Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tools For Thought

Tools For Thought by Howard Rheingold
April, 2000: a revised edition of Tools for Thought is available from MIT Press, including a revised chapter with 1999 interviews of Doug Engelbart, Bob Taylor, Alan Kay, Brenda Laurel, and Avron Barr.

Tools for Thought is an exercise in retrospective futurism; that is, I wrote it in the early 1980s, attempting to look at what the mid 1990s would be like. My odyssey started when I discovered Xerox PARC and Doug Engelbart and realized that all the journalists who had descended upon Silicon Valley were missing the real story. Yes, the tales of teenagers inventing new industries in their garages were good stories. But the idea of the personal computer did not spring full-blown from the mind of Steve Jobs. Indeed, the idea that people could use computers to amplify thought and communication, as tools for intellectual work and social activity, was not an invention of the mainstream computer industry nor orthodox computer science, nor even homebrew computerists. If it wasn't for people like J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Bob Taylor, Alan Kay, it wouldn't have happened. But their work was rooted in older, equally eccentric, equally visionary, work, so I went back to piece together how Boole and Babbage and Turing and von Neumann -- especially von Neumann - created the foundations that the later toolbuilders stood upon to create the future we live in today. You can't understand where mind-amplifying technology is going unless you understand where it came from.

Chapter One: The Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet
Chapter Two: The First Programmer Was a Lady
Chapter Three: The First Hacker and his Imaginary Machine
Chapter Four: Johnny Builds Bombs and Johnny Builds Brains
Chapter Five: Ex-Prodigies and Antiaircraft Guns
Chapter Six: Inside Information
Chapter Seven: Machines to Think With
Chapter Eight: Witness to History: The Mascot of Project Mac
Chapter Nine: The Loneliness of a Long-Distance Thinker
Chapter Ten: The New Old Boys from the ARPAnet
Chapter Eleven: The Birth of the Fantasy Amplifier
Chapter Twelve: Brenda and the Future Squad
Chapter Thirteen: Knowledge Engineers and Epistemological Entrepreneurs
Chapter Fourteen: Xanadu, Network Culture, and Beyond

Dedicated To Nathan Rheingold,
who gave me the most important thing a man can ever give his son: an example.
This book would not have been conceived and could not have been written without the generous and patient assistance of many people. My heartfelt thanks to Rita Aero, Avron Barr, John Brockman, Donald Day, Robert Eckhardt, Doug Engelbart, Brenda Lauel, Howard Levine, Judith Maas, Geraldine Rheingold, Alan Rinzler, Charles Silver, Marshall Smith, Bob Taylor, David Rodman, and Gloria Warner. And thanks to Alan Turner, who originally prepared my words for web publication.