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

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In the tradition of Being Digital and The Tipping Point, Steven Johnson, acclaimed as a "cultural critic with a poet's heart" (The Village Voice), takes readers on an eye-opening journey through emergence theory and its applications. Explaining why the whole is sometimes smarter than the sum of its parts, Johnson presents surprising examples of feedback, self-organization, In the tradition of Being Digital and The Tipping Point, Steven Johnson, acclaimed as a "cultural critic with a poet's heart" (The Village Voice), takes readers on an eye-opening journey through emergence theory and its applications. Explaining why the whole is sometimes smarter than the sum of its parts, Johnson presents surprising examples of feedback, self-organization, and adaptive learning. How does a lively neighborhood evolve out of a disconnected group of shopkeepers, bartenders, and real estate developers? How does a media event take on a life of its own? How will new software programs create an intelligent World Wide Web? In the coming years, the power of self-organization -- coupled with the connective technology of the Internet -- will usher in a revolution every bit as significant as the introduction of electricity. Provocative and engaging, Emergence puts you on the front lines of this exciting upheaval in science and thought.

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In the tradition of Being Digital and The Tipping Point, Steven Johnson, acclaimed as a "cultural critic with a poet's heart" (The Village Voice), takes readers on an eye-opening journey through emergence theory and its applications. Explaining why the whole is sometimes smarter than the sum of its parts, Johnson presents surprising examples of feedback, self-organization, In the tradition of Being Digital and The Tipping Point, Steven Johnson, acclaimed as a "cultural critic with a poet's heart" (The Village Voice), takes readers on an eye-opening journey through emergence theory and its applications. Explaining why the whole is sometimes smarter than the sum of its parts, Johnson presents surprising examples of feedback, self-organization, and adaptive learning. How does a lively neighborhood evolve out of a disconnected group of shopkeepers, bartenders, and real estate developers? How does a media event take on a life of its own? How will new software programs create an intelligent World Wide Web? In the coming years, the power of self-organization -- coupled with the connective technology of the Internet -- will usher in a revolution every bit as significant as the introduction of electricity. Provocative and engaging, Emergence puts you on the front lines of this exciting upheaval in science and thought.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    carol.

    Every now and then I start reading and realize "this book is going to change how I think." Its a little bit scary and a lot of bit exciting. While I know--I know--I picked this up because I thought it was about disease, Emergence has proved far more interesting and satisfying than I could hope. Emergence's premise is about networks and 'organized' behavior that develops from a lower-level to a more sophisticated one. In one sense, this is a very real snapshot of the history of thinking/science cap Every now and then I start reading and realize "this book is going to change how I think." Its a little bit scary and a lot of bit exciting. While I know--I know--I picked this up because I thought it was about disease, Emergence has proved far more interesting and satisfying than I could hope. Emergence's premise is about networks and 'organized' behavior that develops from a lower-level to a more sophisticated one. In one sense, this is a very real snapshot of the history of thinking/science captured in a book, no less pertinent for its publication date. We have been coming out of the ages of hierarchy and webs from how we explain and understand the universe, from biology to political systems. Now there is a new type of explanation. From looking at how disorganized individuals spring up into a larger, organized whole, he explains slime mold, ants selecting new colony sites, video games, and grassroots political revolutions. He is one of those rare science writers that sees across disciplines and speaks intelligibly about all of them.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chrissy

    In my mind I've split this book into two halves: the half that is severely fascinating, opening doors for me to think about emergence on new scales and inspiring me to contemplate how I could build a model of memory with the principle at its core-- memory as a decentralized, locally interconnected, self-organizing network of instances. I could do that. And I owe the complete absorption of my thoughts with the idea to Johnson and his fascinating first few chapters. The other half of the book is a In my mind I've split this book into two halves: the half that is severely fascinating, opening doors for me to think about emergence on new scales and inspiring me to contemplate how I could build a model of memory with the principle at its core-- memory as a decentralized, locally interconnected, self-organizing network of instances. I could do that. And I owe the complete absorption of my thoughts with the idea to Johnson and his fascinating first few chapters. The other half of the book is a reiteration of clever metaphors the author uses so persistently that they cease to be clever, a lacklustre tour of the tech industry in the early 2000's (filled with the embarrassing techno-web-whatever buzzwords that permeated the scene at the time), and a set of altogether too optimistic predictions for the internet, media, and emergence "by 2005". The four star rating is for that first half of the book, which I will pretend is the entire book. Johnson explores the phenomenon of emergence on scales as diverse as ant colonies, cities over centuries, the internet, news and media corporations, media consumption trends and communities, video games, and of course, the brain. The fifth star for the half of this book that I am treating as the imaginary whole was forfeited to bad, sloppy, lazy neuroscience. Infinitely more could have been done in this section, and done better, if the reader is to accept the proposition that the human brain is an example of emergence. Johnson flirts with Hofstadter-esque notions of consciousness, again sloppily, without ever getting up the balls to propose them outright. And then he just finishes and moves on. The single most interesting application of the idea of emergence: that for all our sense of a unified self controlling our thoughts and actions, we are little more than a colony of neurons connected on very local scales...... to which he devotes maybe 10 pages before talking for an entire chapter about Will Wright and the Sims games. The cognitivist core of my heart is sad and disappointed. But excited nevertheless. ONWARDS, TO MORE BOOKS ABOUT EMERGENCE!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Orton Family Foundation

