Mstation Book Reviews
Valid RSS pre Dec 04 reviews are here

Mon, 04 Jul 2005

Electronic Brains

Mike Hally, Electronic Brains: stories from
the dawn of the computer age,

This was originally a radio series broadcast by the BBC and this book is an enlargement of the script into a series of stories that cover the USA, UK, Russia, and Australia. As we go through there is a quest to see who was first.

It's not just about the machines though. There is a fair bit of context as well to give us a greater feel for what was happening and we make our way around the world following the realpolitik of the World Wars and the Cold War and the personalities who range from inspired dreamer to cut throat business people -- as it ever was.

One of the interesting things is the juxtaposition of the clueless of that time with the globalists of today: if you miss out on a technology boat, it hardly matters because of the movement of bits between various parts of the world. If your homegrown companies are all taken over by a foreign behemoth, who should worry? Yes, well, we don't deal with the Alfred E. Newmans (Mad magazine!) of the world further except to say ... oh, you know, what Will Robinson's robot said.

So anyway, there is a fair balance of the clueless and the cluefull in the book and it all makes very entertaining reading.

The only thing I found annoying was the dismissal of Turing as being too aiery-faery (not a quote from the book) to be of relevance to these wrench-whirlers. Perhaps he wasn't a direct influence on the mechanical work but his thoughts and dreams of intelligent machines almost certainly were, even if indirectly. Another thing I get tired of is the constant reference these days to his sexuality. Is this the tabloid mind at work? What possible relevance does it have? Some people will say "well, he committed suicide because of it, and thus a great career was brought short". Except that he left no evidence of his state of mind, only a portion of apple soaked in cyanide.

[] permanent link