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Darwin Among the Machines [Paperback]

George Dyson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 Feb 1999
Here George Dyson considers the intriguing question of artificial life: the possibility that machines will one day come to life, or are even alive already. Dyson argues that life, having emerged once already through biological evolution, is presently emerging for a second time, on this occasion through the spontaneous evolution of intelligence within our rapidly expanding computer networks. Dyson shows that to a real extent we have created life, but have largely failed to notice. Others have considered this possibility and Dyson guides us through this alternative scientific and literary tradition, recounting the insights of historical figures such as Hobbes, Samuel Butler, Erasmus and Charles Darwin, as well as a variety of researchers from the 20th century.


Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (25 Feb 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140267441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140267440
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.6 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 242,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Amazon Review

"In the game of life and evolution, there are three players at the table: human beings, nature and machine. I am firmly on the side of nature," writes George Dyson, "but nature, I suspect, is on the side of machines." In his challenging book, Dyson surrounds contemporary topics related to emerging information networks with historical context, illustrating an evolutionary dance between intelligence, nature and machines. Taking its title from an essay written by Samuel Butler in 1863, Dyson's story blends the antiquarian thinking of Thomas Hobbes, Erasmus Darwin and Gottfried Leibniz with modern research on neural networks and artificial intelligence. Dyson's perspective is unique and his style is deft, ensuring the readability of Darwin among the Machines: The Evolution of Global Intelligence. --Amazon.com

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading. 11 Oct 1999
By A Customer
George Dyson has the rare skill of being able to put flesh on ideas. He is particularly good at Samuel Butler (evoked in the title essay) and a few Darwins: Erasmus (a great character and, we learn here, Mary Shelly's inspiration for Dr. Frankenstein), his grandson Charles (Origin of Species), and brief mention of Charles' grandson Sir Charles Darwin (who headed the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) which employed Alan Turing, but was unable to gain support for Turing's project to build an "Automatic Computing Engine" in 1945). Selected against.
The Chapter on Butler is worth the price of the book. Readers will also encounter many obscure names brought alive with interesting detail and then fit into the evolution of a familiar technology. For example, Dyson explains how wooden tally sticks, used as a primitive, secure means of record keeping in the English (twelfth century) pre-history of banking, both facilitated the establishment of a banking system and served as an early precursor and model for encryption keys.
Familiar, iconographic names, Charles Babbage and John Von Neuman, to name just two examples, are shown in somewhat different, and more human, light than they are usually presented. Babbage, for example, was a prophet of telecommunications whose early ideas for what we now call packet switching revolutionized the British mail system. Babbage analyzed the operations of the British postal system and found that its costs were governed more by switching than by distance. His recommendaton of a flat rate service was introduced in 1840 as the penny post.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The quote "standing on the shoulders of giants" is often used but if you really want to know how many giants there were, when they were around and how big they were this is the book to tell you.
It is a book about the future, done by studying the work of the past and in this respect is unique. I found it amazing the number of people who had made predictions about artificial intelligence in the 1800's and, in many cases, the breadth of their achievements in so many different fields. If for nothing else there are some excellent quotes in this book which I'm sure will be appearing on web sites, papers, and books in the future.
No work in the field of AI, ALife, or other related subjects should be attempted without first reading this book to discover who's shoulders you're standing on...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Dyson has obviously written about a range of areas that fascinate him, resulting in stimulating and thought-provoking meander through a wide and justifiably idiosyncratic range of subjects. His syntheses and postulations leave you thinking and wanting to read more and delve deeper. In Dave Sobel style (Longitude), takes the reader into complex scientific and technical areas while remaining free of jargon, but without skpping the important scientific points. An excellent read - if there are any other books out there which take some of these ideas further I want to know about them!
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