The Singularity Is Near (20 Oct 2005)

book cover

This is a big book, and not just because the font is really huge; yet I can't help but feel that it would have been much better had it been a lot smaller.

It's broken into three main parts. The first consists of a lot of graphs to really hammer home the message that exponential growth is happening all around us. And it's all very convincing in the areas which he chooses. Certainly everyone has come to live with and expect transistor counts to double every 18 months or so, but I will admit that I didn't know that productivity per hour of a US worker is also rising exponentially. What's neat is exactly how many of these graphs are really good straight lines.

That goes on for quite a while and then the main part of the book is a huge long list of all the cool things that are happening right now across a wide range of subjects. All these developments are introduced to support the idea of the singularity happening and, to give credit where it's due, Kurzweil does make solid predictions about when things will start the happen. The amount of research that has gone into this book is impressive and it reads like a 10,000 overview of most of the interesting work in science and engineering today. That's also the problem with it. There's page after page of the stuff and none of it ever goes into enough detail to really be interesting. As soon as you want to know more you're whisked away to the next wonderful development.

There is a large section of notes referencing everything, and this is good. But it's very hard to say that the book as a whole is very interesting reading. There is a third section, his responses to critics, but I don't feel that I actually want to bother reading it having slogged through the first two sections.

In the end, even if I'm convinced that it's all going to happen, just as he says, how is it useful information? Knowing that the washing machine is broken is useful information because it allows me to make better choices (e.g. to not bother trying to do any washing today). But knowing that the future is going to be wonderful is nice - but I can't see how it helps me yet. If I'm going to live for hundreds of years then maybe I should save more? But, if Kurzweil is right, then we will all be fantastically (materially) wealthy anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

How ever you spin it, there's a lot of hard work between here and there, so get back to work and you might have a technological utopia in a few decades if you're lucky ;)