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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  June 18, 2011 10:00pm-11:00pm EDT

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to speak in terms of study and the stage for the world we live in today, dear the transistors have been in, they came up with this information very and that darville publishes books cybernetics. why did all these things come together then? >> guest: that year was the starting point for my book because i started the book in the middle. ..
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>> and not exactly the start of what we call the information age by like to think it is the start of the time in which we began to realize that all human history had been information age. [laughter] >> host: how did he come up with the term? where does that come from? >> as far as anyone can tell and dented by a statistician who worked at princeton for many years. he was a roommate and was a wonderful guy. there was a lot of discussion not yet invented mythical quality it is a sore four by gary digits and of course, it is a nice
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little word. vino what it is. true or false or yes or no. that olivetti which lies at the heart of so much of the computer era is due to shia and who wrote to a master's thesis when he was barely 20 years old and which he was getting a degree in electrical engineering. it connected the analysis of electrical circuits with the symbolic lowered -- logic from the 19th century and these are two ideas to any normal person seems so distant. electrical circuits most tour electrical engineers were doing things to do with hardware. and resistance.
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and shannon was thinking in the abstract way where the circuit could be on our off and made a connection that could be the same as true or false and have a logic or its or them. to know anything about computers the equivalence between the circuitry and logic this is where it is invented. the bit is the fundamental unit. >> the transistor, we know all lot quite a notorious figure but we know less about bob shannon. what was the like as a person back then? >> guest: he was something of a loner. he was shy.
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at that time there was an old industrial building and it is still there downtown new york on the edge of greenwich village. is in the artistic collective now. in the old pictures you can see the high line railroad line running through the other stories of the building. >> that pitcher is in your book and i love that picture. >> right around that time just after the war, most of bell labs moved out to the suburbs. and shannon who officially work for the mathematics department stayed behind on his own in a cubbyhole. >> host: did he have a window? [laughter] >> i don't know. he was 13 with a young woman who worked across the street
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which the old nabisco buildings that they called the of cracker factory and he later married to the woman. betty shannon. but because during the war he had done in four -- useful work on a script doctor for -- cryptography and because bell labs was a unique institution where they believed in the value of three -- pure research people left him alone. managers did not know what he was working on, but he was allowed to do what he was doing was apparently not particularly useful unlike the transistor that everybody knew would be a big deal. when it was announced the same year, mention named shockley that became immediately famous and bell labs put out a press
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release, the transistor that we now know replaced those bulky and hot vacuum tubes and enabled the miniaturization of electronics almost immediately. transistor radios. and combined with the technology of the integrated circuit, it became the underpinning of our computer world. now we have billions of transistors literally in our pockets. i could call my device out of my pocket. those billions of transistors right there. but shannon's theory that came out at the same time at first blush had nothing to do with that. it was a coincidence and was thinking of officially about telephone wires and copper analog telephone wires and
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his theory of communication was of a great use to come up with techniques to send it efficiently over the analog wires in the presence of noise. but while he solved a lot of these problems in the analog way but simultaneously solve them in a digital way. not just sine waves everything is continuous but in terms of what we now call pittsburgh broke where everything is broken up and discreet and it is a digital. in our world that makes it suitable for storage on all kinds of new devices instead of final photograph -- phonograph records we have disks that store many times more bits because they are microscopic pits engraved on a grade of
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silicon or some other material. by solving these problems in analog terms and digital terms, shannon made a great leap forward for a science just in the process of being born which was computer science. >> host: adds one point* do bits and information theory and the transistor meet? if it was entirely by accident or circumstance or happenstance 1948, when did they begin to intersected? >> they began to converge very quickly. the 1950's, the early fifties and into the 60 saw the birth of the digital computer. and right at the beginning
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you mentioned leader who came into the picture quickly and he was one who early on recognized the power of these new machines and they were a popular sensation. wiener was on the cover of time and "life" magazine and people started to talk about thinking machines. there was a lot of buzz about them long before there was any such thing. and it was so crude to glorified calculating machines but people could see the possibilities. in part because of shannon's work and because of predecessors and to i write about in some detail in the book who was at the end of his career, took to that of
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very tragic death but he was thinking philosophically whether the digital machines could ever think and if they could how would we know? a lot of people were terrified by the prospect. shannon was one who for whatever reason was entirely comfortable with the idea. he did a mind essentials leave phelps we humans are more or less machines in a way with a fairly materialistic view of what we are so it did not bother them to see there would be electronic machines that could think but this was so far from the world we live where just this spring we saw on tv, the machine playing jeopardy on tv and revive the whole line of conversation.
