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Inescapable Data 99

jsuda writes "The authors of Inescapable Data share their excitement about what they see as a rapidly-developing convergence of digital technologies having enormous significance for business and culture. This convergence, in their view, is inescapable, life-altering for both good and bad, and presents a frame-shattering paradigm-shift which is mostly unrecognized, and much less examined critically. Inescapable Data is a thought-provoking book meant to describe the new technologies and to examine the special values which arguably will emerge from the convergence." Read the rest of John's review.
Inescapable Data: Harnessing the Power of Convergence
author Chris Stakutis and John Webster
pages 278
publisher IBM Press Pearson Education
rating 7
reviewer John Suda
ISBN 0-13-185215-9
summary A practical perspective on developing technologies


This book illuminates the practical perspective of these developments. Others who pay attention to developments in culture of this sort believe that this convergence presents the most important and consequential development in human history, far vaster in its scope and effects than the Great Wars, and the Industrial Revolution. The developments have been so rapid and the effects so many and complex that is hard at this point to grasp all of the significances, although the dynamics, as noted in the book, are fairly clear.

Nicholas Negroponte in his 1995 book Being Digital first popularized the idea of the power and force of Digital. But this book emphasizes that Digital itself is not nearly the force that Convergence is and will become. Yes, the impetus certainly comes from the specific digital technologies but the combination of four major separate technology spheres has catalyzed into a much greater force. This is the Convergence.

As detailed in the book, these technologies are: 1) data-everywhere devices, like cellphones, biosensors, miniaturized video cameras, and GPS transmitters; 2) asynchronous-yet-immediate transmission technologies, like instant messaging; 3) intelligent wireless networks; and 4) advanced information processing software. Embedded chips will be everywhere, including in your dog or cat, your clothes, every product you own or consume or use, and your own body. What links everything together context-wise are XML files and protocols. The synergy of all of these components create a whole system which is much greater than the sum of its parts.

In 13 chapters and an index comprising 268 pages, the authors explain the basic vision of the practical dynamics of inescapable data. Chapters 4-12 contain section by section descriptions of the implementation of the component technologies and show how traditional and historical ways of doing things are being quickly altered, primarily now in manufacturing, distribution, and retailing.

The writing is mostly in the form of serial presentations of anecdotes, statistics, specific examples, and commentary. It is geared to the technologically-interested person focused on practical matters. This is not an academic work; it is full of practical and real-world examples but short on critique, theory, and analysis.

Chapter Four starts the discussion of existing and developing applications of inescapable data, and is about digital convergence in military and government spheres. Instant messaging, GPS transmitters, ubiquitous cellular communication, and advanced software applications have radically altered traditional command and control operations. With immediate, field-based information, the way battles are waged is now different. Commanders have instantaneous information about realtime happenings, aggregated and realtime updated information about equipment and materials including logistical supply chains and more, through wireless devices held or embedded in all elements of the military operation, including individual troops.

Governments, using wireless video camera transmitters, biosensors, and GPS transmitters can now utilize realtime broad-scale, relatively inexpensive surveillance for crime control and other purposes. In the home, wireless and digital technologies acting to provide surveillance and remote control of heating and electrical systems are in use now, and many more applications will be utilized very soon. The technology and cost factors are available now. In the field of medicine, everyday worklife, manufacturing, retail and entertainment, data collection is coming widespread as miniature sensors, radio frequency identification devices (RFID), wireless connectivity, XML content headers, and information processing software facilitate the recording of much of social, business, and cultural life. This then allows the widespread, immediate, real-time processing of relevant information by businesses, marketers, government (think Homeland Security), and, of course, miscreants of various types.

The important part to understand is not just that new technology is available now and at relatively low cost. What makes all of this interesting is that the connections among individual components of this technological matrix are increasing and developing. So, your new refrigerator is linked to the manufacturer's array of servers and to your grocery store's servers, and to your bank. Your medical records are stored in your doctor's server, connected to insurance company and government computers, as well as wide-scale medical-related organizations. Each of these linked nodes is further linked, or will be to other nodes, so that an immense matrix of relationships is now being furthered.

Chapters 7 and 10 on manufacturing and retail show how old-fashioned practices involving a company networking its departments and units internally, has now evolved into a process where the company computers and particularly its databases are now linked to all of its component suppliers, distributors, advertisers, regulatory entities, and more. The authors detail through each of the chapters the available technology, the specific uses, and the immediately perceivable effects, via interviews with a large handful of corporate, university, and business people involved in the technology. Examples of use, both awesome and mundane, are noted.

