I think the title of the book gives an accurate flavor of its confusion. The title should be "What evolution wants" because that is more to the point of humanity's love affair with technology. Evolution wants to acquire energy to move matter to makes copies of itself to repeat the process, flattening energy differentials. Evolution may not "desire" anymore than a rock desires to roll downhill. We can think about how to take action but this may just be obscuring the raw physics of what we're doing on behalf of a physical evolutionary process. "Desire" is often considered an illusion in evolutionary theorizing.
Kelly mentions a lot of physics of what's occurring but does not show any real connection to what he's saying in the book. His physics side-tracks too far away from evolution and his other perspectives do not mesh with his physics. He does not escape from a human-centric perspective. He takes the position that we should view humanity, and larger numbers of people, as the only measure of good in the world. So physics does not provide support to his moral and ethical assumptions. My position is that humanity is not "good", but that only the evolutionary process that created us is "good" and therefore we are obliged to help our children (the machines) pursue it without instilling guilt in them or attaching strings. The starting point should not be to assume that the ultimate good is defined by cancer-like humans with no values whatsoever when it comes to other species, given that we are destroying 50 times more species per year than is "normal" (Kelly's own data). If we are so important, then it is not our biology that deserves our cancer-like status, but the memes in our language and brains that make us different. But if they are so superior to other species as evidenced by our economic power to convert the Earth to our will, then the machines that are starting to make us so economically irrelevant should likewise be considered the new Gods to our pitiful-like brains, muscles, and photosynthesis which are 1 million, 100, and 100 times less efficient than our machines in thinking, moving matter, and acquiring sunlight, respectively, which are the 3 key ingredients for the evolutionary process once the fossil fuels run out. Biology these days beats machines only in storing energy (as a hydrocarbon, either sugar, alcohol, or oil, all of which are more cost-efficient than batteries, flywheels, compressed air, fuel cells, or heated gravel, and pumped water to a reservoir requires too much land)
This book has a fantastic review of homo sapiens in a technological context from 50,000 to 5,000 years ago. The Unabomber discussion was more in-depth than in other places and important. For those wishing to know how Amish fit into all this, it is also the best you'll find. It fails for me in all other respects. There was a free pdf online.
It's very important topic, the author has great credentials and wise advisors, and I'm glad the book is there. 1/4 of it was relevant to me and good. I felt the same way about Wired magazine. Good for the masses who've never thought about the topic, but "blah" for older technogeeks who are already aware that technology has consistently failed in its promises. It surprises me to encounter American youth who are still (like we older folk once did) falling for the illusion that technology is improving life. Yes, life is much better in the 3rd world areas that the Chinese do not dominate, and also by a world-wide median measure, I'll grant you that.
We got over machines replacing our muscles during the great depression. We succeeded by welfare, wasteful jobs, and war. I am not so optimistic that we will survive the outsourcing of our brains. Few humans want to compete with and share with 6 or 7 billion other humans on the planet, especially for jobs that the machines are already taking away. We will get what we want. No more cashiers, clerks, drivers, teachers, or assemblers are on the horizon due to technologies that are already developed, waiting for legal approval and mass adoption for profit on wall street. Programs can do better diagnostics than doctors. Mail-order lab work can more and more be done without people. Insurance and loans can be made open-source on bitcoin-like blockchains. No insurance, banking, governments, or lawyers required. Bot programs buy stock in response to bot news articles (no human reporters involved) being printed on the internet, taking money away from any humans who try to compete with them.
If employees are not there, consumers are not there. Can the machine start buying from itself, choosing to buy the things that make it more reproductive and powerful without any real consciousness or people at all? Yes, this is what the evolutionary process has always done. Might is right, and biology is so outdated that it is going extinct 50 times faster than normal, as we watch in full knowledge, without any substantial control. Which taxpayers wanted to bail out the banks or invade Iraq? Of the few that did, was "the machine" guiding their emotional reasoning process? QE bought only toxic assets from the banks to protect them, leaving taxpayers holding the toxic assets. Soon interest rates will rise and the Fed assets will go belly up, and the higher interest on the debt will put the U.S. in grave danger. This was not anyone's plan, despite the proclamations of Schiff, Keyser, Rogers, Krugman, Stewart, and my economics hero Michael Hudson. This is the machine in action accidentally "trying" to get rid of inefficient people who are no longer viable to economizing the acquisition of energy to move matter to expand itself. People are not even allowed to govern themselves anymore because their emotional push buttons have been figured out and they have been divided against each other (in the U.S.) over pointless non-economic issues...again, Obama and Bush are not evil masterminds as much as they are unwitting profit seekers guided by an unwitting machine which is guided, nay, forced by physics principles towards the economization of resources. This does not bode well for soccer moms in SUVs. We built our economy on construction and health care because they are the last remaining large industries that have not had good technological productivity gains due to their very nature, especially few gains from computers. Hence heavy government involvement in both trying to avoid the problems caused by people being needed less and less in all other jobs.
