Worried about the Singularity? Fear not—here's the lowdown from an expert.
The Singularity, almost an article of faith in techie circles, is the point at which machine intelligence outstrips human brainpower. Kurzweil (The Age of Spiritual Machines, 1999, etc.) spends much time stressing the point that progress in the computer field moves at exponential rates. By his reckoning, the raw power of information technologies is doubling annually. This power increase, combined with the predicted growth of nanotechnology—robots the size of red blood cells inserted into the body—will make possible, within two decades, complete scanning of the human brain. By then, computer hardware should be capable of running accurate software models of human intelligence. By the end of the 2020s, computers will pass the Turing Test, simulating a living person well enough to fool an interrogator. At that point, Kurzweil believes, a genuine synthesis of the strengths of human and machine intelligence becomes possible: pattern recognition and inference on the human side, large memory with instant recall and easy data-sharing on the machine side. Freed from the built-in limitations of the brain, machine intelligence will then be able to use nanotechnological design to far exceed human intelligence. But at the same time, nanotechnological implants can be used to augment human brains, creating a hybrid intelligence unlike anything previously known. Ultimately, Kurzweil predicts, the predominant component of human intelligence will be non-biological, and more of our experiences will take place in virtual reality than in the physical world. Human-machine intelligence will saturate the immediate vicinity of the Earth, and eventually grow to fill the universe. Kurzweil backs his predictions with numerous citations of other experts, and while some of the arguments are dense, the book repays close attention.
An attractive picture of a plausible future; in 20 years, we may know if it actually works.