Breakpoint: Why the Web Will Implode, Search Will Be Obsolete, and Everything Else You Need to Know About Technology Is in Your Brain
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Breakpoint: Why the Web Will Implode, Search Will Be Obsolete, and Everything Else You Need to Know About Technology Is in Your Brain

4.8 8
by Jeff Stibel
     
 

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What can the human brain and its relationship to the internet tell us about our society, our technologies, and our businesses? A lot, as it turns out. The internet today is a virtual replica of the brain, and the networks that leverage it grow and collapse in ways that are easily predictable if you understand the brain and other biological networks.

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Overview

What can the human brain and its relationship to the internet tell us about our society, our technologies, and our businesses? A lot, as it turns out. The internet today is a virtual replica of the brain, and the networks that leverage it grow and collapse in ways that are easily predictable if you understand the brain and other biological networks.

We're living in the midst of a networking revolution. All of the major technology innovations of the 21st century – social networking, cloud computing, search engines, and crowdsourcing, to name a few – leverage the internet and are thus bound by the rules of networks. We've seen the exponential growth of these technologies, and they've led to a more efficient and tightly connected world. But what many people don't realize is that all networks eventually reach a breakpoint and collapse. This happens in the brain, it happens in nature, it happened to MySpace, and it will happen to Facebook and Google. It is critical to understand where the breakpoint is in the networks you use in order to achieve optimum success.

Navigating the world of new technologies today can be like walking through a minefield unless you know the path. Imagine what you could do with a roadmap for where things are headed?

In this fascinating look at the future of business and technology, neuroscientist and entrepreneur Jeff Stibel shows how the brain can act as a guide to understanding the future of the internet and the constellation of businesses and technologies that run on it. He'll show how leaders like Marissa Mayer are using artificial intelligence to literally remake Yahoo! and how startups like oDesk and Kickstarter are using crowdsourcing, the next wave of revolutionary technology, to create something much larger and "smarter" than the sum of their parts.

Stibel offers a fresh perspective about the future of business and technology in a candid and engaging manner.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A great read – lots of fun, very engaging, full of new facts and smart insights.” —Daniel Gilbert, bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness; Professor of Psychology, Harvard University

Breakpoint is an engaging comparison of the rise and fall of nature's networks and the lessons we all need to be learning from them as we become increasingly dependent on the internet.” —Jon Stewart, host of BBC's Science in Action, and columnist at BBC Future

“Brain scientist Jeff Stibel uses a wide ranging set of fascinating examples to answer why the web will implode and search will be obsolete drawing on parallels of the architecture of our brains. As an entrepreneur providing Brain Machine Interfaces, he draws on the massive architectural structure of cutter ants, how the Easter Island thriving community collapsed through overconsumption, and why Marissa Mayer joined startup Google and most recently became CEO at declining Yahoo.” —Gordon Bell, Researcher Emeritus, Microsoft

“Stibel's keen insight into biological networks, including our brain's neural networks, provides the perfect analog for the emerging technological networks. Breakpoints have long been the difference between success and extinction in biology, and Stibel has proved that the same is true in the digital world. Breakpoint is an engaging book and a must read.” —Ashish Soni, Founding Director of the Innovation Institute, University of Southern California

“Jeff Stibel has written an easy-to-read and in-depth analysis of how the internet compares to the human brain in calculation, communication, prediction capabilities and pattern recognition. What makes his book so fascinating is the simple clarity he brings to an extraordinarily complex and fast-changing subject. Breakpoint is original, exciting, and brilliantly informative.” —Bill Draper, founder of Sutter Hill Venture and author of The Startup Game

