On Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity Is Near," a Rosier View of the Future

Last Sunday’s New York Times featured an article about A.I. titled “The Future of Artificial Intelligence” (www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/weekinreview/24markoff.html?hpw)  that mentioned Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near (2006), certainly one of my oddball favorite books. (One disclaimer: It’s too long and I couldn’t finish it, but I’d say most readers of a techno nature will find the first 150 pages most fun.) He makes a host of wild claims in the book, perhaps the most attention-getting being his idea that humans may soon conquer mortality itself by uploading their memories into hardware and in effect then living on after our bodies have failed or have been replaced with newer, prettier parts. It all sounds kooky, but he’s a well-regarded expert in this field, and I think we shouldn’t discount him so easily. Apparently there’s a new documentary film out titled Transcendent Man, which details some of these ideas, and as well Kurzweil has his own film coming out this summer. 
In a nutshell, here’s his argument: Advances and breakthroughs are being made in A.I. at various obscure labs across the country and the world. By 2017 he thinks we’ll have a computer with the reasoning properties of a human brain, and by some time in the not-too-distant future (2045 is one of his dates for momentous change, but some of it occurs earlier), a computer with the power of a billion brains at once. The concept is called Post-Humanism. What seems least convincing about The Singularity Is Near, but most heartening, is his rosy, upbeat attitude. Basically he suggests our coming computer overlords will solve all our problems. It’s a nice change from the downer vision of a near-future of murderous cannibals scavenging the countryside for tidbits of gore and plunder.

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