The alleged benefits of the convergence are vastly new efficiencies, flexibilities, customization opportunities, adaptability, and other values, many of which remain to be determined. One thing is absolutely certain- there will be plenty of data generated. Almost certainly, there will be plenty of people and organizations trying to make sense and meaning of this data, filtering and analyzing with new, capable, processing applications.

Whole new industries will form to manage this data. Where linked computers once vastly facilitated digital development, including the Internet, there will now be linked databases which will stand out as the chief component of the convergence. There will be systematic, continuous connectivity in a matrix of networked relationships represented by linked databases.

This convergence concept is highly reminiscent of Big Brother of 1984 fame. Obviously, there are serious issues about the quality of life in the convergence era. The good is in enormous increases in efficiency, in customized processes and products, in immediacy, and in flexibility and individual freedoms. The downsides are discussed here in a mere four pages in Chapter 13 on Perspectives. The authors itemize them as: discriminatory insurance underwriting effecting those unlucky enough to have reported genetic or medical issues; rampant identity theft, increased marketing pressures, a conflation of work and home life which some may feel as threatening, the alteration of sports and entertainment, and the exposure of formerly personal information. Another issue is the likelihood that some people will not be connected, for whatever reason. This group will comprise an underclass missing out on the benefits of convergence.

The book ends with a list of suggestions to the reader on how to exploit the developments - use an email PDA, avail of work-at-home opportunities, equip your kids with cell devices, convince your medical provider to send SMS and email appointment reminders, and set up home surveillance. For businesses, they suggest broad use of IM, groupware, and work-at-home concepts. Predictions include global calendars, singular devices, single key authentication, cashless economic transactions, and flexible matrix workers.

These suggestions and predictions seem fairly lame in respect to a process compared by some to the Great Wars and the Industrial Revolution. However, the perspective here is a practical, pragmatic one. More weighty suggestions, conclusions, and predictions are for higher-level academic writers."


You can purchase Inescapable Data: Harnessing the Power of Convergence from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Inescapable Data

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  • Buzzword? (Score:5, Funny)

    by stupidfoo ( 836212 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @03:35PM (#14795603)
    Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword

    How many more buzzwords can be thrown into the review? 10, 100, 1000?
    • "Always on"! Wireless cameras"! We've heard this before.

      Internet 2.0. Does the same things as Internet 1.0, but more complicated and costs more.

    • Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword

      I take it that your are not feeling the synergy??
    • Come on, this by far sums up the article even better than that lame first paragraph did!
    • Re:Buzzword? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by AnalystX ( 633807 )
      That's exactly what I was thinking. In addition, wouldn't the only people who care about the content covered in this book already have intimate, first-hand knowledge of the content covered in this book?
    • Don't bother counting. Just write a quick script to parse it. Don't forget #include <manager_lib.h>. Here's the output for the first paragraph:

      The authors of Inescapable Data share their excitement about what they see as a rapidly-developing convergence of digital technologies having enormous significance for business and culture. This convergence, in their view, is inescapable, life-altering for both good and bad, and presents a frame-shattering paradigm-shift which is mostly unrecognized, and much

    • ... the article is now tagged "bullshitbingo" and "buzzwordcompliant"

    • Look at what a local search [slashdot.org] pulls up for this 'reviewer.' Whole bunch of buzz-happy reviews of books on 'podcasting' and 'garage' web design and what not. Are we supposed to believe he's performing these tiresome exercises cuz he likes to see his name in print and he's just a book-reviewing kind o' guy? No user comments at all, just these too-slick-for-their-own-good 1996-vintage new-tech-feel-good book reviews.

      C'mon, Mr. Suda, share with us: Whaddya make, penny a word? Two cents a word? Flat rate? We'
    • Buzzwords? I didn't notice any buzzwords.

      All I saw was "Blah blah blah blah blah breasts blah blah blah blah breasts blah blah ..."

      (Sometimes I have trouble concentrating on what I'm reading a my mind drifts a little. Usually towards sex.)

      So the article was about converging cleavage, right? What's the problem?

    • Don't let my boss see this, or he'll reorganize my department to be more "data-centric".
    • I feel like your comment is creating a negative aura in the synergy of the Slashdot community.
    • Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword Buzzword ...Mushroom Mushroom? Sorry, it just had to be said :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Summary - there will be much more data in the future. More people will be looking at the data. More people will be using the data. More data will be shared. More systems will use and share data. This will change stuff.

    Buy my book please.

  • by AlterTick ( 665659 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @03:40PM (#14795669)
    "This convergence, in their view, is inescapable, life-altering for both good and bad, and presents a frame-shattering paradigm-shift which is mostly unrecognized"

    Is it just me, or is anyone else vaguely unsettled by the weird way some people talk about "The Convergence"? It sounds almost like the tech version of the Rapture [wikipedia.org]?

