“The Geek”: Benjamin Labatut’s crazy journey to the frontiers of science

“The Geek”: Benjamin Labatut’s crazy journey to the frontiers of science

“It’s scary how science works. Think about it for a moment: mankind’s most creative and destructive inventions appeared at exactly the same time.

Right there Sciencesin its many facets, returns as the undisputed protagonist of his latest effort Benjamin Labatut: idiot (Adelphi, translated by Norman Gobbetti).

The new version comes on the heels of – and the success of – When we stopped understanding the world (Adelphi, translated by Lisa Tobey), winner of the 2022 Galileo Literary Prize for Scientific Publishing.

The 1980-born conspiracy weaver – who recently won the 2023 Malaparte Prize – returns to delve into the complexities of the most disparate disciplines, allowing a glimpse into the shadows and lights of human history. When doing this, use the usual contradictory – And in some ways controversialThe method of work: Builds A work of fiction based on reality (As specified by the author himself in the Confessions).

One “Romance“History and the chronicle of imagination and pure creative work.

The main theme of the Chilean chemist’s latest release? the ComputerA “thinking” machine capable of establishing itself as a god and defying human limitations. a’The invention of watersheds Which was embodied, starting from the same moment, in two opposing inventions:artificial intelligence And the Atomic bomb.

Creation and destruction, order and chaos, rationality and irrationality. The dichotomy that dictates the framework idiot The credit for its development goes to one of the most brilliant minds in history: john von Neumann, The foreigner.

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Opens the text In precision methodsOn the morning of September 25, 1933 with the mathematician and physicist Paul Ehrenfest Who enters Professor Jan Watterink’s pedagogical institute for sick children and shoots his fifteen-year-old son in the head VasilyThen he turned the gun on himself.

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The professor desperately searches for the person who called him Springende Punkt Monastery, The salient pointIn fact, he realized that the path taken by physics was going in a direction completely opposite to his thinking: concrete intuition was being besieged by ethereal, imperceptible abstract calculations. Instead of matter, atoms and energy began to meander Abstract mathematical formulas.

And helloillogical It meant endangering the entire fabric of existence, admitting a vision in which rationality ended up confusing itself with its opposite, e.g com. ouroboros He bites his tail and forms a circle that has no beginning or end.

“Paul, who had placed all his faith in physics, felt abandoned, expelled from a paradise that, due to the growing influence of quantum mechanics and the unstoppable spread of the plague of mathematics, was retreating into a darker darkness of the abyss within atoms.”

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Starting this journey aroundPhysics crisis“Looking through the peephole at the great geniuses of the past, Labatut transports readers into the life of one of history’s most famous scientists and thinkers: Newman Janos Lagosalso known as John von Neumann.

“There are two kinds of people in this world: Janse von Neumann and the rest of us.” They are words (imaginary or not, it is up to the reader – as is usual in Labatote’s texts – to investigate) of the physicist and mathematician Eugene Wegenerwinner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963. A alien Among mere mortals, A wunderkindcorrect Minch: This is the opinion of the great champions of science towards John.

For the closest emotions and connections, which the Chilean writer gives life and words like a skilled man ventriloquist During intimate confessions, he is instead a man like others. Perhaps even inferior to him, because he is limited and trapped by his own genius. “That man didn’t even know how to tie his shoessays Clara Dunne, the woman she lives with, contemptuously incompetence Disguised as superpower.

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John is convinced, like Ehrenfest, that Scientific laws It must be based on Unchangeable facts of mathematicsis always waved as one flameThe true, dazzling and indisputable light of reason. a a light Which he exploits, extracting every possible aspect at inhuman speed, to form his calculator.

The alien actually wants to build a machine that… now Turing He had theorized in an article published in 1937: A Universal calculator (or “Turing machine“) Capable of generating superhuman intelligence. The secret ingredient to achieving this? Human fallibility. In fact, Turing believes it is necessary RandomWhich would have played an important role in intelligent machines by allowing unprecedented and unpredictable reactions.

From this counterintuitive assumption the von Neumann machine was born: Mathematical analyst, numerical integration and computer. and that is, idiot.

An upbringing intertwined with the events of the greats Robert Oppenheimer (Yemen Christopher Nolan It was recently allocated filmon a huge basis Personal Biography to Kay Bird And Martin J. Sherwin Which was obtained in 2006 Pulitzer Prize: Oppenheimer. The victory and fall of the inventor of the atomic bomb – Garzanti, translated by Emmanuel Faynassa de Rigni), of the above Alan Turing (Who was about to become Gansey’s assistant, and whose life was covered up Alan Turing – a mystery story – Bolati Boringeri, translated by David Mezzacappa) and “The Mad Scientist” Niels Al Baricelli (which aims to create life through machines). Even today, when computers have evolved to the point of challenging humans…

John von Neumann, Image source: Getty Editorial

Labatut, collects the scattered crumbs of history and reorganizes them in a large, airy frame, with a fiery time jump that passes from MANIAC to… The game of He goes. The old game where you start from nothing black And the whiteThe two players implement harsh war strategies and work together artistic work.

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the Perfects Who is this art? Lee Sedol, Strong stone, the most innovative gamer of his generation and the only human to defeat an advanced AI system in an official challenge. His distinctive style, Fiery, violent And UnpredictableAt the beginning of 2016 it was tested by Alpha GoAn artificial intelligence system born from a mind Demis Hassabis.

A struggle that will go down in history for the instrument’s various beginnings (such as the famous 78 movement), remarkable almost in its entirety Irrationality And Unpredictability. Two truly human characteristics, which the Machine had to create itself to establish itself as an almost unbeatable opponent…

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with idiot Benjamin Labatut Uses mathematicsfrom Physics And fromartificial intelligence To create an engaging, interdisciplinary thesis experience seamlessly a Page turner.

The author, with a writing style that is considered one of the greats Paradoxes History, which in turn has become paradoxical, draws on images of great figures from the more or less recent past as if they were dusty portraits of people Black and white photo album.

Faded memories he connects and finishes with lively, saturated brushstrokes, making himself Creator of the material universe For a world balanced between reality and imagination.

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