Reviews in brief

July 16, 1999

HYPERWARS: 11 Strategies for Survival and Profit in the Era of On-line Business. By Bruce Judson, with Kate Kelly. HarperCollins Business, 240pp Pounds 14.99 - ISBN 0 00 257094 7

Bruce Judson was one of the creators of Time-Warner's Pathfinder website, the big-money, content-aggregating site dismantled a few months ago when its parent corporation gave up throwing money into its black hole. Of course, Judson didn't know this when he wrote Hyperwars, but it might not have mattered: the book is full of sound advice and business strategies .

THE AGE OF SPIRITUAL MACHINES: How We Will Live, Work, and Think in the New Age of Intelligent Machines. By Ray Kurzweil. Orion Business Books, 400pp, Pounds 18.99 - ISBN 0 75282 0788

Ray Kurzweil is a legend in artificial intelligence; he's made significant contributions to natural language processing and designed the first text-to-speech machine for the blind. Here, he considers the future of computing and tries to pin down the point at which artificial intelligence might become human. It is not, as he explains, drawing on every type of human discipline from philosophy and religion to mathematics, an easy question. We know animals are alive, but if we deny them consciousness or emotions, they, like robots, are only machines.

INFORMATION DESIGN. Edited by Robert Jacobson. MIT Press, 373pp, Pounds 24.50 - ISBN 0262 10069 X

Bob Jacobson has a long history of involvement in virtual reality and interface design, as do other contributors to this book such as Jef Raskin, co-creator of the Apple Macintosh.This intriguing book brings together a group of essays on information design, a discipline we need quickly if today's mass of information is to be transformed into anything useful. It's not about whizzy programming or fancy graphics: as developer Simon Birrell writes, the most important thing about a teapot in cyberspace is that it makes tea.

INFORMATION ECOLOGIES: Using Technology with Heart. By Bonnie A. Nardi and Vicki L. O'Day. MIT Press, 246pp Pounds 19.50 - ISBN 0 262 14066 7

If there's one thing that isn't popular these days, it's taking a rational stance about technology: you're either supposed to be a gung-ho hypester or a Luddite. Here, an anthropologist and a computer scientist team up as "critical friends of technology" to argue that we can make thoughtful decisions about how technology should be implemented. They believe that the best way to benefit from technology and avoid being overtaken by it and the culture of "inevitability" that surrounds it is to engage with it locally, in situations such as libraries and schools.

Wendy Grossman

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