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finally, is this genuine artificial intelligence? here are these questions that smells like something that involves the higher capacity of the brains. and back in his time, shannon was thinking about whether computers would play chess. and you and i both remember when that was considered a real threshold. would machines ever be able to play chess as well as a human being? everybody had realized that there are so many possible chess games that computers could not solve by brute force and could not list of possible moves. there were too many. there were more chess games that and adams in the
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universe and requires something like intelligence to play chess. >> host: but what is it? you mentioned in the book 1950 "time" magazine has the thinking machine on its cover. here we are 61 years later and i am plays a reasonably good game for jeopardy with the moment of human achievement never mind when it comes from. [laughter] but we are eager to was signed as the atf of power of thought to these machines at the same time we are terrified. >> as we move the bar some things that humans used to
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be good at was remembering things. even calculating in numbers of. it seems crazy now but it used to require a lot of intelligence to remember things and to compute the first computers were humans. it wasn't really until the 20th century there is such a thing as a decent mechanic calculating machine. now, because computers do these things so well we don't have to remember anything on certainly don't have to calculate arithmetic. we have machines and ipods for these purposes. psychologically think what we do is downgrade the value of those skills and think calculating is and intelligent. [laughter] you have a machine for that. we could relearn if we
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wanted to. i am pretty sure. memory becomes a improve force. yes, you can train memory and people go around competing to prove they can do that but it is a parlor trick because day to day life, that skill is not required of us is the more. we have so much help before we had computers, we had rating and notebooks but now computers help us remember absolutely everything. added dinner party to have an argument with the bunch of friends who was the star? only a matter of seconds before somebody goes to the keyboard to get the absolute truth answered according to google.
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what happens, the bar is moved we need to look to other skills that only humans can do. writing poetry, composing music, it used to be playing chess, not any more until this spring those answering the jeopardy questions we could leave it open of that problem is solved. with the ibm machine. it is sad in a way because less is reserved to us exclusively more is done by computer at -- computers. so people look ahead and wonder if anything will be left to humans out all? >> host: it makes us much more powerful to give us the power to look up a fact within milliseconds and something we were never able
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to do before. that has been true with every sort of advance. i was fascinated early in the book you step back from the information theory and bids to look at other forms of abstraction mike language. and it seems every time we develop a new symbol system whether language or spoken they gray door retin-a grade zero or that is more advanced or not, or mathematics. we move to a new level of abstraction. that seems to be open a what finally happens with information. what does this abstraction give us? >> the connections you are
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making are exactly the reason that i think 1948 is such a turning point*. we can look at these things now and understand there has been one story from the beginning that all of the earlier technologies' were information. we know the computer is information technology to say the computer is the successor to other types of devices and one way to a calculating machine but also to the television. and the phonograph record and to the book because we use the computer to help us make use of these different forms of information as we now call it.
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weekend look back to say the telegraph and then the printing press before that and then invention of writing was the creation of a technology of information. one thing everything has in common is new levels of abstraction. the point* of writing was to take some think that was already a set of symbols come misspoken gingrich comment to encode it into a new form. pictorial form such as the writing systems invented in asia, or encoded later in alphabetical floor where the symbols don't refer directly to their words or the idea is buds to re smaller unit of sound. that is more abstract.
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a chinese character that represents the word cow is connected to the checkout of little more directly and the three letters of the alphabet that spell the word cow that don't refer to anything except count. then and our world if we become good readers, they are not even sounds. another leap of abstraction begins as it does with all technologies. the telegraph required coding. it is not an accident that samuel morse name is attached to his coach.
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he may our may not have been the inventor of the telegraph. he was the inventor of code and it was a brilliant idea that solved a problem that people were trying to solve all over europe. how do you take language either spoken or written and converted into a form suitable for transmission over electrical wires? you can imagine a lot of ways to do that. maybe it is hard now because the other solution. [laughter] opening and closing the electrical circuit. before that, people came up with solutions involving magnets and clock faces and then the bill would move saying you could move it at one end and at the other end like a ouija board. [laughter] >> host: i am surprised it
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did not catch on. >> telegraphs did work that way and you can see it is more clunky. on the other hand, if you were just sitting down and heard the two systems described you may think anybody can do anything with needles behalf to learn the entire code. we'll humans be able to learn morse code? it is difficult yet we know that they did. 10 sears's -- tens of thousands of telegraph operators write-up to our air there were plenty of people who knew morse code now we know it is a vanishing skill but a few people maybe watching us. [laughter] >> how long does it take to learn morse code?
