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Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  368 ratings  ·  75 reviews
James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and the greatest environmental thinker of our time, has produced an astounding new theory about future of life on Earth. He argues that the anthropocene - the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies - is, after 300 years, coming to an end. A new age - the novacene - has already begun.

New beings will emerge
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published July 4th 2019 by Allen Lane
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Richard Palmer At your local library, if you are fortunate enough to have one.

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83rd book for 2019.

I have always been partial to James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis—that the Earth's ecosystem essentially acts as a self-regulating organism.

Early in the book Lovelock makes the important point that the Earth itself falls outside the habitable zone of planets in the solar system: that without life the average temperature of the Earth would be closer to 50C—a temperature unpleasant for both machines and organic lifeforms—rather than our much more clement 15C. He then goes state
John Gribbin
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
My review from the Literary Review

Few people produce a new book in their 100th year; fewer still at that age produce a book containing original ideas. But if anyone was going to do it, it surely had to be Jim Lovelock. Lovelock has been having good ideas for at least 75 of the past 100 years, and is best known for one that occurred to him half his lifetime ago — the concept of the Earth as a living organism, Gaia. His new book looks forward to the future of that organism, a future in which
Peter Tillman
This slender book (130 pp) is something of a coda to James Lovelock’s long, distinguished career as a scientist and engineer. He’s best known for his Gaia hypothesis, and for inventing some remarkable scientific instruments. His work on Gaia was all self-supported, from income he earned from other projects. Lovelock makes a spirited defense of scientific intuition vs. linear thinking, and he predicts that advanced AIs will become intuitive thinkers.

Lovelock makes the provocative remark that the
Rachel Bea
Some quick thoughts on this. I picked up this book because a dear friend of mine had said she was going to read it. It sounded interesting enough so I put it on hold at the library. It took me months to get a copy, long after she was already done!

If you're not familiar with James Lovelock, as I wasn't, he's a scientist and inventor and is literally 100 years old. Among his many contributions is hisGaia theory, which is a bit beyond me but basically Earth is aself-regulating organism.

Nov 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great essay! Makes you think, makes you wonder...
jules varma
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
If I wanted a religious book I would have bought one.

Unfortunately here, the author seems confronted to his own impermanence and tries desperately to make sense of the world before his own passing.

There is no doubt that Lovelock is a genius. Some of the theories he has developed over the years have been groundbreaking and he notably brought us the Gaia hypothesis.
Yet, this book is an accumulation of beliefs rather than scientific facts.

His steadfast belief in the anthropic principle followed
Chris Johnson
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Life today life on Earth looks a lot like life 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, or, even 5 millions years ago. But, 100 years from now, life on Earth will not be like anything like we know.

Additionally, even given the vastness and age of the Universe, Lovelock believes that we are alone in the cosmos. This is because of the hugely improbable odds for the development of life.

So, we are alone, and we have created our successors: artificial intelligence. How many generations of humans have yet to
D.B. John
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
This short book came out on the author's 100th birthday – and that's just the first remarkable thing about it. Old age has made this scientist neither pessimistic nor dotty. Quite the opposite – his ideas are so simple, so mind-blowingly original, that they kept me awake, engrossed in thought, just wondering about our role in the universe. Indeed, the future he foresees is so surprising one could easily dismiss it as sci-fi, if this old seer hadn't been proved right time and time again over his ...more
Bryan Alexander
Sep 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating and very accessible little book. Novacene's argument is quite clear: humanity is developing a successor species in the form of artificial intelligence, and that's probably a good thing.

So on the one hand this is a work of futurism, exploring the well known if burgeoning field of posthumanism. It reminds me of Robin Hanson's Age of Em, which similarly argues for a new, digital lifeform about to appear on Earth. Novacene sees these posthuman entities growing gradually, then
Tanguy Bretagne
Aug 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
Ramblings of an old man with very limited vision of what the future could be. His imagination is literally thinner than generations of science fiction writers has created. No theory behind his view, just an empty axiomatic. Loved that he compared himself to galileo and einstein. I’ll be gentle as he is 100 years old.
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
'cybernetic meadow/where mammals and computers/live together in mutually/programming harmony' and humans are 'free of our labors/and joined back to nature,/returned to our mammal/brothers and sisters./and all watched over/by machines of loving grace'.

Richard Brautigan
Jeremi Litar
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
J A Graham
Aug 11, 2019 rated it liked it
A remarkable book by a remarkable man. A book of huge contradictions by an author of similar. A scientist responsible for inventing the technology that proved the danger of CFCs in the atmosphere. Also, I believe, inventor of the gas chromatograph and a major factor in the Viking landers involved in the NASA Mars programme. But also someone, with, to my eyes a delusional anti scientific bent of thinking that makes the first third of this book nearly unbearable.

A belief that given the fact
Sep 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
Petitio principii, book length edition. Mostly a lyrical expression of “be not afraid” at the coming age of sentient machines who think in ways utterly different from humans.

Insofar as I can discern an actual argument, it seems to be that we humans were the vehicle through which Gaia's consciousness advanced over the last 500 years, but that with the coming of AI we may no longer be necessary for that continued advance -- but that's OK, because the cyborgs have every incentive to maintain the
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is no denying Lovelock’s genius. He’s one of the foremost thinkers and doers of our age. This book spells out in clear terms just how fucked we are, but also why that’s not such a problem. Life will go on without humanity at the wheel, machines will be our natural successors, and that’s something to be celebrated.