    Some would call me indecisive, fickle, foolish, or a good candidate for Ritalin, given my tendency to engage in many disciplines at once. Even now, with a masters degree in environmental science, I am plotting an eventual return to school for an MFA, or MBA, or MEd, or perhaps just some PhDs. I prefer to think of myself as a generalist, however, in the great tradition of cockroaches, crabgrass, Leonardo DaVinci and Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Indeed, I love finding connections between elements as Some would call me indecisive, fickle, foolish, or a good candidate for Ritalin, given my tendency to engage in many disciplines at once. Even now, with a masters degree in environmental science, I am plotting an eventual return to school for an MFA, or MBA, or MEd, or perhaps just some PhDs. I prefer to think of myself as a generalist, however, in the great tradition of cockroaches, crabgrass, Leonardo DaVinci and Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Indeed, I love finding connections between elements as seemingly unrelated as spineless arthropods and politicians (though perhaps that’s not the best example), and in turn to connect those connections with important issues and strategies for change. Given my penchant for unusual logic, it was a no-brainer to revisit Steven Johnson’s Emergence: the connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software, published by Scribner Press in 2001. These organisms and objects do indeed have connected lives and relate as well to planning, community development, and citizen participation. The main connection, as the title suggests, is the concept of emergence, which Johnson defines as "what happens when you have a system of relatively simple-minded component parts—often there are thousands or millions of them—and they interact in relatively simple ways. And yet somehow out of all this interaction some higher level structure or intelligence appears, usually without any master planner calling the shots." Ants create colonies that thrive by taking on specialized tasks, though there is no top-down control or even pre-programmed genetic instruction on how to do so. The Internet has grown to include millions of independent sites and connections without any grand plan for development and management. Slime mold cells aimlessly slither across the forest floor until they all suddenly, inexplicably join together and form one superorganism. The millions, perhaps billions of species on earth continue to evolve and specialize—one generation, one organism, one cell, or even one protein at a time. The phenomenon of emergence is as old as the universe itself and as young as each new website, instance of mitosis, or human decision. As much as humans like to hold themselves above the laws of physics and nature, urban development and other sophisticated endeavors are a matter of emergence as well. “While actual cities are heavily shaped by top-down forces, such as zoning laws and planning commissions,” Johnson writes, “scholars have long recognized that bottom-up forces play a critical role in city formation, creating distinct neighborhoods and other unplanned demographic clusters… Like any emergent system, a city is a pattern in time.” In a sense, this theory bodes poorly for the planning field; we’ve worried for years that human skills and interactions may become obsolete with a rise in digital technology and robotics, but perhaps we will instead be replaced by a simple and ancient concept. If cities will self-construct, evolve, learn, and replicate without any help from master plans, government officials, zoning regulations and licensed planners (the horror!), then what good are visioning documents, charrettes, ballot initiatives, and public meetings? Resistance is futile, according to the wisdom of emergence and Star Trek, but could our tinkering go so far as to harm the development of communities we care so much about? It is indeed unlikely that we can excuse ourselves from a phenomenon shaping the universe and everything in it. We can use emergence to our advantage, however, if we act a little less like planners and more like 19th Century Augustinian monks. Gregor Mendel spent hours examining pea plants in his garden and eventually came to realize that we are all products of natural selection. Rather than attempting to subvert the process, Mendel (and generations to follow) instead adopted it and adjusted it to further their own purposes. Artificial selection first gave us sheep with extra wool, then hardy varieties of corn and wheat, and now fruit programmed to ripen and blush in coordination with shipping schedules. Johnson does not go into great depth on applications of emergence or the scientific and technical details behind it, but with a little creativity and commitment to systems thinking, we could begin to develop “artifical emergence” for the planning and citizen participation fields as web and software developers have done. Johnson says at the close of the book, “understanding emergence has always been about giving up control, letting the system govern itself as much as possible, letting it learn from the footprints.” If we can draw connections between the eBay community and our home towns, for example, we might develop a “community feedback” system to mirror the online “user feedback” system, which nearly-effortlessly improves the quality and consistency of eBay. If we can learn to see the similarities between ants and humans, we might find a way for cities to run and operate without the bureaucracy and top-down controls that dominate planning and management today. If we can stomach the idea that we are linked to slime mold, we might all learn to come together as well as the primitive cells that emerge as one from underneath our feet. Read more reviews by the Orton Family Foundation in our Scenarios e-journal at http://www.orton.org/resources/public... -Rebecca Sanborn Stone

  4. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    I enjoyed this book and then I didn’t. Emergence starts out as a field guide to the idea of emergence and how it crosses all kinds of disciplines. This is the best part. But the bulk of the book, written in Wired Magazine-style gee-whiz-techster prose, is devoted to computer programming and the author going on and on about what he thinks is and isn’t emergence. Tedious. Also, if any book could benefit from a thorough soaking in Austrian economics, this is it. Hayekian notions of dispersed inform I enjoyed this book and then I didn’t. Emergence starts out as a field guide to the idea of emergence and how it crosses all kinds of disciplines. This is the best part. But the bulk of the book, written in Wired Magazine-style gee-whiz-techster prose, is devoted to computer programming and the author going on and on about what he thinks is and isn’t emergence. Tedious. Also, if any book could benefit from a thorough soaking in Austrian economics, this is it. Hayekian notions of dispersed information, decentralized order, and relatively simple decisions by individuals (about prices of goods for example) giving rise to macro structures (like the flow of goods in and out of a city, regulated by no one) are emergent mechanisms! Johnson has little interest in econ, tho, beyond a few silly digs at libertarians and the favorable quoting of Naomi Klein. Sigh. Anything to keep one’s progressive bona fides intact, I guess. It’s too bad, because Johnson, something of a technocrat, keeps trying to shoehorn emergent orders into the central planner’s toolbox. I think he missed the point.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Henry

    More stuff emerges from the cloud of gas Sometimes the cloud turns into an insect Sometimes the insects turn into brains Sometimes the brains go to French raves

  6. 5 out of 5

    Anbu

    Once in a while i come across books that challenge you to think differently and connect the dots between seemingly unrelated subjects. This book is one among them. I like the way how ants, slime mold, cities and distributed software are related. I like the idea of how simple systems by following simple rules can become complex organized systems. It gives a good idea about how feedback loops will change or already changing the software industry and AI. One minor setback on the book is some storie Once in a while i come across books that challenge you to think differently and connect the dots between seemingly unrelated subjects. This book is one among them. I like the way how ants, slime mold, cities and distributed software are related. I like the idea of how simple systems by following simple rules can become complex organized systems. It gives a good idea about how feedback loops will change or already changing the software industry and AI. One minor setback on the book is some stories are really long - the chapter about cities and sidewalk.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ade Bailey

