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In Search of Certainty - The Science of Our Information Infrastructure

In Search of Certainty - The Science of Our Information Infrastructure [Kindle Edition]

Mark Burgess

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Product Description

Product Description

Ruling the Machines that Rule the World?

Our planet's information systems have now reached a level of scale and complexity at which we can no longer simply decide how they will behave. They are so sophisticated and so interconnected that humans can neither steer nor comprehend them with certainty. Can we trust such an infrastructure to society?

For more than twenty years, Mark Burgess has been one of the pioneers of the science and technology behind the operation of this information infrastructure. In this book, he explains how far we have come in our understanding of the systems, and whether we yet have the necessary knowledge to prevent them from spiralling out of control.

In Search of Certainty takes the reader on a fascinating journey, from the beginnings of scientific thought to our present day, illuminating information technology as an integral part of our modern historical and cultural narrative. It lays out key challenges for the future and suggests a daring new way to think about the future governance of the vast cybernetic organism we are in process of creating.

"An instant classic in computer science! 'In Search of Certainty' is a brilliant piece of work by one of the most brilliant people I've ever met. Complex systems, like modern IT services, need to be understood from a perspective very different from traditional IT practice. The answers are rooted in science and Mark Burgess exposes this science like nobody else."
-- Glenn O'Donnell, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research

"An incredible journey by one of the [IT] industry's most important thinkers over the past 20 years. Like everything else he's done, this is unique and astonishing in its implications."
--Carolyn Rowland, NIST

"Mark brings together the digital microcosm and macrocosm, the mundane and the profound, the human and the technological, in a way that is important, wonderful, and truly mind-stretching."
-- Jeff Sussna, Ingineering.IT

"Mark Burgess practically invented modern IT infrastructure management software. Now he has produced a revolutionary work, part personal journey, part theoretical review, as he advances the state of infrastructure science -- and our comprehension -- again. IN SEARCH OF CERTAINTY is a must-read book from a true visionary."
--Christopher Little, BMC Software

"There are thought leaders, and then there are thought leaders. Mark Burgess is a scientist who can talk to the real world, and has been challenging it for 20 years, with the message of science."
-- Reynold Jabbour, J.P. Morgan-Chase

"Holy cow!"
-- Gene Kim, Author of Phoenix Project

"To err is human, to explain is Mark Burgess."
-- Patrick Debois

"I only got through the Introduction and Chapter 1. I was so encouraged by just those that I started applying it to organization at Joyent and forgot to come back to the book."
-- Ben Rockwood, Joyent

"A philosophy of informatics obviously contrasting with but also complementing Floridi's philosophy of information."
-- Jan Bergstra, Professor University of Amsterdam

"What I liked most about the book was the vast number of topics it drew on, there are examples from a very broad array of domains. This made it very fun. ... It really is a tour de force of most interesting things that have happened for the past 500 years..."
-- Sigurd Teigen, CFEngine

"The book is in parts a very personal description of the world we live in, and how it evolved... the book is about a journey, a personal one. I did like that part very much."
-- Sven van de Meer, Ericsson

About the Author

Mark Burgess is a British theoretical physicist, turned computer scientist, living in Oslo, Norway. He is Emeritus Professor of Network and System Administration, and originator of the globally used CFEngine software and founder of CFEngine AS, Inc. He is the author of many books and scientific publications, and is a frequent speaker at international events.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2782 KB
  • Print Length: 447 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1492389161
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: XtAxis Press (25 Nov 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #39,631 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Outstanding: An Extraordinary Work of Genius 5 Sep 2013
By Paul - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Should be required reading by every CTO, CIO, and datacenter architect; whether your focus is total systems thinking, or specialize in compute, network or storage.

One of the most comprehensive expressions of IT insight ever published. Destined to go down in history as a classic.

Beware: This is a long read! It appears almost overly comprehensive and pedantic in the first half of the book, but Mark brings it all together in a masterful burst of insight in the second half. Well worth the effort and attention to grasp what he is trying to say.

