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Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, & the Economic World Paperback – April 14, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In many ways, the 20th century has been the Age of Physics. Out of Control is an accessible and entertaining explanation of why the coming years will probably be the Age of Biology -- particularly evolution and ethology -- and what this will mean to most every aspect of our society. Kelly is an enthusiastic and well-informed guide who explains the promises and implications of this rapidly evolving revolution very well.

From Publishers Weekly

In this mind-expanding exploration of the synergistic intersection of computer science, biology, systems theory, cybernetics and artificial intelligence, Kelly investigates what he calls "vivisystems"--lifelike, complex, engineered systems capable of growing in complexity. Among the objects and ideas that he scrutinizes are computer models that simulate ecosystems; the "group mind" of bee hives and ant colonies; virtual-reality worlds; robot prototypes; and Arizona's Biosphere 2. Former publisher and editor of Whole Earth Review , now executive editor of Wired , Kelly distills the unifying principles governing self-improving systems, which he labels "the nine laws of god." Leaping from Antonio Gaudi's futuristic buildings in Barcelona to computerized "smart" houses to computer simulations that challenge Darwinian evolutionary theory, this sprawling odyssey will provoke and reward readers across many disciplines.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (April 14, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201483408
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201483406
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor from its inception until 1999. He has just completed a book for Viking/Penguin publishers called "What Technology Wants," due out in the Fall 2010. He is also editor and publisher of the Cool Tools website, which gets half a million unique visitors per month. From 1984-1990 Kelly was publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical news. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers' Conference, and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985. He authored the best-selling New Rules for the New Economy and the classic book on decentralized emergent systems, Out of Control.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 93 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 1, 1998
Format: Paperback
This is the best badly written book I have read lately. Kelly's book provides an enthusiastic reflection on the evolution of complex systems, full of vivid images and provocative metaphors, yet one can't avoid the impression he wrote it down as he thought of it. Kelly is a magazine editor (Wired) and his book comes across like a 475-page magazine article -- whenever he decides to change directions mid-chapter, he simply inserts a rosette and moves on. This book and its readers would have been well served by passing the text through the hands of a demanding book editor -- the result would have been a text about 150 pages shorter and much clearer. It also would have been helpful to have had the text proofread -- I nearly tore up the book reading over and over his confused expression "hone in on", an illiterate cross between "hone" and "home in on." I don't know Kelly's educational background. Reading his book I get the impression that his formal credentials are minimal but that he's very good at finding smart people and following them around. The result is a book that chronicles the development of this field while communicating his fascination with complex concepts he just barely understands, and his dilletante's infatuation with the jargon that describes it. The ideas in this book, and particularly the juxtapositions of ideas that Kelly assembles, are well worth reading about. But a better approach might be to skim the book, noting authors and titles, and then go straight to the source material listed at length in the back.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
Kevin has produced what I regard as one of the top five books of this decade. A very tough read but worth the effort. I had not understood the entire theory of co-evolution developed by Stewart Brand and represented in the Co-Evolution Quarterly and The Whole Earth until I read this book. Kevin introduces the concept of the "hive mind", addresses how biological systems handle complexity, moves over into industrial ecology and network economics, and concludes with many inspiring reflections on the convergence of biological and technical systems. He was easily a decade if not two ahead of his time.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
Love this book. A great introduction to a world of ideas and concepts about evolution and technologies that are already shaping our (near) future. Horizon-expanding ideas--indeed, the chapter on Borges Library literally had my brain "buzzing" with activity and a restless night of wild dreams on the subject. As the author states himself, he does not write or develop anything new, rather, he creates exposure to the fascinating work of others. Though it is not difficult or dry, the entire book is concepts--not for someone looking for a light novel.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on May 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
When a swarm of bees searches for a new home, it behaves like a single superorganism. Expendable scouts explore potential hive sites concurrently, dancing to communicate their suitability, until, abruptly, the entire swarm flocks into its new home. The locus of decision is a "hive mind," a dispersed, shifting collection of instincts and tiny decisions that somehow transcends the actions of any individual, even the hive queen. Ant colonies be have similarly - and so do foreign currency fluctuations, the folding proteins that regulate the internal processes of life, and the predator prey struggles that shape global ecosystems.
The hive mind is a powerful new metaphor. It's not that scientists failed to notice bee hives and ant colonies before. The difference is that novel scientific tools - chaos" theory, for example, and massively parallel computers - have allowed researchers to study and perhaps harness the unpredictable worlds of highly complex, sell-organizing systems such as the hive mind.
In "Out of Control," Kevin Kelly examines the impact of the hive- mind model as it spreads into the scientific and technological communities. Scientists, he says, are beginning to explore more "holistic" problems, in which entire environments are their laboratory, with huge numbers of interacting factors. Steve Packard, fur example, hoped to re-create a prairie ecology in suburban Chicago, an experiment that succeeded over nearly a decade of false starts. He discovered that the order in which he introduced complementary species - grasses and the insects that disperse their seeds - or the timing of a clearing fire in the aftermath of a drought could radically alter the final shape of his reconstituted prairies.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Craig Webster on March 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is a fascinating roller-coaster ride through a host of emerging technologies which will no doubt have an influence on all our futures. Kevin Kelly demonstrates quite convincingly how the technological is becoming more biological. Artificial intelligence, robotics and our knowledge of ants and bees has produced insect-like robots capable of smart collective behaviour. Genetics, evolutionary theory and massively parallel connectionist machines (the fastest computers on the planet) are yielding emerging fields like evolutionary software design where the computer code is "bred" rather than being written. Open, closed, complex, self-organising, centrally controlled and distributed systems are all examined and contrasted, including everything from Borgian libraries to zero-sum games. Kelly tells us of his personal experience in Biosphere II, and contrasts the paradigmatic differences between the made and the born. What is made by us tends to be minimal, mechanical, predictable and maintenance intensive (even in our "autonomous" systems). By contrast, when we consider the different magnitudes of information in a blueprint compared with a DNA strand, we see that the born is vastly more complex, organic, unpredictable and constantly adapting to environmental changes.
The book on the whole is accessible and a real technological page turner. It will be of particular interest to anyone with some background in computing, artificial intelligence, biology, information theory or cognitive science.
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