Archives For February 2017

The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Change Everything
The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Change Everything by Robert Scoble
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In brief, this book aims to educate business decision-makers regarding the likely disruptive change coming in the wake of VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality).

If you’re a deep computer geek (like me), this book isn’t likely to tell you anything you don’t already know, but that’s not its point. This one is geared to non-tech-heads who already have thriving businesses to warn them that change is coming. It is, I think, successful in making this clear.

Through the book, the author describes the technologies and their recent advances and differentiates VR, AR and MR. He discusses several of the major players in the industry. Then he goes over several of the current examples of how these technologies are already being used in a few select instances.

The book was clearly written in mid-2016 and given the rapid evolution of this field in the industry, I suspect it will be out of date by 2018. However, it is probably something almost every big-business CEO better read. Scoble does a good job of paralleling the potential disruption from the coming wave of VR/AR/MR technologies to that of the rise of the internet and how big an impact it has had on many industries.

He gives good examples of where the state of the current art is limited, but is prescient enough to know that things are going to change and change very quickly over the next couple of years. For this reason, business leaders at least need to be aware of the technology. From one standpoint, being aware of this could lead some businesses to leverage the technology into new products or capabilities in existing products or customer interactions. From another standpoint, it could be used to at least avoid forced obsolescence (look at the effect of the internet on retail in general and bookstores in particular, for instance).

Overall, it was a very quick read and I found it quite interesting.

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Review: The Dark Forest

JasonC —  February 15, 2017 — Leave a comment

The Dark Forest
The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very interesting and deep read with plenty of hard science and an interesting take on civilization on our planet and perhaps throughout the universe.

While a of people have been absolutely raving about this book, and I did enjoy it, I won’t say The Dark Forest is perfect. That said, it certainly covers very interesting material, with ideas that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere else, which accounts for much of the interest in The Dark Forest. But it’s not an easy read (even in audiobook) as the characters are very difficult to connect with.

While this book is a direct sequel to The Three Body Problem, which was another fantastic book, the characters from the previous book aren’t really found here. The TriSolarans are on their way and Earth is trying to develop a defense. The problem is the sophons have locked down humanity’s ability to advance their level of basic science and are spying on everything the humans are doing to create a defense. Humanity’s response is to create the Wallfacer project – 4 humans are selected who are supposed to utilize deceit as the humans’ only advantage. Of the 4, the unlikeliest of the bunch, Luo Ji is the one the TriSolarans want dead. He is largely the focus of the book.

The problem is that I found the main protagonist to be impossible to connect with. As the events unfolded, that lack of connection. He’s moody, underachieving, and privileged. The other Wallfacers in ways are even worse.

The really interesting content in the book becomes clear in the last 1/4 of the book and involves the discussion of The Dark Forest – the idea that the galaxy/universe is full of hostile civilizations all competing for limited resources, all unable to trust one another and therefore inevitably to be in conflict. This proposes the ultimate answer to the Fermi Paradox – the reason we see no evidence of other life in the universe is that all other life is hiding. As soon as your civilization makes its presence known, another, more powerful civilization will come in to eliminate you.

Much of the book is used to set up analogies for this within human society just to illustrate this very point. But the big idea is truly fascinating and actually makes sense. It’s frightening. Ultimately, this is what makes the book worthwhile. It’s not easy to get through and I can’t say I truly enjoyed the story or the characters. But to get to the ideas, it’s worth the slog.

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Review: Teckla

JasonC —  February 8, 2017 — Leave a comment

Teckla by Steven Brust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My rating: 3.7

This is the 3rd book of the Vlad Taltos series and follows pretty closely after the second time-wise. For some reason, this is one of my least favorite Taltos books.

The story, without giving away too much of the entirety of the plot and/or spoilers involves Vlad caught in a tight spot, which is fairly typical. In this case, he’s stuck in the middle of a 2 way power struggle. Only in this case it’s not just from a professional standpoint – he’s stuck from a personal standpoint as well as his wife, Cawti has become involved on one side.

Of course, in typical Brustian style, Vlad gets stuck deeply in a jam and is able to figure out a plan that is ultimately still pretty satisfying from this reader’s standpoint (YMMV).

Spoilers follow:

No, really, read with caution if you don’t want to get to the heart of this one.

This book is, I think, supposed to be very introspective. Vlad is put in a place where Cawti and everyone else in the book is asking him to choose sides. Easterner vs Dragerean. Peasantry vs nobility. Love vs business. Family vs aspirations.

That’s all fine and it definitely comes through. The problem is that I don’t think Brust was successful at making me care. Cawti goes from being Vlad’s heart to someone who has essentially chosen revolution over Vlad. She has essentially gone through all the same decision-making process as Vlad and the end result is she didn’t choose Vlad. And she’s mad at him about it. And somehow as a reader, we’re supposed to be gut-wrenched about that? This is the thing that I find hardest to swallow. It’s a sucker punch, both to Vlad and the reader. The whole novel the tension and angst between those two just made me angry at her for putting him in that position. And so quickly. It speaks pretty poorly of how emotionally committed Cawti is to Vlad. Others may find this to be fantastically done, but I didn’t enjoy or get anything out of that.

The rest of the conflict issues made more sense. Vlad’s internal struggle between being an Easterner and his newly-learned preincarnation history makes sense. And his war with Herth and even with the Easterner organization. The way he handles all of that seems very true to character. As does his decision not to choose a side in the end.

Overall, it’s an essential story in the series. But not one of my favorites. Still a 3.7, which isn’t bad. Have to round up and give 4 stars, though.

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