This book will change the way the IT industry thinks. It brings a new clarity to the confused, trite and marketing-oriented concepts in the Cloud computing Industry.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 years ahead of its time 9 Dec 2013
By Niek Bartholomeus - Published on
Reading this book felt a lot like trekking through the jungle: where after hours of hard work you suddenly see the most amazing wildlife or panoramas, you also have to spend pages of deep concentration before suddenly one fundamental insight after the other starts popping out of the book.

If you hold on till the end of the book, I can assure you that Mark will have taken you to all the wonders that science has to offer these days: quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, chaos theory, statistics, logic, cooperation theories, complex adaptive systems, genetics, immunology, economics and finally the science of information.

During this whole trip he convinces us that information science and the management of information infrastructure doesn’t exist in isolation, but rather must be seen as being part of the world of physics, like anything else. A world that we got to know in the previous century as one where non-determinism and uncertainty rule (think of quantum mechanics and chaos theory), and where determinism (Newtonian mechanics of cause and effect) is the exception. To make matters even worse, this determinism is just an illusion, an emergent property of the non-deterministic world of quantum mechanics. But because the scales of these two worlds are so far apart, they are only loosely coupled and as a result the quantum non-determinism kind of balances out when zooming out to the human, Newtonian scale.

The great insight here is that information infrastructure actually behaves non-deterministically. The reason for this is that we simply cannot plan in advance everything that may possibly go wrong once the system is live. As a result we cannot use the Newtonian cause-and-effect trick to impose our will to the infrastructure in a top-down way. (It’s ok if you don’t understand what I just wrote, I didn’t either initially. I can only suggest to go read the book and hope for the best ;-))

Instead, we have to start from the infrastructure (the dynamics) where we must consider each system as an autonomous agent that acts based on promises it makes to other systems or humans (cf. promise theory). Just like these amazing formations that emerge from “dumb” birds flocking together, these agents will then generate a higher-level behaviour in a bottom-up way. They will also be able to heal themselves from these unexpected errors, analogous to how our human immunology works.

The big message here is: decentralize as much intelligence as possible into these autonomous agents to get your infrastructure under control.

Now, if we really want to start building next generation information infrastructure we trust with our lives (as we trust things engineered from other sciences like air planes) and works in perfect harmony with humans we will really have to start taking into account its non-deterministical nature and completely re-invent it, including coming up with some sound scientific modelling around it.

Please note that this book is 10 years ahead of its time. It wouldn’t surprise me if the date of publication will later be corrected to July 30, 2023.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden Gems 27 Nov 2013
By M.B - Published on
Imagine someone who gives you controversial professional advice, or tells you long-winded war stories, or attempts to popularize science for you. Before you roll your eyes, it would help to look into his credentials. Are his commercial and community products any good?

In my opinion, the author is a member of a very exclusive club. His products work at large scale. Knowing that, I tolerated a lot, and patiently read the whole treatise.

My humble advice to the reader is to skim some parts, like material science or game theory and look for hidden gems in the book. I found 6, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. I will only mention a low-hanging one here: dynamics tramp semantics.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Physics of distributed systems 31 Dec 2013
By Carlos Lacasa Sánchez - Published on
"In Search of Certainty" gives you a deep insight into the Physics of distributed systems and the foundations of CFEngine.

It explains that continuity in Information Systems is only apparent and comes from discreteness, thus deterministic logic can't be applied to model such systems. A new paradigm is needed: Promise Theory.

It's a question of scales (continuity at macroscopic, Newtonian, scales derives from discrete states at non deterministic quantum levels). Complexity and incomplete information come also into play.

It also explains how dynamics and semantics affect stability of systems, and proposes a kind of immune logical system made up autonomous agents that are constrained to some desired equilibrium states as a way to reach extrinsic stability.

I've found this book very interesting, both as a Physicist and as an IT professional. I, definitely, recommend it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 12 Nov 2014
By Mejrima Muratbegovic - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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