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Cover Quote: July 1976

Probably one of the most striking conclusions from our inquiry into the history of the universe is the fact that the main evolutionary events of physical development occupied only such a tiny fraction of the total period. Indeed, it took less than an hour to make the atoms, a few hundred million years to make the stars and planets, but three billion years to make man!

G. Gamow

The Creation of the Universe

1952

Biologists have recorded many examples where a species threatened with extinction managed to survive by means of a significant evolutionary change. The human species is now threatened with extinction. The population of the world is increasing so rapidly, the means of mass destruction have become so horrible, natural resources are being used up at such an alarming pace, and man is polluting the environment so fast that we have at most a century in which to change the very texture of human society. Given the rate of human reproduction, a century is much too short a period for the usual forces of evolution and natural selection to bring about a significant change. Our best hope therefore lies in a new kind of evolutionary process which I have called “symbiotic evolution.”

I have argued that in high-speed computers man has acquired an important symbiotic partner. We can help computers evolve by combining them with modern means of communication into national or world wide computer networks. Time sharing provides the opportunity for man-machine interaction, so that man and computer and the communications network can all work together. It is my hope that through this partnership man himself will evolve without having to wait for the slow processes of biological change to take place.

In short, the symbiotic evolution which I foresee will not in itself bring about the good will and dedication that are necessary to reverse the disastrous trends that now threaten our species. But without the potential contained in this symbiosis, good will can do little to alleviate our problems. The best-intentioned people, if they lack the technical expertise and the tools to achieve our goals, can make the situation worse instead of better. Therefore we must look to the coming of a new man-computer partnership to provide the means which, combined with sufficient concern by men for their fellowmen and for future generations, can hopefully bring about a new golden age for mankind.



- J.G. Kemeny
Man and the Computer, 1972
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