Dream Machine Paperback – Aug 27 2002
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Science writer M Mitchell Waldrop carefully balances the prevailing "hero culture" with a historian's mania for completeness in The Dream Machine: JCR Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal. While it's true that no one person's vision encompassed all of what we now consider personal computing, we can't help but focus on individual effort as we try to understand how we got here.
"Lick," as his students and colleagues called him, was deeply involved in guiding the evolution of personal and networked computing from the 1950s through the 1980s after leaving a career in cognitive psychology. Waldrop captures his spirit vividly--contrary to our stereotypical view of computer scientists, Licklider was profoundly interested in his fellow humans, and this interest helped him lead the design of technology adapted to human needs.
Waldrop interviewed dozens of contemporaries and examined reams of notes and primary sources to compose this massive biography of influence that stretches from MIT to the Pentagon to Xerox PARC and far beyond. If it sometimes seems that Licklider was a little too well-beloved, especially in comparison to some of the more colourful figures in computing's recent history, it is worth remembering that his patience and humility were the very qualities that helped deliver the home computing revolution we take for granted today. If we had to choose just one 20th-century computer pioneer that we couldn't do without, it would have to be the man behind The Dream Machine. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Licklider was a brilliant scientist whose essential contributions to cognitive psychology and cybernetics included critical early developments in the field of man-machine interaction. However, his original work is often overshadowed by his accomplishments as a teacher, administrator and project leader and this ably written and well-researched biography isn't likely to propel him into the limelight. Waldrop (Man-Made Minds) devotes about 20% of the book to Licklider himself; the rest covers his teachers, colleagues and students at MIT and the Pentagon including computing pioneers Douglas Engelbart, Wes Clark and Larry Roberts and Licklider's indirect influence on the development of personal computers and the Internet (via "the world's first large-scale experiment in personal computing" at MIT). To his credit, Waldrop avoids common stereotypes of computer nerds or saints, delivering a vivid account of Licklider and his contemporaries. But he was not able to interview Licklider (who died in 1990), nor does he include material from personal papers or memoirs. Instead, Waldrop bases most of the book on secondary accounts, including biographies and histories of technology. The result is an informative and engaging history of computers from the 1930s to the 1970s, with an emphasis on Licklider and his period of greatest influence, 1957 to 1968. (Aug. 27)Forecast: A six-city author tour will raise some interest, but there isn't much demand for another history of computing and the Internet, especially when Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon's Where Wizards Stay Up Late and Martin Campbell-Kelly's Computer cover the same material.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Author Waldrop takes you through Lickleider's life in academia where he struggled to push his vision of "computing for everyone" in which computers really would be used by the common person, not just by the military or major corporations -- a vision which was understandably rejected by most of his peers when computers were still the size of living rooms and cost as much as the GDP of small nations. Readers who are familiar with James Burke's "Connections" series will see a similar pattern to this story in which one person was at the right place at the right time to gather disperate technological threads together. Lickleider was not responsible for tying the final knot of these threads together, but without his influence, it might have taken a lot longer.
Computing is a field in which credit is constantly debated, fiercely contested, and must always be taken with a grain of salt. Where Waldrop scores a bull's-eye is in portraying Licklider, whatever the direct chain of his influence may or may not have been, as the personification of personal computing and the Internet. Lick was a wellspring of enthusiasm and ideas, the kind that over time run deep and true. His administrative shortcomings may have exasperated colleagues at times -- and Waldrop does not shy away from telling that part of the story -- but we need little encouragement to accept these frailties as just one more indication of what was surely a rare combination of humanness, brilliance, and charm.
Mr. Waldrop provides a valuable synthesis of several important perspectives:
(1) The development of personal, interconnected computing from its fundamental roots in academic and corporate scientific thinking, conceptualization, and experimentation;
(2) How the vision of one man, Professor J. C. R. Licklider, played an important role in nurturing the development of this form of computing;
(3) How creating a computing community that frequently shared ideas in-person and on-line accelerated the development of the technology and the society it served; and
(4) How the contributions of the major and minors players fit together to bring us where we are today.
Whenever I read a book about the history or current state of computing in the future, The Dream Machine will be valuable for helping me put the observations into context. This is true despite the fact that I have been doing consulting in this industry for almost 30 years, and had early access to many of its important innovations.
In fact, if you only read one book about computers in the next two years, The Dream Machine should be that book.
As valuable as I found that framing of the development, I was even more impressed with seeing how to foster fundamental human development through this example. Professor Licklider was trained initially in psychology. From that unusual perspective on computers, he quickly perceived what humans can do better than computers (make judgments, fine distinctions, and decide what order to do things in) and what computers can do better than humans (make difficult calculations, remember lots of things at the same time, and rearrange mountains of information into new forms of order).Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
A graduate course in a book! A tour through historical theories, accounts, and events that made up the development of the modern computer and the Net. Read morePublished on May 24 2004 by Robert Cannon
If The Dream Machine were a novel, you might conclude the author used every writer's technique to make it a thriller. Read morePublished on Jan. 25 2003 by Jerome I. Weintraub
Everyone has heard about the amazing ideas and systems from Xerox PARC, but few realize that this lab was was the culmination of JCR Licklider's vision of personal, interactive... Read morePublished on Jan. 11 2002 by Arbys
For anyone interested in why computers and the net are the way they are today, this entertaining and well-written account is essential. Read morePublished on Jan. 2 2002 by Rob Gurwitz
I was a ms reviewer of this complete, but very readable book based on JCR Licklider's vision of interactive and networked computing. It covers almost 50 years of computing. Read morePublished on Nov. 16 2001 by cgb
This is the best history of computer science that I know. Unlike many "histories" that merely review the commercial exploitation of computers, this book focuses on the... Read morePublished on Nov. 16 2001 by Severo M. Ornstein
Licklider was an incredibly influential man of the 20th century and he deserves a better written biography. Read morePublished on Oct. 24 2001
This is a great book. If you get a kick out of the history of computing then this will be a read you will treasure. Read morePublished on Oct. 12 2001 by Bruce E. Hogge
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