5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
William E. Adams
- Published on Amazon.com
Except that at age 64, with less than ten years experience on a home PC, doing the simplest of operations (including, some would say, 756 or so simple-minded reviews on Amazon) I am smart enough to still be afraid of computers and all the related digital technologies they pioneered. Mr. Dooling comes across in this non-fiction contribution as a guy I would definitely love to share some whiskey with. In an ideal world, the whiskey would be expensive, and would be his, and we would speak of anything but the subject of this book. (I've read two of his novels, although for some reason I did not review them here.) According to Dooling, we face a future in which "machines" are rapidly becoming so much "smarter" than humans, that our enslavement is more likely than not. (Some elites may survive to do for the machines the few tasks they might not be able to accomplish for themselves, but I won't be one of those. I face a rather quick execution if the world Dooling describes does come to pass while I still live.) How much tongue is in his cheek over the course of this humorous, scary look at the near-future? I can't say, because I have no background. It is a tribute to the man, however, that I finished this one understanding so much more than I expected to comprehend. He likes and quotes Emily Dickinson, my favorite poet, and that always disposes me kindly toward an author. He likes and quotes Albert Einstein, who lived only ten miles from me during my first ten years of life. (My father used to drive down Mercer Street in Princeton NJ on a regular basis, and reported Einstein sightings to the rest of the family.) Here is one from Albert that I had never come across before: "Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal." Since the great scientist died in 1955, he was not speaking of the same exact matters that concern Dooling now, but you get the point, and if you plan to read this book, you likely disagree with it. There are many laugh-out-loud moments here, but a bunch of them are of the black humor mode. The book offers a lot of serious food for thought as well. I think the scariest passage is on page 137, quoting a programming guru, Bill Joy: "I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil...whose possibility spreads well-beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals." In other words, wait 20 years and the next "Unabomber" can, via technology, do bio-terrorism to whole cities rather than send "package explosives" to one office. Yikes. Follow up that nightmare with the quote 11 pages onward, attributed to one Edward Heller: "Man: A creature that, upon the irrefutable evidence of his history, cannot control himself" (could someday be) "in control of all life on earth" (via super-computers.)Yikes again.
I don't think Richard Dooling hates technology at all, at all, as the Irish say, but he sees not just the bright side of the 21st Century, and it is of course, the dark side that we must anticipate. The book isn't perfect. From page 216 to 235 it is mostly about God, religion, atheists and what the super-computers of the future will think about those subjects and do about them. He has serious moments here, and parody sections, and perhaps goes on too long in this vein, although in my opinion, he comes out on the right side of things. All in all, I thank my friend Jim Clark of Kansas for sending this one to me, but I believe it is very worth reading, even for technophobes like me, and even if I had paid for it. Can there be higher praise for a writer than that?