The Singularity is Near: Chapter One

Recently, I have discovered the world of Ray Kurzweil. For those of you who know who I’m talking about, you may understand my amazement in his ideas. For those of you who don’t know much about him, I’d suggest looking into his research, companies, and predictions into the future. I’ve definitely heard varying opinions of this guy, but I don’t think anyone can doubt he is incredibly genius. His most famous and most recent book is titled The Singularity is Near.

I have just finished the first two chapters of this chunky book, and my jaw continues to hit the ground harder than the time before. Sometimes when you study a particular piece of literature, or when you read about an exceptionally intelligent human being, you find yourself dumbstruck when you can’t produce a word of opposition. A huge part of science is having doubt, educated doubt. But sometimes it’s hard to find the doubt, like with Kurzweil.

What I mean to say, is that this guy is tremendously credible.

SO WHAT IS THE SINGULARITY?

In a word or two,  it is when humans transcend biology. Not to be dramatic or anything…

NOT TO SAY KURZWEIL DOESN’T HAVE HIS QUIRKS. Part of the reason I’m reading The Singularity is Near is to develop a personal, informed opinion of this futurist. I can’t say I always dedicate enough time to fully understanding an author’s background, but this time it’s really worth it. Because if what this guy is saying is all true, in my lifetime we are going to see some unthinkably amazing events change the course of human history permanently. This is the stuff of sci-fi dreams. Jaws, on the ground.

So I’m going to do you all a favor, those of you who would consider it a favor. I am going to dedicate a post to every chapter of this book. It’s astounding information, and I cannot shut up about it. I just warned my roommates I will be continuing to blab about this book, probably at ever exponentiating rates of excitement. Our reality is exponential. Don’t you wanna know why?? EH??

CHAPTER ONE

THE SIX EPOCHS

Kurzweil opens by explaining the significance of exponential growth. Right now many growth predictions have been made using linear models, so people following those models have a harder time understanding how we will adapt over time. An exponential curve starts out with relatively linear growth, so growth data (of most any kind) look like a linear model. Kurzweil proposes we are reaching the “knee of the curve”, where exponential growth becomes subjectively visible. I buy it, I remember less than 10 years ago getting my first cell phone. It was a flip phone, those were reeeeal cool at one time. Here’s an idea, brainstorm what kind of technological advances your parents have witnessed in their lifespan. Now compare it to this current generation. That is one way to observe exponential advancements in your every day life. Also the transcription of the human genome. Some scientists thought it would take at least a century. Took 15 years.

So lemme talk about these epochs. They essentially describe the process of evolution, and the stages of increasing order. Each epoch leads to the one that follows. It’s the history of biological AND technological evolution.

1. Physics and Chemistry: information in atomic structures

2. Biology: information in DNA

3. Brains: information in neural patterns

4. Technology: information in hardware and software designs

5. Merger of Technology and Human Intelligence: the methods of biology (including human intelligence) are integrated into the (exponentially expanding) human technology base

6. The Universe Wakes Up: Patterns of matter and energy in the universe become saturated with intelligent process and knowledge

THIS IS A RIDICULOUSLY ASTOUNDING THEORY.

I could spend a long time writing about each of these epochs, but instead I will try to briefly discuss 5 and 6. The Singularity (which Kurzweil actually does capitalize in his book) will happen in the fifth epoch.

“It will result from the merger of the vast knowledge embedded in our own brains with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our technology. The fifth epoch will enable our human-machine civilization to transcend the human brain’s limitations of a mere hundred trillion extremely slow connections.”

You just go ahead and argue with that shit, psh. Where would you start? It appears infallible. Our access to, portable storage and retrieval of information from around the globe is already pretty incredible if you think about it. What, do you think things are just gonna stop becoming more easily accessible, at faster speeds, faster rates? EXPONENTIAL GROWTH MAN. Technological growth is not going to stop with the coolest iPhone ever, you know that.

