16 janvier 2010

Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines. When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (note de lectura)

Made by Silviu Man

[Note: Let's put it clearly: Ray Kurzweil is NOT a traditionalist. The purpose of these lines is the knowledge of the (post)modernity as a fraud and as a hell.]

Penguin Books, 2000

juicy topics as entropy… (The NYT Book Review)


Before the next century is over, human beings will no longer be the most intelligent or capable type of entity on the planet. Actually, let me take that back. The truth of that last statement depends on how we define human.

Are computers thinking, or are they just calculating? Conversely, are human beings thinking, or are they just calculating?


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws of technology

A machine is as distinctively and brilliantly and expressively human as a violin sonata or a theorem in Euclid. — Gregory Vlastos

Computers are about one hundred million times more powerful for the same unit cost than they were a half century ago. If the automobile industry had made as much progress in the past fifty years, a car today would cost a hundredth of a cent and go faster than the speed of light.

THE LAW OF TIME AND CHAOS: In a process, the time interval between salient events (that is, events that change the nature of the process, or significantly affect the future of the process) expands or contracts along with the amount of chaos.

THE LAW OF INCREASING CHAOS: As chaos exponentially increases, time exponentially slows down (that is, the time interval between salient events grows longer as time passes).

THE LAW OF ACCELERATING RETURNS: As order exponentially increases, time exponentially speeds up (that is, the time interval between salient events grows shorter as time passes).

Orderliness does not constitute order because order requires information. So, perhaps I should use the word information instead of order.

Order, then, is information that fits a purpose. The measure of order is the measure of how well the information fits the purpose.

Thus improving a solution to a problem—which may increase or decrease complexity—increases order. Now that just leaves the issue of defining the problem. And as we will see, defining a problem well is often the key to finding its solution.

A primary reason that evolution—of life‐forms or of technology—speeds up is that it builds on its own increasing order. A primary reason that evolution—of life‐forms or of technology—speeds up is that it builds on its own increasing order.


▲ An evolutionary process is not a closed system; therefore, evolution draws upon the chaos in the larger system in which it takes place for its options for diversity; and
▲ Evolution builds on its own increasing order.
▲ In an evolutionary process, order increases exponentially.
▲ Time exponentially speeds up.
▲ The returns (that is, the valuable products of the process) accelerate.


Transistor die sizes are cut in half every twentyfour months, therefore both computing capacity (i.e., the number of transistors on a chip) and the speed of each transistor double every twenty-four months. This is the fifth paradigm since the inception of computation—after mechanical, electromechanical (i.e., relay based), vacuum tube, and discrete transistor technology—to provide accelerating returns to computation.

Computation is the essence of order.

The Law of Accelerating Returns applies equally to the evolutionary process of computation, which inherently will grow exponentially and essentially without limit. The two resources it needs—the growing order of the evolving technology itself and the chaos from which an evolutionary process draws its options for further diversity—are unbounded. Ultimately, the innovation needed for further turns of the screw will come from the machines themselves.

The emergence of technology is predicted by the Law of Accelerating Returns.

These two strands of the Law of Time and Chaos—time exponentially slowing down due to the increasing chaos predicted by the second law of thermodynamics; and time exponentially speeding up due to the increasing order created by evolution—coexist and progress without limit. In particular, the resources of evolution, order and chaos, are unbounded. I stress this point because it is crucial to understanding the evolutionary—and revolutionary—nature of computer technology.

We regard time as moving in one direction because processes in time are not generally reversible. If we smash a cup, we find it difficult to unsmash it. The reason for this has to do with the second law of thermodynamics. Since overall entropy may increase but can never decrease, time has directionality. Smashing a cup increases randomness. Unsmashing the cup would violate the second law of thermodynamics. Yet in the contracting phase of the Universe, chaos is decreasing, so we should regard time's direction as reversed.

We argue that consciousness and identity are not a function of the specific particles at all, because our own particles are constantly changing. On a cellular basis, we change most of our cells (although not our brain cells) over a period of several years. […]

The concept of scanning and reinstantiation of the information is familiar to us from the fictional “beam me up” teleportation technology of Star Trek. In this fictional show, the scan and reconstitution is presumably on a nanoengineering scale, that is, particle by particle, rather than just reconstituting the salient algorithms of neural information processing envisioned above. But the concept is very similar. Therefore, it can be argued that the Star Trek characters are committing suicide each time they teleport, with new characters being created. These new characters, while essentially identical, are made up of entirely different particles, unless we imagine that it is the actual particles being beamed to the new destination. Probably it would be easier to beam just the information and use local particles to instantiate the new embodiments. Should it matter? Is consciousness a function of the actual particles or just of their pattern and organization?

