Friday, June 17, 2005

The Age of Spiritual Machines

Also recently, I finished Ray Kurzweil’s Age of Spiritual Machines. As I was listening to the 210 minute audio book and the paperback version is 400 pages, I believe I experienced an abridged version. I found the work worthwhile, but mainly because I listened to it while driving to and fro Markham from Toronto; a distraction is much appreciated during Toronto traffic.

The ‘book’ was very interesting and people should be exposed to many of the concepts within it. The main theme of the work is that computational processing capacity will continue to increase and allow for technological developments that have heretofore only been in science fiction. Kurzweil acknowledges that futuristic projections are often flawed, but makes the valid point that most projections of the future do not mention the advancement of computers and machines.

He discusses the ‘law of accelerating returns’ that describes how new technological developments allow for newer technological developments at an ever-increasing rate. I’ve thought of concept before, but I hadn’t heard that specific term used. It’s a good one.

Kurzweil sketches out a world (from 2010-2100) where most written works will be digitized and computers will be able to read and comprehend the material. This shall allow for computers to have access to the world’s knowledge. Moreover, in about 2040, you might have the same ability. Try to imagine a world where computers become part of your appliances, your clothes, glasses, and even brains and bodies. In about 2050, it might be possible to download your consciousness! It will be interesting to see if technology demolishes age-old philosophical quagmires.

One of the most interesting things was thinking about how ‘people’ might become software and be some sort of nanobot swarm. Or even have most of their information (and existence) on something like microchips. Consequently, any highly technologically developed alien society won’t be arriving in a big, wasteful spaceship. But something smaller, like nanobots. That makes so much sense!

The audiobook was useful in that there are important technological possibilities occurring (as I write this) and will continue to occur; the implications are important to ponder. As many things will occur in my lifetime, it is good to have a heads-up. He may be too optimistic, but the ideas are mostly reasonable and provide useful intellectual stimulation, even if the specific timeline projections are off.
I would suggest finding some essays of Kurzweil’s online or borrowing the work from a friend or the library instead of buying it.

It might just be a very interesting life my generation will have.


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