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In Context #2 (Fall, 1999, pp. 10-11); copyright 1999 by The Nature Institute

Where Shall the Mind Look for Itself?

The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil (New York: Viking, 1999).

Reviewed by Stephen L. Talbott.

As Ray Kurzweil sees it, in 2029—when most of us will still be alive—$1000 will buy the computing capacity of one thousand human brains. Computers will routinely read all human literature and will claim to be conscious—a claim most people will accept. There will be direct communication along neural pathways between computers and brains. And virtual sex between physically separated human partners—old hat by this time—will face competition from computer agents serving as lovers.

In The Age of Spiritual Machines Kurzweil presents all this and much more as if it were merely the sober extrapolation of readily identifiable trends. Nor is he reluctant to run out the extrapolation as far as his fancy can carry it. By next century's end, he tells us, a single computer-based intelligence will be more powerful than all flesh-limited intelligence combined, and those humans who do not at least employ digital neural implants in their brains will be "unable to meaningfully participate in dialogues with those who do." But most people