The Fuzzy Future; From Society and Science to Heaven in a Chip

The Fuzzy Future; From Society and Science to Heaven in a Chip

by Bart Kosko
     
 

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 moon — or even you? Would you be you if a chip replaced your brain?
        
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Overview

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 moon — or 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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Kosko's Fuzzy Thinking (1993) explained to laypeople the provenance and uses of "fuzzy logic," a technique of mathematics and engineering that takes into account approximations, half-truths and good guesses about states of affairs that can't be evaluated well in black-and-white terms. Kosko's very readable followup applies "fuzziness" to government, economics and wars ("Fuzzy Politics"); to physics, chemistry and biology ("Fuzzy Science"); and to computers ("Fuzzy Digital Culture"). Sometimes fuzziness, as Kosko explains it, seems mostly an excuse to connect useful, brief explanations of concepts already known by other names. His application of "fuzz" to culture and history, for instance, may strike some readers as coals to Newcastle: a square with four corners (liberal, conservative, libertarian, populist) certainly explains political ideology better than a mere left-right continuum, but is the idea really Kosko's? His explanations of neural networks, entropy and statistical approximation, on the other hand, will give lay readers handy descriptions of important and hard-to-grasp concepts. "Fuzzy logic" in computer science and engineering have helped machines approximate the seat-of-the-pants, rule-of-thumb decision making humans already accomplish. A provocative final chapter promotes the idea that digital networks will be able to hold our own (still-fuzzy) consciousnesses, putting an end to human death: "Biology is not destiny for the minds that will follow us.... Chips are destiny." The breezy, self-assured style of Kosko's chapters contrasts sharply with his meticulous footnotes; readers with some background in areas Kosko covers will want to read both together. Nine b&w illustrations. Author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Kosko's landmark Fuzzy Thinking introduced to the general reader the technology of fuzzy logic and its early applications. In his new book, he explores how this technology will affect politics, science, and culture in the digital age. He predicts that it will change how we define and make social choices ranging from which political ideology we embrace and what taxes we pay to how we deal with obnoxious neighbors and enemies who launch cruise missiles. He provides examples of how fuzzy logic is creeping into a range of applications, including the development of smart cars and nuclear power plants. Finally, Kosko discusses the eventual convergence of smart digital worlds and addresses the age-old question of where it will all end, challenging death with digital immortality. Highly recommended.--Joe J. Accardi, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
"We still think in the same old meat. And meat dies."

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.

– Lori Patel

Kirkus Reviews
Flights of fuzzy fancy, and fantasy, from an expert in the field (Fuzzy Thinking, 1993)—but hardly a guide for the perplexed. In fuzzy logic things are not black and white (true or not true, in binary fashion) but shades of gray (partly true, partly not true). In turn, the concept has spawned a form of systems theory, a branch of mathematics, and applications in design and manufacturing. Kosko (Electrical Engineering/USC), a chief proponent of fuzzy thinking, alludes to these applications (the new Beetle has a fuzzy automatic transmission; fuzzy systems are used to control industrial and manufacturing processes), but his aims are loftier. Thus the book's three main sections describe how fuzzy thinking can effect dramatic changes in politics, science, and ultimately human biology. Assumptions abound. For example, Kosko's politics/economics seems grounded in Henry George and the English philosophers from Hume to Mill. He dreams of a fuzzy tax form giving taxpayers the right to parcel at least half their federal taxes to nine or ten categories, and he proposes bounties to achieve breakthroughs in science. He goes on to speculate on the politics of genomes (who owns you), on environmental issues (who owns the sea) and war, in which fuzzy technology of smart weapons is making it easier to attack than to defend. There's lots of talk of rules and explosions of rules and feedback and AI and intelligent systems, but for the general reader the result is fuzzy in the old-fashioned sense. Finally, Kosko fantasizes that immortality can be gained by a gradual (fuzzy) transformation of thee or me through successive brain surgeries that, piece by piece, replace the brain's "meat" with chips. Ofcourse, these work ever faster, better, and more creatively than old-fashioned neurons and synapses. That kind of thinking might launch a Kosko cult. For the rest, the book succeeds in capturing the flavor of fuzziness but not enough to convince us it's time to throw the binary baby out with the bathwater. (Author tour)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780609604465
Publisher:
Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/17/1999
Pages:
353
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.16(d)

Meet the Author

Bart Kosko, Ph.D., 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 engineering. He writes for several media outlets, lectures widely on science and society, and is an award-winning composer. He lives in Los Angeles.

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