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In the tradition of Being Digital and The Tipping Point, Steven Johnson, acclaimed as a "cultural critic with a poet's heart" (The Village Voice), takes readers on an eye-opening journey through emergence theory and its applications.

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
A VOICE LITERARY SUPPLEMENT TOP 25 FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR
AN ESQUIRE MAGAZINE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

Explaining why the whole is sometimes smarter than the sum of its parts, Johnson presents surprising examples of feedback, self-organization, and adaptive learning. How does a lively neighborhood evolve out of a disconnected group of shopkeepers, bartenders, and real estate developers? How does a media event take on a life of its own? How will new software programs create an intelligent World Wide Web?

In the coming years, the power of self-organization -- coupled with the connective technology of the Internet -- will usher in a revolution every bit as significant as the introduction of electricity. Provocative and engaging, Emergence puts you on the front lines of this exciting upheaval in science and thought.

Topics: The Internet, Computer Programming, Evolution, Popular Science, Communication, Web Development, Inspirational, Realism, and Informative

Published: Scribner on Sep 11, 2012
ISBN: 9780743218269
List price: $13.99
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'Emergence' is certainly a good primer to the topic, written in a quite accessible style. Unfortunately, Steven Johnson describes at length ant behavior and city development (among many other processes), but he generally fails to give necessary insight into possible underlying mechanisms.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I had a lot of fun reading _Emergence_, and it inspired many ideas and lines of inquiry. It stitches together topics I've been reading about, including the emergent intelligence of ant colonies in _Goedel, Escher, Bach_, the automata of Sipser's _Introduction to the Theory of Computation_, and the patterns in programming katas like Conway's Game of Life. Among other things, I've installed StarLogo and started programming simulations of epidemics and swarms, with plans for building a software rendition of my cellular automata project. I love books that get me thinking creatively, and _Emergence_ provided a great synergy of new ideas and connections with themes I've been thinking about, in an approachable, readable style.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I find the concept of emergence, where simple sets of rules applied to large-scale systems can result in complex high-order organization, the most famous being an ant colony, where simple pheromone signals feed back on themselves to create what appears to be a well organized whole. I was expecting something a bit more technical, like a popular account of the current state of research, but he spent a lot more time talking about emergence in general and where it shows up in our lives and in the world around us. I did find the last couple chapters very fascinating, though, where he talked about emergence in the online community. As I was reading it (in July 2010), there were several things he talked about as possibilities that are now taken for granted, like what would become Google's search ranking algorithms, Netflix's movie suggestions and direct streaming, social networking, and other crowd-sourcing sites. About halfway through the chapter I looked at the publication date because of this and was pretty shocked to see that it was 9 years old.All in all not a bad book, but not quite what I was expecting or looking for.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I came across this book while browsing the stacks at my local library. Although written in 10 years ago, I found the concepts to be relevant still today. The author covered a wide range of topics from ants to city planning to game theory to music through which he wove the ideas of emergent behavior, negative feedback, distributed intelligence, patterns and rules. It was a fun and worthwhile read about topics that I find fascinating.Of particular interest was the end of the book about consciousness. I was not familiar with the other minds theory of consciousness which essentially suggests that our ability to consider how a situation appears to another led to our self-awareness. The study with 3 and 4 year olds that drove this point home was particularly interesting as it underscores how the mind develops and becomes self-aware.As a Web developer, I began to wonder if the Web could become emergent. I came to the conclusion that it's not possible in its current state. It needs more structure and is inherently disorganized due to its architecture. According to Johnson, the key missing ingredient is feedback- no web page knows what other pages are pointing to it without effort. All connections are one-way. I suspect this lack of two-way connections is why Google, and search engines in general, are so dominant. We literally could not effectively use the information on the Web without these tools today.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is incredibly engaging and interesting, and is confirming ideas about which I already had some inklings about the general outlines of. I think that emergence may well shape up to be the defining idea of the next few decades. It seems to have its tentacles in a lot of different and disparate fields and problems, at any rate. I want to know more, though this is an excellent starting point.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I borrowed this book from the UNC library along with 'No Logo' and 'Success of Open Source'. I had worked my way through those two books, but ignored this one. Eventually, I decided if I checked this book out, I should make an attempt to read it. I was done with it in a couple of sittings. A pretty good read.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
