Sunday, August 30, 2009

Darwin among the Machines

As far as we know mind and intelligence exist on an open-ended scale. Perhaps mind is a lucky accident that exists only at our particular depth of field, like some alpine flower that blooms between ten thousand and twelve thousand feet. Or perhaps there is mind at elevations both above and below our own.
- Darwin among the Machines, p. 217.

What do Thomas Hobbes, Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Butler, Alan Turing, Olaf Stapledon, and the RAND Corporation have in common? George B. Dyson explains what they have in common and more in his sometimes uneven but always fascinating book about "evolution of global intelligence" Darwin among the Machines. Dyson relates the story behind the growth of our global digital world through the individual stories of the above thinkers and more. They were all visionaries who saw beyond the everyday into the future and whose ideas led to the development of artificial intelligence and related fields that continue to undergo development in our new century. Dyson is good at relating these stories while weaving them into an evolutionary web that captures the changes that have occurred in the areas of digital computing and telecommunications, and the mechanics of the mind and artificial intelligence over the past century. The story that evolves from all his telling is both exciting and filled with possibilities for the future that border on science fiction. But in retrospect we see that science fiction has a way of becoming science fact. Readers who appreciate and want to learn more about the relationship of technology, humanity and nature will enjoy this book.

Darwin among the Machines by George B. Dyson. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. 1997.

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