I recently finished reading a couple of books which I think are worth pointing out to others.
The first is The World Is Flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century by Thomas L. Friedman. At 571 pages this a relatively long book. The first two hundred and thirty pages explain what the author means by “the world is flat” and describe the “ten forces that flattened the world”. The basic idea is that modern telecommunications and economic liberation has brought people all over the world closer together than ever before. On the surface this is a pretty obvious observation but the true impact of it only becomes apparent with deeper investigation. The author spent a great deal of time interviewing people in both developing and established economies in an attempt to understand the effects of these changes. The topics discussed range from software outsourcing to India to Walmart’s global supply chain. Subsequent chapters discuss the role of individuals, companies and countries in a flat world. In a way the world as outlined in this book is scary, especially if you are a knowledge worker but this book is as much about the opportunities created in a flat world as it is the negative consequences. A lot of time is spent describing what types of jobs are not as prone to flat world competition and more importantly, describing the key attributes required for success in those jobs that will face new competition. This is perhaps one of the more enlightening aspects of the book. In short, The World Is Flat covers something that is changing the world at a pace much faster than most people are aware of. If you have or are planning a knowledge based career you owe it to yourself to read this book. Even if you have a job that does not lend itself to global competition read the book anyway. On a final note I have a renewed appreciation for the importance of the education system to the continued economic success and growth of society.
The second book I want to talk about is On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. Hawkins is a very successful technology entrepreneur who has a long standing obsession with figuring out how the human brain works. This is not a book about biology although biology does necessarily creep in at some points. The goal of On Intelligence is to put forward a model of how the brain works and what intelligence is. The first portion describes some of the traditional techniques associated with artificial intelligence such as neural nets and offers an opinion on why these approaches failed. Later chapters discuss the role of memory and go on to explain that memory and prediction form the core of intelligence. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the idea that there is a single ‘cortical algorithm’ which is used by the brain for such diverse tasks as vision processing and locomotion. This is a very interesting read and at only two hundred and thirty-five pages it doesn’t take long.