The following is a book review for the”Age of Spiritual Machines” written by Ray Kurzweil.
To begin with and to quote from the back cover:
”Imagine a world where the difference between man and machine blurs, where the line between humanity and technology fades, and where the soul and the silicon chip unite. This is not science fiction. This is the 21st century according to Ray Kurzweil, the inventor of the most innovative and compelling technology of our era. In his inspired hands, life in the new millennium no longer seems daunting. Instead, it promises to be an age in which the marriage of human sensitivity and artificial intelligence fundamentally alters and improves the way we live”
Now before I get into the details, let me begin by saying that I really really enjoyed Kurzweil’s writing style and well, the content. I think it was almost a decade ago, that I was casually introduced to the concept of the ‘technological singularity’ . That is what started my casual interest in all things cognitive sciences, very limited interest in artificial intelligence e.t.c. For someone to even dabble in these subjects and not come across the works of Ray Kurzweil is simply unheard of. So, up until this time, I have simply been watching some ofthe things that Ray has to say, primarily through Youtube. But this was the first book that I have gone through (cover to cover) that has been written by Ray himself.
For anyone who is not familiar with the basic concepts of Technological Singularity and or does not even have a latent interest in cognitive science, but happens to be reading this blogpost. For those individuals, this book is about technology, advances in computing, artificial intelligence and well unravelling some of the mysteries when it comes to a complex organ such as the human brain. And as the title of the book suggests, the content of the book builds up very quickly to determine the probability of when a machine based brain will emerge and the different scenarios of how it will all come about.
Now, a little bit about the author. Ray comes across as someone who thinks very deeply about the subjects that he is writing about. Kurzweil has the rare ability of painting the big picture, as well as getting into the details of how that vision will eventually come about. A significant percentage of the predictions that Kurzweil has made, have come true some 2 decade or more later. Remarkable track record. This list of predictions is long and unbelievably accurate (in scope and timing). Here is an example:
Kurzweil has also got a knack for debating both sides of the issue. I found the dialogues that keep popping up in the book from time to time, to be informative and amusing at the same time. These are thought experiments in the shape and form of dialogues really.
The Actual Book Review
Kurzweil’s manages to pull content from a variety of subjects, and not just related to the items mentioned above. It's almost like poetry. For example, the story begins with the very creation of the universe and subsequently the start of the evolutionary process here on earth. Then he gets into defining technology, as in what's technology at the bare minimum, the inevitability of technology and computing. Explaining things from the perspective of chaos and order, inevitability of Moore's Law e.t.c.
The next couple of chapters build up very quickly and we start getting into the realm of artificial intelligence and the various possibilities that will come about, with the emergence of a machine based brain. Kurzweil highlights the enormous benefits to society and I would say that the significant majority of the book focuses on the events leading up to, during and in a post technical singularity world. There is even a chronological timeline towards the back of the book that highlights the major achievements in the history of computing and tech and then shows the evolutionary path that these trends will be following.
There are some warnings, but by and large the content is focused on the benefits. The only exception to that rule are the warnings to pay attention to potential attacks from the luddites. A reoccurring theme throughout the book.
Also, there are so many ideas packed into this book! I couldn't help, but to stop, think about all the things Kurzweil had prophesied. You have to remember, that this book was written in 1995. So it was eerie to review the content and then actually come to the conclusion that some of these events (on the projected timeline) are occurring as we speak, exactly like Kurzweil had predicted some 19 years ago. For example, there is mention of Virtual Reality and Kurzweil starts getting into the details of how it will play out. And that totally was/is Oculus Rift and OMNI.
Coming back to the ideas bit. Seriously, there are entire product lines mentioned in this book. So quite naturally, I found myself sending out a couple of tweets relating to this.
Overall, this has got to be one of the most interesting books that I have gone through.
Our grasp of our consciousness is, well, still a guess. But Kurzweil predicts that in a couple of decades, we will start seeing the emergence of machines, machines that claim to be having spiritual experiences.
In short, Kurzweil has made me rethink the very notion of what it means to be human.
The Age of Spiritual machines. What a wonderful, wonderful read. Thank you Ray Kurzweil!
Kurzweil leaves these nuggets if someone is paying attention. An excellent thinking technique. I’ve personally developed a somewhat crude version of it. So I was pleasantly surprised to find this.
Excerpt from this youtube video.
“Not sleeping is counter-productive, in the short term. In fact sleep is a actually a very creative time.. Iassign myself a problem before I go to sleep every night. I find myself dreaming about it. I revisit that in the morning when I am halfway between conscious and being still in the dream. And kind of at least do lucid dreaming, when I access the dream ideas. That’s when I kind of begin to make sense out of them.
And with that technique I can come up with whole new inventions or ideas. Insights into different problems and challenges.
It’s a very creative time.
You are not really getting anywhere by staying up all night.
… But if you are having a good party then it’s different. It’s worth staying up"
A visual depiction of what Kurzweil is saying.
This blog-post has been sitting in my drafts folder for quite some time.
