The Tech That Failed

January 18, 2010

Dan Tynan had a nice piece in InfoWorld here detailing six technologies that were once widely touted to “change everything” but have failed to live up to their hype. This illustrates the stubborn tendency of humans to make predictions even though the evidence for our ability to do this accurately is abysmal. Tynan’s Top 6 are:

  1. Artificial Intelligence
  2. Computer-aided software engineering
  3. Thin client computing
  4. Enterprise resource planning systems
  5. Business to Business Internet Marketplaces
  6. Enterprise Social Media

Ken Auletta’s recent book, Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, may be redundant given the number of books already published on the subject; it certainly has one of the most short-sighted titles ever given a business biography. It’s as if Mr. Auletta equates a search-engine based Web 2.0 company with the discovery of fire, or perhaps electricity.

Every business book writer today aspires to be Malcolm Gladwell and this sort of title inflation is, I think, a symptom of that understandable desire.

But his conclusion — in the form of the classic journalistic thumb-sucker “on the one hand this, on the other hand that” — dovetails nicely with Mr. Tynan’s analysis.

“Google appears to be well positioned for the foreseeable future, but it is worth remembering that few companies maintain their dominance. At one point, few thought the Big Three auto companies would ever falter — or the three television networks or AT&T, IBM or AOL.  For companies with histories of serious missteps — Apple, IBM — it was difficult to imagine that they’d rebound, until they did.”

In my view Opinions and Predictions are among the least productive of all human imaginings and I predict that in 2011 everyone will come to agree with my opinion on this.

Rare Color Photo of Beatles, circa 1957

January 18, 2010

Click on image for larger size.

Winter Anaglyphs

January 14, 2010

Click on images for larger size.

“Magic and Sadism” — George Orwell on Comic Books, July 21, 1945

January 11, 2010

Recently a friend of mine in America sent me a batch of ten-cent illustrated papers of the kind that are known generically as “comics” and consist entirely of coloured strip cartoons. Although bearing such titles as Marvel Comics or Famous Funnies, they are, in fact, mainly given over to “scientifiction” — that is, steel robots, invisible men, prehistoric monsters, death rays, invasions from Mars, and such-like.

Seen in the mass these things are very disquieting. Quite obviously they tend to stimulate fantasies of power, and in the last resort their subject matter boils down to magic and sadism. You can hardly look at a page without seeing somebody flying through the air (a surprising number of the characters are able to fly), or somebody socking somebody else on the jaw, or an under-clad young woman fighting for her honour — and her ravisher is just as likely to be a steel robot or a fifty-foot dinosaur as a human being. The whole thing is just a riot of nonsensical sensationalism, with none of the genuine scientific interest of the H.G. Wells stories from which this class of fiction originally sprang.

Who reads these papers is uncertain. Evidently they are intended primarily for children, but the advertisements and the ever-present sex appeal suggest that they are read by adults as well.

— George Orwell, July 21, 1945, Leader Magazine

In Search of Memory — documentary film of Eric Kandel’s life work

January 11, 2010

We’ve written before about memory scientist Eric Kandel here and are thrilled to learn that a documentary about his life and work has been made.  Read A. O. Scott’s review in the New York Times, “Total Recall: A Journey from Vienna to Brooklyn and the Center of the Brain” here. I look forward to seeing it and will report on it as soon as I do.

NY Times review of “The Faith Instinct” by Nicholas Wade

January 2, 2010

Judith Shulevitz’s review of The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures by Nicholas Wade in the New York Times had three sentences that, for me, captured the essence of the debate over religion:

Why are our gods always equipped with recognizably human minds, even when they’re animals? How do sacred stories differ, if they do, from fairy tales, or from novels? What are holiness, impurity and ritual, exactly, and are they religious in essence, or categories implicated in everything we think and do?

She also references cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer’s excellent Religion Explained. Amazon says of it, “Readers who can lay aside their biases will find great rewards here; Boyer’s wide scholarship and knack for elegant writing are reasons enough for reading his book.” I found his approach to a very divisive subject to be patient and methodical. (In stark contrast to the combative assault of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, another highly recommended work).

Boyer looks at both the psychology and the evolution of religion. When he does his comparative religion analysis he points out that there are patterns to religious belief. For example, no culture has conceived or, if you prefer, recorded interaction with a god that is all knowing who forgets everything he knows every 5 minutes (like the memory damage suffered by the protagonist in the film Memento).

He also looks at the transmission of religious belief from one generation to the next in a way that suggests Dawkin’s concept of the ‘meme,’ a discrete bit of information (a ritual, a catch phrase, a concept) that successfully multiples in the culture. Think of the ‘viral videos’ on You Tube and the endless stream of alleged ‘jokes’ and ‘weird pictures’ that flood your email inbox.

Of course, there are many who will reject the notion of any analysis of religion on grounds that the supernatural is verboten to rational investigators. Think ‘mystery,’ think ‘faith,’ think  ‘it’s not for us to understand the mind of god, whether Odin, Zeus or Muhammad.’ God as Fu Manchu: inscrutable. . .

That gods and spirits are construed very much like persons is probably one of the best-known traits of religion. Indeed, the Greeks had already noticed that people create gods in their own image. . . All this is familiar, indeed so familiar that for a long time anthropologists forgot that this propensity requires an explanation. Why then are gods and spirits so much like humans? — Pascal Boyer

Can I also ask, why do ghosts wear clothes? I have a soul, supposedly. Alright, it was free and, in my case, very low maintenance. It’s immortal, cool! I can come back and annoy the living, double- cool! But do my jeans and sneakers have souls too? Why does my T-shirt come with me in the After Life?

« Previous Page