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[techbooks] REVIEW: "When Things Start to Think", Neil Gershenfeld

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKWHTSTT.RVW 990418 When Things Start to Think , Neil Gershenfeld, 1999, 0-8050-5874-5, C$37.95 %A Neil Gershenfeld %C 115 West 18th Street, New York,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 1999
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      BKWHTSTT.RVW 990418

      "When Things Start to Think", Neil Gershenfeld, 1999, 0-8050-5874-5,
      %A Neil Gershenfeld
      %C 115 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011-4195
      %D 1999
      %G 0-8050-5874-5
      %I Henry Holt
      %O C$37.95 212-886-9378 fax: 212-633-0748 http://www.hholt.com
      %P 225 p.
      %T "When Things Start to Think"

      Gershenfeld does not give his book ordinary divisions like chapters or
      parts. There are three major divisions labelled "What," "Why," and
      "How," with four or five subdivisions each. This may be a deliberate
      embracing of the avant garde in publishing, but it makes talking about
      the book a little difficult. Following the preface, a slightly longer
      subsection extends the author's initial discussion complaining about
      artificial divisions in our society. As much as I may agree with his
      sentiments, it is a bit disappointing to reach the end of this piece,
      and realize that the point of it all seems to be that we should use
      more embedded computers.

      I found it very interesting that the first three sections of the text
      all dealt with books, and the possible conflict between the paper and
      electronic varieties. My computers at home are surrounded by books:
      literally tons of them, as my architectural draftsman brother-in-law
      keeps pointing out. My laptop travels braced into the briefcase by
      similarly sized books. If at all possible I read bound books rather
      than electronic ones. On the other hand, it took only about an hour's
      time (with the Web's resources and AltaVista's help) to find a famous
      quote by David Clark. Such a search would have been impossible in a
      library, especially since I did not, initially, know that the
      originator was David Clark. The book reaches the same conclusion:
      each format has its own strengths and weaknesses. I found this
      conclusion unremarkable.

      The remainder of "What" gets no better. Apart from a provoking, if
      suspect, discussion of smart musical instruments, the look at wearable
      computers, personal fabricators, and electronic commerce presents a
      Sunday supplement version of technology, sensationalizing limited
      capabilities and ignoring the truly revolutionary. This seems rather
      ironic in view of the second essay in part two, which bemoans the
      rampant use of buzzphrases by journalists, managers, and techies who
      really don't understand the technologies being discussed. Gershenfeld
      seems to present buzzconcepts, with no critical analysis of the
      implications. "How" dispenses with structure entirely, and just pokes
      around at fun ideas.

      While the contents may provide some amusement for those who know
      nothing about current technologies (it is certainly readable enough
      for that), it definitely lacks the depth necessary to engage anyone
      with even a tangential knowledge of the field.

      And never mind about when things start to think. The real revolution
      will be if people ever do.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKWHTSTT.RVW 990418

      ====================== (quote inserted randomly by Pegasus Mailer)
      rslade@... rslade@... slade@... p1@...
      Oh, wow, far out man!
      Says my PC is now Stoned!
      1.2s lose files - virus haiku
      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade


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