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|
|publisher||IBM Press Pearson Education|
|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."
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