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Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems

4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465021970
ISBN-10: 0465021972
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Editorial Reviews


Interop will serve as a constructive and motivating resource for policymakers, citizens, and practitioners interested in the outcome of emerging, hyper connected areas such as smart-grid energy infrastructures, cloud computing, and eHealth systems or in ensuring our ability to preserve digitally stored culture and knowledge for generations to come.”

Chris Hughes, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The New Republic and co-founder, Facebook
“This is one of the few great books that theorizes the opportunities and pitfalls of a complex networked world while remaining accessible to anyone curious about how to manage these technologies for the sake of human progress.”

Jonathan Zittrain, author of The Future of the Internet—And How to Stop It
Interop represents a peerless contribution for understanding interconnected systems. Palfrey and Gasser draw on sharp examples, illustrations and case studies to show how the world we live in is becoming increasingly interdependent, and they offer a compelling roadmap for both consumers and producers to adapt to it.”

Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab
“In Interop Gasser and Palfrey propose a unified theory of interoperability drawing on a myriad of examples to bring together a framework around an idea where heated debates, lawsuits and multi-billion dollar battles have been waged on a variety of complex and incomplete arguments. Interop pulls these arguments together into a nuanced but elegant framework, including suggestions on how we might design an architecture and practices to create optimal interop. This book is a must-read for policy makers, corporate leaders, academics and anyone hoping to live and thrive in our exceedingly interop-driven connected and complex world.”

Vivek Kundra, Executive Vice President at Salesforce and Former CIO of the United States
Interop is a must read for leaders in the public and private sector as they try to harness the power of highly interconnected systems while balancing the dark side of technology. The ability of billions of people to instrument the world and share their experiences in a low-cost manner has forever shifted power away from the hands of the few to the network.”

“Palfrey and Gasser have a record of tak­ing up a concept early and writing about it accessibly and informatively.... [They] are at their best when discussing how regulation and legislation can promote interoperability.... This issue, the authors stress, is not about making systems the same, but about main­taining diversity while identifying key areas of contact: an important point well made.”

New Scientist
“Clear and thoughtful.... [Palfrey and Gasser’s] writing is light but careful; their arguments are illuminating.”

Publishers Weekly
“In this timely treatise, Palfrey and Gasser...insist that interoperability is a crucial means of understanding cultural transformations.”

Library Journal
“[If] you haven’t yet read [Interop], you should, since it discusses subjects that are the life’s blood to librarians (and many others) in the 21st century.... Well-researched and a pleasure to read.”

Times Higher Education Supplement
“A thorough, thoughtful and timely analysis of where we are, how we got here and where we might be headed if we want to get the maximum benefit from interoperability without paying too high a price in the process.”

Slate, Future Tense
“Palfrey and Gasser nicely toe the line between digital dystopians and globalization shills — they’re forward-looking but pragmatic.”

About the Author

John Palfrey is Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School. He is a faculty director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He has published extensively on the Internet’s relationship to Intellectual Property, international governance, and democracy, and is the author or co-author of Intellectual Property Strategy; Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rules in Cyberspace; Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies: Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force; and Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering. A regular commentator on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News, NPR and BBC, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Urs Gasser is the Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He is a Visiting Professor at KEIO University in Japan and teaches regularly on three continents. He has written and edited several books and contributed close to 100 articles in books, law reviews, and professional journals. He is also an advisor to international technology companies on information law matters. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465021972
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465021970
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,073,673 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As was the case with their previous book, "Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives," Palfrey & Gasser's "Interop" offers a supremely balanced treatment of a complicated and sometimes quite contentious set of information policy issues. The authors have a gift for penning engaging and extremely well-written books that enlighten, educate, and entertain.

In "Interop," Palfrey and Gasser propose an ambitious task: developing "a normative theory identifying what we want out of all this interconnectivity" that the information age has brought us. They correctly note "there is no single, agreed-upon definition of interoperability" and that "there are even many views about what interop is and how it should be achieved." Generally speaking, they argue increased interoperability -- especially among information networks and systems -- is a good thing because it "provides consumers greater choice and autonomy," "is generally good for competition and innovation," and "can lead to systemic efficiencies."

But they wisely acknowledge that there are trade-offs, too, noting that "this growing level of interconnectedness comes at an increasingly high price." Whether we are talking about privacy, security, consumer choice, the state of competition, or anything else, Palfrey and Gasser argue that "the problems of too much interconnectivity present enormous challenges both for organizations and for society at large." Their chapter and privacy and security offers many examples, but one need only look around at their own digital existence to realize the truth of this paradox.
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Format: Hardcover
If my review was merely the word "vague", your irritation at that would reflect my irritation at this book. But Amazon wants 20 words, so you get more.

Unsubstantiated opinions. Lots of "our studies show" without backing data or studies actually presented on their Harvard website. Simply wrong in some places.

Example 1: NATO's commitment to ODF "cuts off development of others that may prove better over time". Wrong. Open Document Format is extensible by design, and based on XML, with each document containing its own description. That makes ODF documents large and "inefficient", but transparent. ODF is readable and writable by every major document tool. It permits "embrace and extend" without the usual destruction of interoperability. E&E is an anti-interoperability practice the authors neglect to mention.

Example 2: Smart Grid - nothing is mentioned about the robustness (or lack thereof) of tying complex systems together. Yes, we can run the grid more efficiently, and shed load as a crisis appears, but control loops can oscillate, and stability and efficiency can conflict. Enron showed how a control system can be gamed to draw revenue from artificially created oscillations. Rather than jump on the bandwagon without thought, they should seek out some dissenting opinions, and consider how we will "fix the fix".

Example 3: Electronic Medical Records - many countries have cheaper medical care without having EMR. The US is sicker because we have the world's cheapest carbohydrates, cheapest gasoline, and the "best" television programming. We sit, we stress, we eat garbage, and we hit each other with cars. We destroy our bodies and our gestating babies.
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Format: Hardcover
This book offers some very accessible reading on some very complex topics. The title is a bit obscure, I wasn't sure what to make of it at first. It made me wonder if this was a very technical book. It is not. It takes on the complex questions of how we make various societal elements increasingly closely related to and intertwined with technology work together while sustaining growth, innovation and a focus on privacy and security.

There are many relevant audiences for this book from policy makers to engineers, from students to practitioners in companies as well as government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

The authors suggest that there are four layers we need to consider when thinking about interoperability: the technical layer, the data layer, the human layer and the institutional layer. Rather than focusing mainly on just one or the other of these layers, the authors consider all four throughout the book. They do so while grounding their discussion in very pertinent historical examples such as the railroad industry and air traffic control. They explain technical terms they draw upon from various fields like economics in very accessible ways. They don't take for granted any prior knowledge of various theories and approaches while also not boring the reader with mundane details nor talking down to their audience. In most detail, they explore the challenges of electronic health records and digital libraries. Do they have all the solutions? No. But they raise important aspects of the puzzles that those working on solutions - or even just those who care about solutions - need to keep at the forefront of their minds.
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