Synopses & Reviews
Darwin Among the Machines retraces the steps that led us into the digital wilderness, no less wild for being a universe of our own device. Introducing a cast of known and unknown characters, George B. Dyson traces the course of the information revolution, illuminating the lives and work of visionaries-from the time of Thomas Hobbes to the time of John von Neumann-who foresaw the development of artificial intelligence, artificial life, and artificial mind.This deep and elegant book derives both its title and its outlook from Samuel Butler’s 1863 essay “Darwin Among the Machines.” Observing the beginnings of miniaturization, self-reproduction, and telecommunication among machines, Butler predicted that nature’s intelligence, only temporarily subservient to technology, would resurface to claim our creations as her own. Updating Butler’s arguments, Dyson has distilled the historical record to chronicle the origins of digital telecommunications and the evolution of digital computers, beginning long before the time of Darwin and exploring the limits of Darwinian evolution to suggest what lies beyond.Weaving a cohesive narrative among his brilliant predecessors, Dyson constructs a straightforward, convincing, and occasionally frightening view of the evolution of mind in the global network, on a level transcending our own. Dyson concludes that we are in the midst of an experiment that echoes the prehistory of human intelligence and the origins of life. Just as the exchange of coded molecular instructions brought life as we know it to the early earth’s primordial soup, and as language and mind combined to form the culture in which we live, so, in the digital universe, are computer programs and worldwide networks combining to produce an evolutionary theater in which the distinctions between nature and technology are increasingly obscured.Nature, believes Dyson, is on the side of the machines.
In this astonishing prediction of the World Wide Web's ultimate challenge to human civilization--a globally networked, electronic, sentient being--Dyson traces the course of the information revolution, illuminating the lives, work, and ideas of visionaries who foresaw the development of artificial intelligence, artificial life, and the global mind.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 229-261) and index.
About the Author
George B. Dyson was born in 1953, the year that Nils Barricelli first used John von Neumann’s electronic computer at the Institute for Advanced Study, where Dyson spent his childhood, to perform experiments with artificial evolution and artificial life. He has been keeping watch on the relationship between nature and technology ever since.
Table of Contents
ch. 1.Leviathan --ch. 2.Darwin among the machines --ch. 3.General wind --ch. 4.On computable numbers --ch. 5.Proving ground --ch. 6.Rats in a cathedral --ch. 7.Symbiogenesis --ch. 8.On distributed communications --ch. 9.Theory of games and economic behavior --ch. 10.There's plenty of room at the top --ch. 11.Last and first men --ch. 12.Fiddling while Rome burns.