founder of Sutter Hill Venture and author of The S Bill Draper

Jeff Stibel has written an easy-to-read and in-depth analysis of how the internet compares to the human brain in calculation, communication, prediction capabilities and pattern recognition. What makes his book so fascinating is the simple clarity he brings to an extraordinarily complex and fast-changing subject. Breakpoint is original, exciting, and brilliantly informative.
Kirkus Reviews
Brain scientist and entrepreneur Stibel (Wired for Thought: How the Brain Is Shaping the Future of the Internet, 2009) offers a provocative view of the future of the Internet. Drawing on an understanding of the behavior of natural networks ranging from ant colonies to the human brain, the author notes that all successful networks develop in the same way. After a period of enormous growth, they reach a breakpoint, or pivotal moment, when they have overgrown and begin to decline. They then enter a state of equilibrium, in which the network grows not in quantity but in quality: Ant colonies exhibit greater intelligence; the brain grows wiser. Arguing that the Internet mirrors the brain (in effect, it is a kind of brain), Stibel writes that the Internet is approaching, but has not yet reached, a breakpoint; instead, its carrying capacity has been extended with broadband technology. To continue expanding at its current meteoric pace, it will have to evolve to use different energy sources, such as a chemical system, to increase the amount of information it can handle. In time, the Internet will hit the breakpoint, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. "Just as the brain gains intelligence as it overshoots and collapses," writes Stibel, "so too may the Internet." The author conjures a future online world that is smarter, denser and more relevant, relying on links with depth and dimensionality--the same kind found in a brain at equilibrium. Stibel applies his approach to a consideration of many issues, arguing that forced growth caused MySpace to collapse and may yet do the same with Facebook; that specialized apps will eliminate the need for search engines; and that eventually, there will be a unity of mind and machine, with two networks coming together as one. Lucid and authoritative.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781137278784
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
07/23/2013
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
6.64(w) x 9.34(h) x 0.92(d)

Read an Excerpt

Breakpoint

Why the Web Will Implode, Search Will be Obsolete, and Everything Else You Need to Know about Technology is in Your Brain


By Jeff Stibel

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 Jeff Stibel
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-137-27878-4



CHAPTER 1

INTRODUCTION | REINDEER | NETWORKS


In 1944, the United States Coast Guard brought 29 reindeer to St. Matthew Island, located in the Bering Sea just off the coast of Alaska. Reindeer love eating lichen, and the island was covered with it, so the reindeer gorged, grew large, and reproduced exponentially. By 1963, there were over 6,000 reindeer on the island, most of them fatter than those living in natural reindeer habitats.

There were no human inhabitants on St. Matthew Island, but in May 1965 the United States Navy sent an airplane over the island, hoping to photograph the reindeer. There were no reindeer to be found, and the flight crew attributed this to the fact that the pilot didn't want to fly very low because of the mountainous landscape. What they didn't realize was that all of the reindeer, save 42 of them, had died. Instead of lichen, the ground was covered with reindeer skeletons.

The network of St. Matthew Island reindeer had collapsed: the result of a population that grew too large and consumed too much. The reindeer crossed a pivotal point, a breakpoint, when they began consuming more lichen than nature could replenish. Lacking any awareness of what was happening to them, they continued to reproduce and consume. The reindeer destroyed their environment and, with it, their ability to survive. Within a few short years, the remaining 42 reindeer were dead. Their collapse was so extreme that for these reindeer there was no recovery.


I

Reindeer do not typically fare this poorly in the wild. In North America, reindeer are migratory, so when they run out of lichen, they simply move on to new locations. This migration allows the lichen in the area to be replenished before the reindeer return. Of course, on an island, migration is not an option.

Nature rarely allows the environment to be pushed so far that it collapses. Ecosystems generally keep life balanced. Plants create enough oxygen for animals to survive, and the animals, in turn, produce carbon dioxide for the plants. In biological terms, ecosystems create homeostasis. But take something biological outside of its normal environment and chaos can ensue. This is the reason we can't bring fruits and vegetables on airplanes, why pets must be sequestered for months before being brought into a new country, and why reindeer shouldn't be placed on remote islands.

