Book review – science

Seeing the dark in a new light

True darkness, it turns out, can be experienced but does not exist. If you have been down a deep mine where the guide tells you to turn off your lamp you will have seen – in not seeing – something close to it: an utter nothingness in which your body and mind seem to shrink and expand at the same time. On a school trip to Big Pit in South Wales my entire class fell into a moment of unprecedented and never-to-be-repeated silence, a gasped amazement at the disappearance and invisibility of ourselves. Just for a moment everything vanished – and then the whooping and squealing started.  This double impulse,

The balance of power between humans and machines

The twin poles of the modern imaginarium about technology and society can be represented by two masterpieces of popular culture. In James Cameron’s film The Terminator (1984) and its sequels, a global computer system called Skynet becomes sentient and proceeds to try to exterminate the human race by means of time-travelling Austrian bodybuilders. In Iain M. Banks’s ‘Culture’ novels, by contrast (beginning with Consider Phlebas, 1987), a space-faring humanlike species has created superintelligent machines, known as Minds, which automate all the labour of production, leaving people free to pursue artistic activities and extreme sports. As our tech-bro overlords race to create proper AI, then, the present question is whether engineered