The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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II Cybernetic Frontiers (review, by Stewart Brand, 1974)

graphic of page

II Cybernetic Frontiers, Stewart Brand. 96 pgs. $2.00. Random House, Inc., 201
East 40th Street, New York 10022. 1974.

Stewart Brand, editor of The Last Whole Earth Catalog, examines two cybernetic
frontiers in this book. The first frontier examined is the means by which the
human mind processes and acts upon information. Instead of a straightforward
discussion of this topic, Brand recounts a rambling dialogue between himself
Gregory Bateson, who is an anthropologist specializing in South Pacific natives.
In the course of their conversation, both men present many unsupported personal
hypotheses as undeniable facts. At one point Bateson confesses to an
anti-experimental bias, while both Brand and Bateson state their belief in
mysticism and usage of LSD as valid approaches to consciousness expansion. Their
conclusions remain unconvincing when these factors are taken into account.

Unlike the first frontier, the second frontier described in the book makes
fascinating and engrossing reading. In it Brand tells the story of a specific
group of programmers and their recreation. The programmers were at MIT in the
early 60's; their recreation was designing a computer game named Spacewar.

Brand's description of Spacewar is quite vivid. It is played with computer
generated spacecraft displayed on a television screen. Players can control
movement of their spacecraft on the screen via hand controls, while the computer
figures in effects of acceleration and gravitational fields. Unfortunately there
are no hard programming details, but there are numerous illustrations and
interesting comments.

The reader follows the MIT group as Spacewar becomes only a pastime at first,
then grows into an obsession and finally becomes a way of life. Through
Spacewar, the programmers soon realize what "computer power to the people" could
mean if it were to ever become a reality. Eventually the group dissolves and the
members go their separate ways, all carrying the dream of "computer power to the
people" around in their minds.

That was in the 60's. Today that dream has sprouted into half a dozen concrete
realities which Brand examines in an Epilogue to his second frontier. Several
individuals describe their work since Spacewar, including such things as
storefront computer centers, personal TV scratchpads and marketing of
educational computers. Many useful addresses are listed.

Despite its poor opening, this book is recommended to anyone wishing insight
into the motivations of top programmers. It provokes the reader to imagine what
the widespread use of computers could mean, and provides valuable reference
material as well.

Ricky James Roberson

Cleveland, TN


The Use and Misuse of Computers in Education, by Allan B. Ellis. 226 pages.
$12.95. McGraw Hill, 1974.

In chapter 1, the author describes commonly-accepted definitions, attributes,
and history of computers. He convincingly shows the short-comings of each of
these. In chapter 2, he presents the best description of a Turing machine that I
have read. He then defines a computer as a universal Turing machine. He ends
Part I of the book discussing computing, iteration, semi-algorithms, algorithms,
and heuristics, giving several interesting examples and analogies. This
excellent presentation is marred by 2 gross errors in his iteration scheme for
extracting square roots by Newton's method (square root of l/4 is 17/16???).
Regardless, these two chapters should be read by the computer novice, as well as
by professionals teaching classes or writing books on computers.

The major premise of Part II is that education problems are the primary concern,
and computerization is only of secondary importance (why computerize something
that is educationally unsound?) In chapters 3 and 4, Ellis describes what has
been done in education by Suppes at Stanford, Bitzer (PLATO) at Illinois, Papert
(LOGO) at MIT, project LOCAL at Dartmouth, and other projects. He uses these
projects to show potential dangers in computerizing education; but he does not
accuse any of the projects as misusing the computer. Perhaps the word "Misuse"
should not be in the title of the book. Anyone trying to computerize topics in
teaching should read these two chapters.

Most of chapter 5 describes the history of the NESDEC-NEEDS project in
Massachusetts. Most of the details seem irrelevant to the goals of this book.

Part III, starting with chapter 6, develops a case study of building a computer
system, called ISVD, for providing guidance and counseling in schools. But the
software developed could be used for other purposes, such as CAI
(computer-assisted instruction), information retrieval, etc. Enroute, the author
describes several computer programs for processing English words, phrases, and
sentences, and programs for providing interaction with the time-share user, in
English. I found this quite interesting. Anyone interested in CAI would find
part III of interest to them. Chapter 8 presents a fictitious student using the
system. ISVD really looks nice. But, as is typical of Ellis throughout the book,
he ends the topic by showing ISVD's shortcomings.

The appendix introduces some hardware (some obsolete, probably because ISVD was
implemented on the RCA Spectra 70/45 computer), as well as some brief theory on
how the hardware works. Ellis makes several minor errors here, such as
describing left-handed magnetic fields on page 209.

Over all, Ellis's book is a well-written thoroughly-documented criticism of
current thought on computers and their use in education. But it is not an easy
book to read. Rather, the book requires you to think skeptically as you read it,
a reading technique most people are not used to.

James L. Boettler

Taladega, Alabama


Computers in the Classroom. Ed. by Joseph B. Margolin and Marion R. Misch. 382
pp. $14.00. Hayden Book Co., 50 Essex Street, Rochelle Park, New Jersey 07662.

A group of scientists and educators were briefed on the current state of
computer technology. They then embarked on a week-long tour of five
computer-assisted instruction centers across the country. Following this each
member of the seminar prepared an article stating his views of the problems and
issues facing education arising from this new technology.

The result is a very readable book which should be important reading for both
the layman interested in education and the educator interested in the impact of
computer technology on current education practices.

The book is organized into three parts. Part I focuses on the pre-seminar
briefing in which government, academic, and business representatives spoke to
the group on the major issues as they saw them. Part II details the traveling
seminar and includes the participants' articles. Questions raised by the seminar
participants in their articles are relevant to all areas of education today.
Part III gives an excellent summary of the major issues raised as well as the
predictions and recommendations of the panel members.

An extensive, if somewhat dated, bibliography is given at the end of the book.

Allan L. Forsythe


Learning for tomorrow: The Role of the Future in Education, Alvin Toffler (Ed),
421 pp. $2.95. Vintage Books Div. of Random House, New York.

"All education springs from images of the future and all education creates
images of the future." To support this thesis, editor Alvin Toffler (Future
Shock) and eighteen leading psychologists, educators, futurists, social


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