Most animals are genetically programmed to reproduce and to consume whatever food is available. This is the case for humans as well. Back when our ancestors started climbing down from the trees, this was a good thing: food was scarce so if we found some, the right thing to do was gorge. As we ate more, our brains were able to grow, becoming larger than those of any other primates. This was a very good thing. But brains consume disproportionately large amounts of energy and, as a result, can only grow so big relative to body size. After that point, increased calories are actually harmful. This presents a problem for humanity, sitting at the top of the food pyramid. How do we know when to stop eating? The answer, of course, is that we don't. People in developed nations are growing alarmingly obese, morbidly so. Yet we continue to create better food sources, better ways to consume more calories with less bite.

Mother Nature won't help us because this is not an evolutionary issue: most of the problems that result from eating too much happen after we reproduce, at which point we are no longer evolutionarily important. We are on our own with this problem. But that is where our big brains come in. Unlike reindeer, we have enough brainpower to understand the problem, identify the breakpoint, and prevent a collapse.


II

It is not just the physical stuff of life that has limits. The things we can't see or feel, those things that seem infinite, are indeed bounded. Take knowledge, for example. Our minds can only digest so much. Sure, knowledge is a good thing. But there is a point at which even knowledge is bad. Psychologists call this "information overload," and it has become an increasing problem in the information age. Even the sturdiest shelf crumbles under the weight of too many books.

We have been conditioned to believe that bigger is better and this is true across virtually every domain. When we try to build artificial intelligence, we start by shoveling as much information into a computer as possible. Then we stare dumbfounded when the machine can't figure out how to tie its own shoes. When we don't get the results we want, we just add more data. Who doesn't believe that the smartest person is the one with the biggest memory and the most degrees, that the strongest person has the largest muscles, that the most creative person has the most ideas? Then we hear about the humble German patent clerks, the Einsteins of the world. We call them virtuosos, outliers perhaps, but what they really are is balanced — unique individuals with the right amount of physical and mental abilities.

Growth is a core tenet of success. But we often destroy our greatest innovations by the constant pursuit of growth. An idea emerges, takes hold, crosses the chasm, hits a tipping point, and then starts a meteoric rise with seemingly limitless potential. But more often than not, it implodes, destroying itself in the process. Ideas are consumed just like lichen.

Technology may not need food to survive, but it too has limits. Energy is an important consumption limit, and we are seeing the environmental effects of ignoring that. Usefulness is also a key limit: often times, the more something grows beyond a certain point, the more cumbersome it is to use. With networks, such as the internet, Facebook, and Twitter, the users themselves are often the problem. Too many people on one network create congestion not unlike that on a busy highway: eventually the entire network gridlocks. Rather than endless growth, the goal should be to grow as quickly as possible — what technologists call hypergrowth — until the breakpoint is reached. Then stop and reap the benefits of scale alongside stability.

The problems associated with too much growth are as relevant in business and economics as they are in technology and biology. It is often thought that for an economy to be healthy, it must be growing; otherwise it is in recession. Inflationary growth has become a proxy for economic health, but growth and health are not synonymous. In fact, the effects of even a "healthy" amount of inflation can be detrimental in the long run. This is because of the many systems built on top of institutions that are forced to exceed inflation: bonds must grow greater than inflation; stocks must grow beyond the rate of bonds; and companies must grow beyond the rate of their stocks. Few companies are able to maintain the hypergrowth required in this type of economic environment. The effect is an ecosystem out of balance: only 65 of the companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1925 still exist as independent businesses today.


III

This book is not about failure, not even about breakpoints. It is about understanding what happens after a breakpoint. Breakpoints can't and shouldn't be avoided, but they can be identified. It turns out that all successful networks go through a breakpoint, but while some fail, many succeed spectacularly. The brain, for instance, overgrows and then shrinks; in doing so, we gain intelligence. It is because we build up too many neurons and neural connections as children that we become intelligent as adults. Without this process, we could never grow wise. The warning to heed isn't to avoid breakpoints; it is to avoid too much expansion after a breakpoint. Growth is not a bad thing unless it becomes the only thing.