At this point, you may be questioning the validity of all this exponential growth found in every single aspect of technological evolution. Don’t worry, if you read the book, WHICH YOU JUST SHOULD, Kurzweil provides COUNTLESS tangible examples of specific growth. He also refers to Moore’s law, which itself is defined as an empirical law meaning that it always ends up being true. Moore’s law, in terms of computer technology, states that “the number of units that can be packed into an integrated circuit of a given size doubles every eighteen months/ two years or so.There is an increase in computation speed, memory size, and per unit cost.

Very important law.

So that’s epoch five, here’s epoch six.

I’m just going to quote Kurzweil directly for the full effect of his words.

“I will discuss this topic in chapter 6, under the heading ‘…on the Intelligent Destiny of the Cosmos.’ In the aftermath of the Singularity, intelligence, derived from its biological origins in human brains and its technological origins in human ingenuity, will begin to saturate the matter and energy in its midst. It will achieve this by reorganizing matter and energy to provide an optimal level of computation…to spread out from its origin on earth.

We currently understand the speed of light as a bounding factor on the transfer of information. Circumventing this limit has to be regarded as highly speculative, but there are hints that this constraint may be able to be superseded. If there are even subtle deviations, we will ultimately harness this superluminal ability. Whether our civilization infuses the rest of the universe with its creativity and intelligence quickly or slowly depends on its immutability. In any even the “dumb” matter and mechanisms of the universe will be transformed into exquisitely sublime forms of intelligence, which will constitute the sixth epoch in the evolution of patterns of information.

This is the ultimate destiny of the Singularity and of the universe.”

This is the stuff of sci-fi dreams.

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6 comments

  1. Mary Neumann

    “Patterns of matter and energy in the universe become saturated with intelligent process and knowledge” …..perhaps already there and not perceived?

    • annaeneumann

      I would agree, but maybe the difference between now and the future is the appearance, or mobility of intelligence. Right now, our information is stored as described in epochs 3 and 4, Brains and Technology. You and I can agree that to research an idea, or to pursue an answer we would read a book (which is technology) or search the internet, or ask someone who may know. Epoch 6 describes when information is essentially instantaneous, that is if our understanding of time is even relevant anymore by that point. I’ll have to wait to get to that chapter!! But yes, I agree that brains and technology are only patterns of matter and energy, and within these designs information (as we know it) exists.

  2. neurovantage

    Lovely summary of Kurzweil. I’m familiar with his views…. kind of weird, but fun to ponder! Transcendance is definitely one of the BIG pursuits of humankind.

    “Technological growth is not going to stop with the coolest iPhone ever, you know that.” — you have a way with words. Nice.

    Andrew

  3. Wayne

    Anna,

    He read some great prophecy and figured some stuff out.

    He got his epochs out of order. We are just now breaking down the information in atomic structures. And it will be some time before we start storing data at that level.

    As to what a singularity is…It was rather cute of him to borrow that term to describe his book.

    I had not heard that we had actually finished human DNA. The last I read, we had ‘mapped’, but not analyzed human DNA.

    Kinda funny how he took prophecy and mixed it with science, so you don’t quite realize he got correct.

    When does he mention human cloning? And the creation of life?

    Has he gotten to his ‘singularity’ which ends it all?

    Or, would that become the 7th epoch?

    • annaeneumann

      So true, Kurzweil MUST be read with a grain of salt to say the least. I love hearing opposing and alternative dialogue to his work, because it is so easy to take all that he says as fact. Life rule number #1: never stop questioning. Thanks for reading!

  4. Wayne

    Reblogged this on luvsiesous and commented:
    Anna is giving a thorough review of Ray Kurzweil’s book “Singulairty.”

    She analyzes and writes well. So, she is worth your time to read and ponder.

    It is scary what we are designing in laboratories, and not talking about ….

    Thanks Anna! I enjoyed reading.

    Wayne

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