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Out Of Control: The Rise Of Neo-biological Civilization
by Kevin Kelly
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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.
From Library Journal
Kelly is editor of the cyber-yuppie magazine Wired and founder of the computer network known as "The Well"; Out of Control indicates that he should turn the computer off and get outside more often. This gee-whiz hodgepodge suggests that civilization works best when it allegedly mirrors the charms and whimsies of uncontrolled systems (beehives, prairies), but the book is more noteworthy for its antiseptic self-absorption: while ostensibly lauding nature's stunning complexity, the closest Kelly comes to the real world is a fawning chapter about the widely discredited Biosphere 2 project. There's lots of emphasis on Jetson-like gadgets ("smart" electrical appliances that announce "I am a toaster") and lunatic-fringe cyber-theosophizing but no mention of the more prosaic problems that smart toasters won't fix; the only people in Kelly's definition of civilization are those with an address on the Internet. Expect requests from wan undergraduates and hipsters who agree with Kelly's own impression that he edits the "hottest and hippest magazine of the 1990s." Everyone else may safely ignore.
Mark L. Shelton, Athens, Ohio
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
In this densely packed deliberation on the shape of things to come, Kelly, the executive editor of Wired, offers a biological paradigm for a whole set of scientific and cultural phenomena: virtual reality, self-controlling robots, animation, nanotechnology, games, even the much ballyhooed ``information superhighway.'' Kelly's main thesis is that biological organization offers a degree of adaptability impossible with the more familiar hierarchic mechanical organization. A swarm of bees has no single guiding intellect; it arrives at a consensus based on the input of various individuals, generating more or less enthusiasm for a proposal as members go out to verify various reports. This lack of central control becomes a model for a variety of processes that combine great freedom of the individual parts with sophisticated overall performance. Computer networks like the Internet are classic examples of anarchy in action, making available an enormous amount of information with a minimum of structure. Space researchers have begun to speculate that a swarm of small, very simple machines independently following very simple instructions may be better able to prepare a lunar landing site than a single, more complex device. The ultimate in simplicity lies in the infant science of nanotechnology, which envisions the use of extremely simple machines no larger than some organic molecules. At the other end of the spectrum, Mark Pauline of San Francisco makes enormous ``organic machines'' out of spare (or stolen) parts and sets them to destroying one another in bizarre exhibitions that resemble freaked-out reenactments of the Roman circus. The book is full of such fascinating characters and oddball insights into the interplay between technology and living forms. Kelly's organization is often as seemingly uncontrolled as some of the processes he discusses. But the book as a whole is rewarding, full of food for thought, and a convincing preview of the probable future of technology. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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