Erik Larson

Apr 4, 2014

Rapture for the Geeks

A bit dated, but here’s an excellent article on the links between checking your fav mobile device and addiction . Speaking of dated, here’s a NYT article going all the way back to 2000 on the connection between c omputer networks and biological systems (both evolving, as it were). I found these references in the chapter notes of a quirky but eminently readable little book called Rapture for the Geeks , by Richard Dooling. The subtitle is “When AI Outsmarts IQ” and its a semi-tongue-in-cheek look at Strong AI and visions of the future like the Singularity.

On the first article, you can Google “mobile phones and addiction” or what have you and get the gist. Most of the discussion is wink-and-nod; I’m sure there are some serious studies out there. The Huff Post talks about it here . Whether compulsively checking or paying attention to your mobile is an “addiction” inherits all the baggage of talking about “addiction”, but it’s clear enough these days that many of us would be happier if we engaged in that sort of behavior less often.

On the second article, it seems there’s a general, somewhat ill-defined notion out there that computational networks are evolving, and similarly (in some sense) to biological networks. Or, rather, that the concept of evolution of complex systems is general enough to include technological evolution (of which the digital technology and especially the Internet is a subset). This is a beguiling notion when viewed from afar, but when you zoom in on it, hoping for clarity, it’s tough to determine the meat and potatoes of it all. How is this system evolving like that one? one is tempted to ask. Or rather, if “evolution” is generic, what does it cover, then? What doesn’t evolve? To nutshell all of this, say it thusly: in what interesting, non-trivial, sense is technology evolving like we think biological species have (and are)?

Naturally skeptical of all the geek-rapture about smart machines, my hunch is that there’s no real there there. Technology is simply getting—well, we’re getting more and more of it, and it’s more and more connected. And that’s about all there is to the idea, when you analyze it with something like a thoughtful and healthy skepticism. Nothing wrong with that; we could use more of it these days, it seems.

On the book, I dunno. Read it if you’re interested in the whole question of whether machines are becoming intelligent like humans.