The Internet, Computers and Emergent Order

Resnick, Mitchel. Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999. 156 pp.

Resnick’s book as a whole focuses on the use of the self-organizing computer program, StarLogo, in education, an interesting subject but removed from the focus of this list. However, several chapters are relevant, particularly 4, and 5, which explore why people have a difficult time comprehending self-organizing processes, tending instead towards thinking of order as the result of some central authority or command, or perhaps a “seed” which initiates change. Resnick suggests that the StarLogo programs are an effective way for students and others to grasp how sometimes self-organizing processes are more effective than central control.

Shapiro, Andrew L., The Control Revolution: How the Internet is Putting Individuals in Charge and Changing the World We Know, New York: Century Foundation, 1999. 271 pp.

Shapiro’s volume explore the impact of the internet on society and politics. Examining both positive and potentially disturbing impacts, the volume is excellent in its discussion of the interaction of complex adaptive systems with instrumental organizations within them that seek to control and manipulate them. This, of course, has implications beyond the subject of Shapiro’s volume. Chapter 19 also offers an interesting observation on why complete control of information by those who receive it may not be desirable. (See entry in “Ethical Dimensions.”

Lessig, Lawrence. The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, Random House, 2001.

Lessig argues that Court decisions are pushing us toward a more regulated and less spontaneous order with respect to the Internet and other new technologies. A very provocative read.

– Russell Roberts, Liberty Fund

Titles not yet annotated:

Levy, S. Artificial Life: The Quest for New Creation, New York: Random House, 1992. (