After watching “Kara is Self
Aware”, I put my
foot down and purchased “The Singularity is Near” by Ray
While the author would contend the book is anything but science fiction, I felt
that, as a subject, the Singularity was woefully under-represented in my sci-fi
reading. The Singularity describes an exponential growth in technological
capability, but my own interest in Kurzweil’s opinions varied with an
Visions of the Future
Kurzweil has much to say on possible futures of the human race, and his
predictions range from highly speculative to relatively concrete. The more
short-term estimates are clearly informed by current and ongoing research; a
strong point of the book is its consistent reference to specific publications.
The promises of the future are certainly exciting (who wouldn’t want to
fabricate any item for little-to-no cost?), even if some seem far-fetched.
Other ideas are somewhat challenging, including Kurzweil’s thoughts on how the
concept of personal identity will be challenged when all conscious thought is
Unfortunately, the allure of such notions seems to have distracted the author.
After a few hundred pages, the ever-present reliance on the promise of
“progress” gets tiring. The same rhetoric that once felt exciting and full of
promise begins to take on other qualities:
- Masturbatory. Kurzweil clearly has a fascination with the possible
achievements of future tech. While this fascination may be contagious in
small doses, it feels incredibly self-serving when related at such length.
- Complacent. The importance of today’s problems (poverty, oppression, etc.)
does not go without notice. The author’s eagerness to brush aside these
ailments in favor of the supposed problems of the future is either
disquieting or sickening, depending on how much compassion you have.
- Entitled. Technological advancement such as that described by Moore’s Law is
an achievement of millions of hardworking people. When taking a bird’s-eye
view of progress, it is easy to dismiss take such achievements for granted.
This discredits and de-humanizes the work of real people.
Between sections, Kurzweil often adopts a narrative style. He draws from a
small cast of characters which includes an anonymous young lady (both as she
exists today and as she will exist hundreds of years from now), Charles Darwin,
Bill Gates, and the author himself. This certainly provides good variety to
lengthy nuts-and-bolts discussion of tech. Maybe it is purely due to the
subject matter, but these sections tend to feel more like science fiction
writing, which I expect most people reading the book will be right at home
I feel the technique is somewhat self-serving, however. It is all too easy to
debate with oneself, and Kurzweil comes off as smug whenever he turns aside the
objections of his strawmen.
While I’ve focused on my negative reactions in this review, I do feel that “The
Singularity is Near” is worth your time. Like any good science fiction author,
Kurzweil is challenging his readers to consider the implications of technology.
In the best case, this makes us all better-prepared to respond to difficult
questions, and in the worst, it amuses us for a bit.
My suggestion for anyone looking for another perspective on the promise of
advancing technology: “You are not a Gadget” by Jaron