James Lovelock, the creator of the Gaia hypothesis, that the Earth is a holistic self-maintaining system, died last week. As a coincidence I read his last book, Novacene, over the weekend before I had heard the news.
While I was always familiar with the idea of Gaia and was aware that Lovelock’s ideas were controversial, I didn’t realise how solid his scientific grounding was, despite working largely outside the academic world.
In Novacene Lovelock proposes that we are entering a new era in which humans will inevitably be transcended by the ‘electronic’ intelligences that we create. The core message of the book is that he expects that the AI we generate to want to work with humans to maintain Gaia and thus our existence, since even the machines won’t survive a catastrophic collapse.
I don’t agree with all the ideas in the book; I certainly don’t believe it is inevitable that humans will be completely transcended for the imaginable future. However Lovelock’s underlying thinking and framing is not just original and provocative, it is valuable in always seeing us in the context of the system that sustains us.
Novacene is a short book, it doesn’t take long to read, and gives a very broad framing for both the planet and the coming rise of ‘hyperintelligence’. Recommended.