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The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices: A Book Review

by Mark P. McDonald  |  June 10, 2011  |  1 Comment

A Director’s tour of the fantasy factory – five stars.

Dr. Frank Moss’s book The Sorcerers and their Apprentices is an  engaging and illustrative tour of the recent innovations coming out of the MIT Media lab.   Each chapter highlights a project and specific lab covering everything from robots to emotion recognition systems to foldable cars, to advanced prosthetic devices all part of the next wave of innovation that will shape our future.

The tour of tomorrow provided by Moss alone earns a recommendation for anyone interested science and technology fact, which is often stranger and more exciting than science fiction.  Moss works hard to describe the inventions, how they work and the backstory of the people involved in their creation. This gives you a feeling for what it might be like to work in a dynamic environment where the problems are central to the human experience and the borders for a solution simply do not exist.

This is a book about the promise of technology that is refreshing given all the news of cyber attacks; identify theft and the elimination of privacy.  The reason Moss can be so hopeful is that each of these technologies combines software with hardware to produce innovation that is tactile, tangible and easy to visualize. This is the world of applied technology rather than indirect software solutions.  There is little hype of theses technologies and no lecturing about the moral virtue of science.

While the technologies are tactile and Moss does his best to describe then, the inventions really needs pictures to do them justice as each is unique and provides a particular solution.

You can read the book as a detailed proposal or storyboard for a multi-part series on PBS, Discovery or the Science channels as video may be the best way to appreciate the work of the sorcerers and their apprentices.

This may be one case where the book is good, but the movie would be much better.

Moss is justifiably proud of the ethos, practices and approaches the Media Lab takes to solving problems. He also has much to be proud of as an individual inventory and leader.  Both of these come out throughout the book, making it a little repetitive.

The book’s title Sorcerers and their Apprentices sets an expectation that the book will focus on the people working in the Lab, their backgrounds, their experiences and such.  While the book does provide some backstory, it’s dominant focus on the inventions more than the inventors.  This does not detract from the value of the book; it’s just an observation.

Overall Moss does a great job of making the future come alive not only in terms we can all understand but also in a way that we can see the impact new technologies will have on our future.

Recommended for anyone interested in the future and learning more about some of the creative people behind the things that will change our lives for the next thirty years.

Category: book-review  innovation  technology  

Tags: book-review  technology  technology-leadership  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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