Where will our new machines take us? Back in 1985, forward-thinking Howard Rheingold asked research pioneers to describe the nascent personal-computer revolution and its trajectory, then examined their predecessors' work, in Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology.
Republished 15 years later with a new afterword by the author, the book is an excellent slice of "retrospective futurism"--showing how we got to our largely wired world and where we might find ourselves in the future, as well as exploring some might-have-been scenarios that still seemed likely in the '80s. Starting with engaging portraits of such important thinkers as Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, and Jon von Neumann, Rheingold swiftly and seamlessly moves into more current affairs, checking out the men and women behind Xerox PARC, ARPANET, Apple, Microsoft, and other cornerstones of today's environment.
Some of the interviewees are less well known than they should be--the immensely popular World Wide Web often overshadows Doug Englebart's ideas, for example--but all have made important contributions to personal computing and networking. Some of the ideas in the book, like expert systems, have floundered somewhat from their creators' original intentions, but the creativity and determination to follow through regardless is inspiring.
Rheingold is adept at showing us how technology can help us shape a better human destiny. Tools for Thought reminds us that today's wild ideas are what bring tomorrow's radical change. --Rob Lightner [via]