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The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biologyby Ray Kurzweil
The future of humanity in Kurzweil's eyes is a startling vision of humans moving beyond our biological bodies to join with computers — the human machine. Controversial and insightful, Singularity illuminates the technologies that are pushing the boundaries of humanness and reveals a future that hovers amazingly near.
Synopses & Reviews
The great inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil is one of the best-known and mostcontroversial advocates for the role of machines in the future of humanity. In his latest book, he envisions an event — the "singularity" — in which technological change becomes so rapid and so profound that our bodies and brains will merge with our machines.
The Singularity Is Near portrays what life will be like after this event — a human — machine civilization where our experiences shift from real reality to virtual reality and where our intelligence becomes nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful. In practical terms, this means that human aging and pollution will be reversed; world hunger will be solved; our bodies and environment transformed by nanotechnology to overcome the limitations of biology, including death; and virtually any physical product can be created from information alone. The Singularity Is Near also considers the social and philosophical ramifications of these changes, and is certain to be one of the most widely discussed and provocative books of 2005.
"Renowned inventor Kurzweil (The Age of Spiritual Machines) may be technology's most credibly hyperbolic optimist. Elsewhere he has argued that eliminating fat intake can prevent cancer; here, his quarry is the future of consciousness and intelligence. Humankind, it runs, is at the threshold of an epoch ('the singularity,' a reference to the theoretical limitlessness of exponential expansion) that will see the merging of our biology with the staggering achievements of 'GNR' (genetics, nanotechnology and robotics) to create a species of unrecognizably high intelligence, durability, comprehension, memory and so on. The word 'unrecognizable' is not chosen lightly: wherever this is heading, it won't look like us. Kurzweil's argument is necessarily twofold: it's not enough to argue that there are virtually no constraints on our capacity; he must also convince readers that such developments are desirable. In essence, he conflates the wholesale transformation of the species with 'immortality,' for which read a repeal of human limit. In less capable hands, this phantasmagoria of speculative extrapolation, which incorporates a bewildering variety of charts, quotations, playful Socratic dialogues and sidebars, would be easier to dismiss. But Kurzweil is a true scientist — a large-minded one at that — and gives due space both to 'the panoply of existential risks' as he sees them and the many presumed lines of attack others might bring to bear. What's arresting isn't the degree to which Kurzweil's heady and bracing vision fails to convince — given the scope of his projections, that's inevitable — but the degree to which it seems downright plausible. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Anyone can grasp Mr. Kurzweil's main idea: that mankind's technological knowledge has been snowballing, with dizzying prospects for the future. The basics are clearly expressed. But for those more knowledgeable and inquisitive, the author argues his case in fascinating detail." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Kurzweil backs his predictions with numerous citations of other experts, and while some of the arguments are dense, the book repays close attention. An attractive picture of a plausible future." Kirkus Reviews
"Kurzweil argues in terms borrowed from astrophysics, the approach of a historical 'singularity': a state of affairs so radically different from everything in the past that we can know virtually nothing about it." Foreign Affairs
"Kurzweil links a projected ascendance of artificial intelligence to the future of the evolutionary process itself....Like the graph of a mathematical singularity flipped on its side, it is a road that leads straight upward toward a momentous event." Oregonian
For over three decades, Ray Kurzweil has been one of the most respected and provocative advocates of the role of technology in our future. In his classic The Age of Spiritual Machines, he argued that computers would soon rival the full range of human intelligence at its best. Now he examines the next step in this inexorable evolutionary process: the union of human and machine, in which the knowledge and skills embedded in our brains will be combined with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge: sharing ability of our creations.
The audacious effort to map the brainand#8212;and along with it our mental afflictions, from autism to schizophreniaand#8212;by a rising star in neuroscience.
We know that each of us is unique, but science has struggled to pinpoint where, precisely, our uniqueness resides. Is it in our genes? The structure of our brains? Our genome may determine our eye color and even aspects of our personality. But our friendships, failures, and passions also shape who we are. The question is: how? Sebastian Seung, a dynamic professor at MIT, is on a quest to discover the biological basis of identity. He believes it lies in the pattern of connections between the brainand#8217;s neurons, which change slowly over time as we learn and grow. The connectome, as itand#8217;s called, is where our genetic inheritance intersects with our life experience. Itand#8217;s where nature meets nurture. Seung introduces us to the dedicated researchers who are mapping the brainand#8217;s connections, neuron by neuron, synapse by synapse. It is a monumental undertakingand#8212;the scientific equivalent of climbing Mount Everestand#8212;but if they succeed, it could reveal the basis of personality, intelligence, memory, and perhaps even mental disorders. Many scientists speculate that people with anorexia, autism, and schizophrenia are "wired differently," but nobody knows for sure. The brainand#8217;s wiring has never been clearly seen. In sparklingly clear prose, Seung reveals the amazing technological advances that will soon help us map connectomes. He also examines the evidence that these maps will someday allow humans to "upload" their minds into computers, achieving a kind of immortality. Connectome is a mind-bending adventure story, told with great passion and authority. It presents a daring scientific and technological vision for at last understanding what makes us who we are. Welcome to the future of neuroscience.
“This is complicated stuff, and it is a testament to Dr. Seung’s remarkable clarity of exposition that the reader is swept along with his enthusiasm, as he moves from the basics of neuroscience out to the farthest regions of the hypothetical, sketching out a spectacularly illustrated giant map of the universe of man.”—Abigail Zuger, M.D., New York Times
Every person is unique, but science has struggled to pinpoint where, precisely, that uniqueness resides. Our genome may determine our eye color and even aspects of our character. But our friendships, failures, and passions also shape who we are. The question is: how?
Sebastian Seung is at the forefront of a revolution in neuroscience. He believes that our identity lies not in our genes, but in the connections between our brain cells—our particular wiring. Seung and a dedicated group of researchers are leading the effort to map these connections, neuron by neuron, synapse by synapse. It’s a monumental effort, but if they succeed, they will uncover the basis of personality, identity, intelligence, memory, and perhaps disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
Connectome is a mind-bending adventure story that presents a daring scientific and technological vision for understanding what makes us who we are, both as individuals and as a species.
“Accessible, witty, imminently logical and at times poetic, Connectome establishes Seung as an important new researcher, philosopher and popularizer of brain science. It puts him on par with cosmology’s Brian Greene and the late Carl Sagan.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
About the Author
Ray Kurzweil is a prizewinning author and scientist. Recipient of the MIT-Lemelson Prize (the world's largest for innovation), and inducted into the Inventors' Hall of Fame, he received the 1999 National Medal of Technology. His books include The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Age of Intelligent Machines.
Table of Contents
Introduction • ix
Part I: Does Size Matter?
1 Genius and Madness • 3
2 Border Disputes • 22
Part II: Connectionism
3 No Neuron Is an Island • 39
4 Neurons All the Way Down • 60
5 The Assembly of Memories • 76
Part III: Nature and Nurture
6 The Forestry of the Genes • 99
7 Renewing Our Potential • 116
Part IV: Connectomics
8 Seeing Is Believing • 137
9 Following the Trail • 155
10 Carving • 170
11 Codebreaking • 185
12 Comparing • 201
13 Changing • 216
Part V: Beyond Humanity
14 To Freeze or to Pickle? • 233
15 Save As . . . • 254
Epilogue • 274
Acknowledgments • 277
Notes • 279
References • 314
Figure Credits • 335
Index • 336
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