[Air-l] The Serendipity Machine & the Components of Navigation

George Lessard media at web.net
Fri Mar 12 17:27:16 PST 2004

The Serendipity Machine
David G. Green

Information Technology,  Monash University



Predictions about the future of technology are notoriously risky. In  
the 1940s, Tom Watson, then chairman of IBM Corporation, made what must  
rank as one of the worst predictions of all time. "There is a need", he  
said, "for perhaps five computers in the world." By the year 2000,  
computers numbered in the hundreds of millions.

In Watson's day, information was a rare and expensive commodity. Today  
it is abundant and cheap. That transition marks a revolution in the  
ways we do things, and even in the way we think and live.

As anyone knows who has searched the Internet, abundant information  
means that we inevitably discover things that we never set out to look  
for. Serendipity, accidental discovery, is an everyday event.

The importance of serendipity was driven home to me while building an  
environmental information system. The design focussed on crucial  
questions, such as "Where is species X found?" But as we gathered the  
necessary data, a curious phenomenon emerged. Data that we collected  
for one purpose yielded unexpected discoveries about other matters. For  
instance, data on species distributions, which we needed to describe  
different environments, could also help us interpret seasonal colour  
changes in satellite images. As the volume of data grew, the number of  
potential discoveries soon went off the scale. Since that time, new  
areas of computing, especially data mining, have arisen to exploit this  
"serendipity effect."


The Serendipity Machine: Voyage of Discovery through Unexpected World  
of Computers (A Voyage of Discovery through the Unexpected World of  

The incredible advances in information technology during the second  
part of the 20th century have created a new form of complexity and have  
produced many surprising and totally unexpected consequences

Table of Contents

The information revolution
The serendipity effect
Divide and rule
The platypus effect
 From the Net to the grid
Nuggets of knowledge
Talk to my agent
Computing and nature
Pandora's box
The Internet turns green
Virtual worlds
The global village.

Author :   DAVID GREEN
Format : Paperback
ISBN : 186508655X
Publisher : Allen & Unwin (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publication Date (AUS) : January 2004
Pages : 216
Imprint : Allen & Unwin

Abbey's Bookshops 131 York Street Sydney  NSW  2000 Australia
  Phone: +61 2 9264 3111 or 1800 4 BOOKS (1800 426 657)
  Fax: +61 2 9264 8993
  Book enquiries: books at abbeys.com.au


The Serendipity Machine:  A Voyage of Discovery Through the Unexpected  
World of Computers

Paperback - ISBN: 186508655X - AU $22.95
Cover Image


The incredible advances in information technology during the second  
part of the 20th century have created a new form of complexity and have  
produced many surprising and totally unexpected consequences.

  Computers, we love them and we curse them. No matter what we think  
about them, we know they have changed the world irrevocably. They have  
allowed us to make surprising, fantastic and unexpected discoveries.  
They are serendipity machines. However, computers have also made our  
world and our lives more complex. From mobile phones to the Internet,  
we use them to cope with rapid change and global crises. But what of  
their social impacts, especially when it comes to personal privacy and  
the role of the Internet in the globalisation of terror?

  The Serendipity Machine helps us make sense of recent developments in  
information technology. It explains how innovations such as data mining  
and evolutionary computing deal with the complexity by exploiting  
serendipity. It looks at possibilities raised by new technologies of  
personal agents and virtual communities. And it examines the growing  
influence of computers in new fields including biotechnology,  
environmental management and electronic commerce. It also reveals  
surprising connections between computing and everyday life. What do  
handbags, platypuses and traffic congestion have to do with computing?  
Why is computing becoming more and more like electricity supply? And  
why do computer scientists increasingly look to nature for inspiration?

  The Serendipity Machine is an engaging and insightful trek through the  
new worlds of information technology with plenty of chance discovery on  
the way.


Components of Navigation


‘Lost in Hyperspace’

The topic of navigation is discussed by most hypermedia authors in  
close connection with the thesis formulated by Conklin (1987) that the  
user might »get lost« in the multitude of information contained in the  
interaction space, a risk that has been expressed in the catchphrase  
»lost in hyperspace« [Edwards/Hardman (1989)]. This thesis crops up in  
many studies, like a biblical quotation. Does it belong to the  
pedagogical myths that have grown around multimedia? Most authors  
conclude from this that it is necessary to develop transparent methods  
of navigation. I think that one can clearly see from the manner in  
which this argument is brought forward over and over again that the  
thesis of getting lost serves as a justification of introducing more  
strict forms of navigation for most authors. It seems to me that this  
topic therefore has a definite point of contact with the question of  
learner control, which I am going to discuss later.


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