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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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...the best of an important new genre. The book offers a pointed reminder that self organization...is the essence of innovation, progress, and life itself. These are eternal ideas -- and ideas whose time has come. -- Forbes ASAP
- Publisher : Basic Books; Reprint edition (April 14, 1995)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 528 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0201483408
- ISBN-13 : 978-0201483406
- Item Weight : 1.41 pounds
- Dimensions : 9 x 6 x 1.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #192,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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So, why 10 months? Kevin Kelly is very wordy. Yes, Kelly provides fascinating insights and revelations about machine biology, "hive mind" theory, co-evolution, the evolution of computers, and the future of planet Earth. But he does all of this with about 200 pages more than are actually necessary to make his point. Kelly is a great writer, no doubt, but he tends to wander aimlessly, which makes these difficult topics challenging to understand. A good editor would have helped immensely.
Out of control also suffers from a lack of cohesion, and would be better served as a collection of separate essays about each topic, rather than a book that strives to espouse one overarching theme. As I was reading, I kept wondering where Kelly was going with all of his ideas, as a lack of drive seemed evident.
Lest you think I have nothing but ill contempt for this book, there is a payoff: Kelly is a brilliant soothsayer, of sorts. This book was written 16 years ago, so hindsight can readily be applied, and Kelly's predictions about where science would be with relation to computers, nanotechnology, pharmaceuticals, this crazy thing called the "Internet" he kept mentioning, have nearly all come to fruition. Does this mean machines and computers develop their own biology, and begin truly thinking for themselves, as Kelly suggests? Time will only tell.
The main premise of the book is the idea of intelligent beings, in this case humans, giving up control of their creations, which are machines, and letting them "adapt on their own, evolve in their own direction, and grow without human oversight."
There are some intriguing ideas such as: No sustaining ecosystem is in equilibrium or completely "in control". Some chaotic or "out of control" events are required for complex systems to function. For example, the earth's atmosphere is made up of 20% oxygen. This oxygen content is just enough to maintain viable ecosystems without burning up the earth from fires.
"Out of Control" was written in 1994, and 14 years later global warming is a hot button. What happened to the Kelly's grand ideas of recycling (see example of Danish companies recycling each others' waste somewhere in the book)? How much closer are we to eco-friendly intelligent homes and personal belongings? Instead of moving to cheap renewable energy sources, we are experiencing the use of fossil fuels like never before with the fast growing economies of China and India. Crucial counteracting forces seemed to have been completely ignored by the author in projecting a sea of changes in how humans behave. Solar energy will never succeed as a viable energy source unless Big Oil has a monopoly over the sun. Digital cash has been a failure because its success would've destroyed the profits of Visa/Mastercard.
The author is a proponent of the idea of passing down learned behavior innately to offsprings, i.e. through genes. For example, experiments cited from one scientist proved evolution with learned behavior passed down to offsprings is superior to natural evolution. In this instance the author ignored the prospect of passing down negative and undesirable learned behavior that is criminal in nature for example. It's best that all offsprings are created much like computers, and most behavior is learned much like software. It is precisely individuality that facilitates variability, the hallmark of evolution. The author himself even argues for systems thriving at the edge of chaos; systems flexible enough to adapt to the changing environment, yet not rigid enough to become unadaptable. Passing down learned behavior to offsprings would undoubtedly create a more rigid system. Besides, most people already harbor the ill effects of bad parenting. The last thing they need is to acquire this cr*p at conception.
At the end of the book, Mr. Kelly mentions "The Nine Laws of God". One law in particular stood out: "Grow by chunking" which states "The only way to make a complex system that works is to begin with a simple system that works. Attempts to instantly install highly complex organization-such as intelligence or a market economy-without growing it, inevitably lead to failure..... Time is needed to let each part test itself against all the others...." The failure to observe this law has been aptly demonstrated in the U.S. effort to build democracy in Iraq, and to a lesser degree the pressure exerted on Russia by the west to quickly move to a market economy following the collapse of communism.
In spite of all the criticism, I'm glad I read this book. The ideas could have been expressed in 200 pages fewer and more coherently. Pick up a copy and fasten your seat belt. You will be riding this one for a while.
This book attempts to dissect the study of the unpredictable. From biological evolution to artificial intelligence to economies, it examines how and why complex, unpredictable systems form, and how they can be managed and created.
This book was written in 1994, but it very rarely feels dated. The problems and concepts that technology was dealing with have become, if anything, more embedded and more interesting now. This book is a wonderful guide to anyone trying to navigate today's networked world.