Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

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9780684868752: Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

Drawing on urban studies, neuroscience, computer games, cultural criticism, and more, a thought-provoking book combines scientific theory, cultural analysis, and reportage to shed new light on the cutting-edge theory of emergence and its impact on the world. 40,000 first printing.

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Review:

An individual ant, like an individual neuron, is just about as dumb as can be. Connect enough of them together properly, though, and you get spontaneous intelligence. Web pundit Steven Johnson explains what we know about this phenomenon with a rare lucidity in Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. Starting with the weird behavior of the semi-colonial organisms we call slime molds, Johnson details the development of increasingly complex and familiar behavior among simple components: cells, insects, and software developers all find their place in greater schemes.

Most game players, alas, live on something close to day-trader time, at least when they're in the middle of a game--thinking more about their next move than their next meal, and usually blissfully oblivious to the ten- or twenty-year trajectory of software development. No one wants to play with a toy that's going to be fun after a few decades of tinkering--the toys have to be engaging now, or kids will find other toys.

Johnson has a knack for explaining complicated and counterintuitive ideas cleverly without stealing the scene. Though we're far from fully understanding how complex behavior manifests from simple units and rules, our awareness that such emergence is possible is guiding research across disciplines. Readers unfamiliar with the sciences of complexity will find Emergence an excellent starting point, while those who were chaotic before it was cool will appreciate its updates and wider scope. --Rob Lightner

From the Publisher:

"Emergent behaviour isn't just a fascinating quirk of science: it's the future ... Johnson opens our eyes to swarm-logic behaviour in our own lives ... with wit, clarity and enthusiasm." --David Pogue, The New York Times

"Fascinating and timely." --Steven Pinker

"A dizzying, dazzling romp through fields as disparate as urban planning, computer-game design, neurology and control theory." --Tom Standage, Economist

"A delight ... clever and thought-provoking." --Edward Dolnick, Washington Post

"A fine new book ... As Johnson explains with brainy but convivial clarity, self-organization describes systems, like slime moulds or computer simulations, that generate rich and complicated global behaviour without being controlled through hierarchical 'top-down' commands." --Erik Davis, Village Voice

"We have all learnt that a swarm of bees does not follow a single bee, but moves in concert by following simple rules ... It takes a clear, focused book like Johnson's to remind us what connection these truths have and a powerful imagination to link them to the growth of ghettos, the importance of city pavements and the march of slime mould ... Johnson verbalizes what we are beginning to intuit." --Danny O'Brien, Sunday Times

"Johnson rises as the populist champion of emergence." --Wired

"An exhilarating ride through neuroscience and town planning, evolutionary psychology and video-game design ... Johnson skilfully weaves together the growth of cities, the organization of protest movements, and the limits and strengths of the human brain." --J. G. Ballard, Daily Telegraph

"Mind-expanding ... intelligent, witty and tremendously thought-provoking ... full of surprises." --Chris Lavers, Guardian

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