Emergence – Steven Johnson

Wow, note to self: never write a book about the internet, the near future, or any kind of technological speculation. You just can’t ever predict what will or won’t happen.

On that note this book from 2001, didn’t age very well. Some of it’s predictions never came true, while other things heralded as the the next big thing have already come and gone.

But those are just unfortunate side-effects of writing about technology. The subject matter is still just as fascinating today as it was 10 years ago, and it seems it still hasn’t been explored and exploited enough, even though scientists have been studying the emergence phenomenon for years.

In science some headway has been made in understanding the self-assembly and self-organization of some biological systems. But in the tech sector, we are only now seriously beginning to use the logic of emergence for things like neural nets, pattern recognition, face tracking and learning networks.

The full title is Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. And the author does a reasonably good, thought not very deep, job on the first two or three points, but it’s the last part where too much speculation makes the book more of a sociological artifact on how people perceived the future of tech 10 years ago, than giving any real insight into software and technology. Thought as I said some of the broader implications of emergence are only now gaining wide adoption and watching little dots on a screen self-assemble without any explicit instructions to do so, is just as amazing today as it was then.

This book has been on my to read list for a while. Guess I should have gotten to it earlier.