Caleb Scharf: The Ascent of Information

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Caleb Scharf was born and educated in England. He received his B.Sc. in physics from Durham University, and his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Cambridge. Following postdoctoral work in X-ray astronomy and observational cosmology at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, he has been a research scientist at Columbia University in New York. He is currently the director of the multidisciplinary Columbia Astrobiology Center. His research interests include the study of exoplanets, exomoons, and the nature of environments suitable for life.

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About Caleb's new book, THE ASCENT OF INFORMATION

Your information has a life of its own, and it’s using you to get what it wants.

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’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.

  • 00:00:00 Intro
  • 00:04:37 How did you come up with the title and cover?
  • 00:07:09 About Boltzman Brains
  • 00:12:32 Is it possible to erase information? Does it live on forever?
  • 00:16:32 What is the Dataome?
  • 00:20:32 Is there an upper limit on the amount of information?
  • 00:28:45 Will AI have imagination?
  • 00:33:46 What are the initial conditions require to create information?
  • 00:39:55 Where are the alien dataomes?
  • 00:50:31 What would you put on your billion year monolith?

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