In his chapter on technology evolution, Ray equates information with matter and energy. This comes from physics, and he quotes physicists at this point to support the paradigm. Complexity is described as the “algorithmic information content” of a set of information. It’s all well and good to talk about knowledge of things in this sense, but we need to remind ourselves what David Hume said about the difference between what happens in the external world, and our experience of it. The map is never the territory, so the information contained in the map cannot contain all the possible information in the territory (much less lead us to valid conclusions about the territory’s “objective” meaning or value).
Ray says: “If we have a file with random information, then it cannot be compressed. That information is, in fact, a key criterion for determining if a sequence of numbers is truly random. However, if any random sequence will do for a particular design, then this information can be characterized by a simple instruction, such as “put random sequence of numbers here.” So the random sequence, whether it’s ten bits or one million bits, does not represent a significant amount of complexity, because it is characterized by a simple instruction. This s the difference between a random sequence and an unpredictable sequence of information that has purpose.”
This is the “magic wand” moment that the rest of Ray’s argument depends on: that there is a way for people to judge whether and when a sequence is random, or when it contains information whose purpose and value we do not appreciate. Ray’s reductionism depends on being able to wipe away unknowns by defining them as random sequences. This is the only way to reduce the information and variation in complex systems (like life) to a “manageable” level. But it’s forgetting we’ve done so that allows for the incredible optimism of predictions like Ray’s.
Is this still worth reading? Or is it out-of-date now?
Very much worth reading. Ray Kurzweil thinks it will be out of date only by 2040 (There are predictins till around that date):-). Audacious predictions. Some convincing arguments from a credible guy.
Still very much relevant. Do it.
definitely not out of date... the stuff he is talking about blew my mind and i just read it this month
The book will continue to be relevant for many years to come. In 2005, Ray was talking about technology that is just coming into our collective consciousness. His predictions aren't bound by a 5 or 10 year mindset, rather, they represent a hundred year plan.
I am re-reading it and it is still timely 2 years after you asked this. . .
it's worth it. It really bakes my noodle. Makes you think. We will be gods.
This is one of the most provocative books of the past 50 years. If it is true, then many people alive today will live indefinitely [or until run over by a truck, whichever come first]. If it is just partially true, any of you that can see into the future will not recognize the world of 20 years from now.
Personally, I'm optimistic and think that imost of Kurzwell's technological predictions are true, but that he greatly underestimates the influence of the human lust for power and dominance on history. I hope I'm wrong and that rate of technological change outruns the ability of those who wish to dominate others to use technology for those purposes.
The race should, in any case, be "interesting."