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The Sun, The Genome, and The Internet: Tools of Scientific Revolution [Paperback]

Freeman J. Dyson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 18 2003 New York Public Library Lectures in Humanities
In this visionary look into the future, Freeman Dyson argues that technological changes fundamentally alter our ethical and social arrangements and that three rapidly advancing new technologies - solar energy, genetic engineering, and world-wide communication - together have the potential to create a more equal distribution of the world's wealth. Dyson begins by rejecting the idea that scientific revolutions are primarily concept driven. He shows rather that new tools are more often the sparks that ignite scientific discovery. Such tool-driven revolutions have profound social consequences - the invention of the telescope turning the Medieval world view upside down, the widespread use of household appliances in the 1950s replacing servants, to cite just two examples. In looking ahead, Dyson suggests that solar energy, genetics, and the Internet will have similarly transformative effects, with the potential to produce a more just and equitable society. Solar power could bring electricity to even the poorest, most remote areas of third world nations, allowing everyone access to the vast stores of information on the Internet and effectively ending the cultural isolation of the poorest countries. Similarly, breakthroughs in genetics may well enable us to give our children healthier lives and grow more efficient crops, thus restoring the economic and human vitality of village cultures devalued and dislocated by the global market. Written with passionate conviction aboutthe ethical uses of science, The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet is both a brilliant reinterpretation of the scientific process and a challenge to use new technologies to close, rather than widen, the gap between rich and poor.

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From Amazon

One fashionable school of thought holds that scientific revolutions are spurred primarily by shifts in the basic concepts that science understands the world with, and that those shifts are largely the outcome of struggles in the social and political realms. Freeman Dyson, however, is having none of it. For him, scientific breakthroughs owe just as much to the introduction of new technologies--the telescope in early modern Europe, for instance; the computer more recently. He's not the first to make that argument, but his lifetime of accomplishments as an eminent theoretical physicist puts some heft behind his claims.

