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The Web's Awake is a book that draws from a diverse well of understandings. It brings together a number of ideas centred on complexity and directly relates them back to the phenomenon we know today as the World Wide Web, or "Web" for short. This naturally brings with it more subtle subject matter dealing with aspects such as dynamics and a variety of patterns and theories. By feeding heavily on both the material understandings of sciences like physics, chemistry and biology as well as the abstract formalities of mathematics and computing, it points the way to a new field of scientific endeavour; the field of web science. Where the book distinguishes itself is in its comparison between the Web, as the most complex sociotechnical system known today, and the absolute pinnacle of all complex systems, life itself. If you're intrigued about connections, new perspectives, evolutionary potentials and the bewildering properties of complex, entangled systems then this is certainly the book for you.
Undoubtedly the Web has provided a collection of technologies that is having a profound effect on mankind. Like the wheel, the plough and steam power before it, it is a proving a truly differentiating tool in our world, changing the very ways in which we interact with each other, our surroundings and our socioeconomic systems. But, unlike the great technologies that have come before it, the Web is different. Why? Because its phenomenal growth and complexity are starting to outstrip our capability to control it directly, making it impossible for us to grasp its completeness in one go. It may quite literally be taking on a life of its own. A set of emergent characteristics and behaviours are now starting to appear that we have not programmed individually. These are apparently starting to increase in number and strength, leading some to believe that the Web not only has its own life, but may also now be worthy of being considered a living organism in its own right; a new posthuman species consisting of just one isolated member.
Many have worked on the concept of emergent properties within highly complex systems, concentrating heavily on the underlying mechanics concerned. Few, however, have studied the fundamentals involved from a sociotechnical perspective. In short, the virtual anatomy of the Web remains relatively uninvestigated. The Web's Awake therefore attempts to seriously explore this apparent gap, citing a number of provocative, yet objective, similarities from studies relating to both real world and digital systems.
It is not a book of definitive answers or rigorous proofs. It is a book about connections, new perspectives, immutable patterns and the bewildering properties of complex,entangled systems. By referencing material from a broad range of fields it presents a collage of interlinked facts, assertions and coincidences which boldly point to a Web with a powerful potential for life.
A brief history of the World Wide Web and a summary of how its features might be considered lifelike.
A beginner's introduction to complexity theory and who it might be applicable to the Web we see today.
How we might model the Web as an entity in its own right.
Is the Web cleverer than we might imagine as, if so, how and why?
What do those who should know best think and about the Web and its inherent complexity?
Get a copy of Chapter 1 here.
The World Wide Web is truly astounding. It has changed the way we interact, learn and innovate. It is the largest sociotechnical system humankind has created and is advancing at a pace that leaves most in awe. It is an unavoidable fact that the future of the world is now inextricably linked to the future of the web. Almost every day it appears to change, to get better and increase its hold on us.
For all this we are starting to see underlying stability emerge. The way that web sites rank in terms of popularity, for example, appears to follow laws with which we are familiar. What is fascinating is that these laws were first discovered, not in fields like computer science or information technology, but in what we regard as more fundamental disciplines like biology, physics and mathematics. Consequently the web, although synthetic at its surface, seems to be quite 'natural' deeper down, and one of the driving aims of the new field of web science is to discover how far down such "naturalness" goes
If the web is natural to its core, that raises some fundamental questions. It forces us, for example, to ask if the central properties of the web might be more elemental than the truths we cling to from our understandings of the physical world. In essence, it demands that we question the very nature of information. Understanding Information and Computation is about such questions and one possible route to potentially mind-blowing answers.
The next time you crave to tweet that all-consuming idea or poke that newest of acquaintances, spare a thought for what you are about to do. The snippets of information you choose to send might be exactly the same as those used in a letter to a friend perhaps thirty years ago, but today things are quite different. Then your words would almost certainly have been received only by those you wrote to and would have turned into nothing more than cherished memories. But today those words have the potential to reach vast numbers of people and could easily remain in their original form and accessible to anyone well beyond your natural life span. Some people understand this and use it to good effect, but most do not. Andy Warhol’s world of fifteen minutes of fame for all is very close, yet still we have little idea what that means for us as individuals, communities or society as a whole.
This issue is not just about the changing ways in which we communicate. It is more about our hunger for information and our increasing ability to get it, to process and to share it. It is also about how recent creations, like the World Wide Web, have changed our way of life and how we apply such information constantly in that life.
Science has tried many times and under many descriptions to get at the fundamental nature of information, yet still we only have a fragmented picture as that slippery word “information” shifts from computing to linguistics to quantum physics and so on. But this is not a matter for pessimism, just because there is no single view of what information is. We now understand that some of the most advanced fields of science rely heavily on the notion of information for their existence.This suggests that we have to be brave and radical when thinking about information and not look only in the obvious places.
Althought we are surrounded by information, we have not yet found ways that even come close to describing its true nature. Why should this be so and what do the world's best minds think about the problem?
Mathematics is a field with interchangeable branches. Geometry in particular stands as a powerful tool to describe the world around us and the role that information and computation play in its realisation.
Traditionally Computer Science thinks of information as simply a collection of individual essences that can be structured, manipulated and interrogated. Nevertheless, this model fails at high levels of scale and complexity and there is a need to rethink radically.