    Honestly, I believe that this view of "the convergence" is as overly optimistic as the 1950's notion that by now we'd be travelling in flying cars, have robots cleaning our house*, and atomic power was going to make electricity too cheap to meter. In real life there's too much (friction? drag? entropy?) due to the sheer scale and complexity of legacy systems for things to happen the way the dreamers envision.

    • * Don't say it! I have a Roomba too, and you still need to vacuum with a REAL vacuum cleaner once in a while
    • I believe that this view of "the convergence" is as overly optimistic . . .

      If you view a world where your XML driven refrigerator does your banking for you with optimism you and I aren't likely to get along.

      I'm getting an icebox.

      KFG
    • The mere appearance of a phrase like frame-shattering paradigm-shift pegs the needle on my bullshit detector. It's not just buzzword-compliant, it is redundantly so.
    • Is it just me, or is anyone else vaguely unsettled by the weird way some people talk about "The Convergence"?

      <Morpheus>No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you fr
      • What I want to know is.... is it Static Convergence or Dynamic Convergence?

        And when do we sell them the plates?
        • bash$ talk turnipsatemybaby

          Neo!^H^H^H^H Turnipsatemybaby!
          The matrix^H^H^H^H^H convergence has you!
          ^D

          %%^%@#$!#!@#AS!@#!#%

          NO CARRIER
          Back on the Nebuchadrezzar... "I lost the signal. We can only hope that TurnipsAteMyBaby is THE ONE."
        • > What I want to know is.... is it Static Convergence or Dynamic Convergence?

          It doesn't matter -- as long as we provide sufficent power to the Flux Capacitor! It's the only way to avoid the frame-shattering paradigm-shift! Scotty! I've got buzzwords up here! I need hyphens and exclaimation points -- NOW!!!!!

    • Quote: Honestly, I believe that this view of "the convergence" is as overly optimistic as the 1950's notion that by now we'd be travelling in flying cars, have robots cleaning our house*, and atomic power was going to make electricity too cheap to meter. In real life there's too much (friction? drag? entropy?) due to the sheer scale and complexity of legacy systems for things to happen the way the dreamers envision.

      I was thinking the same. Look at TIA and other large scale programs. They seem to be mostly u
    • > Honestly, I believe that this view of "the convergence" is as overly optimistic
      > as the 1950's notion that by now we'd be travelling in flying cars, have robots
      > cleaning our house*, and atomic power was going to make electricity too cheap
      > to meter. In real life there's too much (friction? drag? entropy?) due to the
      > sheer scale and complexity of legacy systems for things to happen the way the
      > dreamers envision.

      It's not just optimism that causes this flaw in thinking, or drag that caus
  • Backlash (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The world is a big place, mostly covered in water. Much of what's not covered in water is covered by sand, ice, or mountains. Most of the people who live in the rest of it don't have a cell phone.

    Isolation and peace will continue to be possible. We tend to think that everyone's life is like ours, and for urbanites this implies being a slave to technology. Most people won't ever wear a chip, much less have one embedded.

    Just another boring book author and their Vision. Move along, nothing to see here.
  • The biggest thing I sensed from the review of this book is that it's definately Buzzword 2.0 Compliant.

    But in all seriousness, I feel that Slashdot readers aren't the best audience for the book. Most of it was a big yawn, and quite frankly, reminded me of meetings I attended while working for Enron Broadband. Hate to say it, but I think most readers are simply not blown away by "group calendar technologies."

    Yes, convergence will definately alter how we live and have some significant social effects, but I
    • > The biggest thing I sensed from the review of this book is that it's definately Buzzword 2.0 Compliant.

      The word "Blog" didn't appear, nor did "Web 2.0", nor was there any URL linking to a ".us" domain that spelled an English word when the dots were removed.

      That's buzzword 1.0 compliance at best.

      • Is there a validator where we can check?

        Hmmm, I may have just thought of my next PHP project...sorry, I meant to say I envision the development of a standards-based approach to maximizing the utilization of impression-centric terminology, and I intend to take the initiative in making this technology available to the underprivileged marketing managers of the world.
  • ...one pretty much would have to have stayed indoors...on an island...without electricity...for the last 150 years.
  • David Brin's 1998 book, "The Transparent Society [amazon.com] (website) [davidbrin.com] talks about video technology and privacy, and argued that video technology is becoming sufficiently cheap (Moore's Law, blah blah, cheap storage, compression, wireless, blah blah) that we're going to have to deal with nearly-universal video surveillance, and that the important thing to do is make sure that the use of this technology is open rather than closed, with the people watching government and each other rather than the likely alternative, whi
    • is that our concept of morality will have to change. There will be no more "keeping up appearances" if anyone can dial up a public webcam and see Reverend Jones walking into the brothel. There'll be no more "don't ask, don't tell." There'll be no more picking your nose while no one's looking.

