Book Review: The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Age of Spiritual Machines, is an attention-grabbing and misleading title given to a decent futuristic book. I have long wanted to read a book by Ray Kurzweil. He is one of the most prolific futurist writers. The news of him becoming the Director of Engineering at Google, re-sparked my interest in him.

I enjoyed the book, and found it quite accessible. Almost too accessible! Considering the complex nature of the subject-matter, technicalities are kept to a minimum. This is a good thing or a bad thing depending on how well-versed you are on the subject. A wide range of topics are covered in this book, including the human brain, neural nets, future of AI, simulated realities, nanobots, transhumanism, technological singularity and self-replicating machines. I'm probably not going to read other titles by Kurzweil anytime soon, not because I have not enjoyed this one, but since the same material is likely to have been covered in them.

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from the book.

  1. Can intelligence create another intelligence more intelligent than itself? [Everything pretty much boils down to this question.]
  2. Once a computer achieves a human level of intelligence, it will necessarily roar past it.
  3. The system designers don’t directly program a solution; rather, they let one emerge through an iterative process of simulated competition and improvement. [Evolutionary algorithms rock!]
  4.  Inevitably, there must be planets out there that are covered with a vast sea of self-replicating nanobots. [Even if there's a small error in the coding for self-replication of few nanobots, it can, in principle, go on ad infinitum. Scary stuff!]
  5. The feedback is used by the neural net to adjust the strengths of each interneuronal connection. Connections that were consistent with the right answer are made stronger. Over time the neural net organizes itself to provide the correct answers without coaching.
  6. Well before the twenty-first century is completed, people will port their entire mind file to the new thinking technology. There will be nostalgia for our humble carbon-based roots, but there is nostalgia for vinyl records also.
  7. Life on Earth has mastered the ultimate goal of nanotechnology, which is self- replication.
  8. $1000 of computing in 2060 will have the computational capacity of a trillion human brains.
  9. The human brainʹs density of computation is about 2 cpspcmm (calculations per second per cubic micrometer). That is not very high‐ nanotube circuitry, which has already been demonstrated, is potentially more than a trillion times higher.
  10. Like the mammalian brains on which it is loosely modeled, a neural net starts out ignorant. The neural net's teacher- a human or a computer program rewards the neural net when it generates the right output and punishes it when it does not. This feedback is in turn used by the neural net to adjust the strengths of each interneuronal connection. Connections that were consistent with the right answer are made stronger.

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