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IEET > Vision > Futurism > Staff > Marcelo Rinesi

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Book Review: “Singularity Rising,” by James D. Miller

Marcelo Rinesi
By Marcelo Rinesi
Ethical Technology

Posted: Nov 18, 2012

Singularity Rising is very much the book it wants to be. Whether it’s a book that you will find interesting or useful will very much depend on your current state of mind regarding the likelihood and details of an intelligence Singularity.

The book approaches the question of the Singularity with a curious mixture of breadth and dept. Neither a tightly reasoned overview nor a detailed exploration of a particular area, it covers instead a huge swathe of topics held together by the underlying idea of a coming Singularity, passing over certain core questions with the quick dismissals, and providing intriguing details on interesting but relatively secondary ones. The result is the paradox of an impressionist large-scale map of breathtaking speed and uneven details, which is perhaps the appropriate emotional tone for the topic.

What the book isn’t, is an skeptical engagement with the question of the possibility or likelihood of a Singularity. Its asseverations are backed by quotes that are neither part of the broad scientific consensus nor assessed against competing arguments (if nothing else, to dispel them). It takes as givens the convictions and predictions of highly intelligent and well-known people over issues that, nonetheless, still remain unsettled in the wider scientific and technological community.

Because of this, the book is unlikely to change the mind of anyone who has already engaged the issue and found problems with the Singularity as a predictive model for technological development.

Also, the book won’t open any new vistas to people already taken with the idea; most of the quotes and scenarios will be known to them. However, the laundry list of possibilities will not be unwelcome, and there are parts, owning to the author’s training as an economist, where he implements useful and novel forms of scenario modeling (always within the book’s overarching set of assumptions).

This points to my only regret related to the book. The same tools and style of analysis, applied to a wider set of scenarios and engaging the very question of whether a Singularity is at all possible or likely, would have made the book a more substantive contribution to the conversation.

But it’s not fair to judge books against goals they didn’t intend to achieve. Miller is clearly convinced about the possibility and likelihood of the Singularity, and, based on his assessment, has written a dazzling overview of paths, inferences, and implications. It won’t convince an skeptic, but it will be an enjoyable and mind-blowing experience to anybody who first encounters the admittedly fascinating ideas described in the book.

Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World, James D. Miller

Marcelo Rinesi is the IEET's Chief Technology Officer, and former Assistant Director. He is also a freelance Data Intelligence Analyst.
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