    See my brief review of "Complexity: the emerging science at the edge of order and chaos". This book began to flesh out for me the fascinating area of emergence as a phenomenon. This shows how individual items (e.g. ants) combine to make a super-organism that 'has a mind of its own', and how in our human lives such a thing as a city emerges as the product less of planning than of dynamic interaction. Recommended as a fertile introduction to complexity theory and emergence.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Mainstream media meets complex adaptive systems in this book. The publishing industry continues to fuel the growth of popular science with titles like Emergence. I'm all for the growth of science titles, but the price comes at the increase in the number of watered-down, easy-to-digest material you'll find in bookstores. With the explosion in books written on the topic of complex adaptive systems, I found it difficult to choose a single book in the category. With little restraint, I dove in. Emerg Mainstream media meets complex adaptive systems in this book. The publishing industry continues to fuel the growth of popular science with titles like Emergence. I'm all for the growth of science titles, but the price comes at the increase in the number of watered-down, easy-to-digest material you'll find in bookstores. With the explosion in books written on the topic of complex adaptive systems, I found it difficult to choose a single book in the category. With little restraint, I dove in. Emergence is a light, easy read devoted to describing systems that demonstrate adaptive behavior. The author sends significant time on contemporary systems such as the news media, the worldwide web, and large urban areas. On more than one occasion, the author appears to be reaching to make a conclusion. It's difficult to say whether he hadn't done the research or wanted the reader to draw his/her own conclusion. Nonetheless, Steven Johnson paints an abstract picture of systems that demonstrate a larger, collective set of smarts. Like most abstract art, some people will be inspired and others won't. I found the writing and subject matter interesting enough to keep my curiosity fueled to pick up another book on complex systems. If you approach Emergence with a mind-set of getting more art than science, you're less likely to be let down.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dan Pfeiffer

    Published in 2001 but still holds up well today in its discussion of the subject of emergence and self organization. It briefly touches on the possibilities of emergent patterns brought to bear on an expended layer of networked items such as appliances and their learned ability to "read minds" which results in some event or action to be taken. An idea more recently discussed the book, "Enchanted Objects." Sensor-driven networked objects will require self organizing system constructive abilities Published in 2001 but still holds up well today in its discussion of the subject of emergence and self organization. It briefly touches on the possibilities of emergent patterns brought to bear on an expended layer of networked items such as appliances and their learned ability to "read minds" which results in some event or action to be taken. An idea more recently discussed the book, "Enchanted Objects." Sensor-driven networked objects will require self organizing system constructive abilities to make sense of multitude of prescient or useless data they receive. We still have yet to see where this transformative technology will lead the us but the Pandora's box is already open. Just look at Fitbit. Of particular note is the Notes and Bibliography sections of the book which are very well documented and provide the reader with a multitude of background material for further investigation.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    The book tells a fascinating story of how systems emerge. Johnson presents a wide range of situations where complicated actions develop with no developer or planner leading the process. There are rules which form the basis of the productions. For example birds flying together with intricate moves do not have a leader. Johnson brings clarity to the emergence, although mysteries abound, with examples in our own brains and in our computers. He has a light and friendly touch as he evolves this tale.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Steve Diamond

    The first couple of chapters were well written and gave an interesting historical account of the antecedents of complexity theory. But when Johnson begins to cover more current research (and remember, this was published in 2001), the writing bogs down, becoming very repetitive and often pedestrian. By the time he gets to speculating about the future, near the end, it's not really worth reading. Except for some ungrounded flights of fancy, it doesn't get much beyond envisioning sites like Goodrea The first couple of chapters were well written and gave an interesting historical account of the antecedents of complexity theory. But when Johnson begins to cover more current research (and remember, this was published in 2001), the writing bogs down, becoming very repetitive and often pedestrian. By the time he gets to speculating about the future, near the end, it's not really worth reading. Except for some ungrounded flights of fancy, it doesn't get much beyond envisioning sites like Goodreads, only for music and videos.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    It's been quite a while since I read this, and I should probably queue it up for a re-read. But at the time I read it, it opened my mind to a lot of ideas that I was ready for, but hadn't quite known how to put together. It might even seem quaint and dated now, but this book, along with a few others like GEB, really put me on the track of investigations and readings I've been pursuing ever since. It was one of those books that I read and then closely scanned the bibliography to find out what els It's been quite a while since I read this, and I should probably queue it up for a re-read. But at the time I read it, it opened my mind to a lot of ideas that I was ready for, but hadn't quite known how to put together. It might even seem quaint and dated now, but this book, along with a few others like GEB, really put me on the track of investigations and readings I've been pursuing ever since. It was one of those books that I read and then closely scanned the bibliography to find out what else I should read. Thank you, Mr. Johnson.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul Barnes

    One of my all-time favourite books. The first, but similar to Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist" and Tim Harford's "Adapt", all of which have made clear to me the role of order emerging in a bottom-up, unplanned way. Great humility when I made my living at the time in corporate planning. Johnson, like Malcolm Gladwell,, Michael Lewis and Tim Harford is an expert at weaving knowledge into a great story, which really helps to make it stick.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I gave this book to my lab members shortly after it came out. A fascinating synthesis of ideas and examples that lead to a very powerful conclusion: highly complex phenomena can emerge from simple rules executed by multiple elements. A great read, and rich with implications for our lives and our world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I liked the book alot... but somehow I guess I was hoping for more than quick overviews of related topics and was looking for more in-depth details. Lots of good quotes though, and he mentioned many other books which have also now been added to my "to-read" shelf.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nathanimal

    He presses his finger to his temple, and raises a Spockish eyebrow: 'Hmmmm. Fascinating.'