We are not at all permanent collections of particles. It is the patterns of matter and energy that are semipermanent (that is, changing only gradually), but our actual material content is changing constantly, and very quickly. We are rather like the patterns that water makes in a stream. The rushing water around a formation of rocks makes a particular, unique pattern. This pattern may remain relatively unchanged for hours, even years. Of course, the actual material constituting the pattern—the water—is totally replaced within milliseconds.

This argues that we should not associate our fundamental identity with specific sets of particles, but rather the pattern of matter and energy that we represent.

The machines will convince us that they are conscious, that they have their own agenda worthy of our respect. We will come to believe that they are conscious much as we believe that of each other. More so than with our animal friends, we will empathize with their professed feelings and struggles because their minds will be based on the design of human thinking. They will embody human qualities and will claim to be human. And we’ll believe them.

…the celestial computer that renders our Universe.

It is our fate as artificial intelligence researchers never to reach the carrot dangling in front of us. Artificial intelligence is inherently defined as the pursuit of difficult computer‐science problems that have not yet been solved.

The value of computation is precisely in its ability to destroy information selectively.

One key to intelligence is knowing what not to compute. A successful person isn’t necessarily better than her less successful peers at solving problems; her pattern‐recognition facilities have just learned what problems are worth solving.

… technology and knowledge are very similar—technology can be expressed as knowledge. And technology clearly constitutes power over otherwise chaotic forces. Since war is a struggle for power, it is not surprising that technology and war are linked.

A primary goal of learning research is to combine the self‐organizing methods—recursion, neural nets, evolutionary algorithms—in a sufficiently robust way that the systems can model and understand human language and knowledge. Then the machines can venture out, read, and learn on their own. And like humans, such systems will be good at faking it when they wander outside their areas of expertise.

The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you’ve gotten the fish you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him?

Downloading knowledge will be one of the benefits of the neural‐implant technology. We’ll have implants that extend our capacity for retaining knowledge, for enhancing memory.


In 1997, $2,000 of neural computer chips using only modest parallel processing could perform around 2 billion connection calculations per second. Since neural net emulations benefit from both strands of the acceleration of computational power, this capacity will double every twelve months. Thus by the year 2020, it will have doubled about twenty‐three times, resulting in a speed of about 20 million billion neural connection calculations per second, which is equal to the human brain.

DNA computers have subsequently been applied to a range of difficult combinatorial problems. A DNA computer is more flexible than an optical computer but it is still limited to the technique of applying massive parallel search by assembling combinations of elements.

Three professors—Richard Smalley and Robert Curl of Rice University, and Harold Kroto of the University of Sussex—shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their 1985 discovery of soccer‐ball‐shaped molecules formed of a large number of carbon atoms. Organized in hexagonal and pentagonal patterns like R. Buckminster Fuller’s building designs, they were dubbed ‘buckyballs.’ These unusual molecules, which form naturally in the hot fumes of a furnace, are extremely strong—a hundred times stronger than steel—a property they share with Fuller’s architectural innovations.

What is most remarkable about the nanotube is that it can perform the electronic functions of silicon‐based components. If a nanotube is straight, it conducts electricity as well as or better than a metal conductor. If a slight helical twist is introduced, the nanotube begins to act like a transistor. The full range of electronic devices can be built using nanotubes. Since a nanotube is essentially a sheet of graphite that is only one atom thick, it is vastly smaller than the silicon transistors on an integrated chip.

Digital computing is based on ‘bits’ of information which are either off or on—zero
or one. Bits are organized into larger structures such as numbers, letters, and words, which in turn can represent virtually any form of information: text, sounds, pictures, moving images. Quantum computing, on the other hand, is based on qu‐bits (pronounced cue‐bits), which essentially are zero and one at the same time. The qu‐bit is based on the fundamental ambiguity inherent in quantum mechanics. The position, momentum, or other state of a fundamental particle remains ‘ambiguous’ until a process of disambiguation causes that particle to ‘decide’ where it is, where it has been, and what properties it has. For example, consider a stream of photons that strike a sheet of glass at a 45‐degree angle. As each photon strikes the glass, it has a choice of traveling either straight through the glass or reflecting off the glass. Each photon will actually take both paths (actually more than this, see below) until a process of conscious observation forces each particle to decide which path it took. This behavior has been extensively confirmed in numerous contemporary experiments.

