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From Society and Science to Heaven in a Chip

by Bart Kosko

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-609-60446-5
Publisher: Harmony

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. Of course, 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)