As of late, “Emergence” seems to be the hottest buzz word tossed around the crit spaces and seminar rooms of my chosen discipline. Thus it was important that I finally read something about just what the hell the term means. As usual, the unflagging Johnson never fails to enthrall. Who can deny the power of such observations as, “in the case of the Middle Ages, we can safely say that the early village residents shat themselves into full-fledged towns.”? He occasionally descends into the hackneyed territory of predictive cyber-nerd-speak, but he quickly segues into something else in his quest to uncover a consilience among ants, brains, Jane Jacobs, and the World Wide Web (apparently not invented by Albert Gore, but one Tim Berners-Lee. Coincidentally I voted for Tim in 2000).Alas, this book seems to shore up my preconceived opinion that “emergence” will have little more than a tenuous relationship with some student’s “architecture” project for a Museum of Humanism in a previously Iron Curtainized locale. It’ll merely be used as one of those dialogic Red Herrings that make me look like the ass when I point out that the project lacks stairs… and walls. I suppose those things will emerge later on.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is really fascinating stuff, and the kind of thing I have been dipping into for a while. Though I found this book a little bit shakey to start with, it soon picks up the page-turning momentum of a good thriller.Steven Johnson takes us on a journey through self-organising systems as different as slime moulds, businesses in medieval Florence and eBay. The unexpected emergent behaviour of systems based on simple rules is a bizarre and fascinating subject (at least to me). Emergent effects, ranging from traffic jams to human consciousness itself, affect us in all aspects of our lives. This book shows a very different viewpoint to the way things really work. The emergent behaviours of societies and social networks is particularly interesting, and is demonstrated very well with examples taken from the internet, such as slashdot and eBay.In common with chaos theory and quantum mechanics, the science of emergent systems shows that the more we discover and understand the rules and mechanisms behind the universe, the less we are actually able to predict what will happen. The world will alway be able to suprise us - I actually find that quite heartening!read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
An interesting discussion of community relationships. The idea of bottom up emergence was intriguing. The best part of the book to me was the discussion of software evolution.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is an excellent thought provoking book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and provides a good introduction to the topic of emergence dealing with the bottom-up creation of intelligent behaviour from lower level less intelligent behaviour. This is perfectly illustrated by the example of harvester ants whose colonies exhibit intelligence and learning that no individual ant possesses. The complexity of the colony and its structure is constructed by the behaviours of ants whose vocabulary extends to only ten discrete actions. In a real sense the ants do not consciously create the colony but it is created through the interactions between the ants. There is no helicopter view of the colony held by any ant, no master plan, yet the colony is created. It emerges from the lower level actions of the ants.Interesting though the behaviour of ants is, the book goes on to cite many other examples much closer to home, not the least of these is the creation of cities which is shown to parallel this emergent approach. The book explores how our mindset makes it difficult to see and accept the creation of complex intelligent behaviour in this emergent way. Our thinking tends to look for a top-down leader driven explanation, the bird in the flock that sets the direction, rather than each bird in the flock following a simple set of rules with the flock behaviour emerging as a consequence. For me the book provided real insights into the prevalence of emergent systems and points to computer games such as Sim City which allow us to glimpse the creation and operation of emergent worlds.Whilst the book roams across a broad canvass discussing the behaviours of cities, ants, slime mould, software, the internet and politics as emergent systems, it does not focus specifically on business organisations. However to the discerning reader the profound importance of the message of emergence and its implications will resonate in every business.This is an excellent and stimulating read that introduces the principles of emergence and may change the way you look at how a host of systems operate including those involved in business operation and business change.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Steven Johnson is an excellent pop culture / business writer. Emergence is up to the high standard set by his Everything Bad Is Good For you. Everything will be easier to digest for most. Everything deals with readily accessible pop culture. Johnson's fascinating thesis in Everything is we are smarter due to pop culture. Emergence is more remote concentrating on history of emergence theory in ants and bees. Johnson builds a bridge between our most massive emergent system, the web, and nature. His foundation is solid, but he demurs at the last moment for some good reasons. Turns out there are differences between nature's emergent systems and the web. As a "thought experiment" this book helps see and think of web movement differently. Johnson's abstract comparison between biological and technical systems is what makes Emergence fascinating and layered. I am working notes into a database and it is taking several days.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
thought provoking read on self-organzing behaviors & the "bottom-up" revolution going on theories of how we connect. interesting to note that he wrote this after moving to greenwich village and then reading jane jacobs' "the death & life of great american cities" parallel w/ reading about brains. i love his magpie mind that can combine stuff on ant colonies, sidewalk culture, neuroscience, recommendation software of amazon, and social networks. "Cities bring minds together and put them into coherent slots." tags: self-organizing behavior, swarm logic, clustering, feedback loops, pattern recognition, emergent software, ordered randomness, jane jacobs, theory of minds, bottom-up revolution (8.20.09)read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Excellent. Like having your view of the world shifted.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Read all reviews

