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Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of Novacene, by James Lovelock, read by Roy McMillan.

James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and the greatest environmental thinker of our time, has produced an astounding new theory about future of life on Earth. He argues that the anthropocene - the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies - is, after 300 years, coming to an end. A new age - the novacene - has already begun.  

New beings will emerge from existing artificial intelligence systems. They will think 10,000 times faster than we do, and they will regard us as we now regard plants - as desperately slow acting and thinking creatures. But this will not be the cruel, violent machine takeover of the planet imagined by sci-fi writers and film-makers. These hyper-intelligent beings will be as dependent on the health of the planet as we are. They will need the planetary cooling system of Gaia to defend them from the increasing heat of the sun as much as we do. And Gaia depends on organic life. We will be partners in this project. 

It is crucial, Lovelock argues, that the intelligence of Earth survives and prospers. He does not think there are intelligent aliens, so we are the only beings capable of understanding the cosmos. Maybe, he speculates, the novacene could even be the beginning of a process that will finally lead to intelligence suffusing the entire cosmos. At the age of 100, James Lovelock has produced the most important and compelling work of his life.

©2019 James Lovelock (P)2019 Penguin Audio

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Optimistic but still frightening

The great James Lovelock is optimistic that when AI takes over the world they'll work with us and not crush us underfoot as we crush ants. Still, it looks like a risk. More disturbing is his belief that we are alone among the 64 quadtrillion stars of the known universe (or something like that). The odds are pretty high that either we bugger everything up or get pulverised by some massive meteor. James is of such great age that some people might call him a dinosaur. But not me. Novacene is a short but highly thought-provoking vision of the future.

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Wish I can write such a book at the age of 99!

Some of his ideas are brilliant, the others crazy. But there is never a dull moment. Highly recommended.

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Poorly argued support for pseudo-religious opinion

This is an interesting book by an interesting author, but I must say I was unconvinced by much of the central thesis. There are three major holes in the rhetoric of this book:

1. The central argument of the book is very much founded on the Gaia hypothesis. This hypothesis posits that the Earth (by analogy to an organism) possesses a system of homeostasis by which the surface temperature is actively maintained within a range suitable for life. Homeostasis exists in organisms as a result of Darwinist evolution. The earth has not undergone evolution so there is no reason to think that it would have any of the complex systems that evolved organisms have.

2. Lovelock states his opinion that, contrary to widespread belief, our planet is the only one with with intelligent life. His argument seems to be that life took two thirds of the current age of the cosmos to arise and so "there hasn't been time for life to have arisen more than once". That makes no sense. There are trillions of planets so even if life has had time to arise only once per planet then its still likely to have arisen many times overall. He later briefly uses the argument of radio silence to support this, but there are many possible reasons why we haven't ever received the signals of other intelligent species. Maybe intelligence always leads quickly to extinction. Maybe other species aren't interested in communicating. Maybe they're just very far away.

3. The author goes on to describe the Earth's hypothetical life support system as "old" and compares it to an ageing person in that it has reduced capacity to withstand perturbations (be they illness in the case of a person or meteor strikes in the case of the Earth.) Again, the analogy between our planet and an organism is unfounded and no argument in support of it is presented. Ageing is an evolved phenomenon and the Earth is not the result of evolution. If the Earth is old, then compared to what? How many living planets has Lovelock studied to come to this bizarre conclusion?

Then there's the whole second half of the book and its real subject. In this part the author predicts there will soon arise a kind of species of artificial organisms he calls cyborgs. These cyborgs will be capable of reproduction, self maintenance, self fuelling and even improving the species own design over time. This species will begin to operate independently of human help. This is all stated as a practical inevitability but no convincing explanation is provided as to how or why this very unlikely scenario might arise. There is a brief mention of Moores law (which broke a while ago), and AlphaGo. No mention of who would engineer such a thing and why? When you're talking about a machine capable of reproduction youre not talking about a man sized thing. You need to include the factory where its built and the factory where the parts of that factory are built, the mines, the power stations, the power distribution and transportation grids etc etc. You basically need to engineer an entire modern economy that operates entirely independently of human help, all to produce machines that don't even serve people? What useful or marketable role would an independent (wild), powerful and unpredictable creature fulfil?

These cyborgs will supposedly all collaborate together on a global challenge to rescue Gaia from overheating. Why? Apparently because they would "share our goal" of long term survival. Is that our goal? Does humanity have a goal? It certainly wouldn't appear so. Even if it is - why would this cyborg community have a goal and why would it be that one?

It seems odd that a supposedly bright author would make such obvious rhetorical blunders and I can only assume that they serve a preconceived conclusion that fits his pseudo-religious view that Man is special. It's hard to avoid this conclusion when the author uses phrases like "chosen planet" and "purpose of the universe". Overall a frustrating and disappointing read.

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A wondrous whirlwind tour through Lovelock's mind

James Lovelock writes beautifully and in a way that is accessible to everyone. He tells a story as if it were science fiction, but then backs it up with scientific truths. I wish I'd had the chance to work with him.

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Mind Provoking

What an incredible proposition from an amazing human being. James Lovelock continues to contribute to civilisation as he has done throughout his life
A giant among men. What will he write next?

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Beautifully Flawed

Flawed

It is always hard to predict the future and more so when any author tries to speculate on how the human race would fair if a hyper-intelligent AI came into being.
Perhaps writing at 95, Lovelock wanted to sign off with a note of optimism but like most futurologists he bypasses the catastrophic and rapid outcomes of uncontrolled population growth coupled with increasing global consumption and the probable political fallout of job losses to present AI controlled by tiny elites. It is hard to see how any “independent” AI will have time to evolve against this backdrop let alone dwell in his utopian vision of their symbiosis with man to help solve eco problems. His idea that machines will also need a healthy biosphere seems wholly implausible.
That said, it a fun listen and the clarity makes us all wish we have his cognition if we get to 95 !

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fantastic, thought provoking listen!

a must listen for anyone concerned with our planets ecology -and mire importantly, those who aren't!

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Excellent, thought provoking.

Thankfully, this oration was delivered by a person who can convey the gravitas of James Lovelock's thinking. I've listened numerous times and will continue to do so.

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profound

Best book on the future Ive read. I hold the same view, that Hyper Intelligence is just part of evolution.

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Weak arguments and no depth in the book

This is a short book to begin with and it repeats itself a thousand times. The arguments made are on the surface with very weak backing. This should have been more off an op-ed article. Life 3.0 is much better at going into depths of future life.

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  • Cliente de Amazon
  • 11-03-21

El mejor

Es el mejor libro que he escuchado o leído en los últimos años. Lovelock reúne la inteligencia práctica del inventor. La sensibilidad del que comprende y la sabiduría de 100 años en lucidez plena. Maestro!