When something works well, you can feel it; there is a sense of rightness to it. We call that rightness beauty, and it ought to be the single most important component of design.This recognition is at the heart of David Gelernter's witty argued essay, Machine Beauty, which defines beauty as an inspired mating of simplicity and power. You can see it in a Bauhaus chair, the Hoover Dam, or an Emerson radio circa 1930. In contrast, too many contemporary technologists run out of ideas and resort to gimmicks and features; they are rarely capable of real, structural ingenuity.Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of computers. You don't have to look far to see how oblivious most computer technologists are to the idea of beauty. Just look at how ugly your computer cabinet is, how unwieldy and out of sync it feels with the manner and speed with which you process thought.The best designers, however, are obsessed with beauty. Both hardware and software should afford us the greatest opportunity to achieve deep beauty, the kind of beauty that happens when many types of loveliness reinforce one another, when design expresses an underlying technology, a machine logic.
Program software ought to be transparent; it should engage what Gelernter calls "a thought-amplifying feedback loop," a creative symbiosis with its user. These principles, beautiful in themselves, will set the stage for the next technological revolution, in which the pursuit of elegance will lead to extraordinary innovations.Machine Beauty will delight Gelernter's growing audience, fans of his provocative and biting journalism. Anyone who manufactures, designs, or uses computers will be galvanized by his cogent arguments and tantalizing glimpse of a bright future, where beautiful technology abounds.
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US Kirkus Review »
The growth of the computer sciences has been spurred by a relentless search for beauty - or so argues this eminent Yale computer scientist. Gelernter (Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber, p. 1083; 1939: The Lost World of the Fair, 1995) recognizes that the nonscientist may not be able to regard a machine as beautiful. He defines machine beauty as a combination of simplicity and power - power in the ability to accomplish tasks. Good design and visual beauty are necessarily related, the author argues. The application of these concepts to computer science takes up most of the book. The conflicting aims of hardware and software designers are particularly crucial; a hardware designer has to build a practical, affordable machine that can reliably perform many different jobs. Yet a software designer, unencumbered by physical limitations, can spin fantastic webs of complexity, with no concern for the average user's machine. Mere calculation cannot resolve these conflicting aims, says Gelernter; rather, a sense of beauty is needed to produce something that will work. For example, the elegance and pragmatic ease of the original Macintosh's operating system made it attractive to software designers. But in the long run, the Mac lost. out to the decidedly "uglier" IBM platform. Gelernter's contention that the Mac's perceived "cuteness" failed to appeal to "manly" corporate buyers seems facile, although it does score the point that elegance may not actually be an asset in the world of big business. Gelernter goes on to examine the elegance of operating systems and algorithms. The rise of the desktop computer - the true basis of the computer revolution - gets a comprehensive exploration, and Gelernter discusses the impact of elegance in home software design. Provocative and full of quirky insights, this book takes a fascinating look at the broader questions raised by the machines that rule so much of our lives. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - David Hillel Gelernter
David Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale University. His books include The Muse in the Machine, Mirror Worlds, and 1939. His ideas on computers and technology nearly cost him his life when he was letterbombed by the Unabomber.