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Edizione originale

Autore: Bruce Mazlish
Titolo: The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-Evolution of Humans and Machines
Anno: 1995
Editore: Yale University Press
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From Publishers Weekly
In Mazlish's heady scenario, combots (computerized robots), enjoying a symbiotic relation with humans, may transmogrify into a new species, while human beings, growing ever more mechanical in body and mind, also turn into "something like a new species . . . Homo comboticus ," who will replace "precomputer Man." People, asserts this MIT history professor, differ from machines only to a degree; the "fourth discontinuity"--our mental separation from the machines we create--will soon end, he predicts. This provocative study first assesses the shocks to the human ego administered by Copernicus, Darwin and Freud, who refuted our species' presumed discontinuities with the universe, with the animal kingdom and with our own subconscious minds. Ranging widely from Leonardo's inventions to genetic engineering, with excursions into ancient automata, Charles Babbage's prototype computers, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Samuel Butler's Erewhon , Mazlish ponders our ambivalent relationship to technology. Illustrated. Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews
An often interesting and provocative--though sometimes obvious and, finally, unconvincing--historical exploration of humanity's relationship to machines. Mazlish (History/MIT; The Meaning of Karl Marx, 1984, etc.) says that the three great shocks to our conception of ourselves- -with each shock forcing us to relinquish another claim to uniqueness--have been the Copernican Revolution, removing Earth from its centrality; Darwin's placement of humanity within the animal kingdom; and Freud's excavation of the unconscious. Now, claims the author, ``we are now coming to realize that humans are not as privileged in regard to machines as has been unthinkingly assumed''--and thus the ``fourth discontinuity,'' between ourselves and machines, is eliminated. That people and machines have coevolved, each shaping the other, is demonstrable; that they are of the same essential nature is an idea that seems, at least as treated here, destined to remain a metaphor. To support his claim, Mazlish surveys an eclectic intellectual history, including a chronicle of automata, from the Jewish golem to Vaucanson's duck (once the talk of 18th-century Paris, said to have ``drank, ate, digested, cackled and swam'') to Blade Runner; the intellectual response to the Industrial Revolution; the work of Linnaeus and Darwin; the research of Freud and Pavlov, revealing mechanistic aspects of behavior; Babbage's Difference Engine, turning the power of machines to intellectual tasks, as well as Samuel Butler's Erewhon, which depicted machines in revolt; and the two revolutions of our own age--the coming of computers and of biogenetic technology. Too flat and meandering to germinate something as vital as a reassessment of the humanity/machine symbiosis. (For a more expansive and engaging treatment of a similar theme, see Gregory Stock's Metaman, reviewed below.) (Twelve illustrations) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.


robotics, computers, IA, AI, IT, machines,