In Search of Certainty

Book description

Quite soon, the world’s information infrastructure is going to reach a level of scale and complexity that will force scientists and engineers to approach it in an entirely new way. The familiar notions of command and control are being thwarted by realities of a faster, denser world of communication where choice, variety, and indeterminism rule. The myth of the machine that does exactly what we tell it has come to an end.

What makes us think we can rely on all this technology? What keeps it together today, and how might it work tomorrow? Will we know how to build the next generation—or will we be lulled into a stupor of dependence brought about by its conveniences?

In this book, Mark Burgess focuses on the impact of computers and information on our modern infrastructure by taking you from the roots of science to the principles behind system operation and design. To shape the future of technology, we need to understand how it works—or else what we don’t understand will end up shaping us.

This book explores this subject in three parts:

  • Part I, Stability: describes the fundamentals of predictability, and why we have to give up the idea of control in its classical meaning
  • Part II, Certainty: describes the science of what we can know, when we don’t control everything, and how we make the best of life with only imperfect information
  • Part III, Promises: explains how the concepts of stability and certainty may be combined to approach information infrastructure as a new kind of virtual material, restoring a continuity to human-computer systems so that society can rely on them.

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Table of contents

  1. Foreword
  2. Author preface to second edition
  3. Introduction: The Hallowed Halls
    1. How to read this book
  4. I. Stability: Or how we base technology on science
  5. 1. King Canute and the Butterfly: How we create the illusion of being in control.
  6. 2. Feedback Patterns and Thresholds: How the relative sizes of things govern their behaviours
  7. 3. Digilogy: Cause, Effect, and Information: How transmitted information shapes the world from the bottom up.
  8. 4. All the Roads to Nowhere: How keeping things in balance is the essence of control.
  9. 5. Zero and the Building Blocks of Babel: How to forge the atoms of reliable infrastructure.
  10. II. Certainty: Living with incomplete information
  11. 6. Keeping It Together by Pulling It Apart: How weak coupling strengthened human infrastructure
  12. 7. Seeing Is Disbelieving: How to explain what we see and make use of it
  13. 8. The Equilibrium of Knowing: Or how not to disagree with yourself
  14. 9. Clockwork Uncertainty: The arms race between reason and complexity
  15. III. Promises: The chemistry of autonomous cooperation
  16. 10. The Concept Of Promises: Or why behaviour comes from within
  17. 11. The Human Condition: How humans make friends to solve problems
  18. 12. Molecular and Material Infrastructure: Elastic, plastic and brittle design
  19. 13. Orchestration And Creative Instability: Or why the conductor does not promise to blow every trumpet
  20. 14. Epilogue
  21. A. Summary and storyline from the chapters
    1. Part 1: Stability
      1. 1. King Canute and the Butterfly
      2. 2. Feedback Patterns and Thresholds
      3. 3. Digilogy: Cause, Effect and Information
      4. 4. All the Roads to Nowhere
      5. 5. Zero and the Building Blocks of Babel
    2. Part 2: Certainty
      1. 6. Keeping It Together by Pulling It Apart
      2. 7. Seeing Is Disbelieving
      3. 8. The Equilibrium of Knowing
      4. 9. Clockwork Uncertainty
    3. Part 3: Promises
      1. 10. The Concept of Promises
      2. 11. The Human Condition
      3. 12. Molecular and Material Infrastructure
      4. 13. Orchestration and Creative Instability
  22. B. Chapter Notes
    1. Notes
  23. C. References
  24. D. Acknowledgements
  25. E. About the author
  26. Index

Product information

  • Title: In Search of Certainty
  • Author(s): Mark Burgess
  • Release date: April 2015
  • Publisher(s): O'Reilly Media, Inc.
  • ISBN: 9781491923368