1. The Diamond Age by Neal StephensonI discovered some friends working on education apps hadn't read this book! I checked on Goodreads and a lot of folks there have read it, so good job. Maybe you loved it, maybe you're confused by the ending, maybe my 'review' will reveal that I forgot a large chunk of what happened. No matter! Here's what I do remember:
There are these electronic book things (the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer) that some kids get that are like an adaptive, interactive, fancy-schmancy textbook for learning all the things that a child ought to learn. Like reading and arithmetic and different animals and construction machines. So it can read aloud to the kid and then teach the kid to read and be kind of wikipedia-like in teaching about whatever the kid is interested in. No teacher? This book can do it! Or maybe it augments a teacher? I don't really remember, because the main character girl who was not in the right socioeconomic group to get one (or school) did actually get her hands on one. It (kind of) made me think of the plan to drop OLPCs all over Africa and have kids teach themselves computers. Then there's another main character of the book, the woman who does the reading aloud and communicating through the book, who winds up getting to know the little girl using the book as she grows up.
Basically, it's like you need Siri to be more intelligent, but she's not, so you have your app plug into Mechanical Turk and get a human to take care of it. Kind of like VizWiz, the app that lets blind people take a picture and have a turker tell them what they're looking at. But then some of those workers start getting paired with the same app users and they might wind up getting involved in each other's lives! The human touch! It's important! Will artificial intelligence ever be advanced enough to give us that emotional connection? Is the the human element necessary for learning? Stephenson seems to think so!
Also, the idea of adaptive learning is what's hot in education (and game design for education) these days.
I think people want something like the Illustrated Primer... interactive, personalized, unbounded learning. In your pocket! We're already headed in that direction with tablets and interactive e-books (like Al Gore's climate book... are there more? Why is that the only one I can remember?) and interactive data visualizations (like in the NYT) and MOOCs making education more widely available and universal. There are a lot of kinks still to work out, though. The biggest one I know/care about is how "interactive" content is still pretty static, like someone has to design the levels for the math game or the widgets for the website or the homework for the MOOC. But that is why Adam and friends are working on design automation! And that is why I build things that let humans contribute new content!
Anyway. Don't wait to read The Diamond Age on your own Illustrated Primer in 20 years! Read it now!
P.S. I had just finished Anathem on my Kindle and I asked Adam to suggest another Neal Stephenson book, and he was like, "Oh, you should totally read the Diamond Age because it's about a girl with an electronic book like you have there."
2. All 4 books in the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons, especially the last 3 booksThe story for me reading these books is that I was in the Twice Sold Tales on 45th and the Ave, perusing books with Adam when I was fresh into grad school, and he pointed out Hyperion and said, "Mike said that was good". It is good! I think it might have been the first "people living all over space" (not just Mars) book I read, since I tend to relate all other space colonization books (see the next two on this list) to this series. My review is not going to do it justice.
My memory of the first book: Spaceship tree! Religious quest that I don't understand. Woman who comes from a planet with higher gravity that makes her short and stocky. The SHRIKE is SCARY. Guy with baby who's getting younger and younger every day. Drunk poet guy.
The next few books: I finally get to know and appreciate more of the characters. There's a spaceship with a personality. People are all over space! They live on different planets, but thanks to the some fancy-shmancy technology, they can connect the planets together. One guy (the drunk poet) has a house with different rooms on different planets. There's a main street and a river that are connected in a huge multi-planet loop. One of the books involves traveling on a raft through down this river (and all over space!), which is like that Escher staircase that always flows downhill but manages to connect in a big cycle.
3. 2312 by Kim Stanley RobinsonSpeaking of humans all over space, they're all over the place in this book, too! And they travel between planets in hollowed out asteroids called terraria, that each have a different ecosystem inside. Some are savannas or full of water or totally dark.. not having been to Burning Man, I imaging different terraria offering all kinds of different experiences like different BM camps. They also keep pretty much all of Earth's animals in different terraria zoos because Earth is getting pretty run down and the animals would go extinct there. What would it be like to take a run-down Earth and put all the animals back?? Read the book to find out!
In addition to the terraria, there's also some crazy artificial intelligence that might be getting too intelligent.
In true Kim Stanley Robinson fashion, there's a lot of drawn out boring aspects of the book, too.
The prologue about sun-walkers on Mercury is really neat, though, so you should at least get the Kindle book sample from Amazon and read that.
4. A Deepness In The Sky by Vernor VingeAh, people are all over space again! But there's one planet that has not been colonized by humans, but it has some smart creatures on it, and they're going through their own technological enlightenment when the humans show up. It's all these smart, inspired characters paralleling a lot of technological advancements of the real Earth (like nuclear scientists) but at an accelerated pace! A warning, though, if you don't like spiders, maybe this book isn't for you.
Compared to the books above, this Vinge book was the most satisfying and fun to read. It's not laced with weird Stephenson sub-plots, nor is it 4 books long. You should read the Diamond Age for its historical (and future-ical) relevance, but you should read A Deepness in the Sky because it's a great story. And you should read the other books if you have time and want to think about what it would be like to live all over space.
What other books do I need to read? Ones that will CHANGE MY OUTLOOK ON LIFE??