The intersection of political analysis and Internet theory is a busy crossroad of cliche, where familiar rhetorical vehicles - decentralized authority, emergent leadership, empowered grass roots - create a ceaseless buzz.
The fondest dream of the information age is to create an archive of all knowledge. You might call it the Alexandrian fantasy, after the great library founded by Ptolemy I in 286 BC.
Steve Jobs has been right twice. The first time we got Apple. The second time we got NeXT. The Macintosh ruled. NeXT tanked. Still, Jobs was right both times.
Our experience in fooling around with the genes of mice has taught us that many of the traits that interest us are not definite products of specific mutations but emergent phenomena arising from extremely complex interactions between genes, environment, and life experience.
For all their expertise at figuring out how things work, technical people are often painfully aware how much of human behavior is a mystery. People do things for unfathomable reasons. They are opaque even to themselves.
Fortunately, human forgetting follows a pattern. We forget exponentially. A graph of our likelihood of getting the correct answer on a quiz sweeps quickly downward over time and then levels off.
The history of using mice to stand in for humans in medical experiments is replete with failures.
Even as the Internet has revived hope of a universal library and Google seems to promise an answer to every query, books have remained a dark region in the universe of information. We want books to be as accessible and searchable as the Web. On the other hand, we still want them to be books.
If national safety - the ability to respond to hurricanes, terrorist attacks, earthquakes - depends on the execution of explicit plans, on soldierly obedience, and on showy security drills, then a decentralized security scheme is useless.
As a science fiction fan, I had always assumed that when computers supplemented our intelligence, it would be because we outsourced some of our memory to them. We would ask questions, and our machines would give oracular - or supremely practical - replies.