Linked: The New Science Of Networks Science Of Networks (英語) ハードカバー – 2002/5/14
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If you REALLY want to grasp how ideas spread, how to stop AIDS, how to break down the Internet, how to use your neighbor's computer, how to make your website matter or how to became a board member in a big company, Linked is a good place to start. Barabasi breaks down a complex world into very simple, clear concepts. While I have read several books about 'new' science, this one is really about something new, exciting, and hard to forget. Highly recommend it.
It is important for those multitudes who have no taste for math to know that this is not a book full of equations; Barabasi knows that for most of his readers, doing the math is not as important as getting a feel for what the math does. He explains the basic history of network theory, and then shows how his own work has turned it into a closer model of reality, a model that most of us will recognize. Networks are all around us, and they are simply not random. Some of our friends, for instance, are loners, while others seem to know everyone in town. Some websites, like Google and Amazon, we just cannot avoid clicking on or being referred to, but many others are obscure and you could only find them if someone sent you their addresses. Barabasi calls these "nodes" with such an extraordinary number of links "hubs," and he and his students have found laws of networks with hubs, showing such things as how they can continue to function if random nodes are eliminated but they fragment if the hubs are hit. Barabasi is currently doing research to show what intracellular proteins interact with other proteins, and true to form, some of them are hubs of reactions with lots of others. Finding the hubs of cancerous cells, for instance, and developing ways of taking them out, show enormous promise in the fight against cancer. And finding the hub terrorists in Al Queda in order to take them out would be the best way to eliminate the network.
Barabasi obviously enjoys drawing examples from all over, and because of his ability to link them, his book is a pleasure to read. He also shows how this type of mathematics is being done, by conference in obscure European locales and by e-mail. He shows how "eureka" insights by his students have propelled the new science, and he is full of good stories from a teacher. In fact, he is a good teacher, and those who follow along here will have reason to be glad to join, if only in the role of isolated nodes, into this network of mathematical thought.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is coherent, thoughtful, and tells a story about the emerging science of networks that anyone, who can read, can understand. This is a non-trivial accomplishment, so 4 stars.
However, the book is also--being brilliantly designed to be understood by the lowest common denominator, an undergraduate--somewhat shallow and empty.... especially when compared with Stephen Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science", 1197 pages not counting the index, which is at the other extreme.
Although there are good notes, there is no bibliography, and the author fails to use network methodology to illustrate and document the emerging literature on networks--called citation analysis, this would have been a superb appendix to the book that would have taken it up a notch in utility.
Among the key points that the author discusses and which certainly make the book worth buying and reading, my above reservations not-with-standing:
1) Reductionism has driven 20th century science (and one might add, all other knowledge), with the result being that we have experts who know more and more about less and less--and )as CIA and FBI recently found)while leaving us devoid of generalists and multi-disciplinary artists and scientists who can "connect the dots" across these fragmented foci.
2) Contrary to the prevailing wisdom about networks being equally distributed and thus largely invulnerable to catastrophic meltdown, the author does a fine job of documenting the importance of selected "hubs", so important that their removal ultimately breaks the network down into isolated pieces. The functionality of the network, its strength, is also its weakness--vulnerability to deliberate attack against the hubs (the author does not mention the Internet domain directories except in passing while discussing a table error, but MAYEAST and MAYWEST would be two obvious directory hubs that could be better protected through replication).
3) The author inadvertently makes a vital contribution to our understanding of how to defend America against terrorism--discussing why no single authority can close down the Internet by fiat, he notes "The underlying network has become so distributed, decentralized and locally guarded that even such an ordinary task as getting a central map of it has become virtually impossible." LOCALLY GUARDED--this is the key phrase. Federalizing counter-terrorism, and using federal agents and computers at the state and local levels, will not be effective against terrorists in civilian guise within the homeland--only a complete extension of counterintelligence and counterterrorism methods to the state & local level--teaching them to fish for terrorists, rather than trying to catch the terrorists with federal trawlers, is the way to go.
4) The author flirts with what is known as nomadic computing, making the point that nodes built around individual people are becoming as important--some would say more important--in a networked economy than nodes built around static organizations. There is a useful general discussion of how "fitness" in a networked economy is a combination of speed and scalability as well as diversity of linkages. As a general rule, as the FBI found (and also CIA, INS, and the State Department), systems with a single hub resistant to initiative from the field offices will tend to be slow and ineffective.