In 2012, I came across an interesting research paper by Nils J. Nilsson. The title of this research paper is ’Artificial Intelligence, Employment and Income‘. It appears that the actual research paper was published in the summer of 1984.
Nilsson has raised a couple of interesting points in this paper. Excerpt below:
Now I haven't even scraped the surface of AI, machine learning and mobile robotics in general. But, these technologies will mature very rapidly and when they do, then there will be some sort of an impact on jobs. And specifically routine based jobs.
Hence, I think I agree with the gist of what Professor Nilsson has mentioned in this paper.
The sentiment about generational wide changes is shared amongst one or two other individuals that I have spoken to as well. In particular, I recall my conversation with one of the CompSci Professor at Ryerson University and how they agreed with the statement being made in bullet # 2 above.
Civilization would have to make the necessary changes today, in order to be able to truly meet the impact, that the birth of true and real A.I is going to create in the future. Waiting for that moment to arrive is not an option.
Professor Nils J. Nilsson is not the first or the only scientist to have raised this issue in a reasonable, legible, rational way. Shedding light on this issue is important. Equally important is to do it in such a way that is rational. That does not have a luddite bias attached to it. Here, I use the term technology in the broader sense. One that encompasses advancement made in computing, AI and robotics. We need more investments and continued advancement in these areas as this is the only way of ensuring that we are able to provide for 7 billion people (and growing).
Also, in the near-term future state, the overall issue of employment requires a new vision and a new way of thinking. Hence, design-thinking becomes that much more important.
“We are just a tiny neuron in the collective human brain”
Words like these catch my attention.
Words like these, make me sit up in my chair, every single time. Topics such as consciousness, cognition, cognitive sciences. These kinds of topics and conversations will always capture my attention.
Human are emotional creatures. Our unconscious minds drive all of our reality. Our existence is driven by desires. That’s not spiritual. Far from it. Actually that can be extremely dangerous in a group-mind setting. And you only have to take a look around the world in order to come to that conclusion.
Technology is agnostic. But man will use technology for purposes that they deem good or bad.
For true collective consciousness to emerge. Some sort of a shift would have to occur. Like a major global epiphanic realization. Or a series of them. As with most things, epiphanies and realization too, are a series of events.
Maybe we will have a better understanding of our origins with the passage of time, scientific advancement and maybe hundreds of these shifts. Naturally, the level of consciousness would rise with each one of these iterations. Maybe not. This is all hypothetical.
We can feel and empathize. We can do that not just in individual surroundings, but also group surroundings. We choose not to do it on a massive scale as we’d be deluged with a range of emotions. So there is that ‘evolutionary’ mechanism, that has been built in. It ensures stability and well sanity.
But again. What if.
What if ‘collective human consciousness’ truly exists. What does that mean for our species.
What if we can actually figure out what this is? link
This energy, and then the space it creates, the frequencies. Travelling across the earth and back in different forms and wavelengths.
Realization, is a powerful thing. What if we can do that on a group level? Then a global level. What does that mean for eliminating suffering. For human evolution. For spiritual enlightenment. How we relate to one another and our surroundings.
If we can somehow tap into these frequencies. Then we can empathize and feel on an altogether different level. That is where the realization is going to come in.
Mass realization = massive change. We could change perceptions and modes of thinking over-night. Something that takes us decades to do right now. Some things have not changed in thousands of years. (action vs consequence).
I sincerely believe that a big portion of the collective human endeavour should be focused upon learning more about the general capabilities of the individual brain and all the components within it. Coupled with that, we need to conduct a ton of experiments in order to measure consciousness in all of it’s diverse terrestrial forms. Only, then can we move towards a model where collective consciousness could be effectively identified, measured, monitored and eventually channeled. Not harnessed.
Although, that is not going to happen right now. Who knows when that is going to happen. If at all. Probing consciousness is the rarest of activities.
Shifting gears. Maybe a yogi has a much better understand of our existence. A yogi, who has no interest in the worldly affairs and riches whatsoever. Between their induced-hallucinations, moments of ecstasy and general disinterest in all terrestrial affairs. Yogi’s might have figured out a way to channel their cognitive frequencies in such a way that they are more aligned with the forces that permeate the universe.
Energy is free flowing and connected and maybe, just maybe this yogi or a fakir has ‘better insights’ as compared to a lot of us hapless souls. Hapless, in the sense that that could very well be getting nearer to the truth. Nearer to the real form of happiness.
That’s quite contrary to rationalism. Hence, even if it’s true, it would be extremely rare and difficult to find this yogi. That is, if they exist at all. But, if they do exist, then we need to place some fmri scanners on their brains and measure the frequencies of the waves that their cognitive makeup is making.
Thinking is powerful. Thoughts and ideas can change the world. I sincerely believe that anything is possible because of the very crude process that has been outlined above. But it takes a rare breed of insight and intellect. A combination of that coupled with drive that helps uncover these unique, world-changing insights.
And if you happen to have that amazing world-changing idea. Be humble about it. No big deal. After all, we are just the tiny neurons in the collective human brain.