Studying biological systems is perhaps the best way to understand the complex networks that humanity has created. This book is not about biology, but it relies on examples from the animal kingdom — deer, ants, bees, even cellular biology. But the main focus is on technology: how to recognize when a network hits a breakpoint, what to do when it does, and how to manage it to success. This book is centered on the internet, the biggest technological revolution of the twentieth century and likely the driving force of innovation for the next hundred years. The internet is approaching a breakpoint, as are many of the technologies and businesses that now rely on it. That is the bad news. The good news is that the breakpoint will bring better things, and we can look to nature as a guide for what those will be.

Nature has a lesson for us if we care to listen: the fittest species are typically the smallest. The tiniest insects often outlive the largest lumbering animals. Ants, bees, and cockroaches all outlived the dinosaurs and will likely outlive our race. Single-cell organisms have been around since the beginning of life and will likely be here until the end. The deadliest creature is the mosquito, not the lion. Bigger is rarely better in the long run.

What is missing — what everyone is missing — is that the unit of measure for progress isn't size, it's time.

CHAPTER 2

ANTS | ANTERNETS | MANURE


Deborah Gordon digs ants. Once a year she leaves her post at Stanford, says goodbye to her two children, and heads to the Arizona desert with a van full of shovels, pickaxes, and undergraduates. She labels each of the hundreds of ant colonies at her research site, writing the names on nearby rocks. Dr. Gordon and her students also label the ants. They use special Japanese markers to paint a specific color right on their backs. Year after year, for almost three decades now, Deborah Gordon has been going through this routine.

It would be hard to find a child who hasn't spent some time staring at ants, wondering why they always seem so busy, why they march in a straight line, and why they appear out of nowhere as soon as you sit down for a picnic. Deborah Gordon was likely one of those children, but unlike the rest of us, she remained dedicated to answering those questions through adulthood. A few biology degrees later, Dr. Gordon has made some fascinating discoveries.

Ant colonies are interesting for many reasons. Ants have been around for over a hundred million years, and there are about 12,000 different classified species, covering every continent except Antarctica. They communicate, they defend themselves, they travel incredibly large distances to find food. They are animals of legend — mentioned in the Old Testament, the Koran, Aesop's fables, and Mark Twain's novels. How did such small creatures build such large reputations?

By digging up ants, Dr. Gordon has been able to separate fact from fiction, and it turns out that real life is more intriguing than any fairy tale or Pixar film. It all starts with a single female winged ant who leaves her home to mate with one or more male ants, who immediately die. After mating, she flies out into the wild, finds a suitable piece of real estate, gets rid of her wings, and digs a small nest in the dirt to lay her eggs. She takes great care of her first group of eggs, nursing them to adulthood.

The young adult ants at that point begin to forage for food, dig and maintain the nest, and take care of the young larvae and pupae. The original female ant is now queen of her own colony, where she lives deep inside the nest, her sole responsibility being the laying of eggs. She does this prolifically, and the number of ants grows rapidly within the first five years, all of them sons and daughters of the queen.

Here's where it gets interesting, and Deborah Gordon was the one who figured out exactly what happens. The queen lives — and continues to lay eggs — for 15 to 20 years, but the colony doesn't grow in size past the fifth year. (How does Dr. Gordon know this? She's dug up colonies of a certain age and counted all the ants.) The queen keeps having babies but they either replace older ants (a worker ant only lives for about a year), or they're sent off into the world to mate and start their own colonies. Ant colonies have a breakpoint.

You may think the average ant is somewhat intelligent, as you watch it crawl across your desk with a piece of bread three times its size. Strong yes, but intelligent no. There is no simpler way to describe it than what Dr. Gordon has to say: "Ants aren't smart." Individually, an ant is about as dumb as you can get. Their brains have something on the order of 250,000 cells (compared to the 16 million brain cells of the average frog).

