'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.
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
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. That book presents a theory that is considered radical by many, yet the critics usually concede that it's well reasoned and fills many of the gaps in our knowledge of Nature.Read more ›
Kelly's cheerleading for the decentralized, "hive-mind" mentality smacks of the giddy 1940's Tomorrowland propaganda -- oblivious to market realities, people's resistance to change and the fact that simple technologies always win head-to-head competitions with more complex technologies. Yet he makes a valiant attempt to pull a Douglas Hofstadter, and write a "Godel Escher Bach" of future technologies. None of his examples or conclusions are original, but that doesn't diminish the cumulative power of his argument.