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Wired for Thought: How the Brain Is Shaping the Future of the Internet [Hardcover]

Jeffrey M. Stibel
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 8 2009
In this age of hypercompetition, the Internet constitutes a powerful tool for inventing radical new business models that will leave your rivals scrambling. But as brain scientist and entrepreneur Jeffrey Stibel explains in Wired for Thought, you have to understand its true nature. The Internet is more than just a series of interconnected computer networks: it's the first real replication of the human brain outside the human body.

To leverage its power, you first need to understand how the Internet has evolved to take on similarities to the brain. This engaging and provocative book provides the answer. Stibel lays out:
- How networks have changed and what that implies for how people connect and form communities
- What the Internet-and online business opportunities-will look like in the future
- What the next stage of artificial intelligence will be and what opportunities it will present for businesses

Stibel shows how exceptional companies are using their understanding of the Internet's brainlike powers to create competitive advantage-such as building more effective Web sites, predicting consumer behavior, leveraging social media, and creating a collective consciousness.

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“Stibel bridges the gap between business and the brain in his thinking, his numerous Internet innovations, and his writings. Wired for Thought helps us understand the Internet at a new, and more intelligent, level. This vision will influence our futures.”

—Dan Ariely, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Economics, MIT Sloan School of Management, and author of Predictably Irrational


“Jeff Stibel’s approach to entrepreneurship in Wired for Thought is an inspiring example of how the best entrepreneurs learn from the world around them and apply what they know to their business. It provides a great example of a multidisciplinary approach to business, as well as practical lessons for any aspiring entrepreneur. This book should be part of any business or entrepreneurship education.”

—Alexa Klebanow, President, Brown University Entrepreneurship Program


“Jeff Stibel has always been two steps ahead of the world of Internet and business, and in Wired for Thought he shares his unique vision in a practical way. Any Internet business will benefit from the connections he makes between what we know about the brain today and what we need to understand about the Internet for tomorrow.”

—Rolla Huff, Chairman and CEO, Earthlink


“Jeff Stibel is one of the most successful entrepreneurs I know, with an uncanny ability to teach others how to grow their businesses. Wired for Thought reveals his secret to success: an entirely new perspective on the Internet, the brain, and business.”

—John Assaraf, entrepreneur; featured expert in The Secret, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal; and bestselling author of Having it All and The Answer

“Wired for Thought is a tremendously provoking, enjoyable, and useful book. The central comparison of the brain and the Internet yielded obviously applicable ways to think about my own businesses and their future—specifically, how to choose, optimize, and manage our business structures. I recommend that you read this book to explore your own possibilities in our increasingly complex global economy.”
Jerry Ostrov, Chairman and CEO, Bausch & Lomb

From the Inside Flap


A Bold Theory on How the Internet Will Evolve—and What It Will Mean for Business

If you want to succeed on the Internet, forget trying to understand how the latest Web phenomenon works. Instead, you need to understand how the mind works. According to Jeffrey Stibel, the Internet is evolving into a brain—and the Web sites, communities, networks, and companies that leverage this insight will own the future.

A brain scientist and serial entrepreneur, Stibel has made an impressive career translating his knowledge of neuroscience into successful Internet ventures. In Wired for Thought, he takes readers on an exhilarating journey into the world of “neuron hunters” who are using their knowledge of the Internet’s brainlike powers to create online businesses.

Viewing Web sites as the “neural networks” of the Internet, Stibel describes how ideas live, die, and spread like genetic material across the Web, quickly transforming the Internet from a mere repository of information to a “prediction machine” that can recognize patterns and intuit meaning. Through intriguing examples from Google, MySpace, The Search Agency, and others, Wired for Thought shows how this evolution is playing out—and offers practical advice and compelling predictions for innovators, including:

• How online networks grow, and how to manage each stage
• What looming dangers threaten social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter
• Why the Internet won’t grow forever—and what will happen when it hits the wall
• How advancements in artificial intelligence will impact businesses and consumers
• Why an “intelligent” Internet is closer than you think—and what it will be able to do

Science and business are converging to create the future of the Internet. This eye-opening and authoritative book will help you avoid the pitfalls and embrace the opportunities of this exciting new world.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews
By Robert Morris HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
As Jeff Stibel explains, "growth is a core tenet of success. But we often destroy our greatest innovations by constant pursuit of growth. An idea emerges, takes hold, crosses the chasm, hits a tipping point, and then starts a meteoric rise with seemingly limitless potential. But more often than not, it implodes, destroying itself in the process." In a word, it has experienced a breakpoint. That's the bad news. The good news, however, is that self-destruction need not occur. "This book is not about failure, or even about breakpoints. It is about understanding what happens after a breakpoint. Breakpoints can't and shouldn't be avoided, but they can be identified. It turns out that all successful networks go through a breakpoint, but some fail, but many succeed spectacularly...Growth is nit a bad thing unless it becomes the [begin italics] only [end italics] thing. Studying biological systems is perhaps the best way to understand the complex networks that humanity has created."

