- Books, Literature, and Writing
"How to Create a Mind" vs "Singularity is Near"
How to Create a Mind
I've been a fan of Ray Kurzweil's writing for a few years now. My first read was on my Note 2, "The Singularity Is Near." It was, perhaps appropriately, the first e-book I had ever read, and it flowed extremely well in that format. However, it took me several months to read. For one, there was just a great deal of material presented, and many different new points of view (new to me, at least) explained, with examples abound. For another thing, I wanted the reading to last longer.
Obviously, "The Singularity is Near" is a fan favorite for articulating the concept of a technological singularity, the expansion of technological acceleration, etc to the layperson. But I think that "How to Create a Mind" may well have one-upped it in a few different ways. First of all, it's nowhere near as long as "Singularity", with very nearly as much information presented in lay terms. That is to say, you can get the gist of the concepts underlying the "Law of Accelerating Returns" (LOAR, as Ray calls it), along with exponential growth vs linear growth. Second, one of the main focuses of "Singularity" is what is now being called popularly "transcendence", and this is broken down in some detail in "How to Create a Mind", with emphasis given to where we are today (with the BRAIN initiative and the "Human Brain Project", fMRI scanning, and the current state of surgery) and where we're headed tomorrow.
"Papa Ray" on the Singularity
Will brain uploading ever occur?
The crux of the whole Singularity concept is "accelerating returns" (Kurzweil's terminology), or the concept that each innovation builds upon the previous one in order to facilitate further innovation. A great example of this comes straight from the computer industry itself: semiconductors are built with ever-increasing numbers of transistors on each chip, becoming thus smaller and smaller and cheaper and cheaper. However, there comes a limit to which humans can make a chip more efficiently. Enter CAD (Computer Aided Design). Computers are now capable of fitting far more transistors onto a single chip than human beings could ever design by themselves, and we wouldn't have CAD without the semiconductor advances themselves. The next generation of (wholly computer designed) chips will be able to design another, more advanced generation of computer chips, and so on.
Eventually, the Singularity story goes, the computers will be able to design the entire next generation of computers far more efficiently than any human, and oversee building them, and so on. As this process becomes ever more rapid, the Singularity occurs- a moment beyond which we simply cannot predict what will happen, nor understand what's going on without some kind of aid from the computers (such as brain augmentation, which is a main topic in "How to Create a Mind").
Moore's Law, the fifth paradigm
The Singularity is near(ish)
I personally do believe that a technological singularity may well take place within my lifetime, but even if it doesn't occur precisely the way Kurzweil imagines it might, it certainly does pay to start having the conversation about what may be possible in the years to come. Being more prepared for any eventuality will allow us to take precautions against the inevitable brain hacking to come, and could potentially allow those of us in the know to help influence the outcome, making the technology ever more affordable and accessible to the masses of humanity. That's certainly a goal of mine.
It's time to begin discussions on what may happen when, for instance, we begin storing more and more memories in "the cloud." Hacking stories are only going to be more and more prevalent, as our very memories themselves are being stored, along with the phone numbers, emails, addresses, photos, and videos from our past that are already stored there. While there are already obvious risks with storing our information out there, people are obviously willing to trade the convenience and backup security for the risk of hacking and giving up control to others. How long will it take until we are thinking via the cloud as well, and what risks will be present at that point?
If you're a fan of so-called transhumanism (and I dislike this word every bit as much as Kurzweil does), you'll love reading this book. If you have a friend who would like to find out more, this would make a great gift. Kurzweil breaks down the incredibly complex concepts of consciousness uploading, living in "the cloud", transcendence, and the technological singularity, into simple terms even the ordinary layman can understand. He writes with clarity and simplicity, following Einstein's famous axiom: make it as simple as possible, but no simpler. The end result is an extremely eloquent and elegant description of what's ahead for humanity. I, for one, couldn't be more excited.