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is it learning to type? >> i don't know. i take it you didn't see their? >> but we know it is the skilled people at internalize and you could listen to the clatter of the telegraph sound to hear it translated they're as good at understanding that and you could understand the message we also know that people have distinctive signatures to recognize the voice of a particular telegraph operator. all of that has vanished it. >> the code can piece of abstract and also
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personalized at the same time. i find it fascinating, though whole discussion of morse code and others and in particular, in life, the fact those from world war ii were involved with codebreaking is what you touched on in the book. i am fascinated by that because of course, code is the process of encoding information. essentially taking a system to make it more abstract and complicated. what is the connection between fact and shannon development theory later? >> realized early on in this would be a threat to that would run through the whole
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story of code for one thing it is the computer word computer programmers are odors. that is not a coincidence but at the same time when and shannon was a kid he was fascinated by codes one of the books he read was from edgar allan poe and he was fascinated by coats and there was a time by the middle of the 19th century when he was the nation's most famous cryptographer coming up with challenges to decipher to publish in newspapers. again in retrospect we can understand there is an abstraction from one language to another.
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and shannon himself fed did become a professional cryptographer during the war because he had to. it was one of his assignments. he was assigned to the top-secret system which was a telephone system and a hotline connecting president rose about and winston churchill. and shannon didn't invent the methodology used to encode the system come on the one hand it was very clever and incredibly clumsy system involving phonograph records with random noise on them but identical records on opposite sides of the atlantic. and this was a added by one
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record over here while rose about would talk then it would we subtracted from the signals in london sowed churchill could listen and then go back and forth. but there was a theoretical problem how secure this was and that was assigned to claude shannon to figure out if this could be broken. in the course of that he wrote an entire, our average mathematical theory of cryptography which was immediately classified as top secret and not published four years until after his mathematical theory of communication. now we can see och they had a lot in common and shannon was thinking about converting information from one form to another from a public form to a private
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cayden and secret form by for communication and if converted not for the purpose of concealment but for the purpose of the efficiently sending it over the channel but yet the problem was similar. >> it is about communication. there was a moment during the war another during a cryptographer in england travel to the united states by would never vote is available when and visited bell labs and would have lunch with shannon. be there one was allowed to talk about the secret project. so while one and cracked the german code which was incredibly important. >> host: tell us about the
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enigma code. >> another story that was not known until long after the board because it was classified as secret. the germans had elaborate code required machines, a lot of typewriters come in the enigma machines. with the stroke of luck some polish soldiers captured the enigma machine and that was not enough to make it possible to crack the code but it was a starting point*. and one of several mathematicians in the codebreaking project did the most to solve the code once
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then to continue solving it and construct machinery using electrical circuitry and vacuum tubes and mechanical gears to crack the code in realtime. every time the germans change the code the brits would crack the code again. it was incredibly important and arguable that this secret technological project did more to win the war for the allies and the manhattan project did with the atomic bomb. i believe the answer to that is i don't think it is arguable but it is true. >> host: end english could not have given away that they knew too much? hi did they avoid that problem? >> they had to be careful
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how they use the information. these are the accusations churchill made all the time. they were directly paranoid about letting the germans know. if the germans had known and certain they suspected before the war was over there wasn't much they could do about it. but they needed to send messages -- messages. but the fact i am not a military historian but go to the textbook and see many decisive battles with the knowledge the commanders had that we didn't know at the time or the public did not know they were in possession >> host: so i may have distracted you view were
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talking about shannon adds a bell labs 1943? >> guest: yes. and before the war ended. i wish i could have been a fly on the wall. [laughter] also if they would have talked about the work they were doing because their interest had so much in common but they didn't. on the other hand, they didn't start to speculate about the future of thinking machines because those -- poker thinking of computers before there was such a thing. and one had invented a purely abstract mathematical machine that we now call the universal touring machine that represents all others. the touring machine existed only in his head because the transistor was not invented yet.
