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REVIEW: "Devices of the Soul", Steve Talbott

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  • Rob, grandpa of Ryan, Trevor, Devon & Ha
    BKDVSOUL.RVW 20070612 Devices of the Soul , Steve Talbott, 2007,.rvw 007, 0-596-52680-6, U$22.99/C$29.99 %A Steve Talbott netfuture.org %C 103 Morris
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 21, 2007
      BKDVSOUL.RVW 20070612

      "Devices of the Soul", Steve Talbott, 2007,.rvw">007, 0-596-52680-6,
      %A Steve Talbott netfuture.org
      %C 103 Morris Street, Suite A, Sebastopol, CA 95472
      %D 2007
      %G 0-596-52680-6 978-0-596-52680-1
      %I O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
      %O U$22.99/C$29.99 800-998-9938 fax: 707-829-0104 nuts@...
      %O http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0596526806/robsladesinterne
      %O http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0596526806/robsladesin03-20
      %O Audience i- Tech 1 Writing 1 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
      %P p. 281
      %T "Devices of the Soul"

      I suspect that I am not the audience Talbott had in mind for this
      book. In the introduction, he asserts that we keep forgetting that
      machines don't think, at least, not the way we do. )Once you know how
      computers actually "perform" addition, at a gate and transistor level,
      it's pretty hard to make this mistake.) But neither does the
      introduction make it very easy to understand what Talbott thinks he is
      saying, or to whom. The outline of the parts, and chapters, seems to
      display a melange of thoughts and opinions, with little to tie them
      together. After reading it through, that seems to be the case with
      the book.

      Part one purports to discuss technology, nature, and people. Chapter
      one supposedly shows us how we fool ourselves by using the wrong
      vocabulary when talking about technology, but the analysis of Homer's
      "Oddysey" is more similar to a stream of puns, presenting us with
      amusing connections, but having little of either substance or
      structure. A meandering recommendation of pursuing a holistic style
      of knowledge comprises chapter two. Chapter three seems to have
      nothing to do with technology at all, recommending that we converse
      with nature.

      Part two examines some extraordinary lives. Supposedly about how
      technology helps the handicapped, chapter four is really the story of
      a rather amazing fellow who happens to be unable to see. Chapter five
      reprises the contents of a book Talbott read about the raising of a
      boy with Down's Syndrome: in six he speaks of some of his own
      experiences in relation to a community of those with Down's.

      Education is the focus of part three. Chapter seven seems to imply
      that technology distances us from learning, although the author
      specifically denies that this is the case (or point). Apparently
      another book review, chapter eight mentions a number of ways not to
      use the computer in the classroom. Chapter nine makes no pretence of
      being other than a random collection of opinions about education and
      computers. (Some of them sound reasonable, but many are simplistic.
      For example, Talbott notes that the money going into computer
      education could be spent on reducing class sizes. However, a bit of
      calculation will reveal that the contribution of the total computer
      budget of a typical elementary school isn't going to reduce class
      sizes all that much: one year's salary for a single teacher would give
      you an entire class set of computers and still have some room left
      over.) The author, in chapter ten, uses some recent research into
      baby walkers to propose that some children are being pushed into
      complex tasks before precursor skills are being developed. The
      analogy is valid, but rather belaboured. The death of universities
      has been posited in other writings and works, and chapter eleven
      examines this issue, but from a strictly American perspective. (I can
      sympathize with Talbott's frustration: as a facilitator for the CISSP
      review seminars I am frequently confronted by candidates who want to
      know which answer is the "right" one, which is, of course, foreign to
      the entire concept of a professional. However, as usual, the author
      provides no suggested remediation).

      Given the tone of the rest of the book, I am somewhat surprised to
      find that part four is entitled "On Socializing Our Machines." In
      chapter twelve, Talbott boasts about how quickly he trivializes an
      artificial intelligence program. His objection to the assertions
      (from various sources) that human beings are merely biological
      machines makes up chapter thirteen. Chapter fourteen basically
      belittles the current state of robotics and artificial intelligence.
      Undefined musings on the nature of the man-machine interface are in
      chapter fifteen.

      Part five is on the mechanization of society. The very terse chapter
      sixteen seems to imply that technology is an extension of us. Chapter
      seventeen is confusing, but may be trying to point out the difference
      between performance and design. The kindest interpretation one can
      take out of chapter eighteen is that we should not blindly automate
      everything. (It reads more like a petulant diatribe against all forms
      of automation.) Chapter nineteen examines the contradictory nature of
      privacy, but not with the depth (or the value) of Brin's "The
      Transparent Society" (cf. BKTRASOC.RVW). In chapter twenty, Talbott
      appears to argue that statistical analysis is somehow causing the
      promotion of the "greed is good" mantra. A couple of things that the
      author doesn't like about the Internet finish the book in chapter

      Talbott does raise some points that should be considered, all too
      often are neglected, and can make for interesting discussions.
      However, he is far from being the first person who has ever thought
      about these issues. In addition, his writing is scattered and poorly
      structured, frequently leaving the reader wondering what, really, the
      author is concerned about. The erudition in the text appears simply
      to consist of a compilation of the research of the moment, rather than
      the expression of a broad background being brought to bear on a
      specific problem or matter of tutelary communication. Therefore,
      while the matters addressed have value, the utility of the document
      itself is reduced.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2007 BKDVSOUL.RVW 20070612

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      I think we have to realize that Canada is not immortal. But if it
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      - Pierre Elliott Trudeau, March 30, 1988
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