‘In the game of life and evolution, there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of machines.’
George Dyson argues that life, having first developed through biological evolution, is currently emerging once more, this time through the spontaneous evolution of intelligence within our rapidly expanding information networks. The result is a digital wilderness in which unseen creatures are now evolving – creatures that will soon have the advantage of speed, intelligence, and longevity over us.
This exceptionally original book shows how the emergence of machines with a life – and, perhaps, a mind – of their own has long been anticipated by a singular scientific and literary tradition, traceable through the work of Hobbes, Samuel Butler, Erasmus Darwin, and others. Dyson describes this alternative intellectual history and tells how earlier thinkers rehearsed the discoveries of many twentieth century scientific adventurers, among them Alan Turing, Norbert Wiener, and John von Neumann. As Dyson writes, ‘this book is not about the future. It is about where we are now and how we got here, which is puzzling enough.’
Computers, conceived with the intention of bringing nature under the control of human intelligence, are now assisting nature in organizing the human species into something new. As the distinctions between nature and technology are increasingly obscured, Dyson foresees a renewal of the human spirit in the face of an intelligence greater than our own.
George Dyson was born in 1953. Through his father, a mathematical physicist, his mother, a logician, and his sister, a computer industry analyst, he indirectly witnessed the conjunction of theory, technology and high finance which precipitated the information age. A kayak builder and ethnohistorian, his experience in the Canadian and Alaskan wilderness has sharpened his skills as an observer of the convergence between technology and living things.