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he imagined a paper tape and doug kie a -- a kind of device that would march up and down across the tape to plant assembles or read the symbols back off of the tape. this read right head which is the head of a tape recorder, that technology had not been invented yet too either. touring had to imagine all of the stuff he did not have. he did have typewriters. they could plant a letter on to a piece of paper and touring said imagine if it is not to mention all but one dimensional. it is just a tape so the machine goes back and forth? he invented a computer that you saying just these items, the tape and reading
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and writing and a mechanism of storage, they could do anything that any other computer could do. anything that could we solved by this machine could we solved by the modern digital computer and vice versa. >> host: was his imaginary machine digital? did he get to the idea of bits? >> by definition because the symbols were discreet. there was nothing analog. it was not by very. it remained for the next generations of mathematicians to work out if you could make touring machines with just two symbols cero and one. >> host: so then there
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they are working side by side to we have a sense if they suspected what each was working on? [laughter] >> guest: i can only guess but must have suspected. of leased we know the common interest was apparent because they were talking about thinking machines. touring said something to a friend how shannon said wants to feed not just updated to a mechanical brain but the music to it. each in his own way they were forward looking visionary men and thus have communicated that to each other although they went their separate ways and touring returned to england and shannon would work in his cubbyhole. >> host: did they ever meet again? >> i don't think so.
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touring story is very sad. he should have been a national hero but instead was a homosexual. in the 1950's in england that was a legal. he was arrested and in trapped in a sordid british police sting encounter and the way he was treated was barbaric to think about now. the psychological theory of the day of 1950's involved involved, i get homosexuality was something that should we treated that they had the injection of that estrogen which changed his body and threw him into a state of depression. it was humiliating. and he killed himself. >> host: to get back to
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abstraction that in order to make the word riveting
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things down for which there were no words. for example,, and people knew some things are heavier than others but mass is not the same as wait with good new tinny equations. mass is tied up with gravity
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and needed a concept that was separate. and those that involve force is another word. again scientifically we know about applying force to a stationary object thinks to new did you could see him struggling to come up with the words in latin and english because he used both languages. finally he picked words that existed like force. that was military. and would say this is a mathematical term. and i will define it this way. cut lowered three centuries and shannon was doing the same thing. he had in his head the engineers dealing with
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something they were erred dealing with it and it wasn't exactly words are characters a typewriter uses characters. when you talk into eighth telethon you are speaking in words, but what exactly goes up and down the telephone wires? shannon knew that it was electricity but not satisfactory to say we do with electricity either. not words or characters. what was it? we know the answer but it was not obvious. shannon was not the first person to use the word information and that was not the only word. people would talk about intelligence. an earlier letter where he
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writes to one of his teachers that he is trying to work on a general mathematical formulation of ideas having to do with the transmission of intelligence. wrong word. but they needed something and for better or worse they chose the word information and shannon said he would measure in terms of bits to make a quantifiable measurable things that scientist could work? >> host: one of the splendid irony is here we are with what and a messy creatures and we uzi's abstractions to enable us to
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look up the name of the movie star to do anything that we want practically. and i am kind of fascinated by that. and there are limits to what this can do for us. where does that leave us? >> there are a lot of irony is. we are all either conscious or semiconscious. one of them pass to do with the question of meaning and shannon explicitly removed meeting from concept of information to say meeting
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is a relevant when he talks about information he talked about a string of bids and assembles and that could translate into something that was sensible or useful or sheer nonsense. welcome to our world. here we are. information is there rehab all the we could possibly want. maybe that is not literally true. but we know there is a lot of it there. we feel omniscient they get data and those things are cheap. but in this world paradoxically comment knowledge does not theo any more available zero were clear-cut or comfortably in our possession.
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we're in a world where there are millions of voices and more than ever how to find the right ones to trust? t.s. eliot prophetically said where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge where is the knowledge we have lost in information? he said that in the 1930's. i do a double take but it isn't that the question we are all asking? on the one hand we're almost omniscient but on the other hand, we feel we don't know anything. >> host: obviously some years ago, writing a book called "chaos" it essentially was about revealing the order behind seeming randomness. the book to me seems to
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reveal the randomness or imperfection or the and complete idea of what we think of as the tools to define our reality. is that the way we thought of that? >> there are definitely connections. there are technical connections that i know you are aware of between the science of chaos and information theory. i first heard of information theory when i was working on the "chaos" the book from some of the scientist i was getting to know. they were using this thing called information theory from of a man named shannon. [laughter] i understand the behavior of physical systems. in particular, one of them was analyzing the dynamics of the dripping faucet. and doing it in terms of
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information theory. i thought that it is something. how does that make sense? isn't it totally abstract? the connection is to do with randomness. and the interweaving of order and disorder. it turns out it is shannon vision a way to measure disorder in a physical system which is what the chaos scientist tried to do. and in exactly eight and analogous way or parallel way, to measure the disorder of a message of telephone engineered to worry about the new ways in a message also about the redundancy and these things fight each other. redundancy is the way to cope with noise. the tools converge in the
