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Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World [Paperback]

Kevin Kelly
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 14 1995 0201483408 978-0201483406 Reprint
'Out of ' chronicles the dawn of a new era in which the machines and systems that drive our economy are so complex and autonomous as to be indistinguishable from living things.

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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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking but misguided March 25 1997
By A Customer
Good points: very readable and thought provoking. Bad points: terrible use of sources and a shallow examination of the book's premises and implications.
Kelley interviewed and quoted scientists on fuzzy subjects outside their expertise, and then quoted marketing and PR folks about the scientists' work. It's as if he interviewed people until someone said what he wanted to hear, and then he used that quote regardless of the speaker's credentials.
Kelley suggests that we'd really like homes filled with "biological" appliances, but never explores the practical implications of having to house train a "biological" washing machine or teach your toaster what "done" means. Perhaps he has never dealt with pets or children. Kelley also loses sight of the difference between the real world and cyberspace: this may be a fashionable literary trick but it's not especially practical when one is cold or hungry. I did my disseration work in robotics and I found his expectations of biological machines to be shallow and downright silly
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This book was groundbreaking in 1994; its insights have been improved upon by more recent writing on the same subjects. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend considering Steven Johnson's EMERGENCE before you buy this book; Johnson discussions some of Kelly's ideas, but offers are more up-to-date analysis of the phenomenon of non-hierarchical/centralized models of organization. Otherwise, this book is valuable for its historical positioning--how things seemed and were seen almost a decade ago.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book must have been as much fun for Kevin Kelly to write as it is to read. It's a little long but very easy to understand. It'll make you think and you are sure to enjoy thinking about the ideas and examples in here.
A more correct title might be "Out of Centralized Control." Kelly's point is that Nature is not a command and control monolith, but instead, a network of relatives, friends, neighbors, and sometimes predators. Nature does not control the Universe so much as it encourages cooperation within the Universe. The examples Kelly gives in the first few pages set the tone of the rest of the book. One is the flock of geese, which somehow knows its migration path from hemisphere to hemisphere even though none of the geese in the flock have ever flown it before.
As Kelly shows us, there are plenty of surprises in Nature. Uncertainty is built in. That's life ! Some readers might find it hard to believe that Nature is not particularly concerned about efficiency. It doesn't mind duplication, redundancy, and a little waste. It fact, it wants these things because they lead us to flexibility. Kelly's point in all this seems to be that Nature does not play by the numbers.
It might be even harder for some readers to believe, at first, that Nature creates new things out of nothing every day. But, Kelly will win you over on that point and many more. His "Nine Laws of God" which sum up the book in the last chapter made me want to read it a second time.
One nice companion to this book would be "Morphic Resonance and the The Presence of the Past: The Habits of Nature" by Ruppert Sheldrake.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Onset of Postdarwinism Jan. 9 2002
This very engaging work contains a lot of innovative insights on systems theory, and also a very effective chapter on postdarwinism, which opens by quoting the biologist Lynn Margulis on Darwinism:
" 'It is totally wrong. It's wrong like infectious medicine was wrong before Pasteur. It's wrong like phrenology is wrong. Every major tenet of it is wrong,' said the outspoken biologist Lynn Margulis about her latest target: the dogma of Darwinian evolution."
Kelly then goes on to point out that a number of microbiologists, geneticists, theoretical biologists, mathematicians, and computer scientists are saying there is more to life than Darwinism. "They do not reject Darwin's contribution; They simply want to move beyond it. I call them 'postdarwinians'."
With this the author provides a very good upgrade of many of the criticisms that have always accompanied Darwinism, along with a series of tie-ins with contemporary complexity theory, including the work of Kauffman, the new work on artificial evolution, and a very interesting musing-meditation on 'rising flow' in the context of the perennial thermodynamic enigmas latent in all evolutionary thinking.
The bibliography at the end is also invaluable for the literature here, including little know works, which as the author points out, is being resurrected by students in field, looking to move on to the era of postdarwinism.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and provocative Oct. 9 2001
The ideas in this book may be thought by some to be radical or far-fetched, but to those readers familiar with the behavior of complex dynamical systems, they seem quite natural. The book emphasizes the theoretical aspects of complex systems, but some natural examples of them are discussed. The author, in spite of his choice of title for the book, is not threatened by the consequences of artifically creating these systems. After all, we live and have evolved in a universe that is even more complex than the author describes. The fact that we humans can now speed up the process of creation of these systems should be a source of wonder instead of fear.
What makes this book valuable reading is that the author emphasizes the collective behavior of dynamical systems. Too often the reductionist trend in Western science obscures how the system works together, how its many parts collectively induce an emergent behavior not at all apparent in the systems "equations of motion".
Since the book is written for a popular audience, the approach is qualitative and allegorical. This purely descriptive approach does however allow a more general overview of complex dynamical systems im many different areas. The author gives a fascinating discussion of swarm systems and their advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages according to the author is that they are "nonunderstandable"; but here he is mistaken, for complex systems can be understood, although such an understanding takes some effort anc computational horsepower. Also, in his discussion of network behavior the author asserts that it is "counterintuitive" and quotes "Braess's paradox" as proof of this. Dietrich Braess discovered that adding routes to an already congested network will slow it down.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Giddy Plagiarism
I agree with the "Chicago reader" who said this book could've used an editor, but it's one of the best poorly-written books I've read too. Read more
Published on April 25 2002 by Robert Carlberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended for anyone interested in the future
Love this book. A great introduction to a world of ideas and concepts about evolution and technologies that are already shaping our (near) future. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2002 by S. Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars Science Reality Closing The Gap On Science Fiction
This is an exceptional collection of scientific ideas and discoveries. This book was a fascinating read for me. Read more
Published on Aug. 17 2001 by Paul Fucich
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good book, well worth the cost of admission
This is a well written survey of what was then emerging technology and business concepts. However, hindsight is always 20/20 and most of what Kevin forsaw in the book failed... Read more
Published on July 5 2001
2.0 out of 5 stars this is booster science fiction, not reporting
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... Read more
Published on May 21 2001 by Robert J. Crawford
5.0 out of 5 stars Very thought-provoking
This is the best sciency book out of the two dozen or so I've read this year. He doesn't just beat you over the head with basic knowledge in one subject. Read more
Published on Dec 18 2000 by owookiee
3.0 out of 5 stars The author is out of control
This is a fascinating, well-written account of the popular notion that physics is dead and that the model for the future is biology. Read more
Published on June 1 2000 by Professor Joseph L. McCauley
3.0 out of 5 stars Out of control is right!
Interesting, well-written cheerleading book for the viewpoint that physics is dead and that biology/Darwin (whatever that means) is the model for economics, bla bla bla. Read more
Published on May 23 2000 by Professor Joseph L. McCauley
5.0 out of 5 stars Co-Evolution of Man and Machine
Kevin has produced what I regard as one of the top five books of this decade. A very tough read but worth the effort. Read more
Published on April 17 2000 by Robert David STEELE Vivas
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