The Singularity Is Near

January 17, 2010

I first stumbled upon Ray Kurzweil’s website some years ago. It immediately turned me off with words like “Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever.” It sounded like one of those “How to be happy and get everything you want” books, which rarely accomplish anything but big bucks for the author, and disappointment for the suckers who buy them.

I’ve read The Singularity Is Near now, and my opinion about the book is mixed. I don’t remember what made me look it up in the first place — but I certainly don’t regret reading it.

Kurzweil argues that evolution is an exponential process, and that each new paradigm opens the door towards a faster development of the next one. As evidence, he shows logarithmic plots such as this:

singularity countdown

If this were plotted linearly, most of the “interesting” events (like Homo Sapiens, cities, and the Internet) would be grouped together in a small chunk of recent time, compared to the time it took for life before that to evolve.

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Stumbling on Happiness

June 10, 2008

You may have noticed how ridiculously small the TV-screens are in most old sci-fi movies. Or how that low exam score moved from “catastrophe” to “oh well” within a few hours. Or how that long-awaited vacation is so disappointing now that it’s finally there. Or how an I love you written years ago seems so fake now. You may have wondered how you could possibly have had such thoughts or made such decisions. Now you’ve got answers.

From the also-available-in-audio shelf comes Daniel Gilbert with his great non-fiction book called Stumbling on Happiness. The author tries to answer the question of why happiness is so elusive and unpredictable.

What the book basically tells you is:

  • experience is subjective;
  • your imagination lies to you all the time;
  • your memories lie to you all the time;
  • your predictions can never be accurate;
  • you make ridiculous choices all the time;
  • you can never be sure of anything, past, present or future;
  • you are not unique.

Pretty tough truths, huh? Well, I’ve actually exaggerated quite a bit. Besides the fact that it points out uncomfortable things, I loved everything about this book:

  • It’s written in a very accessible and succinct style. If your attention slips for even a few seconds, you’ll have to rewind.
  • The author has a great sense of humor (I rarely laugh out loud).
  • Every chapter starts with a quotation from Shakespeare.
  • It will not trigger your “citation needed” alarm. In fact, it has such a solid scientific basis that the most frequent word combination after “for example” is probably “in one study”.
  • The examples given are logical and straightforward. Hey, the guy’s a Harvard professor!
  • The audio version is read by the author himself. That’s a plus because his tone of voice shows you exactly what he means.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out the inner workings of memory, imagination, and future prediction. It’s so good that I’ll probably want to go through it again in a few months. For a more thorough summary check the Wikipedia page.


1283 (short story)

March 17, 2008

When I woke up that morning, I was the luckiest man alive.

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