      I remember hearing of a child custody battle in Utah where the ex-wife got a really good legal team and got her husband on the front page of the local paper with the headline: Local Man Seeks Porn on Internet. He los
    • Strange, most of the big moves to super surveilance are in the socialist paradises of Western Europe. How many articles have we read about the extreme levels of camera coverage in many of Europe's big cities?
      In the US, it's mostly been in solidly democrat controlled areas like Chicago, which wants to put police cameras inside private businesses.

      But you're right, it's all Bush's fault.
  • In college I took a lot of comparative studies classes where a lot of professors were enamored with postmodernism.

    One in particular kept harping on how little these technologies are 'critically examined' before they are rolled out. I think this is stupid. You can't predict the future. Nobody knows what the fallout, good or bad, will be, until afterwards. One example is the use of the phone message machines as call screening devices.

    And furthermore, if some 'critical examiner' finds some theoretical iss
  • by Anonymous Struct ( 660658 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @03:53PM (#14795783)
    \d\a\t\a

    There, that took like 5 seconds. And I didn't even read the book.
  • Futurology is becoming a bigger and bigger deal. Universities now give out degrees for people who want to predict future trends. What do you think of that?
  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @03:57PM (#14795813) Homepage
    This convergence concept is highly reminiscent of Big Brother of 1984 fame. Obviously, there are serious issues about the quality of life in the convergence era. The good is in enormous increases in efficiency, in customized processes and products, in immediacy, and in flexibility and individual freedoms. The downsides are discussed here in a mere four pages in Chapter 13 on Perspectives. The authors itemize them as: discriminatory insurance underwriting effecting those unlucky enough to have reported genetic or medical issues; rampant identity theft, increased marketing pressures, a conflation of work and home life which some may feel as threatening, the alteration of sports and entertainment, and the exposure of formerly personal information. Another issue is the likelihood that some people will not be connected, for whatever reason. This group will comprise an underclass missing out on the benefits of convergence.

    He missed the big danger, then, which is the opportunity for a government administration to attack its political opponents by utilizing this aggregate data. In a world where being labelled a terrorist gets you an indefinite sentence without a court date, all the administration has to do is look into the purchasing and driving habits of the other party's nominee, and leak some scathing information to the press, like "so-and-so visits this middle eastern bakery 3 days a week, roomed with a guy back in college who once donated money to a middle eastern charity that is now under investigation, and once travelled to Jordan on business". The press will have a field day and the general populace will believe whatever CNN or Fox News tells them.

    That's on top of the ability to forge the data in these databases. Have you ever tried to tell someone at a bank that the information they have about your credit is wrong? They'll believe the computer over you any day. The computer is always right.
    • That's on top of the ability to forge the data in these databases. Have you ever tried to tell someone at a bank that the information they have about your credit is wrong? They'll believe the computer over you any day. The computer is always right.

      That's our salvation eventually. The data will be so shitty and useless as to not matter much anymore. For all the talk about realtime and linked this and that, I have a sense that much of the data will be nearly immutable and thus unable to reflect the real world
      • That's our salvation eventually. The data will be so shitty and useless as to not matter much anymore. For all the talk about realtime and linked this and that, I have a sense that much of the data will be nearly immutable and thus unable to reflect the real world. Hence useless.

        On the path to your "salvation", I don't want to be road-kill. How many bad "anonymous tips" and "no-fly listees" resulting in random asset seizures and imprisonment will it take? And wwith the news media on the take, it might nev

      • I have a sense that much of the data will be nearly immutable and thus unable to reflect the real world. Hence useless.

        Just because the data is wrong or useless doesn't mean it's not believed by the vast majority of data consumers. (And those consumers include other computer systems who have no access to the real world.) "So what if the shelves are empty, the computer says we have 20 vacuum cleaners in our store. But you can't find 'em? Well, they're in the vacuum cleaner aisle!" And if you are fortu

  • by greginnj ( 891863 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @03:57PM (#14795815) Homepage Journal
    In 13 chapters and an index comprising 268 pages, the authors explain the basic vision of the practical dynamics of inescapable data.
    ... a 268-page index sure as hell sounds like 'inescapable data' to me!
  • There will not be publicly linked databases, because no DBA is going to let the whole world just hammer their db into the ground. If there are systems that appear to be linked databases, it will be from RSS feeds, or from intelligent agents that "copy" all your data off of your website systematically, and then merge it into a (virtually single) db with everyone else's data (i.e. google search).
  • The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show

