Edge in the News: 2019

George Dyson, Neue Zürcher Zeitung [1.11.19]

That's what we mean by understanding how our digitized world works. But the science historian George Dyson continues to look and looks for the digital to raise an analogous revolution. And that, he warns, could take the book out of his hands.

Idaho Statesman [1.10.19]

The year is still fresh and perhaps you’re on a road to living well and learning more. That may mean rethinking some reading and listening routines. I’ve listed below a few that you might want to check out — most of them focus on offering new ideas, different perspectives or alternative ways to look at some issue.

If you’re curious about new social or business trends, check these websites. Edge.org (https://www.edge.org/) is a collection of ideas from some of the world’s biggest thinkers. I wrote recently about “what is your question,” which stemmed from the site’s 2018 discussion.

Fair Companies (Spain) [1.8.19]

George Dyson dedicates an interesting essay in Edge to explore digital evolution from a human system to an algorithm that no longer depends on human programmers, and the worrying implications of this phenomenon. But Dyson does not settle for the diagnosis and explores an original proposal for a solution: returning cybernetics to its analogue heart.

For Dyson, what we know today as a digital revolution has not ended, but it has mutated into something very different, abandoning the possibility of the first years and leaving behind its "childhood". For a long time, computer science has not responded to the old paradigm of machines controlled by instructions that, in turn, have been designed by humans, who supervise execution. . . .

Arts & Letters Daily [1.4.19]

"The search engine, initially an attempt to map human meaning, now defines human meaning. It controls, rather than simply catalogs or indexes, human thought..." [Continue reading George Dyson's "Childhood's End"]

Nick Bilton, Vanity Fair [1.3.19]

Could 2019 be the year that these and other emergent technologies evolve from merely creepy to potentially totalitarian? In a New Year’s Day column published on Edge, a Web site devoted to discussions about science, technology, and philosophy, George Dyson, the science historian and author, argues that we’ve reached an inflection point. “Once it was simple: programmers wrote the instructions that were supplied to the machines,” Dyson writes. “Since the machines were controlled by these instructions, those who wrote the instructions controlled the machines.” Today, code itself has come alive: algorithms sift through our search histories, credit-card purchases, and geolocation to model our personalities and anticipate our desires. For this, a small number of people such as Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page, have become unimaginably rich.

In the beginning of the essay, Dyson cites the novel Childhood’s End, written by Arthur C. Clarke in 1953, which tells the story of a peaceful alien invasion of Earth by mysterious “Overlords” who “bring many of the same conveniences now delivered by the Keepers of the Internet to Earth.” As Dyson points out, this story, much like our own story, “does not end well.”

David Pescovitz, BoingBoing [1.2.19]

Over at EDGE.org, the must-read hub of intellectual inquiry and head-spinning science, Boing Boing pal and legendary book agent John Brockman is launching a new series of essays "from important third culture thinkers to address the empirically-driven and science related hot-button cultural issues of our time." First up is author George Dyson's "Childhood's End," a provocative riff on how the digital revolution has stripped much of our individual agency and that "to those seeking true intelligence, autonomy, and control among machines, the domain of analog computing, not digital computing, is the place to look."

The Browser [1.2.19]

Powerful short essay on the digital revolution. The map has become the territory. “We assume that a search engine company builds a model of human knowledge and allows us to query that model, or that some other company builds a model of road traffic and allows us to access that model. This fits our preconception that an army of programmers is still in control somewhere, but it is no longer the way the world works. The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it is human knowledge. If enough drivers subscribe to a real-time map, traffic is controlled with no central model except the traffic itself. The social network is no longer a model of the social graph, it is the social graph” (1,250 words)