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August 06, 2002


A more satisfying recommendation from Viridian Notes is When Things Start To Think. I'm actually gonna finish this one. It's coming right on the heels of Emergence, so that'll make two tech/society books in a row, though from different angles.

Neil Gershenfeld gets to play at the MIT Media Lab, and as a result gets to think about how technology works, and how it doesn't. Most importantly, he gets to think about why it should work when it doesn't. Up to this point I've read the chapter about electronic ink, where he posits that 'electronic books' will only overtake paper books when they become better than paper. Not a clunky computer, but a sheet of paper which can be taken anywhere, and can change it's contents on demand. I already knew about this technology, but his philosophical take is interesting as well.

The other chapter I've finished describes his experiments in creating advanced computer instruments in collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma. This is actually a very interesting chapter, further expounding on the goal of only using computers when they can do a better job than the original physical artifact. He notes that Ma and other musicians are not sentimental about instruments, do not rail against technology, and get quite excited by what his computers enable them to do. But in the end, Ma elects to continue using his Stradivarius cello, since it fits in a single case, is ready to use immediately, and requires no power. This in opposition to the several cases of equipment that Gershenfeld requires for his supercomputer equipment, the minutes it takes to boot things, and the power cables trailing off stage. But Gershenfeld speculates that by the time the book is published, he will be most of the way toward fulfilling Ma's requirements.

So I'm not done, but I'm committed. I'll keep posting info as I dive deeper into the book.

Posted by dpwakefield at August 6, 2002 10:10 PM