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