Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (1999)

Author: Ray Kurzweil | Page Count: 400

"I have been accused of that..."

This text is a complicated and multi-layered mountain to climb. The question is of course whether or not it’s worth it. That depends at least somewhat on you, as a reader and a human being. The gigantic prism-hued elephant in the room is that this is a book built upon a foundation of predictions of the future as viewed from the late 90s. If you are a person who understands and does not lie to yourself about the world as it currently stands (read: teeters on the brink) in this second decade of the twenty-first century, you will find yourself laughing at Kurzweil’s VERY rose-tinted reading of the then-future. These predictions are wondrous to ponder, but the simple truth is that we won’t see them come to pass given how incapable we are at overcoming our petty and bellicose nature, as a species.

Is there value in reading it as (partly) a work of fiction, though? I would argue yes, if you’re able to set the narrative and speculative parts into the proper context. I say ‘partly,’ because roughly half of this text is comprised of facts, figures, real-world technological timelines, and treatises on certain aspects of quantum physics. Get ready to have a finger planted in the Notes appendix at all times. And, those notes can get to be quite lengthy. Are you up for reading what equates to a college (or graduate-level) textbook? That’s what you can look forward to for a significant portion of this venture.

I realize I’m being excessively negative and dismissive (Hello, my name IS Neg, if you weren’t already aware.), but being the person I am, and in order to be honest with anyone who would potentially be reading this, it is nothing more than a necessity born of truth. Again, if you can make yourself read the speculative portions of this as a piece of fiction, then I do believe there is merit in making the large amount of time it will take to digest this work. These works. Plural. This is because of the dual nature of the book itself and the concept album that was created as a result: Our Lady Peace’s Spiritual Machines.

As a consumer of media, whether you realize it or not, you are fishing for hope, both real and entirely fictional. The beautiful thing is that the verity of a piece of media matters little to those of us who rest our mental (and for some, spiritual) well-being upon them. Not just hope, but strength, resolve, comfort, stimulation, and countless other things essential to the human experience can all be legitimately garnered from works that derive entirely from the minds of humanity itself. Raine Maida did a spectacular job of examining some of the very human concerns springing from the technological trends discussed herein. Albeit (at least partially) from the other end of the telescope.

Indeed, while many of the basic quantum and computational concepts discussed have stuck with me, what has haunted me the most, ever since I first read this, are the philosophical ramifications that Kurzweil subtly mentions in passing by having the reader character he creates simply dismiss outright. This is clearly 1.) intentional, 2.) accurate for her arc, and 3.) presented such that they’re meant to ceaselessly be splinters in your mind, even if most of what is predicted is never able to come to pass.

To Kurzweil’s credit, perhaps he teased that aspect of it because he knew he wasn’t personally capable of fully going down that side of the path on his own. I think it really works because of that, with the value being found in the intersection of his expertise, Raine’s pathos, and the reader/listener’s willingness to engage with what’s poking out of the shadows found there.

I also like it for how it consistently gives me pause. I like that it ultimately scares me in subtle ways the Matrix trilogy simply doesn’t, no matter how hard it tries.

4 Virtual Mollies For Every Man (and Woman) out of 5

Nutted by NEG