Despite not being smart, ants do some pretty sophisticated things. As a colony matures beyond its breakpoint, the ants show increasing signs of collective intelligence. They communicate through chemical pheromones that pass information from ant to ant. They decide which tasks to undertake at any given moment based on information they receive from other ants. They also somehow seem to share information through time to future ants within the colony; that is, they have some sort of collective memory (biologists aren't sure yet how this works). Groups of ants learn and remember sophisticated routes and can return to them to gather food. They protect their queen and defend their territory from predators and imperialistic ant colonies. They also keep their nests clean and in good repair and nurture the newborn ants who will eventually go out into the world, mate, and create new colonies.

So here we have this tiny biological machine, the ant, that's very primitive in terms of intellectual capacity, but the colony does tremendously sophisticated things. When mature ants act as a group, a single unit, they defy logic. It turns out that the intelligence of ants does not lie with the individual — it lies with the group. "Ants aren't smart," but the colonies are downright brilliant. A mature colony of 10,000 harvester ants has 25 billion neurons, five times the number of a chimpanzee. After the breakpoint, a colony's intelligence grows to a level that rivals even the most sophisticated brains. Colonies can keep time and do complex navigation (without GPS or even good eyesight). They effectively manage issues of public health, economics, agriculture, even warfare.

In many ways, this colony intelligence poses more questions than it answers. Why do ants grow wiser after the colony stops growing? Why is it better for the ants to create new colonies than just keep growing their own colony? Wouldn't the colony get more and more intelligent if it could grow past its breakpoint? And most importantly, how does intelligence come from a network of ants?


I

Of course, you should already know all about networks because you have a pretty sophisticated one right inside your head. Our brains are perhaps the most complex networks but, like ant colonies, they too have humble parts.

Until recently, the brain was truly a mystery. It is only in the last 50 years — with the emergence of new brain-imaging technology — that we have been able to peer into our minds. Before that point, we considered the brain a peculiarity, something unknowable, beyond science, even mystical. Many people still hold this belief today. It's easy for us to compare the human heart to a pump, the eye to a camera lens, and a bone joint to a hinge. What analogy could there possibly be to the brain — a three-pound sticky lump of wrinkled matter lying silently in the skull?

Ants.

Turns out, the brain is nothing more than an ordinary organ doing extraordinary mechanics. Like a colony of ants, the brain is basically a huge network, albeit composed of neurons instead of ants. There are around a hundred billion neurons in the humanbrain, each less than a millimeter in size. Individual neurons are pretty dumb — each neuron does only one thing: it turns on and off. Collectively, however, neurons are capable of doing robust calculations, making decisions, communicating, and storing information. Individual neurons communicate through chemicals (like the ants) but also through electrical currents. These tightly packed neurons work together, forming patterns that allow us to think, move, and communicate. "It's like they are sending each other little Twitter messages that have no content; they just use the rate at which they receive them to decide what to do next. It's a system of communication where the interaction itself is the whole message." Dr. Gordon said this of her ants, but it could just as easily have been said of the neurons in her brain.

Like an ant colony, the human brain grows rapidly early on. The growth of our early years helps create network connections. We're talking about one hundred billion neurons connected to each other a hundred trillion times. Those connections are nothing more than a way of passing along little bits of on/off information. This is the language of the mind. Combine enough simple messages and pretty soon they become complex: 300,021 firing neurons (neurons that are turned "on") combined with 22,011 suppressed ("off") neurons in one brain region can yield a pretty sophisticated message — "Don't forget to turn off the stove."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Breakpoint by Jeff Stibel. Copyright © 2013 Jeff Stibel. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jeff Stibel is a brain scientist and entrepreneur. He is currently serving as President and CEO of the Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corporation and was previously President and CEO of Web.com, Inc. Stibel is also Chairman of BrainGate, a company whose “brain chip” technology—recently featured on 60 Minutes—allows the severely disabled to control electronics with nothing but their thoughts. Stibel was a brain and behavior fellow at Brown University while studying for a PhD. He currently serves on the boards of Brown University’s Entrepreneurship Program, Tufts University’s Gordon Center for Leadership, and the University of Southern California’s Innovation Institute.

