P&P Live! Caleb Scharf —The Ascent of Information: Books, Bits, Genes, Machines, and Life's Unending Algorithm - with David Grinspoon

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021 - 6:00pm

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One of the most peculiar and possibly unique features of humans is the vast amount of information we carry outside our biological selves. But in our rush to build the infrastructure for the 20 quintillion bits we create every day, we've failed to ask exactly why we're expending ever-increasing amounts of energy, resources, and human effort to maintain all this data.

Drawing on deep ideas and frontier thinking in evolutionary biology, computer science, information theory, and astrobiology, Caleb Scharf argues that information is, in a very real sense, alive. All the data we create--all of our emails, tweets, selfies, A.I.-generated text and funny cat videos--amounts to an aggregate lifeform. It has goals and needs. It can control our behavior and influence our well-being. And it's an organism that has evolved right alongside us.

This symbiotic relationship with information offers a startling new lens for looking at the world. Data isn't just something we produce; it's the reason we exist. This powerful idea has the potential to upend the way we think about our technology, our role as humans, and the fundamental nature of life.

The Ascent of Information offers a humbling vision of a universe built of and for information. Scharf explores how our relationship with data will affect our ongoing evolution as a species. Understanding this relationship will be crucial to preventing our data from becoming more of a burden than an asset, and to preserving the possibility of a human future.

Caleb Scharf is the award-winning author of The Zoomable Universe, The Copernicus Complex, and Gravity's Engines, and the director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center. He has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Scientific American, Nautilus, and Nature, among other publications. He lives in New York City.

David Grinspoon is a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute. His research focuses on comparative planetology, with a focus on climate evolution on Earth-like planets and implications for habitability. Grinspoon has published two books, Venus Revealed and Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life, the latter of which won the 2004 PEN literary award for non-fiction. He was appointed Baruch S. Blumberg NASA-Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology for 2012/2013, and is currently an adjunct professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Science at the University of Colorado.

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The Ascent of Information: Books, Bits, Genes, Machines, and Life's Unending Algorithm Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780593087244
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Riverhead Books - June 15th, 2021

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