The Digital Revolution
Article Index
The Digital Revolution
Review continued


Author: Bob Merritt
Publisher:  Morgan & Claypool 
Pages: 110
ISBN: 978-1627058568
Print: 1627058567
Rating: 2.0 
Reviewer: Ian Stirk


Chapter 10 Era of Cognitive Systems

This chapter opens with a discussion of what cognitive systems are, being able to learn from their interactions with data and humans, analyze information and draw conclusions from it, and able to continually reprogram themselves. Computers of the future will offer advice, rather than wait for commands. Such systems will be capable of analysing the vast amounts of Big Data that’s increasingly created. They are more akin to the way human intelligence works.

The chapter suggests that cognitive systems of the future might use all 5 human senses to help solve problems, and the state of current research into each sense is given. The chapter next looks at how future systems will overcome the many human limitations (e.g. objectivity).

Chapter 11 The Uncanny Valley

The title of this chapter refers to the observation that initially, humans feel positive to robots that become more human-like in appearance, but there comes a time when this positively dips and becomes unfavourable (the uncanny valley), however if it is clearly known to be a robot the level of positivity increases again. This concern should be taken into account in robotic design. It is expected that robots will acquire more human skills, similarly, humans may extend their capabilities with machine extensions to the brain and elsewhere – so the boundary between man and machine may blur.

The chapter continues with various examples of current robots and their uses. The concept of self-awareness is briefly discussed together with difficulties in its definition, and in relation to increased autonomy and intelligence.

Chapter 12 The Human Interface to Advanced Robotics

Some experts have suggested robots might acquire superintelligence relatively quickly, while this could offer major benefits, its downsides are also noted. It’s suggested more attention should be spent on ensuring the technology works for the benefits of humans.

The chapter continues with a brief look at some history of computer intelligence, with reference to Turing’s 1950 paper ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence’ and the later Turing Test. Nick Bostrom highlights the situation where within 14 years after human/robot parity is reached, machines may think 100 times faster than humans, and invites us to consider its consequences. The section continues with a brief look at whether machines can have emotions.

Chapter 13 Brain-Machine Interface (BMI)

The chapter opens with a look at systems that are currently under the control of computers (e.g. aircraft takeoff). Next, advances in brain-controlled prosthetic limbs are discussed, where brain produced signals are picked up and used to control the movement of a prosthetic limb. The ability to intercept brain signals and transmit them remotely to another animal/human has also been shown.

The chapter continues with a look at a thought-controlled exoskeleton, allowing a paralyzed person to walk again. The military is of course interested in such applications.

Chapter 14 Acceleration Rate of Artificial Intelligence

Many technologists believe within 20 or 30 years, robots with have the dexterity and intelligence of teenage humans (which might be worrying!). The chapter shows a table of the potential growth of computer intellect relative to the human brain, illustrating clearly machine intelligence surpassing human intelligence and continuing unchecked.

In addition to Moore’s Law, advancement in cognitive computing is expected. Here, the machine will amend their source code to create better software, which continues this iterative process. It’s suggested this should occur within an AI box, for greater control. The possibility of unanticipated consequences is noted.

This section reminds me a little of the significant advances in the Industrial Revolution, which really took off when tools were made to make other tools.

Chapter 15 The Industrial Revolution Revisited

Here we take a look at the disruptive changes that occurred during the Industrial Revolution, hoping to learn lessons that will put the current and future machine changes into context.

The Industrial Revolution led to huge changes in agriculture, transport, textile and metal manufacture, bringing significant benefits to mankind. Additionally, changes in social structure, concern over job losses (Luddites), pollution, also occurred. The chapter notes that social changes go hand-in-hand with revolutionary changes. Overall, the Industrial Revolution brought growth and changes for the better – few would argue for their reversal. Thomas Frey suggests while jobs will be lost, others will be created in new industries, our challenge is to train people for these new jobs.

