Perhaps three decades ago, I heard Ray Kurzweil speak at a conference and never forgot him and his messages. He was an outstanding speaker. The Singularity is Near employs the same clarity to explain rather easily the complex science of biology-based computing.
The book was published in 2005, which is fortunate for me because many concepts are more recognizable now they have moved into the mainstream. The exponential miniaturization of the last eight years helps the reader comprehend how computing power will be woven into clothing and other everyday items. The invention and improvement of cochlear implants points the way to ubiquitous support of human functionality by computers.
For decades computing power has been doubling every 18 months, known as Moore’s law. This could be continued indefinitely by using or mimicking biological processes for accomplishing work. Kurzweil emphasizes that we won’t need to replicate biological processes. Reverse engineering allows scientists to replace biological functions in ways that innovatively use available or invented materials. A basic example can be recognized by comparing Icarus unsuccessfully beating artificial feathered wings and our flying fixed-wing aircraft made of strong metals and polymers.
Already we can see the use of information technologies to drastically reduce power consumption. This is why the tablet computers of today vastly outperform the desktop computers of only a decade ago. And, why today’s cars consume less fossil fuel while providing more “information content”, such as GPS and engine monitoring.
The “singularity” is the point at which technological change is so rapid that humans will not be able to comprehend its entirety. In effect, the human mind will be able to take advantage of computing power and memory without distinction between human and machine. According to Kurzweil, this will occur about the middle of this century. When I heard him speak a long time ago, the timeframe was 2020. Both now and then, rather than absolute predictions, I consider his ideas stimuli for my own thinking; nevertheless, he has an excellent track-record for predicting the future.
- Judith Umbach