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Frank Herbert: Without Me, Youre Nothing

Update: October 8th is Frank Herberts Birthday!

Found: One Old Book by One Frank Herbert.

  1. Browsing through old thriftstore bins on a recent trip to the bay area, i tracked this gem: Frank Herbert (r.i.p.) writing The Essential Guide to Home Computers. Title: “Without Me, You’re Nothing“. (selected pictures below: click to biggify).

 

 
 

 

  1. I will avoid all mention of the antiquated kitsch retro cool aspects of the old pictures and descriptions of the state of computer technology around 1980, when the book was published, and instead will point out certain interesting aspects that may arise if more science fiction authors wrote computer manuals (If anyone knows of any specific manual or texts, please advise) for the layperson or even just the average consumer of technology.
  2. My shallow takeaway theory is, since almost all specific coding or technology books currently often avoid even the mention of the Math and Science behind the actual technology, a lot of them are like learning Chinese from early 1910’s teaching books: the language gets outdated and changes. But the tech churn, currently, is very quick, like, a couple of years. Given this, why not throw in some ‘Bigger Picture’ discussion? It would be like throwing in some philosophy, semiotic, and linguistic knowledge into your basic Dictionary.
  3. From the cover flap, “In a simple, straightforward style, Frank Herbert, with the help of Max Barnard, a computer professional who handles both machines and programming and who designed Herbert’s own home system, demystifies the computer.”
  4. Herbert employs analogies and discussions of everything from the Begin-Sadat talks at Camp David, to controlling the moisture content of plants, as in being able to ask “what made this leaf curl?” (p21), to increasing abilities for shut-ins, smarthome technology, and far too many other things to list.
  5. The text inside spends quite a bit of time, thankfully, detailing the philosophical details which do NOT apply to computers: “The idea of intelligence has been tied up with our brains for so long it has come to have ONLY a human definition. It is a serious mistake to use anthropomorphic words in describing the things this machine does.” I hear you, though: skynet, blah blah blah.
  6. And furthermore: “Your computer has no will. it does not think. it is not concious. it does not know anything. it does not want. it does not plan.”
  7. Further on, Herbert proposes a programming language called “PROGRAMAP”, interestingly enough an attempt to base a language on the International Convention on Graphic Symbols.
  8. Theres really too much in the book of interest. Promoted as a ‘how to use your computer’ book for early 48k RAM technology such as the atari 400, it ends up being much more interesting. Appendices titled “Computers are not People”, “the Biomachine”, and “Did a computer write this book?” flesh out lists of microcomputer accessories and manufacturers: Commodore and Byte, inc included. Chapters titled “computers are not oracles”, in which Herbert warns “dont get the idea these uses of computers are off in some far distant future.” and “A computer can listen for particular voices and alert you when those voices are nearby.” Other chapters are: “The Logical Crutch”, which proclaims in bold: “LOGIC IS A LIMITED AND LIMITING WAY OF THINKING” and discusses dreams.
  9. The chapter titled “The Gadget World” notes, “Have you been so interested in your doomsaying that you missed the invasion? We’ve already been ‘wiped out’,”, and the chapter on “History without Hysteria”, a condensed and dense history of the computer, which ends with counseling the buying consumer to be wary of competing “design changes” which can obsolete themselves, and ends on a utopian vision that, one day, all these competing standards will become standardized. (not!)
  10. I’ll end with an short excerpt from the appenidix A, The Biomachine:

[Frank Herbert, Without Me Youre Nothing, p206] “Someday we will attach a computer directly to the human nervous system. Computer storage will flow directly into your thoughts graphic symbols, in words written or oral, in pictures projected onto your “inner eye,” and in sounds uttered for “your ears alone.” High-speed computer sorting will respond to your unspoken mental demand.
On that day your personal computer will probably be a pea-size device implanted in your flesh. Mass storage and the data banks will someplace outside your body, linked to you by something like microwave.
That is a clear direction of research and development. The major barrier to this prediction is not the hardware, but the software ­programs.
Before that day comes we will have to match our high-data-rate multichannel system to the computer’s one-step-at-a-time but high-speed system. We will have to mesh extremely different ways of coding infor­mation. That is a problem in translation, and that is primarily a software concern.
It is a monumental interface task, especially in view of the fact that
we do not know our own mental coding system. The speed/ exchange problem is daunting. Your nervous system is composed of biological elements having a reaction-response-relaxation time of some two hundred milliseconds, about six orders of magnitude slower than most present computers. Despite this relatively slow use-and-recovery rate, you achieve a very high effective speed while maintaining a large data rate.
You can handle a lot of information very fast. The smoothly expanding continuum is available to you, not to the computer.
There is no doubt that this linkage between flesh and machine will occur-a kind of ultimate prosthesis. Several current developments make this apparent.
An electroencephalograph (EEG for short), an instrument for de­tecting your brain’s electrical activity, can distinguish between your decision-making and your action signals. This has been recognized for some time.
This predicts that an EEG linked directly to a computer can produce information out of which the computer can determine whether you have spare mental capacity available from moment to moment. The implica­tions in biofeedback training are awesome. This says that you can be trained to use your mental capacity to its limits.
Since computers can also be set up to detect nonverbal signals, ­those commonly associated with stress analyzers and autonomic responses, it is likely that a computer can be programmed to assess your decision-making and associated responses. In plain English, your com­puter will read you and produce information out of which you can judge the effectiveness of your decision making.
The possibilities of such developments are legion, especially in education.
This says the biomachine will come, a mixture of you and computer in an extremely tight relationship. Trying to stop this evolution is like trying to play King Canute. As the good king demonstrated to his sycophantic courtiers, when the tide’s rising, words won’t stop it.
None of this says computers will give you an instant education in a foreign language or any other skill. It will give you instantaneous access to a dictionary, but you will still have to learn how to convert what the dictionary provides into the spoken and written words.
Don’t imagine that this evolution can be outlawed. The first brain surgeon able to engage a tight instantaneous link with his medical library and other surgeons while he is operating will lead the way for an other surgeons to follow. When that surgeon demonstrates a computer-assisted ability to operate at a microscopic level, perhaps even at a cellular level, there will be a stampede of surgeons to join him.
Countless lives have already been saved through the computer’s ability to sort great masses of medical data, but that is only a crude beginning.
What about our lawmakers? Can they be induced to try blocking this computer evolution?


September 18, 2008
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