In a quantum computer, the qu‐bits would be represented by a property—nuclear spin is a popular choice—of individual electrons. If set up in the proper way, the electrons will not have decided the direction of their nuclear spin (up or down) and thus will be in both states at the same time. The process of conscious observation of the electrons’ spin states—or any subsequent phenomena dependent on a determination of thee states—causes the ambiguity to be resolved. This process of disambiguation is called quantum decoherence. If it weren’t for quantum decoherence, the world we live in would be a baffling place indeed.

The series of qu‐bits represents simultaneously every possible solution to the problem. A single qu‐bit represents two possible solutions. Two linked qu‐bits represent four possible answers. A quantum computer with 1,000 qu‐bits represents 21,000 (this is approximately equal to a decimal number consisting of 1, followed by 301 zeroes) possible solutions simultaneously. The statement of the problem—expressed as a test to be applied to potential answers—is presented to the string of qu‐bits so that the qu‐bits decohere (that is, each qu‐bit changes from its ambiguous 0‐1 state to an actual 0 or a 1), leaving a series of 0’s and 1’s that pass the test. Essentially all 21,000 possible solutions have been tried simultaneously, leaving only the correct solution.

It has been said that quantum computing is to digital computing as a hydrogen bomb is to a firecracker.

A 40‐qu‐bit quantum computer would be evaluating a trillion possible solutions simultaneously, which would match the fastest supercomputers. At 60 bits, we would be doing a million trillion simultaneous trials. When we get to hundreds of qubits, the capabilities of a quantum computer would vastly overpower any conceivable digital computer.

So here’s my idea. The power of a quantum computer depends on the number of qu‐bits that we can link together. We need to find a large molecule that is specifically designed to hold large amounts of information. Evolution has designed just such a molecule: DNA. We can readily create any sized DNA molecule we wish from a few dozen nucleotide rungs to thousands. So once again we combine two elegant ideas—in this case the liquid‐DNA computer and the liquid‐quantum computer—to come up with a solution greater than the sum of its parts. By putting trillions of DNA molecules in a cup, there is the potential to build a highly redundant—and therefore reliable—quantum computer with as many qu‐bits as we care to harness. Remember you read it here first.

A key requirement for quantum computing is a way to test the answer. Such a test does not always exist. However, a quantum computer would be a great mathematician. It could simultaneously consider every possible combination of axioms and previously solved theorems (within a quantum computer’s qu‐bit capacity) to prove or disprove virtually any provable or disprovable conjecture. Although a mathematical proof is often extremely difficult to come up with, confirming its validity is usually straightforward, so the quantum approach is well suited. Quantum computing is not directly applicable, however, to problems such as playing a board game. Whereas the “perfect” chess move for a given board is a good example of a finite but intractable computing problem, there is no easy way to test the answer. If a person or process were to present an answer, there is no way to test its validity other than to build the same move‐countermove tree that generated the answer in the first place. Even for mere ‘good’ moves, a quantum computer would have no obvious advantage over a digital computer. How about creating art? Here a quantum computer would have considerable value. Creating a work of art involves solving a series, possibly an extensive series, of problems. A quantum computer could consider every possible combination of elements—words, notes, strokes—for each decision. We still need a way to test each answer to the sequence of aesthetic problems, but the quantum computer would be ideal for instantly searching through a Universe of possibilities.