This last passage frames the nature and extent of Stibel's subsequent discussion (Chapters Two-Eleven) during which he suggests lessons to be learned from natural phenomena that are relevant to human networks in general and to the brain in particular. Several of these lessons will be of special interest and value to business leaders who are challenged to achieve and then sustain profitable growth with fewer resources and in less time within an increasingly more volatile competitive marketplace. For example, lessons to be learned from colonies of ants and termites about residential design/construction/maintenance, division of labor, renewable food sources, communication, preventive maintenance, climate control, and collaborative response to crisis.
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Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wired for Thought - Wired to Read this Book Sept. 30 2009
By William H. Borzage - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Mr. Stibel's "Wired for Thought: How the Brain is Shaping the Future of the Internet" kept me glued to its pages wondering what his next Internet prediction will be. He has some startling predictions about the way the Internet will be the catalyst of catalysts in accelerating human technology. The scenarios he presents will stimulate your imagination and some of them you may find a little unnerving. Can Moore's Law apply to the evolution of technology? I, for one, can't wait to find out. If a business is to survive and prosper, it must stay ahead of its competition. Wired for Thought gives you an insight into what could be in store for businesses, so that you can stay ahead of your competition.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain waves Oct. 31 2009
By John Lenac - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
We're due for an intellectual renaissance and, like Stibel, I feel we're experiencing the early stages of this growth with the expansion/evolution of the Internet. I applaud him for detailing this phenomenon so comprehensively, while also making it an easy read. His conclusions are just as significant in the story of human evolution as Donald Johanson and his team finding Lucy.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must for Business People and Entrepreneurs! Oct. 19 2009
By Annette Tonti - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Jeff Stibel presents a clear, thought provoking premise that overlays brain evolution and biology with the birth and growth of the Internet. The analogies are very strong and if you are in business you must read this book. Why? Because the evolution of the Internet will no doubt affect the strategy of your business over the next 10 years. Jeff makes the case that the Internet is following an evolutionary path so similar to the brain that he unlocks what no doubt will be a path to our connected future. As an entrepreneur this book has opened up some new ideas for me (I see Twitter as a MEME I/O creative destruction machine now!). Business people will love this book!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Internet is a brain (or rather like a brain) Sept. 7 2009
By James Rea - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"I have written this book for a broad audience...In particular, though, I have written it with the business world in mind." Wired sort of achieves that. If, as I do, you like connecting incongruent ideas together, recollecting high school anatomy and pondering internet evolution, you'll like this book. Relative to business, it does do a good job of describing some of the ways to improve search results and online advertising and to leverage the internet more effectively. But there are much more thorough books for that. However, if you are or want to be in business in the internet space itself, it's a great thought starter.

The internet is a brain because it manifests intelligence. Since there is no generally agreed upon definition of intelligence, it's hard to argue this point. Wired says it is "because the Internet...has evolved with many of the same basic structures and abilities as a brain." Axon are networks, dendrites are connectors, soma are computers, memes and memory are web sites. "There ain't much more than that...The brain's ordinariness frees us to speculate that an intelligent Internet is possible."

Wired does not go to the far edge of speculation and base its major conclusions on a conscious, self-aware thinking internet. Rather, it extends the current and increasingly more powerful ability of the internet (or rather, its web sites and software) to predict outcomes, such as what books and movies you prefer.

"As a result of its prediction capability, for example, a more personalized Internet will emerge." Search results and recommendations will get better, customer behaviors and responses will be more accurately predicted, web pages may be custom built by the internet based on predictions of what you are interested in. The result is a logical extrapolation of already occurring web intelligence.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book Review: Wired for Thought by Jeffrey M Stibel Jan. 2 2010
By Georgy S. Thomas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Book Review: Wired for Thought by Jeffrey M Stibel

Reviewed by Georgy S Thomas

In his preface to Wired for Thought, internet pioneer and brain scientist Jeffrey M Stibel offers the following explanation for his undertaking:

''You can take away any phenomenon and study its parts for years, but until you step back far enough to see it in its entirety, you will not understand how it works and where it may go.''

Stibel's method of stepping back to view the internet is by comparing it with the human brain.

In his view, many of the biggest internet enterprises are successful because they understand the similarities between the brain and the internet. He points out the presence of brain scientists amongst decision-makers in several of the leading internet enterprises.

In the introduction, Stibel first lists out his big ideas.

* The internet is a brain because it manifests intelligence, rather than merely reflecting it.

* Humanlike thinking will emerge from the internet because of its network approach and mimicking of human weaknesses.

* The internet is an evolution of the human brain.

* The brain as a prediction machine is different from the way computers work, but is similar to the internet.
* Creative destruction is another shared trait between the brain and the internet.
* Language, considered uniquely human, is at the heart of the most important internet tool: search.
* The internet will crash, but will get bigger and stronger with each collapse. Again a trait similar to the brain.

He then takes them up in detail chapter by chapter.

Along the way, we get acquainted with concepts and terms like memes, intuition, forecasting, heuristics, fuzzy logic, polysemy, synset, spreading activation, encephalization, etc.