Dyson likewise argues that new technologies can have as much of an effect on the social and political realms as new ideologies do. In particular, he cites three burgeoning technologies--solar energy, genetic engineering, and the Internet--for their potential to affect a more equitable worldwide distribution of wealth and power in the coming century. His visions of the future meander a bit, and they include such seemingly outlandish possibilities as forests of genetically enhanced trees oozing high-octane fuel from their roots and laser-launched earthlings colonizing the comets of the Kuiper Belt. But it's the business of visionaries to be outlandish, after all, and you have to admit: this one does have better credentials than most. --Julian Dibbell --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Although the title implies discrete concepts, this book from the professor emeritus of physics at Princeton finds a common thread among themAthat developments in our use of each of these elements can be employed, separately and together, to create a more just society. Dyson, who bases this slim volume on a series of lectures he gave at the New York Public Library in 1997, argues that, if properly deployed, solar power can introduce cheap electricity to poor villages, the genome can be used to synthesize life-sustaining plants and the Net can provide jobs to people with no access to cities. After laying out these somewhat conventional arguments, Dyson takes an unusual turn by asserting how genetic engineering in plants and non-chemical-based rocket technology can enhance the space program, which he feels suffers as a result of political considerations. For our long-term benefit, he says, the U.S. government should be plotting voyages of great distance to pave the way for human life in space, instead of launching short-term manned missions that often ignore the prospects of space colonization. In attempting to write both a broad work of futurism and a deep social critique, Dyson offers an appetizing perspective, but many readers will find themselves eager for more than is given in this all too brief, albeit tantalizing, book.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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John Randall was in 1939 a thirty-four-year-old English physicist who had made an undistinguished career in solid-state physics. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Rating: "A/A+" -- another excellent essay collection by an
outstanding scientist-writer.
_The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet_ covers scientific
revolutions, technology & social justice, and the exploration &
colonization of space: familiar Dyson topics all, and delivered with
his usual grace. The three items in the title are Dyson's hope for
generating wealth in the world's poor villages: the sun for cheap
solar power, the Net to end rural isolation, and genetic engineering
for better crop plants. For example, he presents the hope of
engineering "trees that convert sunlight to liquid fuel and deliver
the fuel directly underground pipelines." A neat solution to
declining oil reserves, if it works. Dyson cheerfully admits his
record as a prophet is mixed, but "it is better to be wrong than to be
Fresh and unexpected insights are a frequent pleasure in this
(and other) Dyson books. For instance, he describes his
mother and aunts, prosperous British matrons all, who, in the
interval between the World Wars, accomplished such things as
opening a birth-control clinic, managing a large hospital, winning
an Olympic medal, and pioneering aviation in Africa -- "it was
considered normal at the time for middle-class women to do
something spectacular." They were able to do this only with the
support of a large servant class. The introduction of labor-saving
appliances helped to emancipate the servants, but left middle-class
women less free than before, a general pattern, says Dyson: "the
burdens of equalization fall disproportionately on women.
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This superb book by Freeman Dyson was largely based on the 'Three Faces of Science' lectures he gave at the New York Public Library in 1997. It consists of three chapters.
Dyson revisits scientific disciplines that have come about as a result of brilliant minds exploring a previously unexisting path of research. In doing so, he makes an effort to extrapolate out of today's most rapidly growing areas of science (molecular biology and astronomy) what the future scientific revolutions might be like, and gives wise words of advise to medical scientists and biologists on how to make faster progress in their disciplines by changing some of their fundamental research paradigms, learning from the ways of astronomers.
In more than one way, it reminds me of a very pivotal article written not too long ago by Sun Microsystem's Bill Joy in Wired Magazine, which dealt with genetic engineering, robotics and nanotechnology, and their ethical implications.
Dyson's new list of important things for us to 'worry' about gave way to the book's title. He looks "for ways in which technology may contribute to social justice..." by mitigating evils such as rural poverty. This chapter is a brilliant exercise in which Dyson puts his mind to fly and actually makes his vision very easy to grasp by non-technical readers. When you read through the chapter you can almost feel that his vision is happening already, although there are some very real and respectable hurdles still separating us from it, which need to be overcome.
Although the book consists of three chapters, the reason for the title is more aptly dealt with in chapters 1 and 2.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Optimistic Dyson and his book. June 11 2001
This small book contains of such an inspirational reading. So long many scientists have predicted the future of this world in a sort of deterioration. Freeman J. Dyson is among the one who look at the future in a different way. He believes that the scientific revolution in the next century will be driven by the development of tools. Dyson picks up the most important tools in his viewpoint which are The sun, Genome, and internet. The energy from the sun to fullfill the requirement of people and replace the old kind of energy, the genome studying to make a better life for human beings. And the internet to connect all people around the world together. He makes a very insightful comment and eye-opening thought throughout this book. The most impressive part is about the comment he mention in the book about the improvement of society. He believes that "ethical" technology leads by human will reflect to the development of better life toward poor people rather than geeting the money from rich people. This will finally be "an equal" society. Pick this "Gem" book. It's small and it won't take long time to finish. It's not complicated but it will stick within your brain and make you think about it for long.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Guardedly Optimistic Oct. 24 2000
Freeman Dyson is concerned with social equity. And he believes that the elevation of the lowly, and the enhancement of everyone else, lies with the intelligent deployment certain new and even newer technology. Given this, he might have written one of two kinds of books, either a shaming screed from the left, hysterically and impractically excoriating us all for dreaming of sleeker cellphones when Bengali villagers don't even have smoke signals, or a pep talk from the right, proclaiming the Trinity of hard work, God, and the unfolding of God's plan for America, where gadgets to make life ever better just generate spontaneously-as mysterious in their origins as babies or businesses.
But Freeman Dyson is neither of those kinds of guys, apparently. He's English, for one thing, and he's spent his working life in contact with many of the best technical minds in the world. Although he is a theoretical physicist by profession, and dwells among theoreticians at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, he still finds the practical skills, the technical know-how, and the gadgetry that make science go to be more significant than the theories, and more congenial. "Science for me is the practice of a skilled craft, closer to boilermaking than to philosophy."
This book is quietly optimistic. It is neither a hair-shirt nor a recipe for success. It informs and entertains, and makes its case for solar energy, biotech, and the empowerment that the "internet" (he never does capitalize it!) can bring. In the course of this he brings you round to an engineering point of view, and demonstrates how technical know-how coupled with good will can do a hell of a lot more than just good will.
But these remarks may make the book seem a bit linear.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars little new material
Much of the material here has been covered in Dyson's other books, and there is plenty of filler. One mildly interesting aspect of this book is that Dyson revises some of his... Read more
Published 11 days ago by ogilive
3.0 out of 5 stars Accessible, Thought-Provoking
The title is misleading - the essay that addresses "the Sun, the Genome and the Interent" is only a small part of this short book. Read more
Published on Dec 21 2001 by The Don Wood Files
5.0 out of 5 stars Just the tonic
Dyson's future is a utopia based on advanced technology, the benefits of which are equitably distributed to all. Read more
Published on Sept. 27 2001 by Aquatic Ape
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful!
Think of this book as an engaging evening with a rather authoritarian dreamer who happens to be a distinguished scientist. Read more
Published on June 1 2001 by Rolf Dobelli
5.0 out of 5 stars An Intelligent Prediction of the 21st Century
In this book Freeman Dyson contends that the driving force of scientific revolutions is more often new tools rather than new concepts. Read more
Published on Oct. 22 2000 by Tatsuo Tabata
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Dyson gem!
This is yet another wonderful book written by the physicist / mathematician Freeman J. Dyson of Princeton university. Read more
Published on July 16 2000 by D. Roberts
4.0 out of 5 stars WE, THE TOOL MAKERS...
In these passionate "threshold" conferences, Dyson leans out on Tomorrow with the vision capacity of Verne and Wells, aware however to be just sketching one of the... Read more
Published on June 19 2000 by Hermes Trismegistus
4.0 out of 5 stars A look into the future
Wow, Freeman Dyson, as usual, is very theoretical. This is not a spectacular read, but it is more of an opinion coming from a physicist who shares an outline of what he thinks... Read more
Published on June 15 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars Low-key, mostly closer-to-home essays
Adapted from a lecture series hosted by the New York Public Library, the essays in this slender volume cover traditional Dyson subjects (ethics and technology, the politics and... Read more
Published on June 16 1999 by Stefan Jones
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