This effect is called quantum entanglement. Einstein, who was not a fan of quantum mechanics, had a different name for it, calling it “spooky action at a distance”. The phenomenon was recently demonstrated by Dr. Nicolas Gisin of the University of Geneva in a recent experiment across the city of Geneva. Dr. Gisin sent twin photons in opposite directions through optical fibers. Once the photons were about seven miles apart, they each encountered a glass plate from which they could either bounce off or pass through. Thus, they were each forced to make a decision to choose among two equally probable pathways. Since there was no possible communication link between the two photons, classical physics would predict that their decisions would be independent. But they both made the same decision. And they did so at the same instant in time, so even if there were an unknown communication path between them, there was not enough time for a message to travel from one photon to the other at the speed of light. The two particles were quantum entangled and communicated instantly with each other regardless of their separation. The effect was reliably repeated over many such photon pairs. The apparent communication between the two photons takes place at a speed far greater than the speed of light. In theory, the speed is infinite in that the decoherence of the two photon travel decisions, according to quantum theory, takes place at exactly the same instant. Dr. Gisin’s experiment was sufficiently sensitive to demonstrate the communication was at least ten thousand times faster than the speed of light.
So, does this violate Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, which postulates the speed of light as the fastest speed at which we can transmit information? The answer is no—there is no information being communicated by the entangled photons. The decision of the photons is random—a profound quantum randomness—and randomness is precisely not information. Both the sender and the receiver of the message simultaneously access the identical random decisions of the entangled photons, which are used to encode and decode, respectively, the message. So we are communicating randomness—not information—at speeds far greater than the speed of light.

Gödel’s famous “incompleteness theorem”, which has been called the most important theorem in mathematics, states that in a mathematical system powerful enough to generate the natural numbers, there inevitably exist propositions that can be neither proved nor disproved.

Cannot we let people be themselves, and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make another you. One’s enough.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are likely to be able to take advantage of people who, facing imminent death, will permit their brains to be destructively scanned just slightly before rather than slightly after their brains would have stopped functioning on their own. Recently, a condemned killer allowed his brain and body to be scanned and you can access all 10 billion bytes of him on, the Internet at the Center for Human Simulation’s “Visible Human Project” web site.

There will be nostalgia for our humble carbon‐based roots [human brain, n.m. S.M.], but there is nostalgia for vinyl records also.

Up until now, our mortality was tied to the longevity of our hardware. When the hardware crashed, that was it. For many of our forebears, the hardware gradually deteriorated before it disintegrated. Yeats lamented our dependence on a physical self that was “but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick.” (W.B. Yeats) As we cross the divide to instantiate ourselves into our computational technology, our identity will be based on our evolving mind file. We will be software, not hardware.

Furthermore, the road we’re going down is a road paved with gold. It’s full of benefits that we’re never going to resist—continued growth in economic prosperity, better health, more intense communication, more effective education, more engaging entertainment, better sex.

“Nano” refers to a billionths of a meter, which is the width of five carbon atoms.

Food, clothing, diamond rings, buildings could all assemble themselves molecule by molecule. Any sort of product could be instantly created when and where we need it. Indeed, the world could continually reassemble itself to meet our changing needs, desires, and fantasies. By the late twenty‐first century, nano‐technology will permit objects such as furniture, buildings, clothing, even people, to change their appearance and other characteristics— essentially to change into something else—in a split second.

We don’t always need real bodies. If we happen to be in a virtual environment, then a virtual body will do just fine.

If we’re going to enter a new world, we had better get rid of traces of the old.

J. Storrs Hall’s concept of “Utility Fog.” Hall’s conception starts with a little robot called a Foglet, which consists of a human‐cellsized device with twelve arms pointing in all directions. At the end of the arms are grippers so that the Foglets can grasp one another to form larger structures. These nanobots are intelligent and can merge their computational capacities with each other to create a distributed intelligence. A space filled with Foglets is called Utility Fog and has
some interesting properties. First of all, the Utility Fog goes to a lot of trouble to simulate its not being there. Hall describes a detailed scenario that lets a real human walk through a room filled with trillions of Foglets and not notice a thing. When desired (and it’s not entirely clear who is doing the desiring), the Foglets can quickly simulate any environment by creating all sorts of structures. As Hall puts it, “Fog city can look like a park, or a forest, or ancient Rome one day and Emerald City the next.” The Foglets can create arbitrary wave fronts of light and sound in any direction to create any imaginary visual and auditory environment. They can exert any pattern of pressure to create any tactile environment. In this way, Utility Fog has all the flexibility of a virtual environment, except it exists in the real physical world. The distributed intelligence of the Utility Fog can simulate the minds of scanned (Hall calls them “uploaded”) people who are recreated in the Utility Fog as “Fog people.” In Hall’s scenario, “a biological human can walk through Fog walls, and a Fog (uploaded) human can walk through dumb‐matter walls. Of course Fog people can walk through Fog walls, too.”

The physical technology of Utility Fog is actually rather conservative. The Foglets are much bigger machines than most nanotechnology conceptions. The software is more challenging, but ultimately feasible. Hall needs a bit of work on his marketing angle: Utility Fog is a rather dull name for such versatile stuff.

