Heaven in a Chip: Fuzzy Visions of Society and Science in the Digital Ageby Bart Kosko
Fuzzy logic has been the most explosive new concept in
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Who draws the line in the digital age? Those with the most power? Does the digital age even have black-and-white parameters? Where does one country's Internet jurisdiction end and an-other country's begin? Who owns the ocean or the moonor even you? Would you be you if a chip replaced your brain?
Fuzzy logic has been the most explosive new concept in science since chaos theory. Now, Bart Kosko, the leading proponent of this revolutionary worldview, tackles these questions and shows how fuzzy thinking will shape every aspect of life in the digital age, from politics and genetics, to warfare and technology and art, and finally to mortality itself. The Fuzzy Future starts with a self-contained explanation of fuzzy logic and then explores how shades of gray, or fuzz, will change how we vote, pay taxes, fund science, shop on the Internet, view abortion, have children, fish the oceans, wage "smart" wars or create "smart" art, raise machine IQs, invest money, view black holes, and confide in our software agents. It also shows us how we may someday challenge death in the digital immortality of a nanochip. Today camcorders, Internet spam filters, nuclear power plants, and the new Volkswagen Beetle depend on fuzzy logic. Tomorrow we may, too, because the future is fuzzy.
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Suppose we replace your brain with a computer chip. How would you change? Would you still be you? What if we replace only two-thirds or half your brain with a chip? Would you think only black-and-white digital thoughts? Would your digital brain house a digital mind? Or would your mind use fuzzy logic? Would your thoughts be fuzzy or gray?
This book looks at such fuzzy or gray issues as they arise in the digital age. But just what do these terms mean? What is fuzzy? What is digital?
The term fuzzy means shades of gray between 0% and 100%. Most concepts are fuzzy because they have inexact borders. There are no hard lines between water that is warm and not warm or between sunsets that are red-orange or not red-orange or between front teeth that are crooked and not crooked. These concepts have opposites that shade into each other.
Hard lines occur most often in math and in politics. Circles and squares have black-and-white boundaries because for well over 2,000 years we have defined them that way with binary logic. But we can define an infinitude of fuzzy circles and squares that generalize the old binary circles and squares. A fuzzy circle might look like a jagged ideal circle. Its level of jaggedness would give a measure of its fuzziness or how much the circle looked like a non-circle. An ultra-fuzzy circle might look as if one painted a circle with a spray can rather than drew a circle with an ink pen.
Politics is all about drawing hard lines and backing them up with the force of the law. The line between a legal and illegal blood-alcohol level is a hard line because the state draws it as a line. A hard line in math depends on the fiat of definition. A hardline in politics depends on both fiat and force. That is why the same blood-alcohol level can land you in jail in one state or country and leave you free to drive at risk in another.
The state supplies much of society's demand for hard lines. A glance at any tax code shows that governments tend to over-supply this demand. The legal language of the tax code itself is shot through with fuzz of all types. This fuzz allows more choices but seldom for the taxpayer. It gives more license to those in power because it lets them draw lines through wider spheres of action. It gives them logical wiggle room. This is the fuzzy version of the Golden Rule: Those with the most power tend to draw the hard lines.
Binary logic has always been the logic of power.
The term digital age means an information age based on the binary units of information 1 and 0 or yes and no. These on-off bits are digital building blocks. They define what is true and what is false. We can use any two symbols and then mark them on paper or press them in mud or build them into the two states of an on-off switch or logic gate. A digital computer chip may contain millions of tiny on-off switches based on whether enough electrons flow across a gate or whether a well traps enough electrons.
A digital circuit in a chip may store a bit value as 1 if the input voltage exceeds three volts and store it as 0 if the voltage is less than two volts. The chip must have some way to round off voltages that fall between two and three volts in the fuzzy "noise margin." A digital system based on fiber optics assigns the bit value of 1 if a light is on in the fiber and assigns the bit value 0 if it is off. It too must round off the fuzzy middle ground of dim light values. The same holds for a digital polymer memory chip of the future. Such a plastic chip assigns the bit value of 1 if a molecule lies in one state and assigns the bit value of 0 if the molecule lies in some other state. The more futuristic digital quantum computers go further. They not only assign a quantum bit or "qubit" the value of 1 if an atom's nucleus spins in an "up" state and assign it the value of 0 if the nucleus spins in a "down" state. The statistical laws of quantum mechanics allow the same qubit to take on both the value 1 and the value 0 at the same time.
Computer chips have fueled the digital age but they did not invent it. Binary logic did. The "law" of either-or did. But binary logic does not work as well with how we think or reason. Our minds must work to define a circle as the locus of points equally far from a center point. We struggle to trace out the logic steps in a barroom argument or in a judicial decision or in a mathematical proof.
Minds are not digital processors. Our concepts are fuzzy to the core and our reasoning is approximate. The statement "Red apples taste good" holds for each of us only to some degree. The statement's fuzz or vagueness stems in part from the subjective nature of taste and from the fuzziness of taste and goodness. The statement's fuzz stems in large measure from the fuzziness of an objective "fact": A given red apple is not a pure red or 100% red apple. There is a continuum of exceptions between a pure red apple and a pure not-red apple.
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Meet the Author
Bart Kosko is the author of Fuzzy Thinking and Nanotime as well as several other books. He is on the faculty of the department of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California and holds degrees in philosophy, economics, mathematics, and electrical engineering. He is an award-winning composer and an elected governor of the International Neural Network Society. Dr. Kosko lives in Los Angeles.
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