Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology

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9780262681155: Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology

The digital revolution did not begin with the teenage millionaires of Silicon Valley, claims Howard Rheingold, but with such early intellectual giants as Charles Babbage, George Boole, and John von Neumann. In a highly engaging style, Rheingold tells the story of what he calls the patriarchs, pioneers, and infonauts of the computer, focusing in particular on such pioneers as J. C. R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Bob Taylor, and Alan Kay. Taking the reader step by step from nineteenth-century mathematics to contemporary computing, he introduces a fascinating collection of eccentrics, mavericks, geniuses, and visionaries.The book was originally published in 1985, and Rheingold's attempt to envision computing in the 1990s turns out to have been remarkably prescient. This edition contains an afterword, in which Rheingold interviews some of the pioneers discussed in the book. As an exercise in what he calls "retrospective futurism," Rheingold also looks back at how he looked forward.

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Review:

Where will our new machines take us? Back in 1985, forward-thinking Howard Rheingold asked research pioneers to describe the nascent personal-computer revolution and its trajectory, then examined their predecessors' work, in Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology.

Republished 15 years later with a new afterword by the author, the book is an excellent slice of "retrospective futurism"--showing how we got to our largely wired world and where we might find ourselves in the future, as well as exploring some might-have-been scenarios that still seemed likely in the '80s. Starting with engaging portraits of such important thinkers as Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, and Jon von Neumann, Rheingold swiftly and seamlessly moves into more current affairs, checking out the men and women behind Xerox PARC, ARPANET, Apple, Microsoft, and other cornerstones of today's environment.

Some of the interviewees are less well known than they should be--the immensely popular World Wide Web often overshadows Doug Englebart's ideas, for example--but all have made important contributions to personal computing and networking. Some of the ideas in the book, like expert systems, have floundered somewhat from their creators' original intentions, but the creativity and determination to follow through regardless is inspiring.

Rheingold is adept at showing us how technology can help us shape a better human destiny. Tools for Thought reminds us that today's wild ideas are what bring tomorrow's radical change. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Howard Rheingold, an influential writer and thinker on social media, is the author of Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (both published by the MIT Press), and Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.

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