Bootstrapping Complexity
                                     - Kevin Kelly's "Out of Control" remixed by Andreas Lloyd
a wholly self-organized system - Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Research Centre

Remixer's notes

Kevin Kelly's book Out of Control is a fascinating book full of fascinating ideas reaching across the board from artificial intelligence, evolution, biology, ecology, robotics and more to explore complexity, cybernetics and self-organising systems in an accessible and engaging way.

But in reading Out of Control, I found it suffering from a number of frustrating flaws: Not only is it way too long-winded, it is also almost completely void of meta-text to help the reader understand what Kelly is trying to do with his book (having read the book, I'm still wondering).

Indeed, reading the book I got the feeling that Kelly was trying to combine several different books into one: There is a fascinating study of self-sustaining systems. But there is also a sort of business-book take on network economy. And an extended meditation on evolution and postdarwinism.

I'm sure that to Kelly, all of these things are tightly interconnected. But he doesn't explain these interrelations very well to the reader. His central argument is that as technology becomes ever more complex, it becomes more akin to biological systems (eco-systems, vivisystems, interdependent and co-evolving organisms). But because the individual chapters are set up as essays on their own, there is often little to tie these wildly different ideas together.

I would have preferred a much shorter book, more narrowly focused on the idea of self-organising systems. The whole text of the original book is easily available online at Kelly's own website, so I thought: Why not remix the online text to make such a book?

So I did.


Remixing this work has mostly consisted of removing a number of chapters which I find distract or confuse the central points of the book. I have left the order of chapters unaltered. In addition, I have rewritten the introductory chapter completely using parts of the chapter "Holes and wholes and spaces", in order to refocus the text from "the new biology of machines" to self-organizing systems as such. In doing so, I've added a few lines from Wikipedia's article on Cybernetics in order to introduce the discipline of Cybernetics more thoroughly.

Writing this introduction, I have sought to provide the necessary meta-text to present the book's goal and structure all at once. I hope that this will be help readers make sense of the many diverse topics and ideas covered in the book.

I have left the chapters themselves untouched, with a few exceptions: I have cut a substantial part of the chapter "Machines with attitude, I have added a bit on co-control to the chapter "The emergence of control", I cut small parts from the final chapter.

It is important for me to note that the remix is not meant to be disrespectful to Kevin Kelly's original work in any way. And
soon after putting this remix online, I sent a note with a link to Kevin Kelly to make him aware of the remix, hoping that he would approve.

He did approve. Much more than I expected. And it didn't take him long to reply:

I LOVE the remix! I wish you had been my editor.  There is only one thing missing from this fantastic remix - a better title. I was never happen with the book's title and now that it is more focused, the need is even greater.  What would you call it?

Initially, I hadn't considered changing the title as I wanted to make it as clear as possible where the material came from. Good titles are notoriously difficult to find, and I'm sure that Kevin has thought quite a bit about this one.

It was the notion of bootstrapping and self-organization that had kept me reading the book initially: the recurring patterns of self-sustaining systems, which I knew were to be summed up at the end of the book. What appealed to me was the fact that the book not only describes self-organisation but also invites further experimentation.

So I picked my title with that in mind: "Bootstrapping Complexity" plays on the fact that the book not only describes how complexity comes about but also how complex a venture self-organization really is. In this way, the title meant to signal a positive empowerment to explore self-organization - both by reading the book and by experimenting on the basis of the book.

Happy hacking.

Table of Contents

I - Introduction

II - Hive mind

III - Machines with an attitude

IV - Assembling complexity

V - Co-evolution

VI - The natural flux

VII - The emergence of control

VIII - Closed systems

IX - Artificial evolution

X - An open universe

XI - The butterfly sleeps

XII - Epilogue: Nine Laws of God