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Book Review: Wired For Thought by Jeffrey M Stibel
Harvard University Press, 2009. Hardcover versions available online from Barnes and Noble andAmazon.Kindle version also available from Amazon.comReviewed by
Georgy S Thomas
In his preface to
Wired for Thought
, internet pioneer and brain scientist Jeffrey M Stibel offersthe 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 thesimilarities between the brain and the internet. He points out the presence of brain scientistsamongst 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 andmimicking 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 issimilar 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 traitsimilar 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 alsoencounter 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'tuntil 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