[extropy-chat] George Dyson article: Turing's Cathedral

Amara Graps amara at amara.com
Sun Oct 30 05:44:37 UTC 2005

Triggered by a Boing Boing post (http://www.boingboing.net/ )
where they quote this paragraph of George Dyson's essay, where
he describe his visit to Google  headquarters:

"Despite the whimsical furniture and other toys, I felt I was entering a
14th-century cathedral - not in the 14th century but in the 12th
century, while it was being built. Everyone was busy carving one stone
here and another stone there, with some invisible architect getting
everything to fit. The mood was playful, yet there was a palpable
reverence in the air. "We are not scanning all those books to be read by
people," explained one of my hosts after my talk. "We are scanning them
to be read by an AI."


by George Dyson

A visit to Google on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of John von
Neumann's proposal for a digital computer

Introduction by John Brockman:

Sorry, but the big news at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year was not
about the international sales of your new book. It was about the
activities of a new (second year) exhibitor: Google.

What is Google doing at the Frankfurt Book Fair? And why has a
consortium of publishers filed a lawsuit against them? On the other
hand, why do the "digerati" love Google Print and Google Print Library?
How does Google's definition of "fair use" as it pertains to the digital
domain, square with the notion that as a writer, own my own words?
Clearly, we need to redefine "fair use" in the digital age as a
"different use" with its own new set of benchmarks.

Whether we're talking about John Cage's idea of "the mind we all share"
or H.G. Well's "World Brain", Google has its act together and are at the
precipice of astonishing changes in human communication...and
ultimately, in our sense of who or what we are. And like nearly all
science-driven, technological developments, governments can only play
catch-up as no one is going to get to vote for Google's changes, and the
current laws, written in a pre-digital age, don't address the new

Some sincerely believe we are entering a golden age of wonder and Google
is leading the way. And I am pleased to add from personal experience
that the leading players, Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, are
fine individuals: very serious, highly intelligent, principled. They
don't come any better. Still, others believe there are reasons for
legitimate fear of a (very near) future world in which the world's
knowledge is privatized by one corporation. This could be a problem, a
very big problem.

George Dyson visited Google last week at the invitation of some Google
engineers. The occasion was the 60th anniversary of John von Neumann's
proposal for a digital computer. After the visit, Dyson recalled H.G.
Wells' prophecy, written in 1938:

     "The whole human memory can be, and probably in a short time will
     be, made accessible to every individual," wrote H. G. Wells in his
     1938 prophecy World Brain. "This new all-human cerebrum need not be
     concentrated in any one single place. It can be reproduced exactly
     and fully, in Peru, China, Iceland, Central Africa, or wherever else
     seems to afford an insurance against danger and interruption. It can
     have at once, the concentration of a craniate animal and the
     diffused vitality of an amoeba." Wells foresaw not only the
     distributed intelligence of the World Wide Web, but the
     inevitability that this intelligence would coalesce, and that power,
     as well as knowledge, would fall under its domain. "In a universal
     organization and clarification of knowledge and ideas... in the
     evocation, that is, of what I have here called a World Brain... in
     that and in that alone, it is maintained, is there any clear hope of
     a really Competent Receiver for world affairs... We do not want
     dictators, we do not want oligarchic parties or class rule, we want
     a widespread world intelligence conscious of itself."


GEORGE DYSON, a historian among futurists, is the author of Darwin Among
the Machines; and Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship.


Amara Graps, PhD          email: amara at amara.com
Computational Physics     vita:  ftp://ftp.amara.com/pub/resume.txt
Multiplex Answers         URL:   http://www.amara.com/
"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."
   -- Jorge Luis Borges

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list