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The Evolution of Wired Life: From the Alphabet to the Soul-Catcher Chip -- How Information Technologies Change Our World Hardcover – August 1, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0471357599 ISBN-10: 0471357596 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471357596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471357599
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,554,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

This is hardly the first book that promises to answer the question of how digital technologies are changing the nature of human reality. What's surprising is its answer: not much. In The Evolution of Wired Life: From the Alphabet to the Soul-Catcher Chip--How Information Technologies Change Our World, Charles Jonscher argues lucidly against the oft-heard proposition that computers are here to revolutionize, or even replace, the workings of our minds and societies. Drawing partly on the long prehistory of today's information technologies--reaching back all the way to the invention of alphabetic writing in the ancient Middle East--he makes a strong case for the contrary view: that human thoughts and interactions have always had, and always will have, more importance than the tools used to convey them.

Jonscher's no Luddite, though. A London investment banker and information-policy expert, he began his career as a programmer in the '70s, and he has retained an admiration for and deep understanding of computers. In fact, anyone looking for an inspired and intelligent introduction to the nature of digital technology--how it works, how it came to be, how it both resembles and differs from such intimately human mechanisms as the brain and the genome--need look no further. Jonscher doesn't dispute that computers are a fascinating philosophical conundrum, or that the question of "who we are in the digital age," as he puts it, isn't an interesting one. What he resists, compellingly, "is the claim that by deciding we're computers, we've cracked the mystery of human life." --Julian Dibbell

From the Back Cover

"Thoughtful and erudite... Intelligent and readable...Will appeal to people who enjoyed Longitude by Dava Sobel or Fermat’s Enigma by Simon Singh." –The San Diego Union Tribune

"Most engaging."–The Boston Globe

"An optimistic and reassuring assertion that no matter what wonders we invent, human beings . . . remain infinitely more complex and interesting."–The Economist

A lively, informative examination of the computer revolution–and why the top-performing information-processing device is still the human brain

If we believe the forecasts of many computer enthusiasts, a wave of amazing devices will soon fundamentally change our lives, and the "thinking machine" is just around the corner. In this authoritative and entertaining book, critically acclaimed author Charles Jonscher presents the other side of the argument: while communication developments have changed society, they also have their limits. He shows us that in order to understand the true transformative powers of the new technologies, we must know about the long history of their development–and why no calculating machine can match the creative power of the human mind. Rich in insights from literature, philosophy, and history, The Evolution of Wired Life offers a fascinating look at the development of the digital era, from the invention of the first alphabetic language to the printing press to the World Wide Web. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Philip Swann on August 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Jonscher's book is about the impact of IT on our work and lives. Unfortunately, like so many other popular science writers, he spends most of his pages laboriously recounting for beginners the history of technology, from the origins of writing to genetic engineering and the millennium bug. We get the umpteenth elementary explanations of, amongst others: bits, bytes and Turing machines; semiconductors and integrated circuits; electromagnetism and telecommunications technology. Jonscher writes mostly about the physical infrastructure that makes IT work. Oddly, he has almost nothing to say about software and how it is created.
Running almost in parallel with this potted history, is Jonscher's semi-philosophical analysis of our present and future relationship with the digital world. He is clearly worried that computers are a threat to what he calls central value systems of western civilisation:
"Lurking behind predictive scenarios of computer-driven society is an emaciated view of what it is to be human: a model of the person as an entity whose objectives we have understood and can deliver by programming machines - who is responding to images and sounds and not to the hearts and minds of those behind the images". (p. 249)
The origins of Jonscher's worries lie in the long tradition of rationalism in western science and philosophy, in the belief that logic and the scientific method together define what we can and cannot know about the world. Add to the rationalism the positivist belief that we know what is good for us, and you get the "emaciated view of what it is to be human".
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Paula Hallett on October 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a great read for Lawyers and other "fuzzy" information-economy thinkers! Better yet, it's a great read for IT professionals, who are introducing technological solutions into human situations! This book will keep you grounded in reality.
Charles Jonscher, through an entertaining examination of centuries accumlation of philosophy... science and technology, shows the disconnects between the they way humans interact, and the way digital technology works.
In short, being digital ain't the same as being human. It ain't warm, fuzzy -- and more importantly ain't ANALOG.
The beauty of ANALOG is the key to Jonscher's book. Analog thinking is by nature, superior to digital. Using mathematics and physics vis-a-vis bio-chemistry and psychology, Jonscher reveals that the human brain is analog. On the other hand, computers are digital, and hence 'inferior'.
For example, Jonscher talks about Deep Blue, the computer that beat the pants off the best Chess player in the world.
While the media hailed this as a significant step towards the evolution of 'computer intellegence' Jonscher puts this (off the wall) assertion into perspective. He argues that if a fire broke out during the chess match, even a lowly bumble bee would have enough "common sense" to leave the building, whereas Deep Blue would continue to play the game and burn to crisp in the flames.
By tracing the path of natural evolution, Jonscher shows readers that all things natural use "analog" senses produced and guided by complex chemical reactions. While digital uses logic and mathmatics. Grounding his argument in such scientific breakthroughs as Quantum Physics, that shows that there is chaos in logic, mathmatics physics ... and (GASP) nature ...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
With his argument that humans, rather than technology, will always have the upper hand, Jonscher begins a fascinating unravelling of where the "digital age" has sprung from, with all its limitations and possibilities. While lauding the technology which could now record every moment of a human life by means of a tiny bit of silicon implanted in the brain - the apocryphal "soul-catcher" chip - he points out that the human brain has 20 billion neurons, and that: "the intelligence of a single-celled organism less evolved than a neuron, such as a paramecium, is such that it can navigate towards food and negotiate obstacles, recognise danger and retreat from it. How does your PC compare?" After a delve through the scientific theories lying behind the evolution of IT, he goes on to trace its development, with its impact on and creation of multimedia and the Internet, economic progress and the technologies of tomorrow. For anyone who has ever asked what the IT revolution is all about, and how it will affect them, this readable and authoritative account, with its occasional dashes of dry humour, will fill some of the gaps.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "joast" on February 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Even though digitalisation may seem able to unfold the very secret of life - or is at least presented that way - this book provides the counter-argument. Jonscher, obviously 'knowing his stuff', argues that there is no such thing as a computer that will fully replace a human. He starts his arguments in the microscopical level and builds his way up to the informational characteristics of today's society. Respecting the essentials in life - such as the added value of interpersonal communication in real life as opposed to that in virtual life - he creates a well though-out case in favor of mankind in the debat between human vs. computer. Giving insights into some of the secrets of sillicon valley, philosophical guidance on the Real (Plato's cave) and a factual economic description of what computers mean to professional activity, make this book a fresh breeze into the - perhaps already stagnated - discourse on what the computer and computernetworks have in stall for the (western) world. Written in a non-patronizing style - which cannot be said about a lot of authors on this topic, who perhaps by doing so admit the weakness of their arguments, you decide - Jonscher delivers one of the books that judge after the facts and not a priori. Needless to say I recommend it.
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