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Mirror Worlds: or the Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox...How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean [Paperback]

David Gelernter
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 28, 1993 019507906X 978-0195079067
Technology doesn't flow smoothly; it's the big surprises that matter, and Yale computer expert David Gelernter sees one such giant leap right on the horizon. Today's small scale software programs are about to be joined by vast public software works that will revolutionize computing and transform society as a whole. One such vast program is the "Mirror World."
Imagine looking at your computer screen and seeing reality--an image of your city, for instance, complete with moving traffic patterns, or a picture that sketches the state of an entire far-flung corporation at this second. These representations are called Mirror Worlds, and according to Gelernter they will soon be available to everyone. Mirror Worlds are high-tech voodoo dolls: by interacting with the images, you interact with reality. Indeed, Mirror Worlds will revolutionize the use of computers, transforming them from (mere) handy tools to crystal balls which will allow us to see the world more vividly and see into it more deeply. Reality will be replaced gradually, piece-by-piece, by a software imitation; we will live inside the imitation; and the surprising thing is--this will be a great humanistic advance. We gain control over our world, plus a huge new measure of insight and vision.
In this fascinating book--part speculation, part explanation--Gelernter takes us on a tour of the computer technology of the near future. Mirror Worlds, he contends, will allow us to explore the world in unprecedented depth and detail without ever changing out of our pajamas. A hospital administrator might wander through an entire medical complex via a desktop computer. Any citizen might explore the performance of the local schools, chat electronically with teachers and other Mirror World visitors, plant software agents to report back on interesting topics; decide to run for the local school board, hire a campaign manager, and conduct the better part of the campaign itself--all by interacting with the Mirror World.
Gelernter doesn't just speculate about how this amazing new software will be used--he shows us how it will be made, explaining carefully and in detail how to build a Mirror World using technology already available. We learn about "disembodied machines," "trellises," "ensembles," and other computer components which sound obscure, but which Gelernter explains using familiar metaphors and terms. (He tells us that a Mirror World is a microcosm just like a Japanese garden or a Gothic cathedral, and that a computer program is translated by the computer in the same way a symphony is translated by a violinist into music.)
Mirror Worlds offers a lucid and humanistic account of the coming software revolution, told by a computer scientist at the cutting edge of his field.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

With evangelical fervor, Gelernter's book-length essay paints a future where software technology, now isolating people, brings them into impersonal proximity through "mirror worlds." These computer models of reality let users descend to greater depths of detail at will, meet other explorers, and generally get the "big picture" of what's going on. However, Gelernter's own appraisal of the value of computers seems inconsistent and extreme: he claims they are valuable just sitting unused on the coffee table but then insists that the uninitiated will be forced to "sink or swim" (i.e., learn to use computers) in the information sea computers create. His casual style gives the book the feel of a lecture transcript, and his metaphors (e.g., "jettisoned floating landscapes in tuple space") demand considerable hardware and software knowledge to link them with reality. For collections emphasizing computer science.
- Doug Kranch, Ambassador Coll. Lib., Big Sandy, Tex.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Within ten years, Gelernter (Computer Science/Yale) predicts here, scientists will deploy computer systems able to capture extensive data about a particular ``reality'' (hospital, city, etc.), and to present a constantly updated model on a desktop computer. ``A Mirror World is some huge institution's moving, true-to- life mirror image trapped inside a computer--where you can see and grasp it whole,'' Gelernter writes. Citizens will be able to visit these computer models like public squares, gaining unprecedented access to data on what's going on (and the officials in charge, the author intimates, will presumably welcome a chance to have their performance monitored). Building such mirror worlds will be extraordinarily difficult: streams and rivers of raw data need to be constantly flowing; thousands of computers must process the data in parallel fashion; and tying it all together will demand new kinds of software of immense complexity. Gelernter explains clearly the problems to be solved and describes pieces of the technology already working in research labs. Left unchallenged is his assumption that such technology will remain benign--giving honest folk a way of grasping an ever-more complex world instead of providing the powerful owners of such technology a superb way to distort and control ``reality.'' Plausible but potentially frightening view of what the future could hold if those who view ``reality'' as merely a vast array of numbers waiting to be crunched have their way. (Twenty illustrations--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 28, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019507906X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195079067
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #717,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent tools for imagining future worlds. February 24, 1998
"Mirror Worlds" sketches, on a broad canvas, what we will be able to do with (virtually) infinite bandwidth and storage capacity. Gelernter's book provides key concepts and mental models for envisioning technological futures.
We're never quite prepared for the future when it arrives. Exponential technology curves yield thousand-fold gains in capacity and speed, but humans can't imagine thousand-fold improvements. One solution: remove the limits completely. For example, assume that infinite bandwidth and data storage capacity are available to everyone for free. What would this enable us to do? Explore the new applications -- the new ways of organizing work, communication, commerce, thought, and art -- that would become possible. Then work back from that vision of the future, to find the paths that will take us in that direction.
Example 1: Put video cameras everywhere, and record every moment. -- Remember, infinite and free storage and bandwidth! Why throw anything away? -- Use that real-time data to build a virtual model of your city - a mirror world. Then have your software agents roam through all those data/video streams and flag - or respond to - events that might impact your neighborhood or your decisions. The value is in the filtering!
Example 2: Any human with a PC and a net connection can become a television broadcaster. The TV broadcasting infrastructure becomes obsolete, just as the telephone companies' infrastructure does in the Stupid Network vision With millions of producers creating and broadcasting content streams into infospace -- and all prior broadcasts stored for viewing as well -- a highly selective "TV Guide" will be a key to survival in the post-literate society.
Higly recommended reading for visionaries, product planners and science fiction writers. END
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas endure December 8, 2001
Mirror Worlds
3 stars
The book, first published in 1991 by Oxford University Press,
must be read in the context of its day to be fully appreciated.
At that time, in the pre-web world, there was a great deal of
discussion devoted to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the
Fifth Generation Project driven by the Japanese. If Gelertner
had limited his offering to only those topics this book could
be left in the pile of such books from that era without loss.
Luckily, Gelertner gave us more.
While there is much of the book relegated to the AI ideas of
that time, there are also insightful and practical observations
that have a more lasting appeal. For example, Gelertner delves
into the question "What is a program? What does 'software' mean?"
Such questions are explored in some detail and other observations
are made in the discussions. "Managing complexity must be
your goal... we can call it the pursuit of 'topsite'. Topsite--
the understanding of the big picture--is the essential goal of
every software builder. It's also the most precious intellectual
commodity known to man."
We've all heard talk about someone who "sees the big picture."
That, according to Gelertner, is "topsight": having perspective,
clarity, and a sense of proportion. Why is this important? If
we want to have machines (programs) help us see and understand
our world (in a "Mirror" of our world), we'll need to teach
these machines how to make sense of the information. Minimally,
they'll need to be able to sift through the volumes of data
and find that data which is "interesting.
Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic book predicting cloud computing back in the 80's! February 22, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an oldie that predicts the coming wave of cloud computing... David outlines a framework for how information flows into the lattice work supporting a virtual world
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