Chapter 16 Singularitarianism

The singularity is the point at which superintelligence is created. Its followers believe it is highly possible and will bring significant benefits to the world. Noted futurist Ray Kurzweil expects it to occur around 2045. The chapter continues with a look at privacy and security in the future.

While privacy and security are important topics, I’m not sure they belong to this chapter.

Chapter 17 The Noosphere

The noosphere is a stage of evolutionary development dominated by consciousness. The chapter opens with a review of decoding brain signals, and sending a response to a person at a remote location, in essence the first person is controlling the second. A similar observation has been noted in rats, which can learn a new skill remotely (e.g. ‘see’ UV light). The chapter continues with a brief explanation of what I think is punctuated evolution (sometimes changes in evolution are rapid rather than gradual), and suggest these apply to the more complex human functions (e.g. language).

Chapter 18 Mapping the Brain

This chapter looks at some current areas of research in brain mapping. For example, a wireless EEG headset can monitor brain waves using 8 channels, and transmit the results to a receiver 10 meters away. This flexible system allows non-intrusive study of the brain under various conditions. Meanwhile, Samsung researchers are testing tablet computers controlled by the user’s brain.

The chapter continues with an examination of more invasive techniques, used to aid paraplegics – typically to control the movement of prosthetic limbs. It’s also noted that adding new mental capabilities might also be possible in the future. Much hope lies with the recent Brain Activity Map project initiative, a 10 year long project aiming to map the brain and its control centres.

Chapter 19 Conclusion

This book has presented a wide range of current research technologies, and discussed some of the rates of progress. Comparison has been made to the Industrial Revolution in terms of what to expect (or not) in terms of the Digital Revolution’s impact.

The main purpose of the book is to highlight the social challenges that lie ahead. The biggest challenge is to integrate the changes without excessive disruption. The impact of robots on human jobs is discussed. The relationship between governments and its people is changing, now we may feel more affinity to a group at a remote location rather than with our physical neighbours.

The chapter contains an interesting quote from Arnold Toynbee, from his study of the rise and fall of 26 civilizations, discussing how new elements impact existing conditions, including the potential for revolutions. The author suggests the management of the Digital Revolution is critical to its greater success.


This book aims to discuss the current progress and the social impact of the Digital Revolution. It certainly covers a wide range of technology, machine, and brain related topics. The book’s content is interesting and brief, and I found several areas that I wanted to explore further.

Overall, I found the book awkward to read, I wanted something more direct, rather than having to tease out the book’s messages. Troublesome factors included:

  • Wanders off topic too often (e.g. Brain-Machine Interface talks about computers controlling the takeoff of planes, and diagnosing medical conditions remotely – but not in context of Brain-Machine Interface, let’s keep the focus!)

  • No roadmap (only the table of contents, the introduction is generic and not related to book’s content)

  • It takes too long to define terms (e.g. ‘uncanny valley’, ‘noosphere’)

  • Chapter content not cohesive enough (due to above)

  • Too much repetition

Perhaps an editor would have solved these concerns?

Overall, it’s like the curate’s egg, informative and interesting, in parts.


To keep up with our coverage of books for programmers, follow @bookwatchiprog on Twitter or subscribe to I Programmer's Books RSS feed for each day's new addition to Book Watch and for new reviews.



Modern JavaScript for the Impatient

Author: Cay S. Horstmann
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Date: July 2020
Pages: 352
ISBN: 978-0136502142
Print: 0136502148
Kindle: B08F5HFWBH
Audience: Developers interested in JavaScript
Rating: 4
Reviewer: Mike James
So you're impatient - what next?

Deep Learning with JavaScript

Authors: Shanqing Cai, Stan Bileschi and Eric Nielsen
Publisher: Manning
Date: February 2020
Pages: 560
ISBN: 978-1617296178
Print: 1617296171
Audience: JavaScript Programmers
Rating: 5
Reviewer: Mike James
JavaScript doesn't seen a natural for AI but...

More Reviews


Last Updated ( Thursday, 31 March 2016 )