We also encounter a few fascinating characters like Dan Dennett, Jim Anderson (both mentors of Stibel), Robert Metcalfe (whom Stibel rather shamelessly uses as a straw man) and Ray Kurzweil.

The book is peppered with nuggets of information. For instance, did you know that many of the biggest internet properties handcode particularly important web pages for easy retrieval? I didn't until I read Stibel. On searching for confirmation on the net, I ran into a Q&A session by New York Times design director Khoi Vinh where he admitted to the practice at the Times. The shared concern seems to be that usage of web development applications like Dreamweaver and Frontpage (now Expression Web) as well as other WYSIWYG editors spoils the uniformity of the page's look and feel across various browsers.

Also when Stibel, a pioneer and one of the thought leaders of the internet revolution, lists for us the characteristic features of the best web sites, we better make a note of that.

Stibel's Evolution

Of the big ideas discussed, the one with which Stibel appears to struggle a bit seems to be the argument that the internet is the evolution of the brain.
In the beginning part of the book, while tracing the origins of cloud computing, Stibel discusses Richard Dawkins' twin ideations of the selfish genes and the selfish memes. This allows Stibel to wonder, ''Could it be, then, that the selfish gene became frustrated with the slow evolution of the human brain, and so leapt the fence from the organic world to the inorganic? Could selfish genes have created selfish memes to do their work? And is that what has led us to selfish software? Is that why humankind, imprisoned as we are in carbon molecules, is driven to invent machines made of sand and metal?''
He then goes on to answer these questions with an ''I am not completely convinced...but... the perspective is exhilarating'' approach.

But a few pages further, while discussing evolution, Stibel seems to have shed his diffidence. He says: ''The human brain evolved as a hardwired device until about 150,000 years ago, when....the mind began to outrace evolution. Rather than experiencing a radical improvement in the brain itself, humankind began to develop software _ cultural software _ that has improved over time.'' A few sentences later comes the emphatic statement, though still hanging onto the coattails of Richard Dawkins and Dan Dennett: ''...the evolution of memes is not merely analogous to genetic evolution; it's an extension of it.''

Looks like the author's views have also evolved during the course of writing the book!

In a similar vein, the book is also not completely free from factual inconsistencies. In page 74, we read the statement: ''Each neuron in the brain has about 7,000 connections, for a total of some 100 trillion connections.'' By the time we reach page 124, we read thus: ''The average neuron has roughly 10,000 connections to other neurons in the brain.'' It's evolution at work again!

The Centrality of Language for Search

The chapter on language being central to both the brain and the internet offers a fascinating insight into how search engines derive meaning from language.
Stibel is able to speak from experience because [...], a search engine which he founded, used the expanded version of a program called WordNet to do just that. He first states the problem: Choosing the right meaning of words having many possible meanings comes effortlessly for people, but is downright impossible for computers.
Then he goes on to explain how WordNet overcame the limitation by first forming a hierarchy of words, and then because words have multiple meanings, building sets of synonyms or synsets which operate together for a single meaning. WordNet then uses a process called spreading activation, or the wiring and firing together of synsets, to build context into language. Google, which acquired the knowhow through an acquisition, now uses it to power AdSense.

The Long Tail Doesn't Apply

Stibel observes how Google and other search engines tie word meanings to frequency of use for ordering and ranking results. At work here is Zipf's law, named after linguist George Kingsley Zipf. The law predicts that the more frequent words are used a great deal more than less frequent words. What this means is that as one goes down the list, there's a very rapid drop in frequency of appearance.

And it would seem that the law also applies to the degree of ambiguity of words. ''The more frequently a word appears in text, the more different meanings it has.'' Thus the most common words are also the most ambiguous. Now you know why academicians have an easy time writing technical articles for journals and a harrowing time writing an easy-to-read general interest book, Stibel tells us.

The author, mercifcully, doesn't suffer from this weakness.

The Zipf law's direct relevance to internet search is in the accessability of web pages: The most common pages are accessed very frequently, while the bulk of the web pages are almost never seen.

Based on this, Stibel goes on to state that the long tail does not generally apply to websites, internet, or search. Chris Anderson, are you listening?

The Laws of Networking

In the course of developing his big idea that the internet will shrink like the brain, Stibel lists out for us the laws of networking, seen through its three stages. Because he cannot as yet prove his contention that the internet will one day collapse, he goes on to take up case studies of networks within the internet which have experienced the three stages of growth. The lessons he draws up from this analysis are invaluable to all web entrepreneurs. Want to know why MySpace shouldn't fight its slowing growth? And what are the prospects for Facebook? Well, you've the answers in these pages.

I particularly liked Stibel's observation that ''the value of a network does not increase with size when the size of the network makes it impossible to derive value from it''. How true.

Stibel ends the book by sticking his neck out and charting out a possible path through which the internet could evolve. Does he see Google still presiding over as the lord of the world wide web manor? I'm not letting the cat out of the bag here. Better read the book and find out on your own.

e.o.m.
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