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Darwin Among The Machines: The Evolution Of Global Intelligence (Helix Books) Paperback – 8 Oct 1998


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Product details

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (8 Oct. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738200301
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738200309
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,392,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Nature "An extraordinarily exciting, intriguing and very idiosyncratic book. ...An almost perfect example of the effective literary treatment of scientific subjects." Los Angeles Times"An original, creative work of intellectual history." Newsweek"A cogent, succinct history of thinkers and thinking that paved the way, occasionally unwittingly, to today's technology." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

George Dyson is a historian of technology and the author of Turing's Cathedral, Baidarka, and Project Orion. He lives in Washington State. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
"Nature (the Art whereby God hath made and governes the World) is by the Art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an Artificial Animal," wrote Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) on the first page of his Leviathan; or, The Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill, published to great disturbance in 1651. Read the first page
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By peter jones on 1 Nov. 2007
Format: Paperback
Sometimes difficult concepts can be the most rewarding and this book is an example: full of interesting ideas about life, evolution and the connections between mathematics and music, Darwin Among the Machines will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in technology, artificial intelligence and the history of machines.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Starlight on 2 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a remarkable book and a sequel is due (sept 2011).The author is from a mathematical/ scientific family and very familiar with many branches of science;evolutionary biology;brain science;physics ;maths ;and history of science and has wide artistic knowledge to boot.

There are some very imaginative pictures.The juxtaposition for instance of the development of computers and the changes in banking and finance;the growth of artificial intelligence and methods of war;the struggle to create artificial and autonomous intelligence and to create life;or the meaning of intelligence (and of meaning itself) with the evolution of music.Quite a feast! Scintillating and illuminating,showing a kind of movement within the substructure of human consciousness.

But something is also frustrating.
Over and over again one is brought up again the question "What then is intelligence"?

The question comes up in every chapter and the frustration is that this question is really one of philosophy.

Every chapter ends in a kind of either /or,a limbo in which the question whether ordered fragments,electrical,genetic,atomic or merely mechanical can in some way become autonomous and self reproducing and replicating;and whether ,if they do that constitutes a new 'life' form which will share the planet with people .Whether that would be MIND itself.

But not once does Dyson grasp the idea of" Wholeness" as for example explained in David Bohm's work.
That wholeness comes FIRST and constitutes what we call an "idea "and the ordered fragments are the results of the loss of wholeness of the idea is not once mentioned.

So the book dazzles and leaves you breathless but unsatisfied. But if you can supply the missing key ,then the book makes many illuminating links and connections and it's follow up should be interesting.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 32 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Required Reading 21 Mar. 2000
By editor@ludditereader.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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. Von Neuman's influence is described in detail in many places, for his contributions to mathematics, game theory, computing, the Cold War defense system, and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton.
Students looking for a concise description of the history of "distributed communication" (most familiarly now the Internet) will also find a great and amusing chapter in this book. Dyson has written a remarkably compact description of how the issues and concerns of the defense establishment encouraged the creation of what we now know as the Internet.
The boundlessness of the book, its avoidance of the shelter of one or a few strict disciplines, is among its greatest attractions. If anyone ever asks you what a liberal arts education is, point them to this book. There is no better book on how ideas live and grow across generations.
Darwin Among the Machines is science writing, intellectual history, personal essay, and more.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Maybe not scientific, but that's not the point anyway... 8 July 2006
By Chris Chatham - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Several have criticized Dyson's philosophical and historical treatise "Darwin Among the Machines" for not articulating exactly how a global intelligence might emerge from today's synthetic biological and computational networks. But as Dyson says in the preface, the past is where we find answers, and the future merely a fog of questions "to which the answers are up to us." In the next 200 pages, Dyson explores the history of an idea: that man will someday create a form of artificial life, with intelligence that may match or exceed our own.

It may astound some readers to know that these ideas date much farther back than Alan Turing's "Turing Test," or Vannevar Bush's influential essay "As We May Think." Consider the following quote from Thomas Hobbes (1651): "Nature is by the Art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an Artificial Animal." Or consider this excerpt from Samuel Butler's 1859 essay, which serves as Dyson's main theoretical foundation: "As the vegetable kingdom was slowly developed from the mineral, and as in like manner the animal supervened upon the vegetable, so now in these last few ages an entirely new kindgom has sprung up ... It appears to us that we are ourselves creating our own successors."

Careful to acknowledge his predecessors, Dyson profiles the lives of some of the most prescient Enlightenment- and modern-era thinkers in captivating detail. In so doing, he traces the evolution of the "Artificial Animal" from its earliest incorporeal appearances - as merely an idea - to its current computational incarnation in neural networks. But Dyson doesn't stop there.

In fact, he goes on to argue that the global telecommunications network (primarily the internet) may provide the appropriate architecture for a kind of global, distributed intelligence to evolve. Here Dyson borrows from Leibniz, who noted that the "soul" may be "born when the machine is organized to receive it, as organ-pipes are adjusted to receive the general wind."

