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In Analogia, technology historian George Dyson presents a startling look back at the analog age and life before the digital revolution—and an unsettling vision of what comes next.
In 1716, the philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz spent eight days taking the cure with Peter the Great at Bad Pyrmont in Saxony, trying to persuade the tsar to launch a voyage of discovery from Russia to America and to adopt digital computing as the foundation for a remaking of life on earth. In two classic books, Darwin Among the Machines and Turing’s Cathedral, George Dyson chronicled the realization of the second of Leibniz’s visions. In Analogia, his pathbreaking new book, he brings the story full circle, starting with the Russian American expedition of 1741 and ending with the beyond-digital revolution that will complete
the transformation of the world.
Dyson enlists a startling cast of characters, from the time of Catherine the Great to the age of machine intelligence, and draws heavily on his own experiences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and onward to the rain forest of the Northwest Coast. We are, Dyson reveals, entering a new epoch in human history, one driven by a generation of machines whose powers are no longer under programmable control.
Includes black-and-white illustrations
History, philosophy, science, and memoir blend in this unique look at how technology has remade the world and will likely command humanity's future. Historian Dyson (Turing's Cathedral) divides time into four epochs: preindustrial, industrial, a third where nature temporarily cedes control to human tech, and a final fourth, where artificial intelligence and nature will ally against humans. This touchstone argument launches readers on a chronological journey, from the role of information technology in the European exploration and conquest of North America, to how WWII-era atomic research left postwar scientists with new scientific tools and data and the development of information theory in the transition from analog to digital. Between scenes from history, Dyson weaves in details from the life of his father, the physicist Freeman Dyson, including his involvement with the first nuclear reactor designed to shut down automatically, and his own, including a period he spent living in a tree house he built himself from scavenged driftwood. This unusual book examines its themes with smooth, lyrical writing, but fails to deliver much evidence in support of its predictions, other than briefly sketching out how complex human-made networks Dyson cites an early computer-run airspace monitoring system can develop their own internal logic. It works best as a digressive look at how advances in technology have constantly reshaped the world.