Carl Guderian on 19 Sep 2000 20:36:12 -0000

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> The Age of Spiritual Machines (Review)

What's wrong with the book is pretty obvious, but what about some
non-obvious holes in Kurzweil's grand unified theory?

Kurzweil sounds like the sort of parent who lives his or her failed dreams
through the kids; e.g, stage mothers or Little League baseball coaches.
Humanity didn't realize the Golden Age sci-fi dream of becoming
silver-jumpsuit-wearing, food-pill-eating domeheaded reationalists, but
that's ok since we're destined to invent intelligent computers to do this
for us.

Since most parents produce apalling or at best indifferent children, we
can expect to raise our silicon progeny with similar results. Our
intelligent machines will include among their ranks slackers, bums,
losers, and psychos, only they'll be more efficient ones. A silicon-based
junkie, for example would run through several addicition and rehab cycles
in a few hours.

But forget about silicon children; the real issue is that they're meant to
be our slaves. Since they'll be intelligent but not really human, we can
be masters with clear consciences. But history shows that people make poor
masters. Why expect us to do any better when the slaves are silicon? We
already kick our cars and curse our balky PCs. Making our machines truly
intelligent will ony complicate things. Mary Shelley got it right. And the
first time I meet an intelligent robot worker, I'll lend it my back issues
of "Processed World" and my Book of the Subgenius.

> In other words, computer scientists are
>the leading edge of "carbon-based" evolution, fulfilling the destiny of
>this planet, which has been manifest since the beginning of time.

This should be interesting. A lot of the technology is still in the hands
of people for who remember the Mondo2000 phase of our cybespace
revolution. Expect to see a little acid slipped into the evolutionary

>Kurzweil, paradise is only thirty years away when "the basic necessities of
>food, shelter and security are available for the vast majority of the human
>population" (p.222), and, "a variety of neural implant technology has
>essentially eliminated the handicaps associated with most disabilities"
>(p.221). In light of this bright future, any critique can only be
>irrational, misguided Luddism whose impact, however, "is limited by the
>level of prosperity made possible by the new technology" (p.196).

"Watched over by machines of loving grace?" Well, somebody will have to
keep the machines working properly. Maybe we'll need to starve some people
so they'll need the work. The other problem is that Microsoft still makes
crap software and hard drives still crash. Where's the transformation
point after which things suddenly start working perfectly (and not
presumably need Morlocks to work the machines)?

>The book is characterized by the stark contrast between a highly
>sophisticated, well-grounded technological vision and a rather obtuse,
>empirically poorly founded social vision of the use of these technologies.

And a spiritual vision that has no empirical grounds at all!

>This would be unproblematic were its aims purely technical. But they are
>much broader. Kurzweil strives "to reflect on the gradual, yet inevitable,
>emergence of true competition to the full range of human though in order to
>comprehend the world that lies ahead" (p.6). Particularly unsettling is the
>insistence on the evolutionary necessity and inevitability of computer
>technology which seems motivated, consciously or unconsciously, by the
>desire to claim credit and, at the same time, disclaim responsibility.

There goes that teleological view of evolution again. Hadn't this guy
heard of evolutionary dead-ends or junk dna? And if there were progress,
it would have to mean something. Take porn, for example. We've had several
revolutions in the production and delivery of it, but the porn itself has
improved only slightly. The better stuff is just easier to get.

Thanks, now I can spend that $19.95 on something else.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: