That which allows communication between two things, as a user and a program, a program and a library, or one machine and another.

In Java, a poor substitute for multiple inheritance.

Peaceful coexistence between human beings and machines requires clear communication. The best systems convey information so elegantly that we hardly think about the power they give us—boundaries dissolve and we become one with our technologies.
The interface allows this. Common interfaces include the remote control, the stereo, and the touch-tone keypad of a telephone. You see these interfaces not only on the products they were designed for, but also on things such as computer software which has no "natural" interface of its own.

A good book about interfaces is Interface Culture by Steven Johnson.
A near future political thriller, in which a shadowy coalition bent on controlling the world economy attempts to manipulate a Presidential Candidate using computer bio-chip implanted in his brain. Written by Stephen Bury (a pseudonym for Neal Stephenson).

If you are a fan of Stephenson's work, you should really read Interface, the style is very similar to Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon

A point or means of interaction between two or more systems, components of a computer system, or the system and the user.

Interface, in current vernacular, means something that joins two things together, such as the interface between man and machine. But it was not long ago that it meant a "boundary", or "dividing line", with the idea of separation, in sewing, it means a piece of fabric between the lining and the shell of a coat. This book, by Marcus Adlard, is the story of a fictional town near Newcastle-on-Tyne, in a world where an "interface" has been erected between art and industry, where the ultra-bright are all business executives, and all of the less-than-stellar are Citizens, sitting around getting drunk on weak free beer. Stahlex, a ferro-silicon laminate, made in the manner of IC's, is used for everything from building materials to stockings, and being trampled on is the most common cause of death among the general citizenry.

In clubs with names like "Fun Palace", aphrodollies supply airline-stewardess quality sex for (male) executives. They're said to be "highly specialized", which means, apparently, they do Kegel excercises and dress up in costumes, plying their trade in Disney World-like stage sets, aided by "aphrogas", a piped-in inhaled stimulant. They wear "flicker knickers", which are bikini panties that glow and give off signals, as part of their costumes, which I find hard to visualize, considering that some of these women are dressed as 18th century Venetian dogressas, and some as cave women.

The inconsistency between the sharply detailed and the unvisualizable is only one of the annoying, and downright silly things about this book.

To a Britisher, apparently, this book has a great deal of resonance: the Sicilian MC at the Fiesta Club, the shock value of haircutters as celebrities, the overweening preciousness of the polite conversation among young professionals on their way up. (They tend, apparently, to speak in encyclopedia entries to each other.) The pop songs in it sound authentically lounge-like. To a Yank, however, it's somewhat overplayed.

Here is Philippa, who has the misfortune to have a major-league crush on Nick Levantine, a shallow playboy with whom she works. "Can a man who is used to... aphrodollies be content with..an ordinary woman.." She sobs uncontrollably."...provided that she...loves him?" Puh-leeze, lady. Get a grip. Just because he eats every day at the Essex House doesn't mean he won't like a home-cooked meal now and then. Besides, you're a comptroller with experience in uh, Discrete Systems Math. (It says so right here.) This is an executive?

Anyway, back to the book. Midway, the hero asks a robot "autopal" exactly why things are the way they are. The answer hinges on the notion that technical knowlege during the Industrial Revolution became too specialized for artists to find commonly understood metaphors, so that art withered while technology boomed. Somehow this, plus the alcoholic anaesthesia of the masses, led to an absence of rugby songs, graffiti, social dancing, crowdsurfing, and wise-ass remarks, so what passes for entertainment is provided by robots who tell jokes and sing lounge music, and no one knows how not to get stomped on. (There don't seem to be many women around, either, and we don't get to see what prole homes are like, other than the fact that no one wants to stay there.) Outside the Tcity dome, executives get to pick over what's left of Western Civ, eating gourmet meals, collecting fine porcelain, watching actors lipsynch to Wagner's operas, and practising their tasting techniques on fine Bordeaux, but there isn't much fun in it. Everything is technocratic in the extreme, in the time-honored traditions of Metropolis, except for a few rebels who get involved with the rebellious yuppies on their way up, blah, blah, blah....

