I have been reading Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near When Humans Transcend Biology, and maybe I should say…TRYING to read this book! What follows are some of my random notes and observation on this book and the concepts, theories presented by Kurzweil, those things which I found significant from my reading of Kurzweil. Fundamentally this is a fascinating book that is based upon science FACT…everyday that I get up I read something about an advancement in technology that demonstrates that why Ray Kurzweil presents in The Singularity is happening all around us everyday.
We are more dependent upon our technology for our day to day routines than we were 10 years ago … one may even ask if you can live in this world today without some sort of dependence upon technology..and the answer to that would be … no. Even without reading Kurzweil’s book, watching the videos, or reading articles about singularity what he presents is truly evident in today’s society.
So what is the Singularity. Kurzweil defines this as a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid and the impact so deep that our lives will be irreversibly transformed. (pp 7) Kurzweil sets the date for the singularity, representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability as 2045.
In my perspective what is happening now, and what provides a foundation for Kurzweil’s singularity are the concepts behind artificial intelligence. I am not a student of artificial intelligence, it is somewhat of a “murky” concept for me. A web search indicates that artificial intelligence is..AI) is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science which aims to create it. Textbooks define the field as “the study and design of intelligent agents,”[ where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions which maximize its chances of success.John McCarthy, who coined the term in 1956, defines it as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.” (retrieved from wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence)
Advancements in the field of research of artificial intelligence and brain research will tie the concepts together and provide machines, computers specifically, the ability to do “pattern recognition” which is what are brains are outstanding at doing.
Kurzweil identifies several things that our brains differ from computers .. a quick summary of these are:
2. The brain operates massively parallel
3. The brain combines analog and digital phenomena
4. The brain rewires itself
5. Most of the details in the brain are random
6. The brain uses emergent properties
7. We contradict ourselves
8. The brain uses evolution
9. The patterns are important
10. The brain is holographic
11. The brain is deeply connected
12. The brain does have an architecture of regions
13. The design of a brain region is simpler than the design of a region. (pp 150-153)
Kurzweil describes Moore’s Law, or the exponential growth of technology. It is important to note that this exponential growth of technology does not extend itself just to computers, but extends it self to many areas such as development of alternative energy and capturing, for example solar energy. This theory also extends itself to biology and the field of medicine, extending our life spans, almost everything that impacts our lives…is going to be impacted by this exponential growth of technology.
As Kurzweil describes it..we humans view growth as linear..however that is not the case, growth is exponential. This is defined as: “intuitive linear” view of technological progress rather than the “historical exponential view.” To express this another way, it is not the case that we will experience a hundred years of progress in the twenty-first century; rather we will witness on the order of twenty thousand years of progress (at today’s rate of progress, that is). (retrieved from Kurzweilai.net http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1)
What seems to underpin much of what Kurzweil presents is the law of accelerating returns. The Law of Accelerating returns is defined as:
We can organize these observations into what I call the law of accelerating returns as follows:
- Evolution applies positive feedback in that the more capable methods resulting from one stage of evolutionary progress are used to create the next stage. As a result, the
- rate of progress of an evolutionary process increases exponentially over time. Over time, the “order” of the information embedded in the evolutionary process (i.e., the measure of how well the information fits a purpose, which in evolution is survival) increases.
- A correlate of the above observation is that the “returns” of an evolutionary process (e.g., the speed, cost-effectiveness, or overall “power” of a process) increase exponentially over time.
- In another positive feedback loop, as a particular evolutionary process (e.g., computation) becomes more effective (e.g., cost effective), greater resources are deployed toward the further progress of that process. This results in a second level of exponential growth (i.e., the rate of exponential growth itself grows exponentially).
- Biological evolution is one such evolutionary process.
- Technological evolution is another such evolutionary process. Indeed, the emergence of the first technology creating species resulted in the new evolutionary process of technology. Therefore, technological evolution is an outgrowth of–and a continuation of–biological evolution.
- A specific paradigm (a method or approach to solving a problem, e.g., shrinking transistors on an integrated circuit as an approach to making more powerful computers) provides exponential growth until the method exhausts its potential. When this happens, a paradigm shift (i.e., a fundamental change in the approach) occurs, which enables exponential growth to continue. (retreived from http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1)
Kurzweil proposes that we can, in my words, reprogram our cells..reprogram our biological “computers” to increase our longevity..can we live forever? An article from The Futurist magazine...presents more on Kurzweil’s theories and launches a trailer on a movie on Kurzweil The Transcendent Man. As this article conveys..what makes Kurzweil’s paradigm on The Law of Accelerating Returns and Moore’s Law is that it is based on tracking history of technical change back to the dawn of man. In other words (my observations) our learning from one technical change to the next has been exponential since the dawn of our history.
So if change is happening as Kurzweil presents..why don’t we notice it, why isn’t more significant..because these changes are somewhat imperceptible to us for the most part. If it has some significant impact on our jobs, disrupt our routine, or is a technology that we could fix ourselves one day and had to call in a specialist the next… I contend that these changes are not easily identifiable.
There is more so much more to this book…I could never hope to cover it in one blog..my observations are superficial. What is important or significant to me may be different for another reader. In the back of my mind remains the thought of how this would impact education and learning….of course Kurzweil’s Moore’s Law and Law of Accelerating Returns will certainly require increased cause and support for the “lifelong learning movement,” support for movement such as Micheal Trout’s “Learn anything, anytime anywhere..” as well as his Eduit or eSingularity.
Resources on Kurzweil:
This google video of Kurzweil’s presentation at Stanford.
The book is available on Amazon.