The Age of Spiritual Machines

Preacherbot

The Age of Spiritual Machines is a book by futurist Ray Kurzweil about the future course of humanity, particularly relating to the development of artificial intelligence and its impact on human consciousness. It is also a study on the concept of technological singularity, the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than-human superintelligence through technological means.

Originally published in 1999, the book predicts that machines with human-like intelligence will be available from affordable computing devices within a couple of decades, revolutionizing most aspects of life, and that eventually humanity and its machinery will become one and the same. 

In order to help the reader understand the concepts portrayed in the book (and for the book to make its predictions pseudo-realistic), the author has conversations with ‘Molly,’ a typical human being. At the start of the book, Molly is a 23-year-old woman who has little understanding of the concepts that are discussed in the book, yet has an enigmatic (sometimes romantic) interest in the author, which keeps her interested. By the time the book reaches Part III, ‘Facing the Future,’ Molly has somewhat of a grasp on all these concepts. It is during Part III that she physiologically and technologically evolves (as predicted by the author) as the years go by, to the point that by the year 2099 (the farthest point in the author’s scope), she has shed all biological matter and has become a dynamic, conscious sub-entity within a larger, singular entity, all within a machine (a Spiritual Machine, as it were). Molly has become so dynamic, in fact, that she is (in her words) ready to do anything, or be anything, you want or need.

In the book Kurzweil predicts that by 2009: Computers are primarily portable, with people typically having at least a dozen on or around their bodies, networked together with ‘body LANs’; Rotating memory (CD-ROMS, Hard disk drives) are on their way out; The majority of text is generated with speech recognition software; Learning at a distance, through computers, is commonplace’ Computer-controlled orthopedic devices, ‘walking machines’ are used to help the disabled; Translating telephones (where each caller is speaking a different language) are commonplace; Virtually all communication is digital and encrypted; Warfare is dominated by unmanned intelligent airborne devices; Tele-medicine is widely used, where the physician examines the patient at a distance with virtual reality.

Some of Kurzweil’s predictions for 2009 have not been borne out as of 2010. For example, Kurzweil did not foresee the global recession that began in late 2007, instead predicting that ‘[d]espite occasional corrections, the ten years leading up to 2009 have seen continuous economic expansion and prosperity due to the dominance of the knowledge content of products and services.’ Kurzweil maintains, however, that of the 108 predictions for 2009, 102 have been shown to be ‘essentially correct’ as of 2010.

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