If we examine large scale informational constructs, such as the World Wide Wide, some rather unusual statistical behaviours can be seen. In many ways these are not that dissimilar to those found when we look at the physical world in terms of the very large. The case is set out that this might be more than just a coincidence
Search the Web using any engine of your choice and the infinite space of interpretational possibilities it contains shrinks down into one, and only ever one, opportunity to absorb the information you seek. Speak to a Quantum Physicist and they will tell you that's quantum collapse.
Get a copy of Chapter 1 here.
When Alan Turing and his contemporaries set about decrypting enemy messages during World War II, they made several assumptions. They assumed, for instance, that human operators would be stationed at both ends of the communication channels they were intercepting and that those sending and receiving messages would speak the same language. Likewise, they assumed that the grammar and punctuation of that language would provide tell-tale insights into the message content being sent. Working alongside Turing, however, was a young and imaginative mathematician with other ideas. Bill Tutte has been largely written out of history, simply because of the secrecy, significance and success of his war-time work. But make no mistake, he was as much a hero of the 20th century as Alan Turing. Boil his contribution down to its absolute essence though, and he really only added one thing. Rather than assuming anything about the flow of enemy messages, he chose to take nothing for granted and worked instead on how to hard-wire the relationships present between the characters and symbols involved.
That move away from assumption towards the explicit recognition of meaningful relationships in information proved a game changer. Not only did it quickly advance allied decryption techniques, but it went on to aid the prediction of critical enemy positions prior to D-Day. As a result, Turing soon travelled to the US to share all he knew with a rapidly expanding US military intelligence. On the list of those he would meet was Claude Shannon, a fellow graduate of Princeton University and a somewhat kindred spirit. What neither of them could have known back then was that the seeds sown during their time together would eventually result in the whirlwind of innovation we now know as the Information Revolution. Without that meeting of minds, we likely wouldn’t have today’s TV, radio or Internet networks and the World Wide Web would almost certainly be consigned to the realms of science fiction.
But more than that, what Turing, Tutte, Shannon and others did was open up a window onto some of the most fundamental physical properties of the universe.
In recent years, physicists have come to appreciate information’s central role in the universe’s grand plan. That and the fact that an explicit understanding of the informational relationships involved may well be key to unlocking many of the universe’s deepest secrets. That makes the birth of both Computer and Information Science not only essential to the explosion of modern technological success, but also our understanding of reality itself. In recognising that, what unfolds is a story not only about Turing and his pioneering colleagues, but also great thinkers like Einstein, Faraday, Wittgenstein and others. It therefore pulls in much of modern history and touches on seminal events like the birth of the atomic bomb. It also hints at the reasons behind the various social and political divides we see in the world today. So, in many ways, the story of how we became more informed about information is also the story of the modern age. What you will read of here is the role that information plays in that ongoing saga and many of the twists and turns that have brought us to where we are with information today. In it you will learn that, unbeknown to Turing and others, their work would not only help overthrow the Nazis and thaw the chilling atmosphere of the Cold War to come, but also echo down the ages to remain relevant in a conflict still raging today. That sees the Computer and Information Scientists at loggerheads as they fight to find a right and justifiable place for meaning in information’s definition.
The events, personalities and breakthroughs that led us to understand why the idea of importance is so important.
Some unexpected twists and turnd on the road to information.
Why the legacy of World War II kickstarted the IT Revolution.
Modern views on information's true make-up.
Why common interprestations of Information Thoery and Quantum Mechanics don't quite tell the full story.
The Web's Awake: A badly needed book that goes broad and deep. Very nice.
The Web's Awake: In this perspective-changing book, the author argues that the web is an organism that obeys the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in how the World Wide Web has developed, and continues to evolve - 9 out of 10.
The Web's Awake: An important book and deserves a wide readership.
The Web's Awake: Top Book - one of the most defining of this decade.
The Web's Awake: This is one of those rare books about technology that comes along once in a while giving a completely fresh perspective and set of ideas and arguments that changes your whole viewpoint on something you thought you knew and understood. By stepping away from the acronym olympics and technology debates that seem to fuel so much literature on the web, The Web's Awake has managed to challenge the whole concept of what constitutes life, and argue how the world wide web itself is a being in its own right. This is a hugely enjoyable read, well written, concise, and yet full of detail, insights and gems of wisdom that make it a must have for any thinking web head's bookshelf.
Understanding Information and Computation: Phil Tetlow was not only one of the world's first Web Scientists, but he takes great pleasure in pushing hard on just about every boundary within reach. His ideas are both fresh and profound and I am really pleased to see a work from him that will keep us all thinking. It is bound to be controversial, but then what is science without controversy?.
"Understanding Information and Computation: Richard Feynman, the Nobel physicist, was always seeking to understand everything in physics from first principles and never took anything on trust. Tetlow follows the same path in an endeavour to discover whether it is possible to see information as a fundamental force of The Universe in the same way as we do gravity. This may seem to be a very pretentious endeavour and I’m not sure I am entirely convinced by the arguments, but I admire the breadth of knowledge that is evident in this book.
"Understanding Information and Computation: What you will find in these pages is a courageous attempt to reshape the way we look at information and computing, a huge effort to take a look at it all from a fresh perspective. It is creative, novel and in many ways captures the thoughts that his contemporaries share, but have not had the time or conviction to write down.
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