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There's the rub for Bart Kosko, who longs for the day when we humans can trade our brains -one of the great fiascoes of engineering- for computers. The result, he says, would be Godlike immortality, heaven in a chip.' If spending eternity as a piece of hardware appeals to you, you'll love Kosko's The Fuzzy Future. If not, you might want to take a pass on this latest volume from the promoter of "fuzzy logic."
Fuzzy logic is a brand of reasoning that rejects either-or answers in favor of more complex explanations; it embraces gray areas and partial truths. But readers seeking a lucid description would fare better with Kosko's 1993 book, Fuzzy Thinking, because fuzzy logic gets little sustained analysis in The Fuzzy Future.
Rather, it serves as an occasion for Kosko to serve up a smorgasbord of pet reforms: Reject the distortions of binary logic, Kosko urges, and we can give citizens a voice in how tax dollars are spent; fight government access to private communications; rewrite the abortion debate by describing fetuses as alive by percentages.
Kosko, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California, is at his best as a popularizer of scientific ideas and inquiries. The most interesting parts of this book challenge readers to reexamine fundamental assumptions, including that old chestnut e=mc2. If only Kosko had devoted more pages to such provocative inquiry.
Instead, he surfs over to the Internet, which appears in the book in familiar form taking power away from centralized groups and arming users with data to make ever-more-informed decisions. (Kosko finds time, too, to warn against investing in tech stocks their valuations are just too fuzzy.) But the online experience can't hold Kosko's attention. He seeks a far more intimate connection between humans and machines.
Kosko envies computers' precision, durability and capacity. Pondering the merits of digital music, he suggests that "if computer art exceeds our brains then maybe we should let it. Maybe we should expand our brains. Or maybe we should get new ones."
You have to admire a book that dares to ask big questions and return unorthodox answers. There's much to like about the way that Kosko who holds degrees in math, engineering, economics and philosophy brings together voices from far-flung fields of endeavor. (Where else can you find pearls of wisdom from Bill Gates, Stonewall Jackson and Albert Einstein?)
Yet in the end Kosko constructs a digital utopia both implausible and devoid of meaning. His distaste for flesh seems to blind him to the shortcomings of computers (and engineers). "There will be no need to work or to be governed," he exults. "No sickness or pain or death." But in place of self, Kosko can offer only a "unique pattern of patterns in a bit stream."
To replace sex and conversation, he suggests hooking up with others in a "chiploaf." Instead of children, he proposes nothing, presumably because reproduction only makes sense when humans have no better method of preserving themselves. Kosko's fuzzy future confuses community with networking, joy with stimulation, meaning with matter. Is it really the best we can hope for?
"The goal is not to die," writes Kosko, who plans to be cryogenically frozen. "A good crystal chip could last for thousands or millions of years [and] long life in a chip might be as close as we can come to heaven in a universe made of matter and energy and information."
Ultimately, such logic leads him to ask, "Why not be God?" It's a tempting offer, but think carefully before signing on to become master of your own disembodied universe. You might not like the company.
|1||Introduction: Creeping Fuzziness||1|
|Pt. 1||Fuzzy Politics||19|
|3||Left and Right and Neither: The Fuzzy Political Square||24|
|4||The Fuzzy Tax Form||47|
|5||The Rights of Genomes||73|
|6||The Rights of Whales||88|
|Pt. 2||Fuzzy Science||135|
|9||Patch the Bumps||140|
|10||Optimal Brain Damage||158|
|11||It from Fit||179|
|Pt. 3||Fuzzy Digital Culture||197|
|12||Fuzzy Digital Culture||199|
|15||Heaven in a Chip||240|