Missing from this populist overview is a discussion of the vital importance of geospatial information. While the author helpfully notes the Earth is increasingly covered by an electronic "skin" with millions of measuring devices, with experts predicting that by 2010 there will "around 10,000 telemetric devices for each human on the planet" (one suspects this refers only to privileged humans, not the billions of dispossessed that lack telephones, never mind computers), he does not take the next essential step, which is to note that in the absence of an XML-GEO standard and a global push to associate geospatial as well as temporal tags with all data, much of what we collect will, like the trillions of bits we have collected with secret satellites, never get processed in a meaningful manner.
This is a helpful book that will be of value to the general reader at the elementary (adult) level.
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I am not an explorer at the very frontiers of network dynamics, but I am an intelligent, sentient being and the ideas being developed in network research are of great importance to my life and the world I live in. I find the academic journals, where the research results are first published, (deliberately?) impenetrable, so it is a delight and a joy to find a guided tour in plain English, with an authoritative guide, through the frontiers of some very current and paradigm-changing ideas.
The book's narrative is aimed at the general public, to be sure, but I hadn't heard that being a member of the general public was a crime or a slur. Perhaps I missed a meeting. I found the writing style to be clear, concise, engaging and entertaining. In short, it was one of the best books of any genre that I have ever read and I have read hundreds.
Another reviewer of this book (see below) has said that Barabasi overemphasises the importance of preferential attachment in forming scale free network topologies. OK. Bring it on. Where is your counter explanation? What is the more important factor? Where is your clearly-written book explaining your counter argument for the likes of me? I would really like to know what else could possibly account for the emergence of this topology. It's important to me. To that reviewer I say, "publish or be dammed". I cannot abide elitism in scientific research, whereby those in the know jealously guard their secrets from the rest of us, so as to reinforce their self-belief in their uber-mortality. Join the real world. Tells us what you know without being patronising.
If, as a reader, you are in any way interested in the spread (or diffusion) of ideas, innovations, fads, viruses, memes, rumours and a hundred other phenomena or want to understand why some things are runaway hits and others not, this book will definitely stimulate your thinking. The only minor frustration I had with the book was that in identifying Microsoft's success in operating systems as analogous to a Bose Einstein condensate (a superfluid?), the book fails to explain how the condensate can evaporate...in other words, what nodal or network conditions would have to apply to overturn Microsoft's dominance?
As a published technical author myself, I know that writing this well is sheer hard work. I would be delighted if any of my own works were as brilliantly executed as Barabasi's "Linked".
Buy it. You won't be sorry.
Could the prevalent reductionism be, at this point, obscuring rather that sharpening our vision of the the world? Should we give up on the idea of having an equation that could be printed on a tee shirt that contains the Theory of Everything?
Barabasi's answer is not to stop analyzing, but rather to analyze certain relatively large self organized systems topologically over time, as if you were reading successive maps of a growing cosmopolitan region. As roads, building complexes, public areas and the like are added, the rules generating the growth and distribution of facilities make themselves plain. The network thus formed works in a manner that obeys certain laws (called power laws)and divides into highly connected places called hubs which link to less numerously connected nodes. Using this analytical approach, he poses and answers dozens of questions that should stimulate an intelligent reader into seeing the world a little differently.
In fact, much of this book's interest derives from the activity of charting itself. Barabasi, like some latter day Henry the Navigator, explains in ordinary language why Kevin Bacon is really not very central to the Hollywood map and how the late Rod Steiger was. How Microsoft follows the same laws as a strange sort of matter. He explains how Vernon Jordan got so many corporate board seats, what may be the best way to eradicate AIDs, and what may become the newest phamaceutical approaches to disease. Terrorist networks, cancer and bad economics may all one day fall victim to strategies derived from network analysis.
I have read too many popular science books to know that translating equations into popular literature is no easy feat. So many fall of their very lack of weight. My one complaint with this highly readable book is that in an effort to make the book gallop the author has taken some shortcuts which break the flow of the argument. Nonetheless, if you want to read a very good book about a scientific issue not many of us are familiar with, this is a very good one.
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