Dealers of Lightning is the riveting story of the legendary Xerox PARC–a collection of eccentric young inventors brought together by Xerox Corporation at a facility in Palo Alto, California, during the mind-blowing intellectual ferment of the seventies and eighties.
Why do otherwise intelligent individuals form seething masses of idiocy when they engage in collective action? Why do financially sensible people jump lemming-like into hare-brained speculative frenzies - only to jump broker-like out of windows when their fantasies dissolve? We may think that the Great Crash of 1929, junk bonds of the '80s, and over-valued high-tech stocks of the '90s are peculiarly 20th century aberrations, but Mackay's classic - first published in 1841 - shows that the madness and confusion of crowds knows no limits, and has no temporal bounds. These are extraordinarily illuminating, and, unfortunately, entertaining tales of chicanery, greed and naiveté. Essential for any student of human nature or the transmission of ideas.
In a world of self-driving cars and big data, smart algorithms and Siri, we know that artificial intelligence is getting smarter every day. Though all these nifty devices and programs might make our lives easier, they're also well on their way to making "good" jobs obsolete. A computer winning Jeopardy might seem like a trivial, if impressive, feat, but the same technology is making paralegals redundant as it undertakes electronic discovery, and is soon to do the same for radiologists. And that, no doubt, will only be the beginning.
In February 1763, Britain, Spain, and France signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the French and Indian War. In this one document, more American territory changed hands than in any treaty before or since. As the great historian Francis Parkman wrote, "half a continent…changed hands at the scratch of a pen."