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The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst [Paperback]

Steve Talbott
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

11 May 1995 1565920856 978-1565920859 1

Many pundits tell you that the computer is ushering us toward a new Golden Age of Information. A few tell you that the computer is destroying everything worthwhile in our culture. But almost no one tells you what Stephen L. Talbott shows in this surprising book: the intelligent machine gathers its menacing powers from hidden places within you and me. It does so, that is, as long as we gaze into our screens and tap on our keyboards while less than fully conscious of the subtle influences passing through the interface.

Talbott awakens us to these influences by conducting a wide-ranging tour:

  • Why do we hail the birth of the electronic global village just as villagers around the world are killing each other? Is the Net an instrument for social dissolution?
  • Do the Renaissance origins of virtual reality throw light on our world-creating and world-destroying choices today? Does reality have a future?
  • Were the barriers to creation of thinking machines clarified by a little-known philologist investigating the mythic consciousness of the ancients?
  • Does the computer centralize or decentralize structures of power? Or does this question miss the point, because intelligent machines that run by themselves are creating a new global totalitarianism *without a despotic center*?
  • Is the frantic urging to put schoolchildren on the Internet any more reasoned than the seventies' fad for programmed instruction, or the eighties' fad for computer literacy?
  • Does an unrecognized law link the public face and the dark underside of the Net? If so, can we expect flame wars, weird impersonations, pornographic commerce, and Net psychoses to grow increasingly pronounced and erratic, while at the same time the reasoned mechanisms for filtering "strict business" from the chaos steadily gain in effectiveness?
  • Is artificial intelligence raising machines to a human level, or are we descending to the machine's level?

After reading The Future Does Not Compute, you will never again be able to sit in front of your computer with quite the same glazed stare.

(BACKCOVER COPY) The technological Djinn, now loosened from all restraints, tempts us with visions of a surreal future. It is a future with robots who surpass their masters in dexterity and wit; intelligent agents who roam the Net on our behalf, seeking the informational elixir that will make us whole; new communities inhabiting the clean, infinite reaches of cyberspace, freed from war and conflict; and lending libraries of "virtually real" experiences that seem more sensational than the real thing.

Not all of this is idle or fantastic speculation -- even if it is the rather standard gush about our computerized future. Few observers can see any clear limits to what the networked computer might eventually accomplish. It is this stunning, wide-open potential that leads one to wonder what the Djinn will ask of us in return for the gift. After all, any potential so dramatic, so diverse, so universal, can be taken in many directions. That is its very nature. Who will choose the direction -- we, or the Djinn?

The intelligent machine receives a shadow of our own intelligence. This shadow consists of all the collective, automatic, sleepwalking, deterministic processes we have yielded to. That is, it consists of our own willingness to become machines. The crucial question today is whether we can wake up in time. Only in wakefulness can we distinguish ourselves from the automatisms around us. Where we remain asleep -- where we live in our own shadow -- we are the Djinn.

The Net is the most powerful invitation to remain asleep we have ever faced. Contrary to the usual view, it dwarfs television in its power to induce passivity, to scatter our minds, to destroy our imaginations, and to make us forget our humanity.

And yet -- for these very reasons -- the Net may also be an opportunity to enter into our fullest humanity with a self-awareness never yet achieved. But few even seem aware of the challenge, and without awareness we will certainly fail.


Product details

  • Paperback: 500 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (11 May 1995)
  • Language: French
  • ISBN-10: 1565920856
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565920859
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 15.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,046,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to key technology issues. 12 Aug 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book is well written, provocative and covers a lot of ground in a very short space of time. The author presents a well-reasoned argument for reversing the usual cause and effect critique of the evil computer, and his suggestion that the problem is in the way we think about technology is right on.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Do you have the answers? Can you accept the answers? This book asks you questions, tough
questions, about the very technology that put you on this page so you could read this review. Are
computers going to redefine reality, or ruin reality? Is this an evolutionary step up the ladder, or a
slide into an empty abyss? Do you see this as a great boon, or a simple electronic trick?

Talbott's subject is the BIGGEST question ever asked - What does it mean to be a human being?
In examining computers and the cyber-age, the author demands we answer this question. At the
same time he insists we see how limiting the computer is as a human tool. The real questions and
issues are about us, the creators and users of these idiot savants. This book eloquently challenges
us to look at who or what is in control. We really have no choice but to face our answers.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Cool 17 May 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
It's okay, I had to read it for a class. He raises some good questions but he's long winded. A lot of us have already thought about these questions. Talbott feeds you some good food for thought though.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, if New-Agey. Read this book. 18 Jan 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Hey. Listen. If you're going to choose among all the books that criticize computers and the Internet, this is, I promise, your best bet. Calm, rational, articulate, engaging, it manages to be *thoughtful* rather than ranting or over-emotional, which is a common problem that drowns and ultimately destroys the rhetoric of many of Talbott's peers. Talbott's final conclusion, woven beautifully from his collection of sensitive and thought-provoking essays, has everything to do with human beings as well as computers and the Internet: we should remain awake and aware of the subtle consequences of computer and communication technology. Talbott manages--through easy-going qualification and a rational, neutral attitude--to place himself in the role of a guide rather than a preacher. I can not recommend this book more highly.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, if New-Agey. Read this book. 18 Jan 1998
By Auliya - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Hey. Listen. If you're going to choose among all the books that criticize computers and the Internet, this is, I promise, your best bet. Calm, rational, articulate, engaging, it manages to be *thoughtful* rather than ranting or over-emotional, which is a common problem that drowns and ultimately destroys the rhetoric of many of Talbott's peers. Talbott's final conclusion, woven beautifully from his collection of sensitive and thought-provoking essays, has everything to do with human beings as well as computers and the Internet: we should remain awake and aware of the subtle consequences of computer and communication technology. Talbott manages--through easy-going qualification and a rational, neutral attitude--to place himself in the role of a guide rather than a preacher. I can not recommend this book more highly.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A richly rewarding challenge to anyone in this computer age. 20 May 1996
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Do you have the answers? Can you accept the answers? This book asks you questions, tough
questions, about the very technology that put you on this page so you could read this review. Are
computers going to redefine reality, or ruin reality? Is this an evolutionary step up the ladder, or a
slide into an empty abyss? Do you see this as a great boon, or a simple electronic trick?

Talbott's subject is the BIGGEST question ever asked - What does it mean to be a human being?
In examining computers and the cyber-age, the author demands we answer this question. At the
same time he insists we see how limiting the computer is as a human tool. The real questions and
issues are about us, the creators and users of these idiot savants. This book eloquently challenges
us to look at who or what is in control. We really have no choice but to face our answers.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for anyone living with technology 8 Aug 2000
By Kirk McElhearn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book should be read by all those who live with the Internet and technology. While not exactly a Luddite (Talbott uses computers and the Internet a great deal), the author presents many reasons why we should not just accept the promises of a technological paradise without reflecting on its consequences.
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to key technology issues. 12 Aug 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is well written, provocative and covers a lot of ground in a very short space of time. The author presents a well-reasoned argument for reversing the usual cause and effect critique of the evil computer, and his suggestion that the problem is in the way we think about technology is right on.
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cool 17 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It's okay, I had to read it for a class. He raises some good questions but he's long winded. A lot of us have already thought about these questions. Talbott feeds you some good food for thought though.
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