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on October 10, 2017
A nice intro to Butlerian perspective.
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on February 21, 2015
Item arrive on time
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on August 4, 2014
Someone I admire reccomended me this book. The author does a good job on explaining why he thinks that machines will become intelligent beings, by making analogies between evolution and how technology has improved over time. However, be prepared to see the name of many philosophers and many important names tat you may not know. The author makes some assumptions about the target audience, in which I have to say, not everyone will enjoy this book, since it can become a difficult reading.
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on November 24, 2013
An intellectual tour de force from a rare and extremely valuable perspective. Dyson is brilliant and his brilliance shines through every page of Darwin Among the Machines.
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on April 17, 2013
It was a nice read to go along with an ethics class I was taking. I would suggest it to anyone who enjoys bringing outside ideas into their academic focus.
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on May 1, 2001
Another good read on the origins of modern computer science. Some interesting stories of Babbage, Hollerith and Van Neumann. I particularly enjoyed Babbage's human computers.
A great read while kicking back at the beach.
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on April 19, 2013
this is the second book of his i have read and they are both very interisting and well written. i wonder if he has wwritten more?
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on January 3, 2015
Mind-blowing work. Seriously. I read "Turing's Cathedral" first and expected this 15 year earlier work by George Dyson to be of lesser quality. I was thoroughly surprised with his treatment of the subject, especially in the late 1990's. To be fair, they are very different books written with different intent. "Turing's Cathedral" is a very thorough historical account of the IAS, Manhattan Project, and all the work involving early von Neumann machines. It was entertaining and thought-provoking, but ultimately a retrospective as a true historical account. "Darwin Among the Machines" is a forward-thinking work, and a terrific one at that. It begins slow as it gives all the necessary background material in the same manner as James Gleick's "The Information." Having already read "The Information" and other similar works chronicling the development of modern information theory, I was resolved to rate this 3/5 stars and behind Gleick's book (though to be fair it predates "The Information" by over 10 years). However, it really opens up around Chapter 9 (Game Theory) and boldly goes where no other book on evolution and/or information theory has gone before or since - tackling intelligence (natural, artificial, and invisible), economics, evolution, and technology in a master stroke. The last 1/3 of the book is simply inspiring in its concepts, and you realize that the longer first part of "known" background material is really there to set up the real topic at hand. It is the better of Dyson's two major books and ironically the more modern one (by far). I consider it as profound as Richard Dawkin's "The Selfish Gene" in turning an old subject completely around on its head. Well done!
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on January 7, 2013
Dyson is a master storyteller weaving a beautiful and romantic story rendered as a mesh of evolution, computation, communication, artificial life, and artifical intelligence. The book is a page-turner, coming alive through the voices of the great names such as Hobbes, Leibniz, Hilbert, Gödel, Turing, von Neumann, Baran and many other pioneers who have dedicated lives to pursue dreams of enhanced automation of computation, communication and intelligence. Even though it feels somewhow eclectic, making far-fetched jumps between various topics at hand, Dyson manages to argue for a collective and global intelligence to come. A modern-day computing expert will probably find some of his sentences naïve, or maybe overambitious, at best, but this nevertheless does not decrease the beauty of the book, after all it '... makes no claim to have separated the fables from the facts. Both mythology and science have a voice in explaining how human beings and technology arrived at the juncture that governs our lives today.'

The nature of machines and intelligence is a debate that continues to this day and it is yet to be solved definitely. This short book captures some of the critical turning points that shaped this debeate so far and presents them to the reader in a lively manner. I recommend it people curious about how current Internet and computing technology came to be, as well as to the students of mathematics, physics, egineering and computer science.
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Most histories of computing follow a familiar path: Abacus, Babbage, Atinsoff, Whirlwind, Eniac, IBM, PC. It's a history that focuses on numeric computation- computing ballistic tables, compiling logarithms, processing payrolls, guiding spacecraft, and computing spreadsheets. That's the popular genesis, and while it's the history of mainstream computing, there are several other threads that lead to the present day. George Dyson had the privilege of spending some of his formative years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, thanks to his father, who was a fellow there, and because of that, he (George) was introduced to at least one computer scientist who was thinking about topics like artificial life long before computers were powerful enough to do the real-time simulations seen today.

Artificial life, and artificial minds are what interests Dyson. Not the kind of AI we saw in the 1970s and 80s, which was exemplified by "expert systems," or the kind of fast data recall and pattern matching most recently seen in IBM's Jeopardy-winning "Watson" computer. What Dyson is interested in is the idea of a computer that mimics the way the brain actually works. To that end he sees the network as an important- perhaps the most important- component of any truly intelligent system. Consider: The human brain is composed of approximately 100 billion neurons, or nerve cells. Each of these cells can be thought of as a switch with several inputs, and several outputs. Over time, the patterns of inputs it receives will shape the outputs it produces. So far we have a very simple computer that runs at about 1 KHz. That gives us computing power equal to, say, a very early vacuum tube computer.

But as noted previously, we have perhaps 100 billion neurons, and even more importantly, these neurons are highly interconnected. How highly? Each neuron in the human brain is connected to, on average, one thousand other neurons. While you may have 100 billion neurons in your brain, you have 100 trillion connections between them- a thousand times as many connections as neurons, and that's the important part, because it's these interconnections that are where memories are stored and where computing occurs. It's not the cells that are doing the computing, but the network.

Networks are where Dyson focuses his attention, beginning with the mythical fall of Troy around 1184 BC. The news of the fall reportedly traveled via a one-bit, simplex telegraph: A series of torches that were lit from towers, each one as far from the next as a man might see. The news of the fall propagated outward, like a rumor spreading in a crowded room, or activation in a network of neurons. That was about as fast as information travelled for the next three thousand years until the invention of the telegraph. During that time information had accumulated in written form, as well as in oral knowledge passed down, but it could not be transmitted any faster than a book could be carried, or a person could speak, or a torch or semaphore flags could carry it. But the telegraph changed that, allowing information to travel at the speed of light for hundreds of miles. Now news of an event could cross continents in a few minutes, and with the first undersea cable a few years later, it could cross oceans in minutes rather than months. The twentieth century brought wireless communications as well as video, and eventually the Internet, which now allows an encyclopedia's worth of information to travel to any point on the globe in a fraction of a second. It is now entirely feasible to record a person's entire life and to be able to transmit that information to another planet in the time it once took to compose and send a telegram. More importantly, it's possible for almost any person, anywhere on the globe, to communicate with any other person- or group of persons- at light speed.

This is the point at which Dyson asks an interesting question: If 100 billion neurons, each communicating with 1000 other neurons, is all it takes to create a human consciousness, what happens when you have almost 7 billion human minds potentially communicating with each other, at the speed of the internet? And what happens when we add in the 100 billion who have living before us, who continue to communicate with us via their writing, their oral tradition, and the memories we have of them? Could it not be possible that there could exist an emergent super mind, much as our own minds emerge from simpler components? And if one, why not many? This is not a new idea- Hobbes explored something like it in his "Leviathan" over 300 years ago. But Dyson brings it up to date, and goes further than Hobbes, who was somewhat limited in what was acceptable by the power of the Church in his time.

Even without Dyson's speculation on mind and super-mind this is a wealth of information on a part of the history of computing and AI that was not widely known prior to this book. It's excellent, provocative reading for anyone with a professional or avocational interest in computer scientists, neurocognition, philosophy of mind, or history.
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