To further support this claim, Dyson draws parallels between the development of increasingly efficient machines and the processes of biological evolution. In fact, this is one of the most interesting parts of the book, in part because the language in which Dyson details the principles of evolution might be considered dangerous today, in the midst of the raging Intelligent Design debate. For example, Dyson suggests that evolution itself may embody a kind of intelligence, though we frequently perceive it as merely a shallow process, highly dependent on chance and randomness.

As Dyson points out, this perception gets to a fundamental semantic confusion surrounding "intelligence," a phenomenon well known to AI researchers in which problems once thought to require intelligence are then seen as trivial after an algorithm is designed to solve them. As Dyson points out, intelligence may simply be a word we use to describe behavior that corresponds to our view of how humans behave. Not believing in "'the existence of an intelligence behind the achievements in biological evolution may prove to be one of the most spectacular examples of the kind of misunderstandings which may arise before two alien forms of intelligence become aware of one another.' Likewise, to conclude from the failure of individual machines to act intelligently that machines are not intelligent may represent a spectacular misunderstanding of the nature of intelligence among machines."

Ultimately, whether you agree with Dyson's perspective is besides the point. This is not a scientific book; many of the ideas are purely philosophical, and the logic used to support Dyson's assertions frequently rests on historical anecdote and analogy. These should not be considered weaknesses, however. The real, lasting value of "Darwin Among the Machines" is Dysons's imaginative and graceful writing, his impeccable historical research, and the conceptual ease with which he integrates ideas from ballistics, biology, hydrodynamics, set theory, Cybernetics, and uncountably more esoteric subjects.

Though I won't dispute that many of these exciting ideas are far-fetched, Dyson has found powerful allies for his assertions, from Hobbes and Leibniz to Goedel and Von Neumann. So if you find yourself believing - or simply wanting to believe - in these groundbreaking ideas, then you're in fine company.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Voice of Dissent 9 Jan. 2001
By frumiousb - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
While I understand and (to a certain extent) agree with all the positive comments from the reviewers on this page, I find myself unable to share the sentiments.
The book is well written in the sense that Dyson provides a rich series of anecdotes and historical facts to back up the connection between the evolution of man and machine that he posits as his central thesis. And while I really appreciated those anecdotes, I didn't find that he really earned my belief. I often found that he made leaps of logic in the way he lay the thing out that were expected to stand more on the charmingness of the stories and/or the pithiness of the quotations that preface each chapter than on a real well-constructed argument. I often didn't follow how he got from point C to point D and frankly I found many of the connections that he made rather streched in appropriateness.
This said, Dyson is clearly a very smart guy with a lot of interesting things to say on the topic, so despite my concerns/disbelief, the book is a worthwhile read.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The most insightful book on the future of intelligence 17 Nov. 1999
By J. Hansen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is valuable on many fronts. The historical presentation of evolutionary theory and thought is priceless. Dyson brings us back to the development of evolutionary thought and subtly (and at times not so) suggests that we reconsider some of the ideas that have been abandoned. This reminder of the processes of organization prepare us for a nice discussion of the development of computers. Even computer pros are bound to learn things here. Remember, the author's father worked with these original developers. Once this is all established, Dyson then points out a few things that have deep, deep, deep implications. His use of science fiction to illustrate these ideas is great.
Dyson's presentation is full of reliable information. It is humorous and he makes connections where I would have missed them otherwise. His argument is astounding, but plausible and probable. He is subtle and never argues with the reader. Rather, he takes ideas and gives them to you in a manner that says "What if we consider these things in this way?"
I think that the theory suggested about the future of global intelligence here is actually too deep for many people to catch the first time through. It is so different from the other predictions that I have read. Perhaps people choose not to pay attention to this, I don't know.
I have the utmost respect for the mind that put these pieces together. I think that this book is ahead of its time, and the ideas presented here will be returned to in a decade or so. AT that point, the book will no longer be a predictor, but rather our guide to the world we live in.
I encourage everyone interested in the relationship between techonology and society to read, re-read, and ponder this book. It can and will fundamentally alter the way you think about everything.
Bravo, Mr. Dyson!
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Title sizzles, but book was unappetizing. 15 Feb. 2003
By "doug3141" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I bought this book in the hope of reading some intelligent speculations by the author about evolution, machines, and AI, which is what the title suggested I would find. However, it turned out to be a history of the evolution of computers with old speculations from the computer pioneers concerning the evolution of computers injected along the way. To be fair, the author does have an overarching thesis that he tries to weave into the historical narrative whenever some past speculation seems to lend it some support. It is that the World Wide Web - that well known network of millions of computers - may some day, at a certain critical size and running who knows what software (certainly not the author) will become intelligent in some way (also not specified by the author). Come to think of it, I think the author has used the historical angle of the book - the similar speculations of the computer pioneers of the past - as a device to lend credence to his thesis - a kind of proof by consensus. I remain unconvinced, however. His arguments (where there were any; it was hard to tell his arguments from narrative) were very weak and unconvincing. To his credit, the author did a tremendous job of scholarship for the historical side of the book. However, he left the speculative side undeveloped (at the most weakly developed) and, therefore, the book was unappetizing to me.
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