Ray Kurzweil's New Book

Posted by: Olga Kharif on June 21, 2005

I just got a preview copy of Ray Kurzweil’s upcoming book, “The Singularity Is Near.” I am still going through the tome’s 603 pages, more than 100 of which are annotations and notes. What I’ve gleaned so far is, if you thought Kurzweil’s “The Age of Spiritual Machines,” which talked about a time when human and machine cognition would blur, was really out there, this new book is really, really out there. Delightfully so.

In his new book, the famed inventor is looking, once again, at the implications of merging biological and non-biological thinking. The possibilities include expanding beyond the solar system and using programmable blood (Kurzweil believes we’ll do away with human organs altogether).

One of my favorite chapters (so far, I've flipped through a bunch of them) talks about doing away with the heart. In a typical Kurzweilian fashion -- in his books, Kurzweil questions a lot of notions most of us take for granted -- the author says that we really don't need a heart, which can often be subject to failure. Instead, nanorobotic blood cells could be cruising through our blood vessels on their own.

But then again, perhaps we could do away with the blood vessels, too, by finding a more efficient way to deliver nutrients to the body, he says.

Out there as such ideas are, technologies that would make them possible might be rather near. Kurzweil believes our technological progress is accelerating at a great pace. Computer intelligence could start exceeding human intelligence around the year 2030.

That's only 25 years away. If you recall, 25 years ago we typed on a typewriter and had no idea what the Internet was.

The bottom line: Like Kurzweil's previous bestsellers, I think this book will make a delightful read for a techie or a sci-fi fan. It's well written, and it does a good job explaining scientific concepts in laymen's terms.

The book will become available in September. I'll blog more on it as I get through it.

Have you read Kurzweil's previous books? What did you think? There are lots of futurists out there; is Kurzweil more worth listening to than others, in your opinion?

Reader Comments

Alex Rowland

June 21, 2005 5:49 PM

I've read quite a bit of Ray's stuff on the Web. While some of Ray's thinking won't prove prescient, much of it will. And I guess that's the point. The future is notoriously difficult to predict. The future that Ray predicts is, by its very nature, almost impossible to predict. The closer you get to the singularity, the tougher it is to see past the next few years (let alone 40-50 as Ray ventures.) But he doesn’t have to be right on the outcomes of such advancement, he only has to be right (within an order of magnitude) about the underlying drivers. Those drivers (processing power, connectivity, miniaturization, cost declines, etc.) are very difficult to argue against, even if you don’t agree with Ray’s ultimate conclusions.

Robert Paterson

June 22, 2005 9:25 AM

What makes sense for me in reading RK'ss work is his idea of how for humans "Culture" has become the mechanism for adaptation - or not - to changes in the environment. All other animaals need to make biological changes. So we can use fire and tools to become the dominant predtaor on the plains of Africa.

His premise that the child of our tool culture, information technology, could meld with us and maybe succceed us. A friend of mine has a profoundly deaf child. He uses a cochlear implant in hiss brain that enables him to hear. He and his mum think that this is a simply brilliant tool. RK tells us that this is how it will go. We will adopt powerful tools as they become available to enhance or hearing, sight, memory etc. The military has a significant reason to make these enhancements. Im agine a Special Forces Soldier with his radio embedded and with a processing and navigation module embedded as well as hearing and vision amplification embedded. Not so far fetched today.

10 years ago I purchased a "massive" server with 1 gig of storage. I never imagined how I could fill it. My iMac has 160 gigss and my back up has 500. 10 years ago the internet barely existed. Today it is the centre of the new distribution model. RK suggests that this exponential growth in performance is normal. So his predictions for performance in 2025 do not seem that way out anymore.

Can't wait to read the book

Brian Flanagan

June 22, 2005 10:15 AM

Physics is on the precipice of a fundamental revolution. The last time this happened, we got lasers, transistors and the Bomb.

I'd like to do a piece for BW about it. Anyone have a suggestion for me as to whom to approach?


Last Thursday on PBS, Ray Suarez interviewed Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's
Dreams, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of 1905, Einstein's annus mirabilis.


In that interview, Lightman perpetuated the popular myth that Einstein lost the
big debate with Bohr and that was that.

As is well known, however, recent progress toward a Theory of Everything has validated Einstein's vision of a unified field theory, especially so in regard to the more recent revival of "higher" dimensions in string theory.





The breaking news, however, is this: In the last few years a handful of the biggest guns in theoretical physics have published pieces arguing for hidden variables.

What are hidden variables? Those few outcasts who previously sided with Einstein spoke of the traditional, Copenhagen Interpretation as being "incomplete" -- i.e., not every "element of reality" was portrayed in the official picture.

Restoring those missing elements -- the hidden variables -- would give us a better-than-statistical understanding of the quantum realm: Contrary to everything you've ever heard on the subject, God does not, in fact, roll dice.

Among the big guns now reviving this moribund line of inquiry are 't Hooft, Hartle, Smolin and Peres -- household names in their field. Hartle co-authors stuff with Hawking, e.g., and 't Hooft won the Nobel in 1999 for his work in gauge theory.

Here's a link relating HVs and Hawking; this blog belongs to some very bright kids working in string/M-theory -- also clearly a hot topic, tying directly in to those mysterious higher dimensions and offering cool graphics possibilities:



I'd like to do a piece for wherein you interview the gents listed above. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the real-world stakes could scarcely be higher: When the foundations of scientific theory shift, so too with everything resting upon those foundations -- meaning, all the rest of science and its attendant technology. (In my own forthcoming book on Quanta & Consciousness, I spell out the implications for IT, AI, machine vision and medical prostheses.)


Links to the serious physics:

Hartle: arXiv:quant-ph/0209104 v5

't Hooft: arXiv:quant-ph/0212095 v1

Smolin: arXiv:hep-th/0201031 v1

Peres: arXiv:quant-ph/9707026 v1

Holland: http://users.ox.ac.uk/~gree0579/


Thanks for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Brian Flanagan

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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