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Living with the Genie: Essays On Technology And The Quest For Human Mastery Paperback – September 15, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-1559635745 ISBN-10: 1559635746 Edition: New edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press; New edition edition (September 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559635746
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559635745
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,770,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The premise for this stellar essay collection is the observation that although technology is clearly a double-edged sword, an exponentially increasing force rich in promise and rife with peril, we rarely question the necessity or consider the consequences of technological innovations. A group of remarkably penetrating, frank, and expert scientists, technowizards, activists, and writers raise provocative questions about what is gained and what is lost in a world enthralled by technology in this wonderfully soulful forum on life in the "wired world." Novelist Richard Powers offers a brilliant, witty, and unnerving journey into AI. Multitalented Ray Kurzweil analyzes the implications of rapidly evolving computational and miniaturization technologies in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. Richard Rhodes ponders the link between technology and violence. Others, including Christina Dresser, warn against reducing the human endeavor to mere information and intellect, thus devaluing sensory experience, feelings, memory, and dreams. Coeditor Lightman, a physicist and a novelist, reminds us of our deep need for silence, solitude, and stillness. There is much to contemplate here, which means that the book has accomplished its mission to kindle critical thinking about our relationship with our technologies, each other, and the natural world. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"...with its balance, it is a welcome alternative to extremes such as the technophobia of McKibben's Enough and the technophilia of Lee Silver's Remaking Eden"
(Science)

"A group of remarkably penetrating, frank, and expert scientists, techno-wizards, activists, and writers raise provocative questions about what is gained and what is lost in a world enthralled by technology in this wonderfully soulful forum on life in the 'Wired World.'"
(Booklist)

Customer Reviews

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By L. Feld on August 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Living with the Genie" is an excellent, important, timely, thought provoking book on human's complex relationship with science and technology. As with any collection of essays, the quality level varies, with a few essays really standing out, although not one of them is bad. The main theme here is not pro-or anti-technology per se, but simply that rapid technological and scientific progress has huge implications for humans, so we'd better give the issue some serious thought. The overarching question, as alluded to by the title, is how we live with the "genie" of rapid technological change, now that it's out of the bottle.

Perhaps my favorite essay is the one by Richard Powers, which actually had me rather rattled. Even at the end of Powers' piece, I couldn't decide if what he described really happened to him, or if it was the basis for a new, Matrix-like sci-fi plot on Artificial Intelligence run amok. In addition to Powers, the chapter by Ray Kurzweil is also fascinating, although a bit repetitive if you've read Kurzweil's book, "The Age of Spiritual Machines." Still, Kurzweil's musings are fascinating, as he ponders whether or not the combination of robotics, biotechnology, and nanotech might be the doom of us all, or whether instead it might lead to a new age in which humans evolve into a hybrid man-machine species like the Borg in Star Trek.

Other chapters in the book present further riffs on various aspects of technology and science. D. Michelle Addington writes an intriguing, if somewhat confusing, chapter on one particular technology -- HVAC -- to illustrate how "our technological world is constructed by our beliefs and not necessarily by progress or science.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Michele Susan on March 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Many critics of writings on the relationship between society and its technologies presume that any "negative" assessment (that a technology is inappropriate, that it is moving too fast, that it is too expensive, etc.) indicates the authors are anti-technology Luddites, or just too dense to "get it." It would not surprise me if this happens with this collection of essays as well, and that is unfortunate, as the feeling one takes away at the end of the book is anything but negative in regard to technology and society.
Each of the essays is individually valuable (and quite well-written; some are quite nuanced and require careful reading), but I found them most powerful taken as a whole: science, technology, engineering, innovation...these are good: both good as values in themselves and good for society as a whole. The message that the authors are collectively trying to communicate is that technology (and thus its creators, scientists and engineers) is *part of* the social fabric, not something outside or overarching. The authors ask us to think critically about the use of specific technologies in society, and about the processes we use to shepherd these technologies into everyday use. This is not a reaction to feeling powerless in the face of technology. It is a positive, proactive approach to outlining what kinds of technologies might best let us realize our potentials, both as inviduals and as society as a whole; and to begin to attack the more difficult problem of determining when a problem can be technologically solved, and when it requires other kinds of expertise.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Beth J Rosenberg on March 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking collection of essays of the pros and cons of science and technology, from an interesting range of scientists. Unlike many books on this subject, it's a fast read, because it's beautifully written. You can hear the wise voices of the authors. We should listen to them.
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Format: Paperback
Crazy States: A Counterconventional Strategic Problem;The Capacity to Govern: A Report to the Club of Rome

This is an outstanding book most chapters of which, written by high-quality authors, present important ideas, including some needed iconoclastic ones, in clear language.

In view of the virtues of the book as a whole, I hesitate to pinpoint a number of weak arguments, preferring instead to focus on the two major omissions, which in part leave the analyses as a whole handing in a vacuum. But, before doing so, I would be negligent if I did not point out at least two specific weaknesses in the contributions collected in the book. The first concerns the proposal by Philip Kitcher for a kind of comprehensive and rationalistic design for science policy making (pp. 214-215). It cannot but remind me of rather naïve "comprehensive planning" approaches long ago dropped by public policy disciplines. Inter alia, the proposal ignores the logical impossibility of aggregating preferences, the incommensurability of many values, the unacceptability of majority decisions by "true believers," rather naïve trust in the potentials of tutorials to convey adequate understanding of science and technology options, and the deep and irreducible uncertainty of the outcomes and costs of many R&D endeavor (as empirically proven).

Less obvious, but all the more misleading because of its insidiousness, are assumptions in a number of chapters on a body of fixed and rather clear "human ethics and values" (e.g., p. 53).
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More About the Author

Alan Lightman, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences since 1996, is adjunct professor of humanities at MIT. He is the author of several books on science, including "Ancient Light: Our Changing View of the Universe" (1991) and "Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists" (with R. Brawer, 1990). His works of fiction include "Einstein's Dreams" (1993), "The Diagnosis" (2000), which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and, most recently, "Reunion" (2003).

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Living with the Genie: Essays On Technology And The Quest For Human Mastery
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