Today, we have only to choose our clothes, makeup, and destination when we go out. In the late twenty‐first century, we will have to select our body, our personality, our environment—so many difficult decisions to make! But don’t worry—we’ll have intelligent swarms of machines to guide us.

I can predict the future by assuming that money and male hormones are the driving forces for new technology. Therefore, when virtual reality gets cheaper than dating, society is doomed.

Virtual touch has already been introduced, but the all‐enveloping, highly realistic, visual‐auditory‐tactile virtual environment will not be perfected until the second decade of the twenty‐first century. At this point, virtual sex becomes a viable competitor to the real thing. Couples will be able to engage in virtual sex regardless of their physical proximity. Even when proximate, virtual sex will be better in some ways and certainly safer. Virtual sex will provide sensations that are more intense and pleasurable than conventional sex, as well as physical experiences that currently do not exist. Virtual sex is also the ultimate in safe sex, as there is no risk of pregnancy or transmission of disease. Today, lovers may fantasize their partners to be someone else, but users of virtual sex communication will not need as much imagination. You will be able to change the physical appearance and other characteristics of both yourself and your partner. You can make your lover look and feel like your favorite star without your partner’s permission or knowledge. Of course, be aware that your partner may be doing the same to you.

By the end of the twenty‐first century, there won’t be a clear difference between humans and robots. What, after all, is the difference between a human who has upgraded her body and brain using new nanotechnology and computational technologies, and a robot who has gained an intelligence and sensuality surpassing her human creators?

Sexuality and spirituality are two ways that we transcend our everyday physical reality. Indeed, there are links between our sexual and our spiritual passions, as the ecstatic rhythmic movements associated with some varieties of spiritual experience suggest.

When we can determine the neurological correlates of the variety of spiritual experiences that our species is capable of, we are likely to be able to enhance these experiences in the same way that we will enhance other human experiences. With the next stage of evolution creating a new generation of humans that will be trillions of times more capable and complex than humans today, our ability for spiritual experience and insight is also likely to gain in power and depth.

Whereas a nanoengineered weapon could replicate across any matter, living and dead, a bioengineered weapon would only replicate across living matter, probably just its human targets.

With more bioengineering—antiviral drugs, for example.

Same thing—more nanotechnology.

Circa 1999 is another matter. If all computers stopped functioning, society would grind to a halt. First of all, electric power distribution would fail. Even if electrical power continued (which it wouldn’t), virtually everything would still break down. Most motorized vehicles have embedded microprocessors, only cars that would run would be quite old. There would be almost no functioning trucks, buses, railroads, subways, or airplanes. There would be no electronic communication: Telephones, radio, television, fax machines, pagers, e-mail, and of course the Web would all cease functioning. You wouldn’t get your paycheck. You couldn’t cash it if you did. You wouldn’t be able to get your money out of your bank. Business and government would operate at only the most primitive level. And if all the data in all the computers vanished, then we’d really be in trouble.

In less than forty years, we have gone from manual methods of controlling our lives and civilization to becoming totally dependent on the continued operation of our computers. Many people are comforted by the fact that we still have our hand on the ‘plug’ that we can turn our computers off if they get too uppity. In actuality, it’s the computers that have their figurative hands on our plug. (Give them a couple more decades and their hands won’t be so figurative.)

It will be the humans, at least the nonupdated ones, who will seem dumb several decades from now.

640,000 bytes of memory ought to be enough for anybody. —Bill Gates, 1981

[about Optical Character Recognition software] - What is it good for? Like a lot of clever computer software, it was a solution in search of a problem.

After all, there is too little nature left to return to, and there are too many human beings. For better or worse, we’re stuck with technology.

I see the opportunity to expand our minds, to extend our learning, and to advance our ability to create and understand knowledge as an essential spiritual quest. Feigenbaum and McCorduck talk about this as an ‘audacious, some would say reckless, embarkation onto sacred ground.’


Ever since I could remember I’d wished I’d been lucky enough to be alive at a great time—when something big was going on, like a crucifixion. And suddenly I realized I was.
—Ben Shahn

… without the technology, there’s just a lot of misconception and prejudice.

I’m as fond of my body as anyone else, but if I can be 200 with a body of silicon, I’ll take it.
—Danny Hillis

Human thinking is merging with the world of machine intelligence that the human species initially created.

You can store your whole family on a DVD.

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