In This Review

When Things Start to Think
When Things Start to Think
By Neil A. Gershenfeld
Henry Holt, 1999, 224 pp.

It is not clear that the information revolution, despite its many marvels, has necessarily improved the quality of analytic prose. The author, a leading scientist at the MIT Media Laboratory, has a wonderful topic: the spread of computing power to the most mundane items of daily life, from coffeemakers to shoes to eyeglasses. Alas, the literary device of the digiterati is the hyperlink, and the preferred form of discourse is the first person singular, interspersed with clubby references to various authorities by their first names. The result is a random collection of rumination, technical exposition, and silly reflection on politics (including head-wagging about Vice President Al Gore's reported description of the U.S. Constitution as a piece of software designed for massively parallel processing). This is a real pity, because the author does have something to say about gadgets like intelligent telephones and phenomena like electronic commerce -- although one doubts that he is on equally firm ground when he contemplates the human condition writ large.