Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of all kinds

Edited by David H Guston, Ed Finn and Jason Scott Robert

There are some books which, regardless of their age, continue to resonate with audiences, and of none is this so true as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. From its origins as a ghost story written by an intelligent yet rebellious teenage girl on the shores of Lake Geneva almost 200 years ago, the book has gone on to become a defining pillar of English literature, one which has much to say about the way we as humans imagine science and its moral, societal and technological consequences.

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Over the years Shelley’s text has become standard comparison for every scientific attempt to harness the power of nature, be it in the form genetic engineering, stem cell cloning, or even the creation of artificial intelligence. Yet despite its clear relevance to science and engineering, the study of Frankenstein has often been left solely to students of the arts and humanities.

This new publication from The MIT Press strives to change this, by directly applying Shelley’s classical text to the modern, scientific world. The original 1818 edition of Frankenstein is paired with annotations discussing the ethical aspects of scientific creativity and providing additional background information on the period in which the novel came to life including references to industrialisation, and scientific studies in alchemy and galvanism.

The comparisons to our own situation are clear: Shelley’s society was caught up in a tumultuous network of changes, experiencing for the first time the wonders of steam power and industry, and today, we find ourselves caught up in a similar situation – though travelling in very different directions – and still with many of the same concerns. The editors present the idea of a modern day Victor Frankenstein creating a form of self-replicating nanotechnology – not unlike the ideas we explored last year in our Frankenstein special edition of E&T – highlighting the continued significance of Shelley’s warning.

While the book is written as a companion to those of scientific thinking, it also drives up discussion about the importance of literary thinking within science and technology, and of incorporating art into STEM subjects. The editors encourage a scientific respect of the humanities as offering a valid means of defining and even improving the world. Indeed, the factors driving scientific imagination are not so far removed from the literary mind as one might imagine. Shelley’s work speaks of an interest in the scientific and technological discoveries occurring in the early 19th century, but was no doubt also inspired by nature, and the tumultuous rainfall the girl experienced at Lake Geneva. In much the same way her creation, Victor Frankenstein, experienced his first sparks of creativity after witnessing a tree smashed to smithereens during a thunderstorm. Both occurrences, though literary, are not so far removed from Edison’s inspiration for the study of gravity coming from an apple falling from a tree.

To give further context and encourage thought and discussion, the annotated book is accompanied by a chronology of scientific developments throughout the life of Shelley, as well as several essays by leading scholars which explore the social and ethical aspects of scientific creativity and discovery within Frankenstein. Questions emerge surrounding the responsibility behind scientific creation, the place of science fiction as an influence rather than a predictor, of the future, and the changing conceptions of human nature, and their relevance and emergence within the text – providing food for thought for STEM and humanities students alike.

Interestingly enough although the book has been edited by men, the idea for the project itself came from a woman, the colleague of Guston, Finn and Robert, Cajsa Baldini. The irony of group of middle aged men following in the footsteps of a teenage girl is not lost on the editors, and they take the time to confront the issues of gender in Frankenstein, as well as pay homage to the author, for whom writing and publishing a novel without the support of her family, and with open disdain from society, was no mean feat. In this way, the book serves not just to represent how Shelley’s work provides an opportunity to reflect on how science is framed and understood by the public, but as a commemoration of all that Shelley achieved.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘Infinity: A Very Short Introduction’ by Ian Stewart

Infinity is all around us. It helped to send man to the moon and underlines the very basic principles of mathematics, but remains a hugely misunderstood concept.

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Picture this: I have a hotel and infinite number of rooms, all of which are occupied. If a new guest were to turn up wanting a room for the night, how could I accommodate them? If you don’t already know the answer to this, then the latest release Oxford University Press’ Very Short Introduction series is sure to be of interest. ‘Infinity: A Very Short Introduction’, by Ian Stewart is, somewhat paradoxically, a quick and simple introduction to what is, quite literally, the biggest subject ever. Intrigued? Read on to find out more.

Let’s get back to my hotel and the matter of how I might accommodate this new and troubling guest. If I had a hotel with a finite number of rooms, the poor chap would be out on his ear, but a hotel with an infinite number of rooms is much more flexible. Instead, I simply need to move the guest in room one to room two, and the guest in room two to room three, and so on, so that each guest has been moved from his current room n, to n+1. Once each guest has been moved, room one will be empty and free to accommodate the new guest.

Confused yet? The hotel’s skills don’t stop here. If in an infinite number of new guests turned up I would also be able to accommodate them. To do this, I would simple need to move the person in room one to room two, and the person in room two to room four, and three to room six, and so on, until each odd numbered room (of which there are an infinite amount) is empty, and ready to be filled by the new guests. I could go on and try to explain how an infinite number of coaches each filled with an infinite number of guests could be accommodated, but my head is starting to hurt.