Reviews

'Emergence' is certainly a good primer to the topic, written in a quite accessible style. Unfortunately, Steven Johnson describes at length ant behavior and city development (among many other processes), but he generally fails to give necessary insight into possible underlying mechanisms.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I had a lot of fun reading _Emergence_, and it inspired many ideas and lines of inquiry. It stitches together topics I've been reading about, including the emergent intelligence of ant colonies in _Goedel, Escher, Bach_, the automata of Sipser's _Introduction to the Theory of Computation_, and the patterns in programming katas like Conway's Game of Life. Among other things, I've installed StarLogo and started programming simulations of epidemics and swarms, with plans for building a software rendition of my cellular automata project. I love books that get me thinking creatively, and _Emergence_ provided a great synergy of new ideas and connections with themes I've been thinking about, in an approachable, readable style.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I find the concept of emergence, where simple sets of rules applied to large-scale systems can result in complex high-order organization, the most famous being an ant colony, where simple pheromone signals feed back on themselves to create what appears to be a well organized whole. I was expecting something a bit more technical, like a popular account of the current state of research, but he spent a lot more time talking about emergence in general and where it shows up in our lives and in the world around us. I did find the last couple chapters very fascinating, though, where he talked about emergence in the online community. As I was reading it (in July 2010), there were several things he talked about as possibilities that are now taken for granted, like what would become Google's search ranking algorithms, Netflix's movie suggestions and direct streaming, social networking, and other crowd-sourcing sites. About halfway through the chapter I looked at the publication date because of this and was pretty shocked to see that it was 9 years old.All in all not a bad book, but not quite what I was expecting or looking for.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I came across this book while browsing the stacks at my local library. Although written in 10 years ago, I found the concepts to be relevant still today. The author covered a wide range of topics from ants to city planning to game theory to music through which he wove the ideas of emergent behavior, negative feedback, distributed intelligence, patterns and rules. It was a fun and worthwhile read about topics that I find fascinating.Of particular interest was the end of the book about consciousness. I was not familiar with the other minds theory of consciousness which essentially suggests that our ability to consider how a situation appears to another led to our self-awareness. The study with 3 and 4 year olds that drove this point home was particularly interesting as it underscores how the mind develops and becomes self-aware.As a Web developer, I began to wonder if the Web could become emergent. I came to the conclusion that it's not possible in its current state. It needs more structure and is inherently disorganized due to its architecture. According to Johnson, the key missing ingredient is feedback- no web page knows what other pages are pointing to it without effort. All connections are one-way. I suspect this lack of two-way connections is why Google, and search engines in general, are so dominant. We literally could not effectively use the information on the Web without these tools today.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is incredibly engaging and interesting, and is confirming ideas about which I already had some inklings about the general outlines of. I think that emergence may well shape up to be the defining idea of the next few decades. It seems to have its tentacles in a lot of different and disparate fields and problems, at any rate. I want to know more, though this is an excellent starting point.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I borrowed this book from the UNC library along with 'No Logo' and 'Success of Open Source'. I had worked my way through those two books, but ignored this one. Eventually, I decided if I checked this book out, I should make an attempt to read it. I was done with it in a couple of sittings. A pretty good read.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
As of late, “Emergence” seems to be the hottest buzz word tossed around the crit spaces and seminar rooms of my chosen discipline. Thus it was important that I finally read something about just what the hell the term means. As usual, the unflagging Johnson never fails to enthrall. Who can deny the power of such observations as, “in the case of the Middle Ages, we can safely say that the early village residents shat themselves into full-fledged towns.”? He occasionally descends into the hackneyed territory of predictive cyber-nerd-speak, but he quickly segues into something else in his quest to uncover a consilience among ants, brains, Jane Jacobs, and the World Wide Web (apparently not invented by Albert Gore, but one Tim Berners-Lee. Coincidentally I voted for Tim in 2000).Alas, this book seems to shore up my preconceived opinion that “emergence” will have little more than a tenuous relationship with some student’s “architecture” project for a Museum of Humanism in a previously Iron Curtainized locale. It’ll merely be used as one of those dialogic Red Herrings that make me look like the ass when I point out that the project lacks stairs… and walls. I suppose those things will emerge later on.