The Singularity Is Near I give it 3 stars

I’ve started using “the nanobots” as an all-purpose shorthand for technological changes so enormous as to render our current debates about, say, digital copyright ludicrously irrelevant in hindsight. And Kurzweil is clearly right that such changes are coming. But when he discusses things that I know a good deal about, such as digital copyright, his arguments don’t particularly make sense. So while I do think he’s right on some of his large-scale speculations (such as that computers will eventually display human levels of intelligence), I just don’t follow him to the huge-scale ones.

Will the nanobots work without devouring the biosphere? Will intelligent computers be so much better than humans at designing computers that the rate of technological progress will approach infinity (whatever that means)? Will we be able to upload human consciousness into a computer without the experience seeming like death to the body and brain left behind? Neither Kurzweil (who would say “yes”) nor his critics (who would say “no”) have got me convinced on any of these questions. Nor has this whole futurist-slash-posthumanist speculative enterprise convinced me that these debates are generating any insights we couldn’t get from a bunch of philosophy majors and a whole lot of marijuana.

This book is sometimes tendentious, sometimes wrong on the details, and sometimes positively Marxist in its construction of a closed hermeneutic from within which any disagreement can be casually dismissed as the product of “linear thinking.” Still, the metaphorical nanobots are coming, and we ignore them at our peril.