Review: The Big Switch–Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google

4 Star, Information Society, Information Technology
Big Switch
Amazon Page

Very Worthwhile, One Major Flaw, March 3, 2008

Nicholas Carr

This is a very worthwhile easy to absorb book. The author is thoughtful, well-spoken, with good notes and currency as of 2007.

The one major flaw in the book is the uncritical comparison of cloud computing with electricity as a utility. That analogy fails when one recognizes that the current electrical system wastes 50% of the power going down-stream, and has become so unreliable that NSA among others is building its own private electrical power plant–with a nuclear core, one wonders? While the author is fully aware of the dangers to privacy and liberty, and below I recap a few of his excellent points, he disappoints in not recognizing that localized resilience and human scale are the core of humanity and community, and that what we really need right now, which John Chambers strangely does not appear willing to offer, is a solar-powered server-router that gives every individual Application Oriented Network control at the point of creation (along with anonymous banking and Grug distributed search), while also creating local pods that can operate independently of the cloud while also blocking Google perverted new programmable search, wherer what you see is not what’s in your best interests, but rather what the highest bidder paid to force into your view.

The author cites one source as saying that Google computation can do a task at one tenth of the cost. To learn more, find my review, “Google 2.0: The Calculating Predator” and follow the bread crumbs.

The author touches on software as a service, and I am reminded of the IBM interst in “Services Science.” He has a high regard for Amazon Web Services, as I do, and I was fascinated by his suggestion that Amazon differs from Google, Amazon doing virtualization while Google does task optimization (with computational mathematics). Not sure that is accurate, Google can flip a bit tomorrow and put bankers, entertainers, data service providers, and publishers out of business.

I completely enjoyed th discussion of the impact of electrification and the rise of the middle class, of the migration from World Wide Web to World Wide Computer, and of the emergence of a gift ecnomy.

The author also touches on the erosion of the middle class, citing Jagdish Bhagwati and Ben Bernake as saying that it is the Internet rather than globalization that is hurting the middle class (globalization moved the low cost jobs, the Internet moved the highly-educated jobs).

I was shocked to learn that Google can listen to my background sound via the microphone, meaning that Google is running the equivalent of a warrantless audio penetration of my office. “Do No Evil?” This is very troubling.

Page 161: “A company run by mathematicians and engineers, Google seemsx oblivious to the possible social costs of transparent personalization.” Well said. The only thing more shocking to me is the utter complacency of the top management at Amazon, IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft. Search for the article by Stephen E. Arnold, the world’s foremost non-Google expert on Google, look for <Google Pressure Wave: Do the Big Boys Feel It?>.

The author touches on Internet utility to terrorists, and our military’s vulnerability, but he does not get as deeply into this as he could have. The fact is the Chinese can take out our telecommunications satellites anytime they want, and they are not only hacking into our computers via the Internet, they also appear to have perfected accessing “stand-alone” computers via the electrical connection. See <Chinese Irregular Warfare oss.net>.

The portion ofthe book I most appreciated was the authors discussion of lost privacy and individuality. He says “Computer systems are not at their core technologies of emancipation. They are technologies of control.” He goes on to point out that even a decentralized cloud network can be programmed to monitor and control, and that is precisely where Google is going, monitoring employees and manipulating consumers.

He touches on semantic web but misses Internet Economy Meta Language (Pierre Levy) and Open Hypertextdocument System (Doug Englebart).

He credits Google founders with wanting to get to all information in all languages all the time, and I agree that their motives are largely worthy, but they are out of control–a suprnational entity with zero oversight. I can easily envision the day coming when in addition to 27 secessionist movements across the USA, we will hundreds of virtual secessions in which communities choose to define trusted computing as localized computing.

The book ends beautifully, by saying we will not know where IT is going until our children, the first generation to be wired from day one, become adults.

A few other books I recommend:
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
The Age of Missing Information
The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq
Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity (BK Currents)
Escaping the Matrix: How We the People can change the world
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

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