If the notion of technocracy was the single biggest trend in the first part of the past century, the failure of all of these systems is the single biggest piece of news in the second. Human beings, apparently are not only extremely resistant to propaganda, but retain their own off-the-record ways of being creative as well. In the early 60's it did seem as if high culture was going off into the stratosphere, and pop culture was being produced by media conglomerates, rather than created by individuals. A cynical eye would have put The (early) Beatles into this category, along with the "autocrooners" so wonderfully caricatured here. But by 1971 when this book was written, the DIY world of skiffle/blues/rock unmasked this as an illusion -- by then, the trend was firmly towards singer-songwriter-producers, artist-run labels, and the like. No one gave a damn whether technological metaphors might prove too exotic for the mainstream, either: 60's songs are loaded with them. OK, so it wasn't "high" culture then. But some of it is now.

Somehow, I can't give this book a completely bad rating, though. There's just something about it that makes me want to cook and eat that lunch menu, and buy my own monkey figurines. I might even listen to Webern, if I can find a recording of the piece he mentions. But then, I'm going to have to play some Sting. He's from Newcastle, you know.

Review of Interface by Neal Stephenson & Frederick George

I had not read any other of Neal Stephenson's books (at the time of noding this), but I have had the author recommended to me as a cyberpunk. There is no apparent prequel to this book, and I am not aware of it being part of a series - however there is nothing to say that the author has not written one or is writing one. The ending of the book does allow for the possibility of a sequel.

In a nutshell, the book is about a surgical operation to fit chips into the heads of stroke victims, enabling them to recover full use of their limbs, speech and cognitive faculty. It is also about the personal life of one of these stroke victims who becomes President of the United States.

Regarding the author's technical knowledge, I must admit I was disappointed. Especially since there is a co-author; I wonder what Frederick George's role was - clearly not an expert in neuroscience or micro technology.

My criticism of the neuroscience content is that there was no material whatsoever. The author could have named in passing some parts of the brain and included descriptions of their function - this could have been done with Broca's and Wernicke's areas, both of which are speech centres, and their function has been known about for at least 50 years. Shame on the publisher if such details were originally present and were edited out (dumbing down for the readership?). Also, why restrict the application to stroke victims? Why not Parkinsons Disease, Motor Neuron Disease or Multiple Sclerosis? Wouldn't it be great for someone like Stephen Hawking to get the use of his body back!

Regarding the software running in the chip, this seemed to need patches and upgrades. I believe that a future technology replacing functionality of the human brain would require a complex adaptive system. It would thus harness software evolution and emergence techniques and program itself. In the book, it is solely the brain that adapts around and into the chip, not the chip adapting to the brain.

Also knowing something of how pollsters and the market research industry works, the statistical sampling methods described in the book are vastly different from what happens in reality.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and was riveted. This book is best appreciated as an American political thriller. I admit ignorance when it comes to the American electoral process, living as I do in the UK.

I thought that Cy Ogle's "eye in the sky" was a direct plagiarism of the cult 1960s series "The Prisoner" (maybe this book actually explains what The Prisoner is about!) However, the 360 degree suspended swivel chair surrounded by screens has become something of a cliche.

My advice is to suspend reality and enjoy. Much as one does when watching Star Trek. Most of the characters are larger than life, and the most incredible coincidences happen to them. I also found that the plot was completely guessable from the first few chapters.

Regarding the moral or ethical aspects of the technology, the author does not even scratch the surface. There is a group of animal rights activists appearing early on, opposing Dr' Radhakristnan's research with monkeys, but they are merely background furniture to the plot.

In summary, I think that this book would translate very well into a movie. There is no need for any dumbing down of technical details. Nor are there any ambiguous characters - just plain goodies and baddies, making it easy for Hollywood to implement. I would look forward to the film coming out.