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Breakpoint: Why the Web will Implode, Search will be Obsolete, and Everything Else you Need to Know about Technology is in Your Brain 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book.  His look at network breakpoints in biology is fascinating, especially when it is then related into technology and social networks.  I hope that the folks at Facebook, Yahoo!, Twitter and more take note!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't usually read technology books but a friend gave me this one. I was pleasantly surprised! So many interesting stories across a variety of topics. I think that anyone who likes a broad range of popular science will like reading this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't usually read non-fiction books, but I genuinely enjoyed this book.  Not only is it relevant to the technology and information driven world we live in today, but it is full of fun and interesting facts.  Instead of filling the pages with scientific jargon and arrogant language, Stibel makes the complex material simple and comprehensible for any reader.  His writing is clear, concise, and most importantly, it flows incredibly well from one topic to the next, making it hard to stop reading.  The book is, without a doubt, for anyone and everyone regardless of your interests and/or career!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic book. Engaging with a deep dive into science and technology--a rare find and I couldn't put my nook down until it was finished. It is by far the best book I have read all year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful, insightful, engaging. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about themselves (their brain that is) and how the world is changing. The book reads like a non-fiction thriller in many ways and the writing style is something between a Malcolm Gladwell (Blink), a John Green (The Fault in our Stars) and a Dan Brown (Inferno). I bought this thinking it was mainly about what is happening on the internet and had hoped that I could learn about what it was doing to our brains. Breakpoint offers some really interesting points on the subject, similar to &ldquo;How the internet is changing our Brain&rdquo; by Nicholas Carr. But Breakpoint is so much more. The thing that really excited me was the deep comparison between animals and technology. I never really thought about it before but biology is really the same as technology. Stibel shows how ants are actually just &ldquo;anternets,&rdquo; deer migrate in the same way that we build highway systems, termites created air conditioning in Africa (without electricity of course) and many more examples. The author is a brain scientist so there is a ton of interesting facts about the brain. Our brains are not the biggest in the animal kingdom, they use far more energy than the value we get from them, the human brain has been shrinking for the past 20,000 years (this stunned me so much so that I looked up the source and it is true!). The primary argument in the book is that bigger isn&rsquo;t better and Stibel finds examples of this throughout nature. He argues that all networks go through a BREAKPOINT, where it shrinks in size but increases in depth. This is what makes ants anternets, termites intelligent, and the brain so powerful. It is also what will make technology more powerful if only businesses will allow their networks to shrink instead of forcing them to grow too large. Stibel is also a recognized business leader and he spends considerable time warning other business people about Breakpoints. It seems that almost every company eventually goes out of business and most of the time it is because they allowed their customer networks or technology networks to grow too big. He predicted that Myspace would collapse and is now showing why Facebook may do so as well. The book shows how companies like Google and Yahoo will need to evolve to bring a better tool than search in the future. And I finally have a good understanding of what the Web and Internet are (they are two different things) and we each of them will hit a breakpoint (The Web already has according to Stibel). I liked his writing style and the business points were broadly applicable enough for me to purchase his previous book (Wired for Thought) which I am going to start later this month. Overall, I would recommend this book to just about any adult reader. It was fun, interesting, held me captive, and I learned a lot. Hillary Eggert
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