  17. 4 out of 5

    Josh O'Berski

    The universe is a little like your brain which somewhat like a city which is kind of like ants which are a bit like slime mold which is not as insulting as it sounds.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Nabeel Hamdi in his book on development constantly refers to the idea of emergence, which he draws from this book by Steven Johnson. Another bit of pop science applied to the world and I wasn't too sure I wanted to read it. Somehow I was convinced by its shortness, and the blurb from J.G. Ballard - 'Exhilarating'. This is a bit Ballardian. Though it has no car crashes, sharp angles or sex symbol references. In August 2000, Toshiyuki Nakagaki announced he had trained slime mould to travel the faste Nabeel Hamdi in his book on development constantly refers to the idea of emergence, which he draws from this book by Steven Johnson. Another bit of pop science applied to the world and I wasn't too sure I wanted to read it. Somehow I was convinced by its shortness, and the blurb from J.G. Ballard - 'Exhilarating'. This is a bit Ballardian. Though it has no car crashes, sharp angles or sex symbol references. In August 2000, Toshiyuki Nakagaki announced he had trained slime mould to travel the fastest route through a maze. Pretty amazing. More amazing was that it turns out slime mould does not have a few cells that order all the rest around as had previously been assumed, but that given the right conditions, its components--often happily trawling about on their own doing what they do--each put out a call to join together and take advantage of opportunity and thus collectively do what they could not on their own. If you can use such human words to describe a very different process. Which you probably shouldn't. Just as you probably shouldn't use that process as more than a broad metaphor to think about how things other than slime mould work, especially things as complicated as human beings. So when this books was very broad I found it thought-provoking, and the narrower it got the higher my frustration. I did like the breadth of what it drew on, going from slime mould to ants to Engels writing about Manchester - and I liked that it provoked me to think something slightly new about this classic with a quote I hadn't noted in my own reading: I have never elsewhere seen a concealment of such fine sensibility of everything that might offend the eyes and nerves of the middle classes. And yet it is precisely Manchester that has been built less according to a plan and less within the limitations of official regulations--and indeed more through accident--than any other town. Still...I cannot help feeling that the liberal industrialists, the Manchester "bigwigs," are not altogether innocent of this bashful style of building. (37) But Engels went on with Marx to look at some of the things structuring this apparent accident, principally capitalism and the exploitative hierarchies it creates. How some of this emergent behaviour interlocks with these structures is what is actually what I find most interesting, and discussing 'emergence' as though this emerging takes place on a blank canvas rather than into a world of structural inequality and oppression which act to shape it is deeply problematic. I would like a dialectical understanding of such things, how horizontal emergence articulates with structure. Maybe changes it for the better. This book doesn't do that. The fact that it doesn't do that makes it possible for Johnson to note hopefully that Al Gore is a fan of complexity theory! And in the same paragraph to describe corporate mantras of bottom-up intelligence and also the organising of the radical antiglobalization movement protest movement. Isn't it all fascinating. The science stuff is fun though, like the fact that ant colonies follow a lifecycle over 15 years (well, Arizona carpenter ants do -- and I know those large bastards well with their amazing foraging lines that change every night, stripping a new plant of everything and leaving others alone). This, despite the fact no ant lives more than a year, thus the puzzle of: The persistence of the whole over time--the global behaviour that outlasts any of its component parts--is one of the defining characteristics of complex systems. Generations of ants come and go, and yet the colony itself matures, grows more stable, more organized. (82) This reminded me of the corruption and violence of the Yorkshire police in the Red Riding trilogy. But we are not ants. I like the fact that the Sim city game failed when the people were made too smart, instead they had to be dumbed down, fixated on one thing. Like ants. Sim city may play with a form of emergence, but it is still limited by programming and the extent of its programmers imaginations of what cities are. For most people, the sight of their first digital town sprouting upscale neighborhoods and chronically depressed slums is downright eerie, as though the hard math of the digital computer had somehow generated a life-form (88). That was slightly infuriating, but I was raging as he continued in that vein: Neighborhoods are themselves polycentric structures, born of thousands of local intersections, shapes forming within the city's larger shape. Like Gordon's ant colonies, or the cells of a developing embryo, neighborhoods are patterns in time. No one wills them into existence single-handedly; they emerge by a kind of tacit consensus : the artists go here, the investment bankers here, Mexican-Americans here, gays and lesbians here. The great preponderance of city dwellers live by these laws, without any legal authority mandating that compliance (91). I did my PhD on this shit, and the multitude of books that tear this thinking into pieces are easily found in the case of the U.S. How dare he ignore years of racial covenants, and discrimination of all kinds, the immense amount of hate and violence that has gone into disciplining people of colour and people of different sexualities into their own neighbourhoods where at least they can feel safe. Laws mandated compliance with racial segregation until 1953 in the US, the planning profession's obsession with homogeneity and separation of land-use has been policy for a hundred years, and unofficial policies and blatant discrimination still exist. We cannot forget the legacy of violence and issues with race and definitions of 'American' as white and etc. resulting from the conquest of the US and slavery that are even now being fought out in Ferguson and Baltimore and cities all over the country. There is a lot more wrong with this idea, but in a nutshell: patterns do naturally emerge, but American cities at least do not reflect any such 'natural' patterns arrived at through tacit consensus. The idea would be laughable if it did not write off and deeply insult centuries of struggle by people of colour, poor people, lbgtqi communities to live where they choose with some level of dignity. That still hasn't been won. This is why I hate using an idea emerging from slime mould, and other such biological marvels, to say 'this is how cities work.' To explain what is created by human beings. It simplifies and ignores what doesn't fit. Sadly our cities, our slums, our uprisings are all things we have actively created and fought over. When do I like playing with an idea such as emergence? When it does not seek to explain, but rather shifts our frame, maybe makes us see things in a different way. Notice what we hadn't before. When metaphor opens up insight. There are manifest purposes to a city...But cities have a latent purpose as well: to function as information storage and retrieval devices. Cities were creating user-friendly interfaces thousands of years before anyone even dreamed of digital computers. Cities bring minds together and put them into coherent slots. Cobblers gather near other cobblers...Ideas and goods flow readily within these clusters, leading to productive cross-pollination...The power unleashed by this data storage is evident in the earliest large-scale human settlements (108) Again, still a bit problematic in its simplifications, but the idea of the city as a giant centre of information storage and retrieval is quite cool, fun to play with and think about. I also liked the recognition that in studying communications and discourse these days, 'We need a third term beyond medium and message' (161). We need something that gets at how we are filtering things, accessing them. The web really has opened things wide up, but how are people being channeled, how do they figure out where to look and what is worth looking at? Near the end Johnson gets to the question of what this can do for politics. Same issues as raised by what this can do for cities -- things aren't just emerging onto a level playing field so how emergence deals with existing structures of domination is the real question. That what makes its embrace by the right-wing who are anti-big-government in everything but the monopoly of force, and by the radical left so different. In fact, the needs of most progressive movements are uniquely suited to adaptive, self-organizing systems: both have a keen ear for collective wisdom; both are naturally hostile to excessive concentrations of power; and both are friendly to change. For any movement that aims to be truly global in scope, making it almost impossible to rely on centralized power, adaptive self-organization may well be the only road available. (224) Possibly true, but the capacity of capitalism to co-opt so much demands of us much more of a stretch in our thinking about how this actually can create a positive change in the world that goes to scale.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Purposeful Tech