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is really fascinating stuff, and the kind of thing I have been dipping into for a while. Though I found this book a little bit shakey to start with, it soon picks up the page-turning momentum of a good thriller.Steven Johnson takes us on a journey through self-organising systems as different as slime moulds, businesses in medieval Florence and eBay. The unexpected emergent behaviour of systems based on simple rules is a bizarre and fascinating subject (at least to me). Emergent effects, ranging from traffic jams to human consciousness itself, affect us in all aspects of our lives. This book shows a very different viewpoint to the way things really work. The emergent behaviours of societies and social networks is particularly interesting, and is demonstrated very well with examples taken from the internet, such as slashdot and eBay.In common with chaos theory and quantum mechanics, the science of emergent systems shows that the more we discover and understand the rules and mechanisms behind the universe, the less we are actually able to predict what will happen. The world will alway be able to suprise us - I actually find that quite heartening!
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
An interesting discussion of community relationships. The idea of bottom up emergence was intriguing. The best part of the book to me was the discussion of software evolution.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is an excellent thought provoking book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and provides a good introduction to the topic of emergence dealing with the bottom-up creation of intelligent behaviour from lower level less intelligent behaviour. This is perfectly illustrated by the example of harvester ants whose colonies exhibit intelligence and learning that no individual ant possesses. The complexity of the colony and its structure is constructed by the behaviours of ants whose vocabulary extends to only ten discrete actions. In a real sense the ants do not consciously create the colony but it is created through the interactions between the ants. There is no helicopter view of the colony held by any ant, no master plan, yet the colony is created. It emerges from the lower level actions of the ants.Interesting though the behaviour of ants is, the book goes on to cite many other examples much closer to home, not the least of these is the creation of cities which is shown to parallel this emergent approach. The book explores how our mindset makes it difficult to see and accept the creation of complex intelligent behaviour in this emergent way. Our thinking tends to look for a top-down leader driven explanation, the bird in the flock that sets the direction, rather than each bird in the flock following a simple set of rules with the flock behaviour emerging as a consequence. For me the book provided real insights into the prevalence of emergent systems and points to computer games such as Sim City which allow us to glimpse the creation and operation of emergent worlds.Whilst the book roams across a broad canvass discussing the behaviours of cities, ants, slime mould, software, the internet and politics as emergent systems, it does not focus specifically on business organisations. However to the discerning reader the profound importance of the message of emergence and its implications will resonate in every business.This is an excellent and stimulating read that introduces the principles of emergence and may change the way you look at how a host of systems operate including those involved in business operation and business change.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Steven Johnson is an excellent pop culture / business writer. Emergence is up to the high standard set by his Everything Bad Is Good For you. Everything will be easier to digest for most. Everything deals with readily accessible pop culture. Johnson's fascinating thesis in Everything is we are smarter due to pop culture. Emergence is more remote concentrating on history of emergence theory in ants and bees. Johnson builds a bridge between our most massive emergent system, the web, and nature. His foundation is solid, but he demurs at the last moment for some good reasons. Turns out there are differences between nature's emergent systems and the web. As a "thought experiment" this book helps see and think of web movement differently. Johnson's abstract comparison between biological and technical systems is what makes Emergence fascinating and layered. I am working notes into a database and it is taking several days.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
thought provoking read on self-organzing behaviors & the "bottom-up" revolution going on theories of how we connect. interesting to note that he wrote this after moving to greenwich village and then reading jane jacobs' "the death & life of great american cities" parallel w/ reading about brains. i love his magpie mind that can combine stuff on ant colonies, sidewalk culture, neuroscience, recommendation software of amazon, and social networks. "Cities bring minds together and put them into coherent slots." tags: self-organizing behavior, swarm logic, clustering, feedback loops, pattern recognition, emergent software, ordered randomness, jane jacobs, theory of minds, bottom-up revolution (8.20.09)
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Excellent. Like having your view of the world shifted.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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