. Every bit as a convincing as the final comments from McCoy in an episode of Law & Order, where you know the bad guy is going to jail.