Slaves of the Machine: The Quickening of Computer Technology / Edition 1

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Overview

In Moths to the Flame, Gregory J. E. Rawlins took lay readers on a tour of the exciting and sometimes scary world to which compters are leading us. This new book is for those who are new to computers and want to know what is "under the hood." It shows what computers can do for us and to us. It tells the story of how we became slaves to our machines and how our machines may one day become slaves to us. Written in an accessible, anecdotal form, Slaves of the Machine presents the birth of the computer, charts its evolution, and envisions its development over the next fifty years.Each of the six chapters asks a simple question: What are computers? How do we build them? How do we talk to them? How do we program them? What can't they do? Could they think? After answering its question, each chapter views its topic in terms of the state of the art as of1997 and into the near future. Rawlins successfully demystifies the computer —the first step away from slavery to it.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
[H]ere's something completely different: a computer book for smart people. . . an elegant, thought-provoking little book, full of literary references and history.
Washington Post
[A]n elegant, thought-provoking little book, full of literary references and history.
Kirkus Reviews
An uninspiring review of the history of the computer, and an evaluation of its impact on our society today and in decades to come.

In his previous book, Moths to the Flame: The Seductions of Computer Technology (not reviewed), Rawlins wrote effectively for a lay audience, prophesying the future of the computer and preaching cautious guidance of its evolution toward thinking machines. For some reason, he revisits that topic here with little variation in his material or tone. But this time, the material seems dull and overly abstract. In this diminutive volume, Rawlins (Computer Science/Indiana Univ., Bloomington) takes us through the oft-repeated history of the computer, from British mathematicians Charles Babbage and Alan Turing to todays programmers working in esoteric machine languages. He then asks a series of important questions: How do we communicate with computers? What can and can't they do? Can they mimic the thought processes of the human brain? Yet, despite an overly pedantic and hortatory tone, the answers fail to inform. Rawlins's anecdotes and metaphors are repetitive, and his thinking is circuitous, if not tautological: "Only tomorrow's children can tell us what tomorrow's computers can do." Rawlins seems caught between talking down to the lay reader and writing in sophisticated terms about the growing influence of computer technology. At the book's end, he finally comes to its point: Since computers are evolving rapidly (he claims they double in complexity every 18 months) and we are not, computers will ultimately become uncontrollable: "No self-aware creature will suffer itself to be a slave," he warns. But he doesn't posit specific solutions; indeed, it isn't even clear that he thinks this is potentially disastrous.

Muddled intentions, combined with the unconvincing specter of a world full of HALs controlling their makers, diminish Rawlins's latest effort to enlighten us about our future.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262681025
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 7/31/1998
  • Series: Bradford Books Series
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,316,160

Table of Contents

Preface
1 A Strange New Machine 1
2 The Greed for Speed 21
3 Precisely Speaking 41
4 The Subjective Mood 63
5 Limits to Growth 83
6 Thinking About Thinking 105
My Thanks 129
Index 131
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