Darwin Among the Machines


Its summertime in the Hamptons, and there is nothing better than sitting poolside with a good book.

Here’s 0ne I really recommend: Darwin Among the Machines by George Dyson.

George Dyson is the brother of Esther Dyson, of Release 2.1 fame. Their father is Freeman Dyson, Nobel prizewinning physicist, who among other things, built the A Bomb.

Growing up in the Advanced Physics Institute at Princeton obviously had an impact on young Dyson. He has written a fascinating book, and one that I think has ramifications as the web becomes ever more ubiquitous.

Humans think very quickly, says Dyson. And computers think very quickly.

The similarities end there, however. Because computers talk very quickly, but actually humans talk very slowly. Although we can think very fast, it takes us lingual creatures an inordinately long time to ‘download’ information or instructions to each other.

Whether it is in the form of spoken word or written text, our bit rate per Baud is painfully slow.

Computers on the other hand, are incredibly fast, and getting faster all the time.

We are, no doubt, stuck in an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

This slow rate of data transmission amongst ourselves also impacts when we interact with machines.

Although we only began to write code just a few decades ago, there is now so much code, and so much code being manufactured by machines that if every human on the planet did nothing but dedicated themselves to reading all the lines of code there are and that are being produced, we still could never catch up.

We have, in a sense, created a world which is increasingly getting away from us, both in terms of information creation, transmission and processing. And, we are only at the beginning of the process.

Dyson postulates that the next step in evolution need not be biological – it may be one of pure intelligence.

Ever see Colossus: The Forbin Project?

And what does this have to do with VJ?

Not a lot, really, but something….

Because as we ‘wire the world’ and begin to connect all of us, via our computers, we begin to create a very different kind of world, and a very different kind of collective intelligence.

The ‘0ld architecture’, of everything from commerce to government may no longer apply. Same goes for news and information.

Lots to think about here…

If you have time, give it a shot.


One response to “Darwin Among the Machines

  1. One of the men who worked with old man Dyson was Richard Feynman, also a Nobel winner in 1965 for his work on quantum electrodynamics. Indeed, Freeman Dyson wrote about Feynman in his autobiography.

    Feynman was like the Touring of quantum physics. He came up with an idea for a quantum computer.

    The idea was that data would be stored in some sort of quantum memory (now called qbits) and that quantum computations would be performed by some other quantum mechanism.

    Even though he determined that a certain percentage of the mechanisms would work both forward and backward at the same time, Time’s Arrow would eventually push the computation forward. Even with that impediment, the theory was to make a computer that worked at roughly the speed of light.

    Experiments have already been done where computations were done on a small amount of qbits.

    Unfortunately, the most recognized book by Feynman, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” contains a bit too much about his time drawing in his favorite topless bar. However, there is a lot of fun stuff about safecracking and antics at Los Alamos that it is still worth reading.

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