Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind

Written by Hans Moravec and published around the same time as the Age of Spiritual Machines this is the other book I credit with introducing me to the concept of the singularity. Moravec’s background is in robotics and his Phd work at Stanford was on one of the first self-driving cars.

This book has some similarities to The Age of Spiritual Machines. Both use extrapolations based on Moore’s law to predict the rise of artificial intelligence around the same time. However there are some unique contributions of this book that you would miss if you only read the Age of Spiritual Machines.

This book encourages you to pull back and look at the whole history of the human race. We spent most of our time, approximately 90% as hunter gatherers. Our genes are adapted to this era as we haven’t had time to evolve much in the short time since we have had agriculture.  In the approximately 10% of our history since agriculture we have only very recently emerged from a society in which almost everyone was a farmer and progress was negligible in a generation. In the last 500 years we’ve seen an industrial revolution, a scientific revolution and entered the information age. This is a mere blip on the approximately 100,000 years it is believed humans have existed.

One of the most eye opening charts in this book was one that shows how computers stack up to different organisms in terms of their raw processing power. When this book was published and even today most computers aren’t even close to being as smart as humans. However, since computers are improving on an exponential path it won’t be long before this fact changes, unless the trend breaks.

Some of the interesting specific ideas I recall from this book are the possibility of an elevator to space and the idea of “fractal branching ultra-dexterous bush robots” which are capable of building almost anything.

Moravec is less famous than Kurzweil but he explains the concept of the singularity just as well. His style is less utopian than Kurzweil and to my knowledge he isn’t as associated with taking massive amounts of supplements to extend his life so he may be easier for some to take seriously. I wholeheartedly recommend anyone interested in the future to read this book.

One thought on “Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind

  1. I read Fantastic Voyage, The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, and they changed my life. I even found some of his lcerutes on Itunes and I find myself impatiently awaiting his next book. Recently read another incredible book that I can’t recommend highly enough, especially to all of you who also love Ray Kurzweil’s work. The book is My Stroke of Insight ” by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I had heard Dr Taylor’s talk on the TED dot com site and I have to say, it changed my world. It’s spreading virally all over the internet and the book is now a NYTimes Bestseller, so I’m not the only one, but it is the most amazing talk, and the most impactful book I’ve read in years. (Dr T also was named to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and Oprah had her on her Soul Series last month and I hear they’re making a movie about her story so you may already have heard of her)If you haven’t heard Dr Taylor’s TEDTalk, that’s an absolute must. The book is more and deeper and better, but start with the video (it’s 18 minutes). Basically, her story is that she was a 37 yr old Harvard brain scientist who had a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, and thanks to her amazingly loving and kind mother, she eventually fully recovered (and that part of the book detailing how she did it is inspirational). There’s a lot of learning and magic in the book, but the reason I so highly recommend My Stroke of Insight to this discussion, is because we have powerfully intelligent left brains that are rational, logical, sequential and grounded in detail and time, and then we have our kinesthetic right brains, where we experience intuition and peace and euphoria. Now that Kurzweil has got us taking all those vitamins and living our best Fantastic Voyage ” , the absolute necessity is that we read My Stroke of Insight and learn from Dr Taylor how to achieve balance between our right and left brains. Enjoy!

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