    From a book I am working on titled Elevating the Human Connection where I dedicate a section to this book (not a final draft)................. Emergent Connections In Steven Johnson’s book titled Emergence, Mr. Johnson uses the decentralized command structure of ant colonies to demonstrate his point on the value of emergent systems, detailing how ant colonies never receive instructions from the queen ant but rely entirely on each other through the sharing of chemical pheromones left by each ant. From a book I am working on titled Elevating the Human Connection where I dedicate a section to this book (not a final draft)................. Emergent Connections In Steven Johnson’s book titled Emergence, Mr. Johnson uses the decentralized command structure of ant colonies to demonstrate his point on the value of emergent systems, detailing how ant colonies never receive instructions from the queen ant but rely entirely on each other through the sharing of chemical pheromones left by each ant. Chemical breadcrumbs signaling threats and best opportunities to thwart invasions, store food, dispose of refuse, and find burial sites of other ants that best serve the community of ants. A collection of individuals working together to best serve the whole. Of course the human species is wildly more complicated than a colony of ants but the point is to look at the human connection through technology as an emergent system where all of the users are comprised of elements of what they create and consume. Each person offering their own perspective as each thought enters into the flow of information. No matter whether it is spoken, written, performed, read, watched, or listened to, these experiences carry the DNA of both the creator and the recipient with previous experiences encoding points of view in the exchange. Each thought or grouping of thoughts representing signals to associate an idea or action with something or someone else. Aligning these signals to serve the interests of those in the exchange is a balancing act of which the human condition rests on. When two hungry people approach a bush with poisonous berries with only one of them knowing the truth, one holds power over the other. This is the power of information or in this case the power of withholding it. In 1936, when the people of Germany watched Nazi propaganda films in theaters but were unaware of the death camps, the signal was biased with misinformation. When Goehring commissioned an increase in the production of radio receivers for the german population, the bias was amplified by extending the reach of misinformation, casting a wide net of rhetoric over millions of citizens hungry for change but unaware of the consequences. Technology playing to the emotions of the crowd. But what if at the time, Josef Mengele’s records on human experimentation were uncovered by one person who shared it with a victim's relative, who corroborated the finding with a trusted doctor who shared this with a community of professionals who appealed to members of the Reichstag before Hitler used legislative loopholes to force passage of the Enabling Act of 1933. An impossible undertaking before the arrival of the mobile connection but a worthy thought experiment to have of technology playing to the reason of the individual signaling others on the micromotives of the Third Reich. The queen ant taking a backseat to foot soldiers of relevance. In his book Emergence, Steven Johnson’s ends with “But understanding emergence has always been about giving up control, letting the system govern itself as much as possible, letting it learn from the footprints”. This is where I slightly depart, where smart systems can respond to smart signals of precedent, such as employing swarm logic to determine optimal traffic patterns, signals to follow to build human intelligence should come from connections the user works to build. Like a bricklayer laying a solid foundation or an artist crafting a fine painting, human effort should never be replaced by the logic? outside interests but the logic of the select resonating few. And this requires work. Technology can be the fulcrum but when a human push is no longer needed we may no longer be challenged to be needed.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Some of the ideas in this book can lead you so far down the rabbit hole you might not be able to return – at least, not return as the same person you were when you went in. On some level we can grasp the astonishing order-out-of-chaos phenomenon that is an ant hill or a termite mound. We can make the intellectual leap to cities and political movements organizing themselves from the bottom up. But can we see ourselves, our conscious minds, as little more than localized, semi-autonomous systems th Some of the ideas in this book can lead you so far down the rabbit hole you might not be able to return – at least, not return as the same person you were when you went in. On some level we can grasp the astonishing order-out-of-chaos phenomenon that is an ant hill or a termite mound. We can make the intellectual leap to cities and political movements organizing themselves from the bottom up. But can we see ourselves, our conscious minds, as little more than localized, semi-autonomous systems that just happened to come together temporarily to create the mysterious, and perhaps illusory, “I am”? It is like saying, “I get that electricity and magnetism are just two sides of the same thing; I can accept that matter and energy are likewise; but space and time are just different manifestations of relativistic reality? Whoa, that’s hard to wrap my mind around.” So, crawl down that rabbit hole, say hello to Alice and the gang, and learn why the Cheshire Cat smiles. There is a fractal-like self-symmetry as we move up the levels of abstraction from slime molds to beehives to human beings to collections of humans called cities to – well, who knows? Even if we cannot grasp the philosophical implications of self-organizing behavior, we can use them to our benefit, but when we insert ourselves into the process we end up with worse outcomes. A good example is cities: left to themselves they could self-organize into optimal configurations, but we never allow that to happen. Instead, prejudice and self-interest warp development, suboptimizing the end result. One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was Friedrich Engels’ observations about the city of Manchester. He saw how, without any top-down planning, it had self-sorted itself into multiple districts, for tradesmen, banking, government, and residential (rich and poor). He and Marx viewed this through the prism of end-stage capitalism oppressing the workers, who would soon rise up to overthrow their masters and bring forth the next stage of human development, socialism. Marx and Engels were constrained by their world view, and could only see human development in terms of the (to them) inevitable progression of mankind from slavery through feudalism, capitalism, socialism, and finally, the “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” workers’ paradise of communism. Modern readers are not limited to Marx’s pseudo-scientific historical imperatives, and can see the world as he could not. What if all those stages of human development were just different manifestations of blind self-organization, each stage optimized for its time and technology? How different would history have been if Marx had been able to see them as necessary, transitory, and with absolutely no pre-ordained teleological end state? Once you accept the notion of self-organization you start to see it everywhere, and wonder how those systems work and what they are evolving into. You also start to think about the external forces acting on them and whether, in attempting to make things better, they are just making a mess of everything. All of this is packed into the first half of the book, which is good, because the second half is not very good. It was like the author had one great idea to get out, but it wasn’t enough to fill a book, so his agent told him to keep writing. The rest of the book reads like a collection of short articles on early twenty-first century technology trends and predictions, most of which have not aged well. So, it is definitely worth reading, at least the first half. It presents a powerful idea in a non-technical manner, and helps the reader understand some of the complex systems that run the world.