    "Excuse me, but "proactive" and "paradigm"? Aren't these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I'm accusing you of anything like that. I'm fired, aren't I?"
  • This whole book sounds like an article in Wired from about seven or eight years ago. There didn't used to be an issue of Wired without a proclamation that something was "far vaster in its scope and effects than the Great Wars, and the Industrial Revolution" or words to that effect.
    • Predictions include ... flexible matrix workers"

      I don't need to read a new book since this "prediction" appeared years ago in the opening scene of The Matrix. When Trinty kicked the cop standing behind her in the face, she was being a flexible matrix worker. Old news now.
  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @04:14PM (#14795957) Journal
    Privacy was a real concern back in the 1960s and 1970s, because computer databases were making it possible to track, bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate people and their credit records, and government agencies were spying on leftists, union organizers, and peaceniks. The US passed lots of laws about fair credit reporting and later the Privacy Act of 1974, and European countries passed lots of laws forbidding data to be handled on computers.

    Computers back then were wimpy - a million dollars worth of 1970 mainframe had under a MIPS of power and required a large staff to feed it and care for it, disk drives weren't bigger than a couple of megabytes, you needed low-density magtapes to store any volume of data. Because of the cost and limitations of the computers and most programming environments, database projects typically took months to years to develop, requiring whole departments worth of people and budget.
    RAM costs per bit have come down by about 6 orders of magnitude since then, CPU speeds increased by about four orders of magnitude (and price/performance by 6-8 orders), disk storage is large and cheap enough that there's a quarter-terabyte of disk in a consumer appliance sitting under my television.

    The big impacts aren't just on how much data can be stored (all of it, basically), but on who can decide to access it for what reason - the database analysis that used to take a department a year of planning is now an ad-hoc query that a random employee can type into a spreadsheet at lunchtime. A cop driving down the road can scan all the license plate numbers of the parked cars and see if anything interesting comes up. An "anonymous tip" can accuse somebody of being vaguely suspicious and get passed along to a list that keeps anybody with a vaguely similar name from flying on airplanes, and even though it would not be difficult to track where the information came from, it's government policy not to do that or not to admit it if they do.

  • What links everything together context-wise are XML files and protocols.

    We are so doomed.

    • Your life won't end, instead it will throw a MalformedDocumentException. Seriously, I actually laughed out loud when they mentioned that XML was going to glue it all together. That's having zero clue of the technology... but then, having a clue seems to be optional lately.
  • It looks like whoever is marketing this book wrote a very buzzword heavy abstract, and then pasted the introduction in after it. Has anyone checked to see who actually wrote this book, becase the whole "review" reads like marketing copy.
  • by SydBarrett ( 65592 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @04:28PM (#14796071)
    Then you will know extactly where your cat's butt is using GPS and your cat's butt can message your toaster and check the exact status of any toasting process and also the bread has a RFID chip and can post a complaint about unfair toasting to it's own blog.
  • If you want to read about some really radical ideas about what omnipresent information will do, try Golden Age [amazon.com] by John C Wright instead. In the society described there, everyone actually lives in a state called "surface dreaming", where reality and data about it are seamlessly melded so that you can "format" what you see in any way you want, just as you can use a user-stylesheet to custom-render a web page today. (Obviously, these "sense-filters" cause their own share of problems, which the book discusses i
  • Yes, even Lore couldn't get away in the end.
  • Since when did Slashdot briefs read like Pitchfork Record reviews?
  • I'm sorry, but while this is amusing in a 'speculative-fiction' sense, futurists (and particularly near-futurists) have an abysmal track record on predicting the actual outcomes or impacts of devices, technologies, or concepts. Science Fiction authors actually probably have a better track record than the professional futurists....

    Underwater Cities?
    Living in Space Stations or on the Moon?
    Dinner pills?
    Impending total exhaustion of X (where X = any natural resource)?
    Mass Starvation across the globe?
    Cryongenic
    • Yeah, but it's hard to fault the futurists/sci-fi writers -- well except to the degree that they have the arrogance to think they can figure out what the future will be like.

      But after the technology technological advances, e.g. over the 15 years from 1960 to 1975, particularly with computers and space-travel, how could anyone doubt that by 2001 we'd be taking manned trips to Jupiter and bringing along our sentient computer companions?

      But shouldn't we by now get the fact that changes aren't happening as
  • You go around with a chip in your shoulder!
  • Yay! Singularity FTW! Individualism and cultural diversity FTL!
  • It is probably poor form to not esacape your data.

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