Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil

A truly fantastic(al) book that is astounding in both depth, breadth and predictions regarding increasing computational power. The book discusses numerous possible ways of increasing computing power and that leads to coverage of quantum computation, using DNA strands to perform operations, microtubules and using different atoms and molecules and just so many other areas related to computation, hardware and artificial intelligence. It really is quite fascinating (although the technical parts are a bit dry).

The book is fantastical because it describes the impact of the Singularity (when computers have greater processing power than human brains) and an era of nanotechnology dramatically changes nearly everything about how we live. Imagine being a million times smarter; Imagine not having a heart, but using nanobots to circulate the oxygen and nutrients; imagine being able to exist as a pattern of information that can continue in various substrates (only one of which is a physical body); and try to imagine using the Sun as a powerful computer.

So, yes, many seemingly unbelievable predications are made. The process is supposed to start in the 2030s and things will have changed dramatically by the 2050s. I quite like this hypothesis because (hopefully) I’ll actually be able to see if it comes true.

What a fascinating world it would be…

The book is also great because it contains a huge collection of interesting quotations from a diverse range of authors. I thought it was especially interesting to ponder the notion that the last invention we’ll ever have to make is a machine smarter than ourselves.

The two excerpts below don’t do the book justice, but I thought there were interesting enough to share:
“Information is not knowledge. The world is awash in information; it is the role of intelligence to find and act on the salient patterns… Thus intelligence selectively destroys information to create knowledge.”
(Pg. 372)

“The half-life of a microtubule (a protein filament that provides the structure of a neuron) is about ten minutes. The actin filaments in dendrites are replaced about every forty seconds. The proteins that power the synapses are replaced about every hour.”
(Pg. 383)

(and yet you ‘remain’ the ‘same.’)


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