- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 28, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 019507906X
- ISBN-13: 978-0195079067
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,051,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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
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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.
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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." The very best programs
will be able to find those interesting things and present
them in a compelling way. All of this demands "topsight."
To drive this ideal, Gelertner and his colleagues created
"Linda" which serves as the basis for the
machinery of such a Mirror World system. The idea is simple:
create a Space where information (called a Tuple)
can be put, taken, or simply read or examined. Many programs
put information in the space. Other programs notice items
in the Space, take them, and perform some processing, and
put a different item back into the space in its stead.
This part of the book, the very practical nuts-and-bolts
part, is alive and well today and in active use. While
Gelertner's system Linda may not have achieved widespread
acceptance, the same idea in another form is quietly
thriving: JavaSpaces. The same notions described by
Gelertner to support his Mirror World now serves as the
heart of many commercial applications.
Gelertner has a lot to say. Yes, some of it now appears
dated and some of the ideas he touts have been
discredited. But, nobody said predicting the future was
My recommendation is thus: forgive Gelertner the detours he
takes (that we all took) and find within the book all those
things which have inspired--and will continue to inspire.
There are ample enough thoughts within those pages to make
the time invested in a careful reading well worthwhile.
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
The idea is that we can create "mirror worlds", identical but virtual representations of any entity - social, geographical, testable - that we desire. At first this sounds exciting but as he explained it, I slowly got the idea that it was nothing more than (pardon the pun) "smoke and mirrors". I just could not understand the ultimate use of such a structure except perhaps for traffic control or future predictions of population trends or growth. Nice try but no cigar.