Out of Control: The Rise of Neo-Biological Civilization

By Kevin Kelly
Addison-Wesley, 1994.

Review by Howard Rheingold.

Philosophers and particle physicists have been studying the first microseconds of the Universe, in search of clues to the Big Question about the past: "Why is there something instead of nothing?" Out of Control addresses a possibly bigger question about the future: "Does evolution evolve?"

Author Kevin Kelly sees the new scientific disciplines related to chaos, complexity, artificial life, and theoretical biology as interlocking pieces of a grander puzzle. He uses new discoveries in the biological and computational sciences as tools to unlock a set of progressively bigger questions. By the time he is finished, Kelly provides a stunning reply, twenty five years later, to Stewart Brand's challenge in the first Whole Earth Catalogs: "We are as gods and might as well get good at it." In fact, Kelly told me, when I pointed that out to him, that "I could have called the book Whole Systems."

Kelly does more than explain lucidly the mind-boggling new science and technology of emergent phenomena: by the end of his book he has distilled "The Nine Laws of God." Do you want a conceptual toolkit for creating creation? Here it is. This book changed everything I thought I knew about the meaning of evolution and life: Kelly maps an emerging, radically different new world of "out of control" businesses, robots, social systems, economies, and computer programs, accelerated by a very real science and technology aimed at harnessing the power of evolution itself. Biospherics, nanotechnology, hive-minds, the fate of the universe, are all part of the much larger idea-scape revealed by this book.

Return to rheingold's brainstorms

Read More reviews.

other rheingold writing