Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ

Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ

Richard Dooling
New York: Harmony, 2008. 272 pages, hardcover, $22.

Having an avid interest in technology and its "spiritual" implications, I tend to follow anything that sounds a cautionary note regarding technological advances. For those with a similar taste, the field is currently dominated by the writings of Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy, who have highlighted to great effect both the promise and peril of our technological future(s).

The central point of Richard Dooling's Rapture for the Geeks is its concept of the Technological Singularity. This is an event which (unless you have read The Secret Doctrine) appears to have no precedent. The general view is that somewhere around 2045, technological progress will go off the scale exponentially. The Wikipedia Web site defines this "Singularity" as "a theoretical future point of unprecedented technological progress, caused in part by the ability of machines to improve themselves using artificial intelligence." Essentially this means that we will evolve ourselves out of existence—largely by producing computers that are smarter than we are. Like Kurzweil, Joy, and others, Dooling seems nearly certain that this Singularity will take place.

When approaching Dooling's book, I expected it to be a timely update of earlier writings principally by Kurzweil. Unfortunately, although Dooling's book is written for a much more general audience (and is sprinkled with humor and bits of JavaScript, xml, and other bits of programming that serve to illustrate his points), for the most part he rehashes material from Kurzweil and others without adding much that is new in the way of current research.

Probably the most valuable part of the book is Dooling's advice for those who have no desire to become obsolete. He suggests a number of actions readers can take to become better equipped to handle the ever-quickening pace of technology. First and foremost is to learn some programming languages. For some (especially those who have mangled Sanskrit terms when reading Theosophical literature), the task may seem daunting, but Dooling makes programming seem doable by just about anyone.

From a Theosophical perspective, the most worrisome aspect about this discussion is that its assumptions proceed in the classic pattern for Western science: from the bottom up. We create conscious machines and we upload the contents of our brains into them, or we augment capabilities already present using technological means. Eastern philosophy, by contrast, holds that our existence is possible because of consciousness, and that evolution is a process which takes place in the realm of the spiritual, with effects manifesting in the physical realm. Current views of the Singularity seem to be urging us to make yet another attempt at forcing "evolution" from the bottom up. But what if Eastern modes of thought are correct about the nature of consciousness? What are the likely outcomes? What needs to take place in order to guide technological "progress" in a healthier direction?

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who wants to quickly understand the issues we are facing and doesn't mind having a good laugh along the way. (Beware of a little off-color humor.) For a more thoughtful exploration of the subject, however, I would strongly recommend three classics from Ray Kurzweil:The Age of Intelligent Machines, The Age of Spiritual Machines, and The Singularity Is Near.

Joe Fulton

The reviewer is a Life Member of the Theosophical Society and past president of the Akron lodge. He is employed by a major software manufacturer, where he performs duties related to quality assurance, support, and innovation.