Needless to say, I loved it. This is all stuff I was thinking about in the 1990s so it’s great to see Lovelock set it out so clearly.
Prakash Nair
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An illuminating short read courtesy of the eminent James Lovelock. Much has been been said about the AI revolution and the (largely inaccurate) claims that artificial intelligence will not only replace jobs but humans as well. James Lovelock puts such worries in perspective while briefly, yet eloquently elaborating on the inventions that marked the start of the Anthropocene.
Peter Tillman
My review:
I read the Allen Lane hb edition.
Alec Birri
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Strange one this. A curious mix of science, religion, philosophy and, the reason for my low rating - nonsense.
For example, although our synthetic offspring will apparently be many thousands of times cleverer than us, we will be treated as equals. Really? In the same way humans still mix with the hominids we replaced, perhaps?

The evolutionary evidence would seem to suggest otherwise. Should AI become more sentient than us, it's likely to do what we did when becoming the cleverest on the planet -
Aug 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Kind of a mixed bag with this book - I enjoyed it a little more than I thought I would, but it's maybe not something I would recommend to others.

Some pros of the book is that Lovelock has a really unique lens through which he examines the climate crisis, and he's presented information that I haven't seen from other sources. For example, he says that while we should be worried about greenhouse gases, we should also focus on the greater density of water molecules that are going to be in the
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
Mostly nonsense. This rambling blog post of a book hits it's thesis early and often: humans have created the conditions for artificial intelligence to evolve, and AI may soon overtake humans as the dominant species on Earth, and this may not be a bad thing. The author avoids facts, statistics, evidence, etc like a plague, stating early on that he's being his conjecture on intuition, which is better than reason anyhow. This weak justification for his conclusions undermines the whole premise, ...more
Eugene Pustoshkin
The major problem with James Lovelock’s new book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence (2019) is that it focuses on consciousness as intelligence rather than consciousness as awareness. Thus, the entire domain of interiority is almost completely missed and ignored by Lovelock.

While it is very impressive that Lovelock wrote this book at the age of 99, the book itself seems to be a farewell, but not to humanity as a sentient life form (which is to be superseded by hyperintelligent and
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
The breadth and scale of James Lovelock’s vision and expertise is breathtaking. In a small-format book of only 130 pages he combines some biography with biology, chemistry, ecology, astrophysics, computer science, complexity and systems thinking, information theory, philosophy, engineering, history and even a dash of English literature (Hardy and Tennyson). Written in his hundredth year, it’s perhaps not surprising that it skips around a bit, with ideas running into and back around each other, ...more
Stephen Palmer
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
James Lovelock was one of my earliest influences when it came to writing fiction. I intuitively grasped the scope and profundity of his Gaia concept, and, although Gaia made no appearance in my debut Memory Seed, themes of environmental destruction and human narcissism implicit in the early reaction to Gaia emerged in my novel. Lovelock’s later work confirmed the man’s exceptional brilliance, in the public eye via his books, elsewhere (and perhaps more importantly) through a continuous supply of ...more
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
James Lovelock should need little introduction. For the last 60 years, he has been at the forefront of intellectual thought on technology and more importantly its impact on the Earth. Back in the 1970s, he developed his theory of Gaia, the concept that the Earth was a self-regulating organism, which linked all life in a great mesh of dependency. This concept is now accepted wisdom and forms part of the backbone of most green-based arguments that we need to take greater care of the waste we ...more
S.J. Higbee
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This isn’t a long book, but it posits some fascinating views – which are aptly summed up in the most blurting blurb I’ve read in a long time. Unfortunately, I had the bad luck to read it before I was aware I would be gifted the book. However, I did my best to put the back cover matter out of my head, because as I read the book, I was aware that Lovelock is a one-off. His ideas are genuinely original and while I’m not convinced about all of them – I don’t agree with his stance regarding the ...more
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
I first read 'The Ages of Gaia' in the early 1990s, when I was 12 or 13. When I flipped to the back cover I saw a photograph of Lovelock, at the time already 72 or 73 years old. Now, almost 30 years later (!), I have the privilege of reading his latest book. At this point, Lovelock has become the environmentalists' Yoda.

Novacene feels in some way like a religious text, as the ancient sage pours forth the wisdom gained from a century of life and a career at the very cutting edge of science.
C. Patrick G. Erker
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a short read but also a mind-bending one. Lovelock argues that we're moving into a new geologic era, the "Novacene," in which machines 10,000 to a million times smarter than us effectively take over. But have no fear: since they'll be as dependent on "Gaia," or the unitary life form that has cooled our planet and made it inhabitable for life, they won't want us to all die. But they'll see us as we see pets, novelties, perhaps.

There are of course all sorts of implications for this theory
Simon Lancaster
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Rejoice. Having screwed up Planet Earth right royally, Homo Sapiens' position as its dominant species is coming to an end. And, in a Douglas Adams-like twist, it is our creation, artificial intelligence, that is set to supersede us. However, the ever-readable contrarian James Lovelock believes that, unlike in the movie Ex-Machina, electronic super-minds won't destroy us. The chain of logic goes like this: without biological life, the planet will die, we are part of biological life, so we will be ...more
Neil Turner
Dec 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Many interesting aspects here but I found the main hypothesis of the book too distracting. It poses the FACT that technology and machines in the form of ‘cyborgs’ will be created by us and then take over rendering us (humans) means of entertainment and information just like we currently use plants and pets - this was all way too far fetched! It didn’t take into account that anything we create - now or in the future - are simply extensions of ourselves both psychologically and biologically and as ...more
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I picked up James Lovelock's "Novacene" after seeing Stewart Brand's tweet last week calling it "the most thrilling book I have read in years". The first half of the book deals with the imminent eventual warming of the planet through human or natural causes and why it's so important to deal with it now rather than later.

The second half is devoted to the era of "hyper-intelligence" which is already well underway. In 2017, the AlphaZero computer from Google learned in 24 hours what typically
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Goodreads Librari...: Novacene by James Lovelock (9780241399361) 1 7 Jan 15, 2020 04:23PM  

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