This hotel, hypothesised by German mathematician David Hilbert in 1924, goes to illustrate the counter-intuitive nature of infinity, by showing that infinity plus one, and infinity plus infinity, are both equal to infinity. More than this, though, Hilbert’s infinite hotel paradox highlights that infinity is paradoxical, so don’t be put off by the paradox of a ‘short’ introduction to a huge subject because when you think about it, illogically it starts to make sense.

Unlike infinity itself, infinity as a concept does have a beginning: it was first hypothesised by Anaximander, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from around 580BC. He used ideas of infinity, what he called ‘apeiron’, in the search for the origin of life. Since this time, countless philosophers, theologians, psychologists and mathematicians have delved into the black depths of infinity in search of meaning and explanation.

It might seem strange to think so deeply about a concept that we never physically encounter, but infinity actually comes into play in far more situations than you might imagine. Stewart highlights the example of 1/3 expressed as a decimal – 0.33333 recurring. The recurring number of the decimal goes on forever – it is infinite. In the same way, ideas of space and time are often thought of in terms of infinity, as, of course, are numbers. In fact, infinity has an intrinsic role in all manner of subjects – it underlines the very basis of calculus, has taken man to the moon and is used by mathematicians every day.

Infinity is not a thing, it is a concept, a way of understanding tangible things, and, as Stewart goes to highlight, has a very important role to play. The pattern-seeking nature of the human mind dictates that is preferable, or perhaps easier, to think of certain things as infinite than in attempting to think of a boundary. The mere mention of time having a ‘beginning’ will bring up the question of ‘what came before?’. ‘Nothing’ is an incomprehensible answer.

With ‘Infinity: a Very Short introduction’, Stewart has taken an interminably complex subject, and condensed and contracted it to something reasonably manageable – just reasonably, mind, not entirely, as this is infinity we are talking about. The book introduces puzzles and paradoxes, debunks common misconceptions and explores infinity as a concept in both the natural and theoretical world. The sheer wealth of information is at once fascinating and a little terrifying.

If you’ve ever been struck by the question of what lies at the end of infinity, are baffled by the idea of never ending time or space, or just want to read something that is bound to twist your mind in crazy directions, then this is the book for you.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History’ by Lawrence Levy

 

The feature films churned out by Hollywood studios today are a far cry from the pioneering motion pictures of the late 19th century. Technology is often highlighted as a key driver for innovation and in no sector is this more evident than in entertainment. Whether you want to look at improvements in video-capture devices, or changing film-editing processes and software capabilities, developments across film and entertainment are largely driven by developments in technology.

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The story related in ‘To Pixar and Beyond’ is a perfect example of the relationship between technology and innovation. While the majority of people will have heard of Pixar, and know of the company’s wide success in the film industry, few may be aware of its surprisingly humble origins. Written by Lawrence Levy, the former chief financial officer of Pixar, this book tells the tale of how a tiny, struggling start-up went on to revolutionise the animated film industry.

The story begins with Levy, a Harvard-trained lawyer and Silicon Valley executive, receiving an unexpected phone call from Apple founder Steve Jobs attempting to persuade him to join his latest venture, which at that point was on the verge of failure. This small, little-known software-development firm had begun creating computer-animated short films to advertise its work, and was now working towards creating the first ever computer animated feature film – a family-friendly adventure featuring toys that come to life. Levy recalls being struck by an odd mix of excitement and scepticism at hearing Pixar’s story, feelings that were all the more confused by a visit to the company’s dingy headquarters next to an oil refinery in Richmond Point, San Francisco.

Levy compares Pixar to the native Ohlone tribe, who roamed the land where Silicon Valley resides long before business took ownership of the area. Traditions capable of sustaining a tribe for thousands of years had been swept away by a wave of innovation. In the modern day, Levy says, those who can’t keep up with progress go the same way, becoming artefacts left behind. Outwardly Pixar had the appearance of a company that could be easily outstripped by its competitors, but among the rickety armchairs and stained ceiling tiles was a company that harboured a wealth of creative talent.

Of course, we know how the story pans out. There will be few people who have not heard of the first film to emerge from Pixar’s humble offices. In fact, ‘Toy Story’, as it came to be called, was not just successful, it went on to be the biggest film of 1995 – a feat virtually unheard of in the animated film world – and, at the time, became the third biggest grossing animated film of all time. A generation of millennials have now grown up alongside Toy Story’s beloved characters Buzz and Woody and will no doubt have shed a tear when the final film in the franchise was released in 2010.

