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The singularity

IEEE Spectrum, which has quickly become a magazine as good as any out there—including the New Yorker, Wired, what have you—has a new issue devoted only to Kurzweil’s idea of a singularity: That once computers possess greater-than-human intelligence, it will trigger a cascade of changes in how we live. So the question is, when will the singularity come, and from what arena? What are the limits and impetuses for it’s development? The issue isn’t a self-parody of futurism, but there’s plenty of blow-your-mind angles:

On consciousness, we have John Horgan, whose book The Undiscovered Mind describes how the mind resists explanation. We also have Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi, neuroscientists who specialize in consciousness. Rodney Brooks, of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, weighs in on the future of machine intelligence. IEEE Spectrum journalism intern Sally Adee reports on a wildly ambitious effort, just gathering steam now, to map the human brain in enough detail to learn its secrets—and eventually re-create it. Robin Hanson, an economist, describes a future in which capitalist imperatives and technological capabilities drive each other toward a society that the word weird doesn’t even begin to describe. Nanotechnology researcher Richard Jones, philosopher Alfred Nordmann, and semiconductor researcher Bill Arnold all consider aspects of singularitarian visions and explain where they’re myopic.