This breathless book by Damien Broderick purports to be a broad introduction to what others call transhumanism or a coming technology singularity. Broderick takes the name "Spike" from the form of a simple exponential graph: shallow, slight curve to the left moving to violent upward thrust to the right.

Essentially successful (the reader gains an insight into why transhumanists believe as they do) but deeply flawed, Broderick, presumably making some pseudo-intellectual point, chooses some of his sources very poorly. The usual suspects are all there: Eric Drexler; Vernor Vinge; Freeman Dyson. But then he also chooses to quote, at length, Lyle Burkhead, Richard Neville and Barry Jones (respectively a holocaust denier, a loony journalist, and a quiz-show winner).

The central thesis of the book doesn't deviate at all from standard singularity doctrine, viz:

  1. computers in 2000 had the processing power of a mosquito
  2. humans have 30,000 times more processing power than a mosquito
  3. computer power is doubling every year
  4. doubling every year means a 1,000-fold increase every 10 years
  5. therefore, human level processing power (and hence intelligence) will emerge from computers sometime soon after 2015 (this trivial math is left to the reader here - it's explicit in the book)
  6. ten years after that, they will be 1,000 times more intelligent than us
  7. they solve everything (including, of course, low-energy nanotech); we party hearty / become energy beings of pure thought / get snuffed out by the machines.

Of course it's clear to any analysis that apart from point 4, which is simply maths, all the other points are rather controversial, and rest on thin understandings of what are immensely complex issues. Issues that are not limited to, but certainly include fluffy things like motive and belief. It's a strength of the book that it doesn't shy away from these problems, and at the very least mentions them and the usual objections of the (multitude) of doubters.

If you can go along for the ride, accept all the assumptions, imagine you're watching a James Cameron film and just give the storyteller killing machines that know why we cry, then the most enjoyable part of this book emerges. Broderick does manage to pull together a vast array of terrifying and breathtaking visions (in equal number) of the future between two covers and in less than 400 pages. Visions, I might add, that are captivating the energy and research budgets of a lot of very talented and gifted thinkers.

It's certainly worth a look, if only for the special effects.

THE SPIKE: HOW OUR LIVES ARE BEING TRANSFORMED BY RAPIDLY ADVANCING TECHNOLOGIES, Broderick, Damien, 2001, Tom Doherty Associates.

ISBN 0-312-87782-X

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