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The Age of Spiritual Machines

When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence
Narrated by: Alan Sklar
Length: 3 hrs and 34 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (373 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Ray Kurzweil is the inventor of the most innovative and compelling technology of our era, an international authority on artificial intelligence, and one of our greatest living visionaries. Now he offers a framework for envisioning the 21st century - an age in which the marriage of human sensitivity and artificial intelligence fundamentally alters and improves the way we live. 

Kurzweil's prophetic blueprint for the future takes us through the advances that inexorably result in computers exceeding the memory capacity and computational ability of the human brain by the year 2020 (with human-level capabilities not far behind); in relationships with automated personalities who will be our teachers, companions, and lovers; and in information fed straight into our brains along direct neural pathways. Optimistic and challenging, thought-provoking and engaging, The Age of Spiritual Machines is the ultimate guide on our road into the next century.

©Ray Kurzweil, 1998; ©1998 Penguin Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"A sage, compelling vision of the future from one of our nation's leading innovators." (Mike Brown, Chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market, Former CFO of Microsoft)

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  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 03-07-12

An optimistic map to technological transcendence

In this short, readable book, Kurzweil pitches the idea of the Singularity to mainstream readers. As a software developer with a strong interest in artificial intelligence, evolution, and neuroscience, I think that his claims and their stunning implications are right. At least, in a broad sense. We are not far from a world in which machines will begin to exhibit intelligence approaching -- and, in some areas, surpassing -- the minds of human beings. Though, at first, such systems will require much direct guidance and management from us, they will become ever more autonomous. They will thrive as members of vast, interconnected, evolving software ecosystem, supported by an immense, powerful, and exponentially growing base of computing hardware.

With the rise artificial intelligence, new physical technology will become possible, enabling machines to begin to become part of us. In a few decades (maybe a century), our brains and bodies will probably have the ability to interface directly with computer systems and nanobots that augment them; in a few decades more, our physical human bodies might no longer be necessary, and we will be able to exist solely as software entities, life forms in a reality that can’t be imagined right now.

It’s mind-blowing, paradigm-imploding stuff, but I’ve thought about the same ideas at great length, and I think that Kurzweil’s reasoning is quite clear and sound. Given what we know about the workings of “intelligence” as represented by the human brain, there’s no obvious reason that science won’t be able to map out its essential processes or computer hardware and software to realize something equivalent to them.

If you need proof of the man’s credibility, note that this book was written in 1999, then check out chapter 3, where he makes predictions of how technology will look in 2009 and years beyond. Granted, many of his forecasts are a little too optimistic -- for example, a suit that provides an enjoyable simulation of sex isn’t going to happen by 2020 -- but his mind was definitely headed in the right direction. The coolest bits of "2009" future-gazing describe technologies that, if not here already (iPhone, anyone?), are getting close. Both in terms of physical realization and rapid public embrace.

However, I would criticize Kurzweil for being so breathless in his excitement, he doesn’t give much attention to the dark side of what he foresees. Certain areas of technology may follow an exponential growth track, but human understanding and social systems are another story. What will happen to the people who are left out of the leap forward, or don’t understand it, or are afraid of it? The ones who have no saleable skills in a world of robots? (Note that one of the few predictions for 2009 that Kurzweil gets drastically wrong is his rosy forecast for the global economy.)

Still, this is a very important book for the mainstream and I can tell you that technology and the concepts around it are developing just as Kurzweil said. The decades to come will be some of the most interesting in human history, and quite possibly the next step beyond human history.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Jack
  • Renton, WA
  • 01-03-12

Interesting Theories

Would you listen to The Age of Spiritual Machines again? Why?

This is one book worth multiple listens due to the theories laid out by Ray Kurzweil. There are many barriers to achieving the path he foresees for the human race and the path may meander. However, I can see the potential and each of the steps provide a set of ethics to chew over.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating

Fascinating book to listen to, despite the fact that it was written 10 years. It was very interesting hearing Kurzweil's predictions for 2009 and comparing them to what has actually happened. Some of his predictions are spot on, while others are way off base. The book is a thought-provoking speculation on how the development of technology and artificial intelligence might shape our future.

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too bad it's abridged

I loved the subject matter and the prescient predictions, but the backstory behind them was all chopped out of the book. This version, whittled down to the barest bones, could practically be a series of BuzzFeed articles instead. Sklar's performance was exemplary as always.

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  • Sam
  • Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • 04-20-16

interesting read but very short

I was definitely surprised when it ended abruptly.

The descriptions of neutral networks and evolutionarily algorithms were clear and educational.

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The mind is a beautiful thing!!

The future holds many wonderful and scary reveals and nothing is more frightening to me than AI gone wild!
AI can and will be a great ever life changing part of our lives contributing many beneficial shortcuts to a better life.
But....we know there is a dark side....

A very good look to the future of the human mind and the ever more capable machine!

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I liked it but I liked "How to Create a Mind" more

If you’ve listened to books by Ray Kurzweil before, how does this one compare?

I liked it but I liked "How to Create a Mind" more

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

no

Any additional comments?

I liked it but I liked "How to Create a Mind" more.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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The stuff of science fiction

There have been a least a dozen movies based on Kurzweil's insights. I think I've seen them all!

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Excellent work!

I absolutely love this book! A must read for anyone interested in understanding ourselves, quantum computing, the Future and all of mankind!

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great! one of kurzweil's shorter books

this is an excellent book to read if you're interested in Ray Kurzweil futurism. only five chapters and it covers a very nice prediction of how the future approaching the singularity will be.

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  • Dr K
  • 04-14-19

As relevant today as when it was first written.

There are shades of Huxley in the predictions of Kurzweil. What looked like bold predictions for the first three decades of this century now look to be (almost but not entirely) inevitable. His influence on the (continuiing) development of the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons shouldn't be underestimated. Well worth the read and will be coming back soon.