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Book Review:
The Intelligent Universe
AI, ET, and the emerging Mind of the Cosmos
By James N. Gardner

Reviewed by David Ocame, WS1ETI, Argus Station FN31og
email: David_dot_Ocame_at_Yale_dot_edu

After I wrote my review of James Gardner's Biocosm: The New Science of Evolution; How Intelligent Life is the Architect of the Universe some three and a half years ago, I realized I had unanswered questions. As is often the case in presenting anything, things are later thought of that did not get said. Such is the case with Biocosm. I am glad I now have a second chance with Gardner's latest work, The Intelligent Universe.

I began to question what I thought were religious undercurrents in Gardner's Selfish Biocosm hypothesis. More to the point, I found myself getting confused and wondering where Gardner stood in respect to Intelligent Design "theory". This is because the selfish biocosm hypothesis does hold that our universe was intelligently designed to be bio-friendly. Intelligent Design believers (ID-ers) insist that the world was created, down to the molecular level, by some intelligent designer. ID-ers never say exactly who this designer is (or was), but it becomes apparent that when they say "designer" they mean a supernatural being of one kind or another. I am happy to say I now see that Mr. Gardner's hypothetical similarities to ID end long before paying homage to the Flying Spaghetti Monster becomes mandatory!

In fact, in The Intelligent Universe, I find that I am not alone in my queries. Gardner devotes most of an entire chapter answering similar questions from readers and lecture attendees. Mr. Gardner answers these questions and more, much to my satisfaction. In fact, I think perhaps one of the best attributes of The Intelligent Universe is that it goes a long way toward clearing up misconceptions arising from the earlier work, Biocosm. I find that while the selfish biocosm hypothesis does hold, in line with astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, that the cosmos were designed to be bio-friendly, they were not designed by a supernatural being as Id-ers would have us believe, but rather by beings quite natural. Quite possibly by beings very much like ourselves, carbon-based and sentient. Just as possible, it may be that we, or some other intelligent species, will someday design the offspring Universe of the one we live in now.

The Intelligent Universe is divided into three sections. The first deals with artificial intelligence, or AI. Here, the author discusses the works of Seth Loyd, Edward Fredkin, and Stephen Wolfram. He also invokes the futuristic views of Ray Kurzweil and, perhaps not surprisingly, draws a comparison to Charles Darwin. Machine driven computation will continue to evolve to the point where it will meet then exceed human-level abilities. At that point, humans will need to complete the merger with their machines, becoming one with them to avoid extinction of the species. This indeed, sounds very much like Steven Dick's "Postbiological Universe" (I refer the reader to Dr. Steven Dick's keynote paper, "SETI and the Postbiological Universe", in the Proceedings of SETIcon 2002, for more on this fascinating concept), and is what Ray Kurzweil calls, the Singularity.

As hypotheses go, none are scientific without having the virtue of being falsifiable through experimental or observational evidence. Gardner does not disappoint and provides several predictions produced by his selfish biocosm hypothesis. Of interest to those of us involved in SETI research is the prediction that life must exist in places other than Earth. Moreover, there must be intelligent life elsewhere. Therefore, one area where Gardner's model stands or falls will be with the success of finding extraterrestrial life, sentient or otherwise. Devoting the second section of his book to the discussion of extraterrestrials and the SETI enterprise, Mr. Gardner gives a number of suggestions as to how current SETI programs can help provide observational evidence for the selfish biocosm model.

The third and last section delves into philosophy, and the intricacies and implications of quantum mechanics. These, the author uses as scaffolding to support his selfish biocosm hypothesis, which Gardner sums up succinctly with the phrase, "the Universe is coming to life". He also discusses the impact on religion, and our notion of reality, these musings might have. This segues to an in-depth look at the flow of time from the Big Bang and how it is that we could get information from our Universe to any offspring Universes that get created along the way, thus pre-programming the physical constants that will set the stage for creating a new, life friendly cosmos.

Once again, I find myself at odds between going on to writing a book about this book, and simply providing a review of James Gardner's ideas. As with Biocosm, there are many more insights to ponder in The Intelligent Universe, and a second reading is surely in order. There are also many references to noted scholars and thankfully an extensive bibliography is provided and much appreciated.

No doubt Mr. Gardner will continue to draw fire from the mainstream scientific establishment. It does seem as if he will be in for a long battle. But his ideas look to have merit and he stands in good company. Though it may be a very long time before enough data are acquired for this hypothesis to turn to theory, I certainly do recommend this book. Not just because it is, arguably, sound. But because of its ability to stir the thought processes and stimulate the intellect.

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