Reading The Diamond Age (2007-08-26/09-03)

Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer has a future earth setting in which nanotechnology has significantly reduced scarcity but artificial intelligence has not been achieved. I enjoyed Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (especially its encryption themes, which are present as well in The Diamond Age) and decided to read another of his books.

The "Diamond Age" is due to molecular control of matter making diamond--with multiple productive properties--a common material. (Wikipedia attributes this idea to "It's a Small, Small, Small, Small World" by Ralph C. Merkle.) It is interesting that the social organization in the story still contains classes, even though matter compilers make clothing, food, and covering available to all. I like to imagine how a just society would work.

The lack of artificial intelligence appears reasonable. The actual achievements of AI have always fallen short of predictions. Alan Turing estimated that by the year 2000 machines would be able to fool 30 percent of human judges during a 5-minute Turing Test. In 1965 H. A. Simon wrote that "machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work a man can do." In 1967 Marvin Minsky wrote, "Within a generation ... the problem of creating 'artificial intelligence' will substantially be solved." Clearly none of these predictions have appeared.

I look forward to seeing how these areas--nanotechnology, scarcity, justice, and artificial intelligence--develop during my lifetime. Perhaps I will see some possibilities fulfilled.

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