One of the most peculiar and possibly unique features of humans is the vast amount of information we carry outside our biological selves. But in our rush to build the infrastructure for the 20 quintillion bits we create every day, we've failed to ask exactly why we're expending ever-increasing amounts of energy, resources, and human effort to maintain all this data.
Drawing on deep ideas and frontier thinking in evolutionary biology, computer science, information theory, and astrobiology, Caleb Scharf argues that information is, in a very real sense, alive. All the data we create – all of our emails, tweets, selfies, A.I.-generated text and funny cat videos – amounts to an aggregate lifeform. It has goals and needs. It can control our behavior and influence our well-being. And it's an organism that has evolved right alongside us.
This symbiotic relationship with information offers a startling new lens for looking at the world. Data isn't just something we produce; it's the reason we exist. This powerful idea has the potential to upend the way we think about our technology, our role as humans, and the fundamental nature of life.
The Ascent of Information offers a humbling vision of a universe built of and for information. Scharf explores how our relationship with data will affect our ongoing evolution as a species. Understanding this relationship will be crucial to preventing our data from becoming more of a burden than an asset, and to preserving the possibility of a human future.
Caleb Scharf is the award-winning author of The Zoomable Universe, The Copernicus Complex, and Gravity's Engines, and the director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center. He has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Scientific American, Nautilus, and Nature, among other publications. He lives in New York City.
"Masterfully weaving together anecdotes and thought experiments from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, theoretical physics, astrobiology, and information theory, Scharf investigates how our relationship with the dataome has fundamentally altered our lives and how it will continue to do so."
"Scharf [...] offers a bold new perspective on the relationship between humans and information in this spirited consideration of data as a motivating force in humans' lives [...] Scharf's provocative thesis is sure to shake things up for readers with an interest in humans' relationship to data."
– Publishers Weekly
"An astute, provocative contribution to information science and futurology."
"Scharf provides a fascinating history of information theory."
"A fascinating study of information and its types."
– Library Journal, starred review
"A transformative new way of looking at our increasingly data-driven existence."
– Lee Billings, Scientific American
"Information is a way for one part of the universe to know something about another. What could be more profound than that? In this engaging and wide-ranging book, Caleb Scharf shows how information brings the world to life, both figuratively and literally."
– Sean Carroll, author of Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime
"I really enjoyed The Ascent of Information. The book is packed with provocative ideas, backed by wonderfully marshalled data, and entertaining on every page. Fascinating glimpses of what may turn out to be a new way to look at life."
– Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch