FROM THE BOOK-SHELF
* Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte, London, 

Hodder and Stoughton, 249 pp, panel 4 (pb) (1995) 

** What Will Be : How the New World of Information

Will Change Our Lives by Michacel Dertouzos, New York 

Harper Collins Publishers, xvi +368 pp, $ 13|25 (pb)(1997) 

http://www.harpercolins.com/harperedge

Whether we realise or not, radical, indeed revolutionary, changes are taking place right in front of our eyes triggered principally by the computer and its associated technologies like the Internet and the World Wide Web. It is just a coincidence that the two authors of the two books reviewed here hail from the mecca of the emerging technologies - the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Both, incidentally, are also from Greece. Both are regarded as mahagurus (great teachers) of ongoing information technology (IT) revolution. 

Nicholas Negroponte, one of the World's foremost experts on multimedia, is the Director of Media Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also a founder of and writer for Wired magazine - world's leading tech magazine (http : //www.wired.com). Michael Dertouzos has headed MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science since, yes, 1974. Dertouzos advises the leaders of Fortune 500 companies and of the U.S. and European governments on the future directions of information technology and its impact. 

The MIT Media Lab is supported by nearly 170 corporations worldwide. Negroponte has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1966. To know more about him and his writings, particuarly his Wired Columns (1993-98) , visit the URL : http :/www. media.mit.edu/people nicholas. To know about what the Media Lab is doing, visit the URL http : //www.media. mit. Edu/. To know more about the MIT's Laboratory for Computer Sciences (lcs), visit the URL : http ://www.lcs.mit.edu/ and to know more about Michael Dertouzos visit the URL : http ://www.lcs.mit/edu/about/mld. Both the books reviewed here are best sellers. 

What then Nicholas Negroponte has to say in his Being Digital*? Regarded as a classic in information technology (IT), Negroponte, in his clear - prose and fact - packed work makes the basic distinction between atoms (embodying the physical objects) and bits (as a form of energy travelling at the speed of light). And if you listen to this pioneer, his assessment of the technology is quite clear : `computing is not about computers any more. It is about living'. And the world is gradually, but surely, changing from `atom - based' living to `bit - based' living. What a revolutionary time to live in ? 

The book is divided into three parts : Part One : Bits are Bits, Part Two : Interface, and Part Three : Digital Life. Each part has six chapters. The book is wound up with an Epilogue : An age of optimism. In clear, often anecdotal manner, in Part One, Negroponte introduces us to the amazing world of bits, contrasting them sharply with atoms around which almost our entire lives revolve. He introduces the technical terms, which are gradually entering our common vocabulary with rare clarity and frequent illustrations. Negroponte takes us to the world of bits, optic fibres, bandwidth, and digital TV, and finally to multi-media. 

In Part Two, Negroponte deals with man - machine interface, opening up tantalizing possibilities in the brave new world. The graphical user interface (GUI) emerges as a key area for the next technological leap. Steve Jobs' Apple Macintosh was the first commercial success. More important challenges lie ahead. Negroponte would like more attention devoted to speech recognition by the computers, and points out to the possibilities in artificial intelligence . 

In Part Three, the author contends that `we may not have noticed that we are passing into a post - information age'. The mass media got bigger and smaller at the same time in the information age. In the post information age , everything is made to order, and information is extremely personalised, says the author. In this part, Negroponte covers a wide variety of innovations - cottage television, networks, teaching disabled, wearable media and smart cars. 

In the epilogue, Negroponte prints out that every technology or gifit of science has a dark side, and being digital is no exception. In his words, `The next decade will see cases of intellectual property abuse and invasion of our privacy. We will experience digital vandalism, software piracy, and data thievery. Worst of all, we will witness the loss of many jobs to wholly automated systems, which will soon change the white-collar workplace to the same degree that it has already transformed the factory floor?' 

But Negroponte is an optimist. According to him, like a force of nature, the digital age cannot be denied or stopped. It has four very powerful qualities that will result in its ultimate triumph : decentralizing, globalizing , harmonizing, and empowering. Finally, one can agree with him entirely when he notes in his after words : `But the real satisfaction and measure of success is that my seventy - nine - year - old mother now sends me e-mail daily'. Yes, indeed., and how true! 

In contrast to Negroponte's breezy style of writing, Dertouzos** adopts a narrative style in the second book under review : What Will Be. And it is a rare book for two reasons. First, Dertouzos provides a human aspect to technology. Secondly, he also sets out agenda for action which is rare among tech writers. But agenda for action for whom? For six sets of people - for rich people, for the poor, for business executives and entrepreneurs, technologists, humanists, and national leaders. And it is a remarkably well constructed book with a foreword from none other than Bill Gates. 

The book is divided into three parts : Shaping the Future which explains the new technologies : How Your Life Will Change which explains how the new technologies will have an impact on our lives; and Reuniting Technology and Humanity which assesses the impact of these changes on our society and our humanity. The narrative, too, says the author, builds around three characters : me and my experiences in part I, you the readers and your lives in part II, and society at large in part III. 

The central theme, or the central idea that Dertouzos advocates, is the information marketplace by which he means `the collection of people, computers, communications, software, and services that will be engaged in the intraorganizational and interpersonal informational transactions of the future'. After introducing his central idea, Dertouzos proceeds to lay emphasis on information infrastructure and clearly points out its number of current inadequacies. He then unfolds the information technology (IT) saga - the birth of computer community and evolution of the internet and the World Wide Web. 

He then unfolds the gadgetary - audio, video, and, hold your breath, bodyo. All this is based on human - machine, interface. For Dertouzos, `technology is as unlimited as human imagination'. He covers a very wide variety - bodynets and smart rooms, virtual and augmented reality, electronic noses and haptic interfaces, the new software, automatization tools, good ole (and new) e-mail, groupwork and telework, pipe managers, hyper - organizers and finders, computer security schemes and information infrastructures.

All such technologies are bound to changeour lives and the way we live, work, and play. In the second part Dertouzos describes how technologies will impact upon our daily lives pleasure, health, learning, business and organizations, and not the least, the government.. In the third part, Dertouzos makes an attempt to "reunite" technology and humanity.

According to Dertouzos, we will confront two major forces arising from the information marketplace that will augment human capabilities : electronic bulldozers and electronic proximity. These new forces, he claims, will relieve us of work and bring all the world's people immediately close to one another, which will be both a blessing and a curse. Finally, he `explores what might happen to human relationships and human psyche when the information marketplace meets head-to-head with ancient, unchanging human qualities that we all share?' 

What to do ? Dertouzos offers six action agendas. For individuals in the industrialized world, he says : 1. Accept and explore the new world of information, 2. Support the information marketplace, 3. Extend your current skills, 4. Change your skills, 5. Stay actively informed, and 6. Face your fears head on. The agenda to help the poor suggests: 1. International organizations : adopt a bold new mission, 2. Commercial organizations : donate equipment and services, 3. Fundations and wealthy individuals : help the poor access the information marketplace, and 4. The poor: seek to benefit from the new world.The business agenda suggests : 1. Plunge in and experiment, but don't overmanage or monopolize, 2. Use knowledge of your business, common sense, and avoid hype, 3. Exploit electronic bulldozers, 4. Exploit electronic proximity, 5. Explore conversational speech systems, 6. Integrate human and machine processes 7. Don't cut spending at the expense of your customers, and 8. Look for new opportunities. 

The technie agenda prescribes : 1. Make machines and programs much easier to use, 2. Advance the Internet and web into full-fledged information infrastructure, 3. Develop software for the Information Age, 4. Invent system facades that surpass operating systems and browsers, 5. Improve human - machine interfaces, 6. Pursue high - risk, high - payoff research, and 7. Accept and integrate the humie within you. 

The humie agenda advocates : 1. Conceive a human ideology for the Information Age, 2. Identify and pursue worthy projects with human goals, 3. Warn the world of emerging problems, 4. Debate the humanistic aspects of the Information Marketplace, and 5. Accept and integrate the techie within you. The government agenda suggests : 1. Don't under - regulate or over - regulate the Information Marketplace, 2. Help the information infrastructure grow, and help people use it, 3.Preserve local culture and strike international agreements, 4. Streamline your government's handling of information, and 5. Non - democratic governments : get early credit toward democratization. 

Dertouzos covers a very wide field indeed. Showing a rare combination of, using his own word, a techie brain and a humie heart, he succeeds remarkably in unravelling in simple language, what for us laymen is, the mumbo - jumbo of the emerging information technology (IT). Not only does he succeed in this task greatly; he also suggests agenda for action for a world, which has been taken by complete surprise by the developments in IT. Both Negroponte and Dertouzos have enabled us to strike friendship with the new technologies which continue to develop at a feverish pace. Definitely a better world awaits us all in none too distant future. 
D.C. Misra

What is an event-driven company?

Read this column in our next issue for a review of The Power of Now by Vivek Ranadive, Founder and CEO of TIBCO software Inc. describing what an event-driven company is and a review of The New New Thing by Michael Lewis descirbing hon billion-dollar companies are set up in the silicon valley.