As lives offline and online merge, it's easy to forget how we got here. Rise of the Machines reclaims the story of cybernetics, a control theory of man and machine. Thomas Rid delivers a portrait of our technology-enraptured era.
Springing from mathematician Norbert Wiener amid the devastation of World War II, the cybernetic vision underpinned a host of myths about the future of machines. This vision radically transformed the postwar world, ushering in sweeping cultural change. Cybernetics triggered cults, the Whole Earth Catalog, and feminist manifestos just as it fueled martial gizmos and the air force's foray into virtual space.
As Rid shows, cybernetics proved a powerful tool for two competing factions - those who sought to make a better world and those who sought to control the one at hand. In the Bay Area, techno-libertarians embraced networked machines as the portal to a new electronic frontier. In Washington, DC, cyberspace provided the perfect theater for dominance and war. That "first cyberwar" went on for years - and indeed has never stopped. In our cybernetic future, the line between utopia and dystopia continues to be disturbingly thin.
©2016 Thomas Rid (P)2016 Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books
"Rise of the Internet: A cultural history" would have been more appropriate for a title. The first few chapters on the anti aircraft system used in the Second World War was enlightening and got me excited about the rest of the book. Sadly, instead of talking about industrial automation, Cold War technology and drone strikes, all talks about the "machines" stopped.
The rest of the book was a short history of counterculture, subversion, libertarianism, LSD, encryption, digital money, and hacking. It was a big departure from cybernetics, which implies the interaction between software and HARDWARE (i.e. The MACHINES). There was an interesting bit about Russians hacking the US in the late 90s but the author didn't take it past 2001, and it was about stealing data, rather than about controlling systems and machines. He could have talked about Stuxnet but he didn't.
A pretty disappointing book which started out strong but immediately just turned into another copy and paste job. 5 stars for the WWII info. The rest of the material in the middle can be found on Wikipedia. The book clearly suffers from his limited range of knowledge. It's as if he wrote this book in his 15th year of retirement.
l'enfer c'est les autres
This book deserves to be read and not ignored as this one seems to be. To understand where we are going sometimes one must first understand how we got there.
The author uses a chronological approach by decade and seamlessly ties each of the stories together as if he is a writing a brilliant work of fiction with an overriding narrative leading to a beautiful quilt made of many different tapestries.
He starts the story within WW II and the necessity for an artillery gun to anticipate the movement of manned airplanes and takes the listener through many other excursions such as L. Ron Hubbard and Dianetics (and Scientology), Ashbey's Homeostasis contraption (a complicated machine that was said to be alive because of it's innate ability to reach complex state of equilibrium after systematic perturbations, a fascinating story and well told), LSD and Timothy Leary, Psycho Cybernetics (a book in almost everyone's house for all of the 1970s), The Whole Earth Catalog, "The Monkey's Paw Story" (you can watch a version on Youtube) and the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" and how they relate to our cybernetic advancements, PGP (Pretty Good Privacy, the default standard for encryption), and many other fascinating stories all seamlessly woven together.
The author does an amazing job of weaving the stories as a coherent whole and also does a summary chapter explaining how all the pieces fit together. Not to spoil it for the listener, but his theme is along the lines that humans first use tools (such as a peg leg on a pirate or a club in the hands of the baseball player) and slowly makes the tools interact more "magically" with the human, then the next step is the machine itself became the tool, and then the "network is the computer" (not his words, but a slogan from the 90s for Sun Microsystem that seems appropriate) and finally the community itself becomes completely connected and tends towards an organic system as a whole.
Overall, a fine book and deserves to have a larger audience than what it seems to be achieving, and is more satisfying than most of the recent pop science books I've been reading lately.
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