The Ascent of Information: Books, Bits, Genes, Machines, and Life’s Unending Algorithm

Riverhead. Jun. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9780593087244. $28. TECH
With his book, Scharf (astrobiology, Columbia Univ.; The Copernicus Complex) has put together an elaborate view of “information.” He studies a myriad of technologies and media in his search for “life’s unending algorithm.” His subjects include the replication of memes, which are controlled by technology and cultural impact; energy use and resources consumption in the production of media; and the plays of William Shakespeare—how they were produced in the 16th century, and how they are still produced in our current age of chips, internet, and code. After a great section on Bitcoin and machine learning, Scharf turns to the subject of data corruption, which he discusses in terms of DNA, bit rot (a term for digital information loss), and memory loss in humans. His book acknowledges the memory storage we use in the form of media of all sorts.
VERDICT Scharf’s book lacks a truly unifying argument, especially with regard to moral rights and wrongs, but it is a fascinating study of information and its types.
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