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Moths To The Flame: The Seductions Of Computer Technology
by Gregory J. E. Rawlins
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From Publishers Weekly
Moths to the Flame is a heady mixture of futuristic prophecy and historical perspective covering all aspects of computer technology, some frightening, some practical, some fanciful. It seems that technology is spinning out of control, though Rawlins reminds us that computers can only reflect the needs and values of their users. He covers the topics of the paperless book, the problems of privacy and censorship and crime and the power computers have over our lives. Computers are already displacing many workers, but human error will always be a factor. "The more complex the system, the harder it is to get it right." He cautions that smart bombs, smart mines and smart weapons are only as "smart" as the humans who develop and control them. Luckily, intelligent lay readers will find that Rawlins, although a professor of computer science mathematics at Indiana University and a specialist in AI, is plenty smart without being obscurantist. Economic effects of such high speed change are also unpredictable and somewhat chilling as are some of Rawlin's 21st-century scenarios. Ultimately, his stance is a cautious one: "Computers won't bring about a better world?perhaps nothing can do that. But they certainly can change the world: in some ways for the better; in others, for the worse."
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Rawlins (computer science mathematics, Indiana Univ.) here offers a unique and easily understood perspective on the Information Age. Using clear analogies and well-documented historical events, he looks at the issues behind such controversies as privacy, cryptography, and the control of information. Drawing on his background in mathematics, genetics, and electronic publishing, he effectively plumbs such diverse and complex topics as virtual reality, publishing, and computer networks. In examining the possible effects of computer technology on society, Rawlins maintains a balanced perspective offering other future scenarios besides those of the "gloom and doom" category or the utopian view of computers as the answer to all the world's problems. Without ever mentioning the Internet or World Wide Web, Rawlins handles most of the issues mentioned in the popular and professional press. This is essential reading for anyone with any interest in the future, namely, all of us. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries.?Wilfred Drew, SUNY at Morrisville Coll. Lib.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Reactionaries have long warned against the dehumanizing effects of technology. But the warning comes with new urgency now that the computer has so evolved that it has taken over many of the intellectual, social, linguistic, and creative endeavors that formerly defined our humanity. It is indeed dehumanization that looms as the most frightening of the dangers Rawlins identifies as he describes the world that computer technology is now rapidly creating. It is a world in which politicians can broadcast virtual-reality propaganda; terrorists can kill or intimidate millions with smart weapons; business moguls can fatten their retirement plans by laying off thousands and turning their jobs over to computerized machines. Yet Rawlins holds out hope that if we develop the computer's capabilities with imagination and daring, we can yet create an empire of the mind in which the human spirit will flourish, not disappear. By helping readers understand the perils--and promise--of the computer, the author brings that ideal empire a step closer to reality. Bryce Christensen
From Kirkus Reviews
In eight essays, Rawlins (Mathematics/Indiana Univ.) speculates on the exciting, scary new world computers are bringing us. In some areas, such as military technology, Rawlins does not expand much on Howard Rheingold's study Virtual Reality (1991). And so much is written these days about the Internet that nothing Rawlins says, startling as it might have been even a year ago, seems surprising today. Rawlins's comments on book publishing, however, offer a fascinating scenario for the next 10 or 20 years. It is now cheaper to produce a book electronically than to print it, and publishers, Rawlins suggests, will soon offer inexpensive subscriptions to their lists of upcoming books, in much the way that the cable TV industry works. Many publishers will resist, as movie producers resisted video, but then will find that they cannot exist without electronic books. All that is needed to set this chain of events in motion is a cheap, user-friendly electronic reader. Rawlins is also insightful on the economics of computers: The frighteningly short cycle of invention and obsolescence, and the manner in which software climbs up the organizational charts, performing ever more complicated and vital functions, eliminating not just typists but executives, too. Careers will turn over and over, and few of us, he suggests, will know with any certainty what the rapidly evolving machines are doing. Rawlins also touches on the most vexing problem of all: the poor. Knowledge, expressed by technology, is power. The numbers of those left out of this equation are growing exponentially. Will the economic benefits of the computer ever trickle downward? Is there any way to avoid the creation of an increasingly small elite controlling access to many of technology's most important uses? Does utopia lie ahead--or endless poverty and war? Such questions have no answers, but Rawlins asks them brilliantly. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
"Moths to the Flame is a heady mixture of futuristic prophecy and historical perspective covering all aspects of computer technology, some frightening, some practical, some fanciful. . . . Intelligent lay readers will find that Rawlins...is plenty smart without being obscurantist."
-- Publishers Weekly
In Moths to the Flame, Gregory Rawlins takes us on a humorous yet thought-provoking tour of the world wrought by modern technology.
The book's first four chapters explore the worlds of privacy, virtual reality, publishing, and computer networks, while the last four focus on social issues such as warfare, jobs, computer catastrophes, and the future itself. Throughout, eye-opening historical comparisons give a context for the computer age, showing how new technologies have always bred hope and resistance. Provocative yet balanced and sophisticated, Moths to the Flame is an indispensable guidebook to the future.
Explains computers and their social consequences. Explores the worlds of privacy, virtual reality, publishing, computer networks, warfare, jobs, computer catastrophes, and the future itself. DLC: Computers and civilization.
About the Author
Gregory J. E. Rawlins is Associate Professor of Computer Science at Indiana University. He is the author of two texts, one on genetic algorithms and another on the mathematical analysis of computer programs. He is also a noted speaker on issues of electronic publishing.
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