  21. 5 out of 5

    B. Rule

    Johnson selects really interesting topics for his books. Both this and his book on neuroscience, "Mind Wide Open", are about fundamentally important and fascinating subjects with far-reaching implications. However, in both cases, the finished product remains somewhat dissatisfying. This volume starts with a lot of promise, as Johnson describes the results of emergence in various contexts, like ant colonies, slime mold aggregation, the organic growth of cities, SimCity, and neuroscience. I got exc Johnson selects really interesting topics for his books. Both this and his book on neuroscience, "Mind Wide Open", are about fundamentally important and fascinating subjects with far-reaching implications. However, in both cases, the finished product remains somewhat dissatisfying. This volume starts with a lot of promise, as Johnson describes the results of emergence in various contexts, like ant colonies, slime mold aggregation, the organic growth of cities, SimCity, and neuroscience. I got excited because I expected this was a prelude to a formal description of emergence or at least a sketch of how emergence generally operates. I remained largely disappointed. Johnson tosses off a few high-level signifiers of emergence (simple behaviors enhanced by local feedback, positive feedback loops, complexity, random encounters, pattern detection, etc.), but he does little work to tease out a detailed anatomy of emergence. His examples are all interesting but the explanation often consists of "that's a complex system without a pacemaker but order emerges; how about that!". He's providing descriptions, not explanations, and not very detailed ones at that. The book grows progressively worse as it goes along, with the feedback loop of Johnson's breezy anecdotalism magnified into an increasingly frustrating pile-on of examples gleaned from whichever scientist would talk to him about their projects, or whichever books he's read recently. We get little snippets on mirror neurons, on the development of theory of mind in children (apparently happens between 3 and 4 years of age), and on the spat between Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford on the theories set forth in her "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". Most of this stuff is interesting but not insightful. I began to despair as it became apparent that no deep theory of emergence would emerge from Johnson's account. I do have to give credit to this book for arousing my curiosity. It was fun to think about emergence and how disparate systems produce order from chaos. Trying to catalog the similarities behind emergent systems is a useful exercise while reading through the case studies here, even if Johnson won't do the heavy lifting for you. It's also funny to read this 20 years later, as many of Johnson's prognostications on the future of the internet are laughable, but many are actually quite spot-on in terms of algorithmic learning, the fragmentation of news and advertising feeds, and the curating of individual online experiences through feedback loops generated by massive datasets of aggregate choices. Johnson saw something coming, even if he couldn't know the details.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    Read with a 15+ year retrospective, Johnson's 2001 predictions are sometimes amusing and more often strangely prescient. He's more or less right on everything from the future of TV ("The entertainment world will self-organize into clusters of shared interest, created by software that tracks usage patterns...") and news ("The Daily Me ... compiled by tracking the interests and reading habits of millions of other humans."), to the polarization of public opinion and the sensationalization of media Read with a 15+ year retrospective, Johnson's 2001 predictions are sometimes amusing and more often strangely prescient. He's more or less right on everything from the future of TV ("The entertainment world will self-organize into clusters of shared interest, created by software that tracks usage patterns...") and news ("The Daily Me ... compiled by tracking the interests and reading habits of millions of other humans."), to the polarization of public opinion and the sensationalization of media (which raised in my mind the question of whether applying Slashdot-style moderation on a wider scale could take care of fringe elements on the Web, or just make them more obnoxious). The book is also a nostalgic trip back in time to when I first dove onto the world of technology. Remember TiVo, Napster, and Bill Clinton's sex scandals? They're all here! Do I recommend reading it? Not unless you're particularly interested in the field of emergence or machine learning and you want that look back at where we came from. It would have been a good book back in 2001, if a bit too ponderous and contrived at times (hard to take seriously passages about "revolutionary" websites or video games that no one remembers 15 years on).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stefan

    One of these books that will get you introduced to an idea and hooked on a particular subject and which you can forget thereafter. As of early (2017) the perception of the emergence phenomenon re-emerged, probably due to a buzz around AI and big data (after all aren’t we all now playing role of agents in a self-amplifying system?). Hence, going over a bit chatty, repetitive and at places patchy and rather shallow coverage of ants colonies, genetic programming, evolution, urban planning, language One of these books that will get you introduced to an idea and hooked on a particular subject and which you can forget thereafter. As of early (2017) the perception of the emergence phenomenon re-emerged, probably due to a buzz around AI and big data (after all aren’t we all now playing role of agents in a self-amplifying system?). Hence, going over a bit chatty, repetitive and at places patchy and rather shallow coverage of ants colonies, genetic programming, evolution, urban planning, language and even consciousness in context of the emergence (as of 2001) isn’t probably going to be the best utilisation of your time. It’s the second book by Steven Johnson that leaves me with such a feeling (other being Everything Bad Is Good for You). I guess, that’s the nature of journalist work vs. a scientist sitting down to write a book on a subject em is expert at. Even doing a quick search one would discover that strangely the books doesn’t cover works of Hartmann nor Corning (seems crucial whilst covering emergency phenomenon). Strangely, as it seems that Steven was down to speak to AI specialist, there is no mention of boids - Craig Reynolds’ simulation of flocking behaviour of birds, etc. All in all, I guess, that I need to read the “Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos” by Waldrop or something else from splendid bibliography that Steven put together (hence 3 vs 2 stars given) and then move into something a bit more concrete / modern on the subject (from brain internals to genetic programming).