This review has also been submitted to diversebooks.com

His hands get sweaty as the as realtime communicator buzzes.
- "helpdesk, how can I be of service"
- "Yeah, hi, I have a problem"
- "Yes sir, what is your service number?"
- "Service number? I don't know?"
A barely audible sigh comes from the other end of the phone connection.
- "Is this the first time you contacted our helpdesk?"
-"yes, it is, Listen, my problem is.."
- "Please sir, I will first have to register you in our system."
The next 20 minutes are filled with answering all kind of questions. It makes him feel naked as his whole life is being entered in yet another anonymous database.
- "Now sir, what is your problem"
- "Sometimes I have migraines and they are getting worse"
- "I see. Can you give me some information on your hardware, like firmware version?"
- "Well, where should I look?"
- "Have you ever before installed any updates of service packs from our company, sir?"
- "No, I never knew that was needed"
- "Not installing our updates makes you vulnerable for viruses and abuse from other systems, sir. It is always wise to run our updates. Please hold while I scan our database for the symptoms "migraine".
While the realtimesystem plays some clips and tells him periodically that his call is important to them, he replays the conversation in his mind. He was old enough to remember "docters". Humans with special training in everything that could go wrong with your hardware. Not the integrated hardware support services that you have today with their interfaces, updates and net integration. He did not even have an interface installed, something he was ashamed to mention to the helpdesk-person. If it was a person, anyway. A lifetime ago he used to be a "wizard" with electronics and software, but somehow this passed. It took him years to come to grips with mobile communication and even in this day and age he took care that only a handful of people knew how to contact him via real-time. He preferred old fashion messages-systems and never used the Cloud if he could avoid it. This way he actually made quite a few friends with the same "integrate-phobia". A smile fleeted his face as he fondly recalls the avatars of his friends
- "Sir?"
For a moment he is startled as his mind is rudely awakened out of his reverie
- "Yes?"
- "I consulted with our experts and it is probably something to do with the hardware abstraction layer, or the bus itself. We advise you to first update your software, which might take away the problem right away. What is your interface type?
The dreaded question. Well, better get the unpleasantness over in one painful sweep
- "I don't have any"
A charged silence fills the virtual connection as the other end tries to come to grips with this unusual situation. He feels the prickling sensation starting in the back of his neck. Any moment he will be blushing. He wonders if it will show on the realtime. probably not. no interface.
- "you have no interface?"
- "No"
- "Hold please"
Again the clips and the reminder that his call is important to the company. The uneasiness is slowly dissolving as the difficult part of the conversation has been handled. It is replaced by pleasant relief.
-"Hello?"
The new voice is heavier and has the vocal chips and cracks of someone who has used or abused it a lot more than the previous voice. The avatar has changed too. Not one of those colorful oversexy newfangled fantasy-figures that are all the rage now, but a simple abstract projection of a human form.
-"Yes?"
-"I understand that you have no interface?"
-"That is correct"
-"And your age is over 50?"
-"Yes?"
-"I see. Well sir, we don't do any new installations on hardware older than 3 years. I'm afraid you are a legacy system and we can not extend our services to you. I'm very sorry about this."
- "Legacy system? I'm 52 and never been sick in my live!"
- "It is too risky, sir. All our installation protocols are aimed at systems younger than 3 years old. We cannot guarantee an error free implementation at your age. There is really nothing we can do. We skipped backward compatibility years ago."
- "There is nothing you can do."
- "No sir"
He felt the muscles in his face tense, a sure sign he was getting angry. Legacy system! I'll give them legacy!
At the helpdesk the projection unit of the realtime suddenly turned blue. Several white letters where projected:

0x0000007E (0xC0000005, 0x00000000, 0xBA51F7C8,
0xBA51F4C4) Beginning dump of physical memory

The younger technician stared fascinated at the white letters.
- "what does it mean, sir? Shall I run it trough the database?"
- "No, I just think that person had an error in his kernel"
- "Oh Gross!"

Tancque
12-11-2008

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