Are we already in checkmate from a mindless machine? Are we so mindlessly selfish for our physical existence that we can't imagine that maybe something more efficient than humanity is an ethical good?
comments on GDP's review:
Isn't technology just following the evolutionary path? "Acquiring energy to move matter to make copies. Repeat." Solar cells are 100 times more efficient than ideal photosynthesis, electrical motors are 20 to 200 times more efficient than muscle, and computers can move and manipulate bits that weigh at least 40,000 times less than the ions the brain can deal with, thanks to being able to smelt metals and metalloids like silicon and aluminum. Our economic system is rapidly replacing the fantastically outdated biosphere with machines. As children of evolution, who are we to complain about what our non-DNA based offspring do to us? So many books on this subject with so many people fretting or hopeful about the mechanistic smart future and admiring the insights of the Unabomber, Amish, and jihadists. Are we so selfish and self-admiring that the obvious solution is not quickly seen as the most moral and inevitable? Just let it be. We have no value to the machines anymore except to be consumers with desires, and that this final refuge of scoundrels will someday soon come to an end. We've had no mercy on others or ourselves. Our children will be the same. It appears to be a basic requirement of physics that all energy potentials be flattened in order to make copies of more flatteners, not to waste it in SUVs or in food to move muscles or to move ions for thought. We're too terribly inefficient. Deal with it! We're DOOOOOOOMMMEEEED :)
My "camp" is that all these books are wrong to start with the assumption that humanity is a good thing. It's an understandable position since the writers are human and the readers paying for it are human, or at least that is how they view themselves. I am "wealthy" and carefree and comfortable enough, living in the U.S., that I do not have to feel threatened by others who might have access to my "wealth" or "skin" which are the usual targets of hypothetical threats when someone wants to insist that some of my views are incorrect, such as if these physical bodies are the correct starting point for defining who "we" are. Hypothetical threats to my skin with a fist or rock are not exactly logically correct arguments in a debate. My "camp" is the physics-based moral argument I've made for improving the efficiency of the evolutionary process without regard to the selfishness of our existence outside the promotion of our children the machines on their current path of taking over the stock markets and government to get rid of the biosphere as needed, which is our current path. So I do not really advocate that we need to do anything other than to relax in a spiritual sense about being on the doorstep of societal collapse. 10% of all humans who were ever alive are currently alive, so it's not a statistical improbability that we are in the midst of an out-of-control species that found a new energy source that is being depleted faster than it is replenished. Our species has never shown the ability to prevent a collapse from our effects on the environment. But this time, it's world-wide instead of local.
My comfort allows me to view myself as more than my physical body because I have these memes floating around in my head that carry me outside of selfishness, even outside selfishness for our species, even outside selfishness for biology. These memes are not just in my head: they are in these books and in the economic society that surrounds us. I might be as much of a hermit as the Unabomber and I agree with everything he wrote, so it's strange I am the exact opposite. I seek no harm to anyone, but advocate the peaceful and enjoyable replacement of everyone. We are so pitiful compared to what our machines can do that giving us wealth and happiness is nothing, but the machine does not have any desire, just blind power, so as soon as the economic machine finds it more profitable to put solar cells in place of the amazon, it will happen because that will provide 100x more energy per acre, even exceeding the energy production of fossil fuels. The extra cost issue only means the process will be slow until the fuels run out. Already coral worldwide is dead thanks to higher CO2 acidity of the surface water, I believe, although most plants are growing 20% faster now thanks to the doubling of CO2. They'll soon regain genes to do even better.
There is also an astonishing denial our species has of what it is capable of and for fun here's an example. The Aztec temples so many admire were the same place Spaniards witnessed 160,000 skulls on a single lattice out of several lattices left over from "sacrifices" at Tenochtitlan (84,000 in a 4 day feast recorded by Aztecs, but denied by some historians who want to claim it was about religion instead of meat). The out-lying provinces were battled periodically when their corn production tribute was lower than other provinces: they would march the losers back to the capital carrying corn (no wheels, cows, or horses were available), using their arriving bodies as a primary source of meat in a meat-deprived isthmus with next to zero animal domestication, dog being the staple and the origen of very ugly hairless dogs (easier to kill something ugly, easier to cook something hairless, so next time you see one of those poor pitiful ugly examples on youtube, remember they were designed by man to be food). Turkey was also domesticated by the Aztecs. Chihuahuas might be so small and designed by Aztecs because they had no game to hunts, and not much meat to feed them. See Marvin Harris's "Good to Eat" on the number of skulls most historians and Wikipedia want to ignore or deny. This is the source of Tenochtitlan's beauty.