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (Paperback) by Steven Johnson from the library from the library computer: Table of Contents Introduction: Here Comes Everybody! PART ONE The Myth of the Ant Queen PART TWO Street Level The Pattern Match Listening to Feedback Control Artist PART THREE The Mind Readers See What Happens Notes Bibliography Acknowledgments Index Booklist Reviews Johnson makes sense of the cutting-edge theory of emergence, exploring the ways intell Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (Paperback) by Steven Johnson from the library from the library computer: Table of Contents Introduction: Here Comes Everybody! PART ONE The Myth of the Ant Queen PART TWO Street Level The Pattern Match Listening to Feedback Control Artist PART THREE The Mind Readers See What Happens Notes Bibliography Acknowledgments Index Booklist Reviews Johnson makes sense of the cutting-edge theory of emergence, exploring the ways intelligent systems are built from small, unintelligent elements without control from above. Johnson is a journalist for an online magazine; emergence is being touted as the coming paradigm for the Internet. Johnson discerns emergent qualities on the Internet by using analogies from the biological world, so it is with the world of slime molds and ant colonies that Johnson repairs to report on people who have teased out rules of emergence. Entomologist Deborah Gordon tells him about the iterative acts of ants that produce the meta-behavior of colonies in Arizona (a reprise for readers of her Ants at Work, 1999). Cities also exhibit emergence, with Johnson reminding us of what Engels wrote about Manchester and Jane Jacobs about New York in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). From these and other examples, such as the popular computer game SimCity, the Web site eBay, or a cyber-community called slashdot.com, Johnson generalizes five rules of "bottom-up" behavior in self-organizing systems. A lively snapshot of current trends. ((Reviewed July 2001))Copyright 2001 Booklist Reviews Kirkus Reviews A lucid presentation of emergence theory-the way decentralized thinking allows for cannily effective self-organization-from Feed editor-in-chief Johnson (Interface Culture, not reviewed)."The movement from low-level rules to higher-level sophistication is what we call emergence," writes Johnson, explaining that local, parallel, cumulatively complex interactions result in some kind of discernable macrobehavior. And that behavior, if adaptive, has the distinctive quality of growing smarter over time. One needn't be conscious or aware of the process, either, argues Johnson: if learning is considered the absorption and retrieval of information, then, for instance, the topography of a city qualifies as emergent behavior. An ant colony is another good example, where the ants as agents produce behavior that allows for a step in the direction of higher organization-from ants to colonies. Johnson's clarity is a boon when it comes to explaining such ideas as swarm logic and the way phenomena like critical mass, ignorance, random encounters, pattern recognition, and local attentiveness result in a collective phenomena of remarkable elegance organized from below, without the dubious benefits of hierarchy. Emergence is nothing new, Johnson notes-surely the way in which the guilds organized themselves in 12th-century Florence is an example, let alone how the cells in our bodies act the way they do, for better or worse-but we are now simply recognizing it as a quiet, generative force working in theaters ranging from the slime mold (dissolving and regrouping upon signals from the molecular level) to the negative-positive feedback loops that self-govern sites on the Internet. Examples abound, and Johnson reaps them everywhere, from software design to CNN, where the common pool of news has allowed local networks to choose their own programming, subverting the mother network's dominance.Thought-provoking-and deeply appealing to the inner iconoclast.Copyright Kirkus 2001 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved Publishers Weekly Reviews To have the highly touted editor of a highly touted Web culture organ writing about the innate smartness of interconnectivity seems like a hip, winning combination unless that journal becomes the latest dot-com casualty. Feed, of which Johnson was cofounder and editor-in-chief, recently announced it was shuttering its windows, which should make for a less exuberant launch for his second bricks-and-mortar title, following 1997's Interface Culture. Yet the book's premise and execution make it compelling, even without the backstory. In a paradigmatic example here, ants, without leaders or explicit laws, organize themselves into highly complex colonies that adapt to the environment as a single entity, altering size and behavior to suit conditions exhibiting a weird collective intelligence, or what has come to be called emergence. In the first two parts of the book, Johnson ranges over historical examples of such smart interconnectivity, from the silk trade in medieval Florence to the birth of the software industry and to computer programs that produce their own software offspring, or passively map the Web by "watching" a user pool. Johnson's tone is light and friendly, and he has a journalistic gift for wrapping up complex ideas with a deft line: "you don't want one of the neurons in your brain to suddenly become sentient." In the third section, which bears whiffs of '90s exuberance, Johnson weighs the impact of Web sites like Napster, eBay and Slashdot, predicting the creation of a brave, new media world in which self-organizing clusters of shared interests structure the entertainment industry. The wide scope of the book may leave some readers wanting greater detail, but it does an excellent job of putting the Web into historical and biological context, with no dot.com diminishment. (Sept. 19) Forecast: All press is good press, so the failure of Feed at least makes a compelling hook for reviews, which should be extensive. A memoir of the author's Feed years can't be far behind, but in the meantime this should sell solidly, with a possible breakout if Johnson's media friends get behind it fully. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. The Wisdom of Crowds

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chet

    Considering that ants acting on their own appear to have intelligence when observed as a colony, emergence is when actions on a small level emerge as another concept when observed on a higher scale. The author applies this to human cities where merchants acting on their own appear to create cities that were organized in a certain way, and do games like SimCity emulate this? Considering that intelligence emerges from billions of tiny human neurons, will computer intelligence also emergence from b Considering that ants acting on their own appear to have intelligence when observed as a colony, emergence is when actions on a small level emerge as another concept when observed on a higher scale. The author applies this to human cities where merchants acting on their own appear to create cities that were organized in a certain way, and do games like SimCity emulate this? Considering that intelligence emerges from billions of tiny human neurons, will computer intelligence also emergence from billions of tiny transistors? Is empathy and anticipated actions related to this? The author shows how to apply Ant Colony Optimization to the Traveling Salesman Problem, and I was hoping that he would address other Soft Computing (emergence) algorithms such as Self Organizing Maps, Swarm Intelligence, Genetic Algorithms, and Artificial Immune Systems. Even without these, he still did a great job exploring the concept of emergence.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dolly

