Another Book: Bill McKibben’s Falter

Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since I associate Bill McKibben with climate change writing, I was surprised to hear this book was also about Artificial Intelligence. I went to hear his presentation about the book. (I live in Portland where we have Powell’s City of Books, and authors come to talk about their recent works.) It was done as a dialogue and the questioner dealt only with the climate stuff, as did most of the Q & A. Until the last question. Someone asked about AI. Of course now there was no time. But his answer indicated that he felt we were at a beginning of awareness of AI akin to where we were on carbon in the 70s.

Now even more interested, I got on the library wait list and finally got the book.

The book begins with climate stuff, updates on research. A couple details especially interested me: As the earth warms, the protein content of some plants decreases. At certain concentration of carbon, our cognitive abilities decrease. (I don’t remember how far in the future or what percentage.)

Then the AI. He cites goals and claims of speed of anticipated accomplishments, exponential. He discusses designer babies–not just medical adjustments, but choices of intelligence and character and . . . The latter would be changes that could be passed on genetically, so affecting more than the baby itself. One critique he made was that Designer Baby 1 would have a selection of traits that the parents deemed desirable. Then the science would continue so that Designer Baby 2 would have an even more enhanced set. Thus Baby 1’s time of functional superiority would be short lived, soon to be outdated by the next model, as with most technology.

He discusses solutions in the third section, managing to maintain hope for a move to solidarity even while acknowledging the counterforce of individualism. So the book ends on a cautious hopefulness.

While there is scientific information, the book is readable. And there are footnotes for those who want to follow up. I especially appreciated the balance of his ending.

Lots of good books ahead. But I think it is time for something light and then some sewing.

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3 responses to “Another Book: Bill McKibben’s Falter

  1. Sounds like a very interesting book!

  2. Susan

    The A.I. caught my interest, but does he actually talk about how he thinks that plays out? Because A.I. and Designer babies are not the same. I think there are a lot of ethical issues around designer babies that will have to be worked out, too. I enjoy reading the things some of the scientists predict, but neurohacking is not on that list. LOL

    • Yes he does talk about pure AI as well. He talks about both less and more controversial aspects (mostly more) and analyzes some of the extreme goals (having a copy of one’s brain in the Cloud that can be installed in a robot for a sort of immortality). The link between AI and designer babies he presents seems to be tinkering with intelligence in a way that reproduces itself–and reproducing itself is one AI goal he discusses.

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