Nordic Track Book Club Review: Unfinished Revolution

The Unfinished Revolution: How to Make Technology Work for Us–Instead of the Other Way Around is the second Michael Dertouzos book I read, the first being What Will Be: How the New World of Information Will Change Our Lives. Michael Dertouzos was the Director of the M.I.T. Laboratory for Computer Science from 1974 until his death in 2001. Unfinished Revolution was published in 2001.

As you’ll read in the excerpts, Dertouzos is trying to guide us into thinking about computers as serving human endeavor instead of us serving them.  Many of us developer and IT support types benefit financially by the current relationship of man vs. machine, but that’s another topic.  3-out-of-5 [NordicTrack] Stars.


p.xi The Unfinished Revolution sets forth a radically new direction for information technology and the way it can be used to make computer systems serve people rather than the other way around.

p.2 For 40 years computers have been shrines to which we pay dutiful homage.

p.4 Computer faults. Human Servitude fault: you are serving an inhuman machine. Crash fault: you haven’t been saving your work every few minutes. Feature overload fault. Waiting fault: we ask the machine to turn on or off and we wait unbearable minutes until it condescends to do so.

p.6 Information technology should help people do more by doing less.

p.8 While the horsepower of computers and communications will increase remarkably, three shifts in the new terrain will drive even greater change. 1) Interconnection of the growing number of appliances and physical devices to our computers. 2) Increasing use of mobile computers connected through wireless communications and 3) a new breed of highly mobile software.

p.10 The devices we’ll carry as we move will require software that can provide us with a continuity of services, regardless of which device we use.

p.15 Much as we like the tout it, the information revolution is not yet here.

p.17 When we shop for a car, rather than tell me how fast the engine turns or whether it has an overhead cam, tell me about how many people it seats comfortably, the gas mileage it gets and its annual maintenance cost.

p.27 The problem is that despite the incessant reference to intelligent agents, no one has built them and no one knows how to build them. Even the most advanced programs constructed to date can behave in a marginally humanlike way only in a very narrow context.

p.50 We should stick to the simple goal of human-centric automation. Prescribe to our machines how to handle automatically the information we care about and how to control and coordinate our appliances, then simply have them do these tasks for us accurately, tirelessly and repeatedly, whenever the need arises.

For machines to work with one another they must share certain common conventions.

p.61 The list of benefits from automating our physical environment is endless. Today you weigh yourself then enter the weight in your computer diet program and basement treadmill.  If these machines were interconnected the computer and treadmill would be updated automatically when you stepped on the scale.

p.66 “Can we gain time or quality or other benefits by automating this interaction?” Chances are you can automate significantly even using your existing computing systems.

p.72 Having the information we need at our fingertips when and where we need it helps us do more by doing less.

p.117 Collaboration will affect the social fabric of our world more than any one of the new human-centric forces.

p.126 Big clunky programs everywhere, trying to do a lot more than they should in an effort to maximize their market. This travesty is rampant.

p.141 Healthcare is one of the biggest potential beneficiaries of the information age.

p.164 Everyone will have essentially the same tools. Those who will shine are the ones who will blend the new technologies with themselves.

p.210 Let us remember that the primary role of information in our lives is to help us achieve our human goals.


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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.