 This book truly impressed me. It covered a lot of ground but did so in an elegant way. I was engaged from the beginning and my biggest gripe was that I wanted more by the end. It is not often that I think that and it compelled me to write my first ever review.  There are some sophisticated concepts between the pages for the science and technology-minded (and even for the science and technology phobic) but a general interest reader will have no problem with the subject matter and will enjoy the stories (why people resort to cannibalism) and unbelievable facts (12 homes consume more of the internet today than all homes did combined in 2008&hellip;the human brain has been shrinking in size for the past 20,000 years!). I am typically skeptical about books that make big claims on the cover but Breakpoint is one of the rare books that have surprised me by delivering. This is a deep science book that goes to great lengths to explain how networks evolve in nature. Using clever examples from the animal kingdom, Stibel takes a deep dive into some of the more interesting behaviors in nature. He explains how ant colonies develop intelligence, how populations of deer can flourish or parish, how termites invented air-conditioning, how sea squirts eat their brains. Most fascinating though is Stibel&rsquo;s discussion about the human brain and how it is really a biological muscle similar to the technology that humans have created.  In all of these cases, Stibel makes a convincing argument that all of these social animals go through a period of rapid growth, then hit a breakpoint where they must shrink, and only after that point can the animal truly evolve greater powers (intelligence, strength, or whatever). This point alone is truly remarkable and as a biologist, it is something I completely overlooked. What fascinated me more though was the book&rsquo;s comparison of biology to technology. It is one thing to compare the brain to technology (it actually makes it easier to understand our biology when we have a strong analogy) but it is quite another thing to compare the development of technology to the evolution of biology. When I started the book, as I said, I was skeptical, but by the time I finished, I became a convert to this line of thinking. It really is the case that technology can evolve and that we can learn how to do so by looking to biology.  Steve Smoley
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Truly fascinating read. Stibel is a brain scientist but he is not your typical scientist, his writing style is engaging and easy to read. Breakpoint gives us insight to the workings of biological networks, such as ant colonies and our brains and the similarities to the internet network. Ultmatly lending us great insights to how large companies will need to evolve in the future as search will change, networks will grow and some implode, consumers will search differnetly for information etc. Very thought provoking for me.
popscipopulizer More than 1 year ago
*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, August 6. This is not a book about the end of the internet, as the controversial title may seem to suggest. Rather, it's a book about networks (meaning a group of interconnected people or things) and how networks evolve; and its main focus is on internet-related networks and the internet itself (which is one enormous network). The author, Jeff Stibel, argues that there are certain natural laws that govern the unfolding of networks, and that understanding these laws can help us understand how the internet (and other internet-related networks) are likely to evolve over time, and also how we should approach these networks in order to get the most out of them (including make money off of them). When it comes to the evolution of a network, Stibel argues that there are three main stages here: 1) Growth; 2) Breakpoint and 3) Equilibrium. In the growth phase, the network grows in size, usually at a very quick (often exponential) pace. This is a precarious time for networks, for if they do not grow fast enough and large enough they will simply wither away and die (the vast majority of networks do in fact die at this stage). When it comes to the internet--the network that is the focus of the book--we learn that this network is still in its growth phase, and thus it still has much evolving to do before it reaches maturity. Specifically, the internet must still grow beyond its carrying capacity, reach its breakpoint, and collapse back to equilibrium. What this means is that the internet stands to go through some very significant changes in the coming years. Drawing on evidence from other networks, Stibel seeks to chart out what is likely to happen to the internet (and other internet-related networks) as it passes through its various phases on its way to equilibrium. Stibel predicts that the journey will feature some real growing pains, but that ultimately the internet will emerge better and smarter than ever (and may even develop consciousness). The point of view that the author brings is very unique and interesting. His argument is also very persuasive. The one area where I felt the book fell short is in exploring the implications of what an intelligent and even conscious internet would look like. Will the internet just function in a way that it appears to exhibit intelligence and consciousness (as an ant colony does), or will it actually be intelligent and conscious (as a brain is)? Perhaps the author himself does not know, but if this is the case, he should at least say so. Instead, the author is very ambiguous here, and plays with the idea that the internet will actually be conscious, without fully committing to this or drawing out the implications thereof. Still, a highly entertaining and interesting read. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, August 6.