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aftermath of shannon's discovery of theory when a new generation of mathematicians, the work goes on to this day. but here is where i think i get to what you are driving at. they come up again in a less technical way where we are looking at a signal that involves a lot of noise and as individuals, trying to get past the parts that make sense better orderly and meaningful. >> host: and did this book have is origen's all the way
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back with the work you did with "chaos"? >> guest: i remember the floor, is sending a way for shannon book mathematical theory of communication that i don't think has ever been out of print. it is a university press book. i had to get a by mail order but not hard to get it. some of that is very technical some of it is over my head and it was mathematics and had a nice introduction by warren weaver from rockefeller university who had written about shannon four "scientific american." he himself was riding in a way that any of us could read to some extent. and then to say something
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that makes a bell go off and the bell says here is the modern world being born. the kind of thinking that leads to the way every computer scientist would say but the knowledge has filtered down to us when we understand recorded music on the laptop for ipad or ipod is the same species of fame as the words are recorded in the e book or a message sent through twitter all of these things are related to one another that is due to the book by shannon. by carried that around for
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awhile and wrote these other books and finally i guess you feel this is a book i was always trying to write. >> host: fascinating. the a idea of the information age which is typically referred to are considered the age that we live than, the idea our reality is defined by information and network and bindery forms of communication in the same way that a newton had the idea of a universe of 100 years or more after that. you let the power to fine
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human perception of reality. now we have a sense that information and a network supply to the brain to use at a as a metaphor is what it is all about. do think that is true? do you think and 20 years we will come up with an entirely different metaphor? >> i think "this is it" and how the world is. the world really is made of the information. kind of dangerous to say that and i am not saying we have arrived at the theory of everything and science can relax. fantastic discoveries lie ahead and we only know that because they have oasis lie ahead.
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scientist will revive the way they look at the world and discover sustains that we took for granted here in 2011 were stupid. we only know that because that is how it has always been. the only predictions and to make about the future is it like the past? but i do believe the information is what our world is made of. when i start working on the books there was no such thing as twitter or facebook. these things may or may not come and go. what is not is what we called the internet. maybe there is something slightly broader that you call a cyberspace are something we don't name to
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say we humans are connected to one another by means of faster and ever far-reaching channels of information. that will not change. i refuse to believe that there will be a future. barring some horrible apocalypse in which people decide i don't want too ever talk to anybody again. let's go back to walden pond. [laughter] not that that isn't appealing. i don't want to sound as if i am saying that we're headed for a utopia where we will want to be connected from morning until night. but we want to go to the
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beach we want to find of balance to be connected to be engaged in the activity that we call fog. what we learn about information cannot be on learned. >> host: you mention cyberspace and obviously if it is the concept of an cyberspace over the science fiction of the matrix, science-fiction writers who are revered by people in the tech world, this is not a utopia they are presenting. it is the opposite to present the role of the
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future as a scary place. what do you think? >> you are right. to give credit where it is due, the science fiction writer was william gibson and certainly to some extent the matrix movies are utterly in his debt. you are right. it is a vision that we are allowed to think even now that is not all apple pie. is not all strawberries and cream and choose your fruit metaphor. personally i tend to be optimistic. there are genuine dangers about the world and there are dangers to do with a loss of attention. dangers to do with the fragmentation of needs and over control.
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right now, cyberspace is a surprisingly fried kind of place in most of the world. for whatever occidental reasons, the internet has created in the united states started as a democratic place where everybody had a voice and it is still like that. anybody who wants to be a blocker or be on twitter can be. it has a powerful effect. but to say the movement toward democracy in egypt this year was caused by a facebook but it is absolutely true that the existence of electronic communication channels helped the movement enormously. it is not what it was about
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it was a desire for freedom but the enabling tool. conversely at this moment in china, the state is struggling to exert control over communication over the internet over other enterprises and of modern life and succeeding to a scary to agree. i hope not absolutely but i hope the internet that the pieces will be strong enough to overcome the technologies of the internet for state for corporate control. i don't think it is clear who the winner will be. it is something we need to pay attention to. >> host: i was fascinated
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by the idea of the aged two wells concept to the idea of the atmosphere but we go from there. [laughter] horror on a slightly higher notes or the much higher notes, wikipedia. it is one of the great things information has given us. i am afraid we're out of time. thank you so much. it has been great fun to chat with you. >> guest: it has been fascinating.
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>> thank you for coming. i am actually glad to see all of you. writing is a solitary endeavor. the only time you get outside of your computer screen is to interview somebody and a dark dusty place and then books go out on their own like a lost child you don't get to see where readers think after they read the book. not very often and sometimes you only hear from the people who are upset.


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