    I put this book on my to-read list almost five years ago and I'm just now getting to it. It really goes to show how fast technology and information changes, as I noticed several dated bits of information throughout. Some of the technology references, such as Simcity and Zelda are almost nostalgic at this point, but his points are still valid, and perhaps even more so today. The narrative is very readable and although the author gets quite technical in parts, I thought it was fairly easy to under I put this book on my to-read list almost five years ago and I'm just now getting to it. It really goes to show how fast technology and information changes, as I noticed several dated bits of information throughout. Some of the technology references, such as Simcity and Zelda are almost nostalgic at this point, but his points are still valid, and perhaps even more so today. The narrative is very readable and although the author gets quite technical in parts, I thought it was fairly easy to understand his points. I enjoyed the scientific explanation for self-organizing and emergent systems and I can see how these are very common today, even here on Goodreads. I love his discussion about bottom-up inputs creating order and design. Overall, I thought of this book as more of a historical perspective, and I realize how quickly books about technology get out of date. I will certainly look for more recent books on this topic at our local library. interesting quotes: [regarding self-organizing systems] "What features do all these systems have? In the simplest terms, they solve problems by drawing on masses of relatively stupid elements, rather than a single, intelligent 'executive branch.' They are bottom-up systems, not top-down. They get their smarts from below. In a more technical language, they are complex adaptive systems that display emergent behavior. In these systems, agents residing on one scale start producing behavior that lies one scale above them: ants create colonies; urbanites create neighborhoods; simple pattern-recognition software learns how to recommend new books. The movement from low-level rules to higher-level sophistication is what we call emergence." (p. 18) "Our minds may be wired to look for pacemakers, but we are steadily learning how to think from the bottom up." (p. 67) "Ants and termites make up 30 percent of the Amazonian rain forest biomass. With nearly ten thousand known species, ants rival modern humans in their global reach: the only large landmasses free of ant natives are Antarctica, Iceland, Greenland, and Polynesia." (p.73) "Local turns out to be the key term in understanding the power of swarm logic. We see emergent behavior in systems like ant colonies when the individual agents in the system pay attention to their immediate neighbors rather than wait for orders from above. They think locally and act locally, but their collective action produces global behavior." (p. 74) "If you're building a system designed to learn from the ground level, a system where macrointelligence and adaptability derive from local knowledge, there are five fundamental principles you need to follow. Gordon's harvester ants showcase all of them at work: More is different Ignorance is useful Encourage random encounters Look for patterns in the signs Pay attention to your neighbors" (pp. 77-79) [attributed to Matt Ridley] "The great beauty of embryo development, the bit that human beings find so hard to grasp, is that it is a totally decentralized process. Since every cell in the body carries a complete copy of the genome, no cell need wait for instructions from authority; every cell can act on its own information and the signals it receives from its neighbors." (p. 86) "Metropolitan space may habitually be pictured in the form of skylines, but the real magic of city living comes from below." (p. 92) "Perceived at that scale, the success of the urban superorganism might well be the single most momentous global event of the past few centuries: until the modern era less than 3 percent of the world's population lived in communities of more than five thousand people; today, half the planet lives in urban environments." (p. 99) "This is the oft-noted paradox of the Web: the more information that flows into its reservoirs, the harder it becomes to find any single piece of information in that sea." (p. 117) [attributed to Ray Kurzweil] "Humans are far more skilled at recognizing patterns than in thinking through logical combinations, so we rely on this aptitude for almost all of our mental processes. Indeed, pattern recognition comprises the bulk of our neural circuitry. These faculties make up for the extremely slow speed of human neurons." (p. 127) "Without that negative feedback pulling our circadian rhythms back into sync, we'd find ourselves sleeping through the day for two weeks of every month." (p. 140) [regarding people from Generation Y and after] "I think they've developed another skill, one that almost look like patience: they are more tolerant of being out of control, more tolerant of that exploratory phase where the rules don't all make sense, and where few goals have been clearly defined. In other words, they are uniquely equipped to embrace the more oblique control system of emergent software." (pp. 176-177) "Autism, the argument goes, stems from an inability to project outside one's own head and imagine the mental life of others. And yet autistics regularly fare well on many tests of general intelligence and often display exceptional talents at math and pattern recognition. Their disorder is not a disorder of lowered intellect. Rather, autistics lack a particular skill, the way others lack the faculty of sight or hearing. They are mind blind." (p. 199) "CEOs still have a place in even the most distributed corporate structure, but they're no longer allowed to be pacemakers." (pp. 223-224) new words: senescence, bromides, paeans, noosphere, tropes

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ted Smith

    I disliked this book because I considered it a weak argument for a concept that was never satisfyingly defined. In addition, the author lacks domain expertise in a number of areas that lead to some rather hilarious misunderstandings. In particular, the author does not understand the concept of determinism with respect to a random seed. Given that this is rather critical in all of the software concepts mentioned, it undermines his thesis dramatically. Honorably, the author makes several quantifie I disliked this book because I considered it a weak argument for a concept that was never satisfyingly defined. In addition, the author lacks domain expertise in a number of areas that lead to some rather hilarious misunderstandings. In particular, the author does not understand the concept of determinism with respect to a random seed. Given that this is rather critical in all of the software concepts mentioned, it undermines his thesis dramatically. Honorably, the author makes several quantified predictions about the near-term future, all of which are incorrect. Next time, Mr. Johnson.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jodie

    A very interesting read about how certain types of complicated systems behave in unexpectedly intelligent ways. I enjoyed but didn’t enjoy having the same point explained several times before moving on. Each point had to be explained two or three times in different analogy’s in case the we hadn’t understood the first time round. I understand the author wanting to make sure as much as his readers understood his points as possible but I think he overdid it a little. Overall, very interesting but b A very interesting read about how certain types of complicated systems behave in unexpectedly intelligent ways. I enjoyed but didn’t enjoy having the same point explained several times before moving on. Each point had to be explained two or three times in different analogy’s in case the we hadn’t understood the first time round. I understand the author wanting to make sure as much as his readers understood his points as possible but I think he overdid it a little. Overall, very interesting but be prepared to skim.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Angie

    Hopelessly out of date, of course, but still a well-written and interesting snapshot of emergence theory in 2001. It actually still applies in many ways and was forward-looking. And it reminded me of a few things I had forgotten about the 1990s and a few things I hadn't known. For instance, he focuses in one story on Alexa Internet, an early system for recording activity online and predicting preferences -- acquired by Amazon in 1999, the same year they started allowing customers to rate the rev Hopelessly out of date, of course, but still a well-written and interesting snapshot of emergence theory in 2001. It actually still applies in many ways and was forward-looking. And it reminded me of a few things I had forgotten about the 1990s and a few things I hadn't known. For instance, he focuses in one story on Alexa Internet, an early system for recording activity online and predicting preferences -- acquired by Amazon in 1999, the same year they started allowing customers to rate the reviews of other customers... All in all pretty enjoyable.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hannamari

    An intriquingly poetic non-fiction pointing out the repeating ”emergent” patterns across multiple structures from cities to software and ant colonies, and explaining why the whole can be smarter than the sum of its parts. This book is still relevant (though the tech talk was definitely outdated) with software eating the world and self-organising companies being the hype. I would have liked a deeper dive into the emergence theory though.

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