Regardless of what you know about Pixar’s journey and subsequent success, though, Levy manages to make the story legitimately exciting. Joining the Pixar team was a huge decision, but this was really just the beginning. Once on board Levy and Jobs had a mountain to climb, in committing to transform Pixar into a company focused solely on animated feature films, and leaving behind the software sales and other piecemeal activites, which just barely kept the corporation afloat.

This book, like Pixar’s story, is truly remarkable. At times it reads like a novel, but informs like a documentary, advises like a self-help guide and inspires like any unexpected success story. Above all, the story is inspirational and should serve as encouragement for people wanting to innovate. Pixar’s story is rare, but not impossible. Innovation is out there, waiting to be discovered. As Levy says, creativity is a “dance on the precipice of failure”. There are no shortcuts, no formulas and no well-worn paths to victory, but the results speak for themselves.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘The Trainable Cat’ by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis

There is such a thing as cat whispering and it’s really not that difficult. This new book by self-proclaimed cat enthusiasts John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis outlines simple ways that owners can make life happier for themselves and their furry four-legged friends.

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There are two kinds of people in this world, those who love cats, and those who are wrong. Or, if you want me to be a little less biased, cat people and dog people – no prizes for guessing which category yours truly falls into. One of the biggest gripes dog people seem to have with cats is their brazen ‘up yours’ attitude to anything and everything. A cat will do as it pleases, when it pleases, and there is little if anything you can do to stop them. Dogs are trainable, dogs are reliable, cats, on the other hand, are a law unto themselves.

While the idea of a trained cat might seem contradictory, in ‘The Trainable Cat’, authors John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis show that stress-induced behaviour in cats, such as shredding furniture and fighting against vet visits, can be prevented, making life happier and healthier for cats and owners alike. Your cat is just as intelligent as the dog next door, and far from being untrainable and ignorant, is continually learning and adjusting its behaviour to outside stimuli. You may assume that when your cat jumps up onto the work surface for the fourth time while you are baking, it is deliberately ignoring your pleas for peace, but have you ever stopped to consider that your response to the cat is actually encouraging it?

Starting from the basics, Bradshaw and Ellis delve into the inner workings of the feline mind, to uncover how and why cats learn the way they do, and what cat owners can do to make training easy for the cat and themselves. Cats have excellent memories, they say, and are therefore perfectly suited to training, but are rather different to dogs and thus have their own specific requirements. Through multiple enlightening and often humorous scenarios, Bradshaw and Ellis lay out different training approaches and programmes that can be used to teach cats by rewarding good behaviour while limiting the less appealing sides of a cat’s psyche – including those that result claw-marked furniture and bloody corpses.

Think you can’t train a cat? Think again! The video below shows one of my own beloved moggies playing fetch cat-sized stick (aka hairpin). A bit of positive reinforcement in the form of delicious cat snacks goes a long way.

This book isn’t just a training manual, though. As well as offering advice for the cat lover who wants to ensure they are getting the most out of their relationship with their humble friend, it’s also packed full of awesome cat-related general knowledge titbits. The geek within me revelled in the discovery that the reason one of my cats sometimes sits with her mouth gormlessly hanging open is because she has smelled something interesting and is literally ‘tasting’ the air. The fact that cats like to seek out tiny spaces to hide is because, as retractably clawed animals, they are unable to dig and so, in the wild, would have had to seek out natural crevices to protect themselves from predators.

This book delivers on random information, psychological insight, scientific analysis and all-round cuteness, securing it a high position on my list of favourite books reviewed for E&T so far. I can’t confirm as yet whether Bradshaw and Ellis’s advice has in fact made life happier for me and my cats, but it has certainly given me a better understanding of crazy and endearing things they do. Whether you want to train your cat, are interested in the inner workings of the feline mind, or are a hard-core ‘dog person’ in need of a ‘reality check’, this book is guaranteed to make you think, smile and truly appreciate the unique personalities of these complex creatures.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘Visions of Numberland’ by Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss

 

‘Visions of Numberland’ by Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss takes the reader on a mystical journey through the mysteries and of mathematics in a fun twist on the bewildering adult colouring book market. Who said colouring needs to be relaxing?

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The adult colouring book market is a strange one. Early last year, five of the top ten books listed on retail giant Amazon’s bestseller list were adult colouring books. This poses the question: what on earth are people doing with their lives? When you’ve spent a long hard day at the office it can be all too easy to take feelings of stress home with you, but does the answer really lie in resorting to simpler, more childish times?

Some behaviourists and more than a few adult-colouring book fanatics seem to think so, but I am unconvinced. I’ve tried out a few of these books, and they can be quite fun, but are hardly the perfect solution to an overworked millennial. Firstly, you need to try and actually find the time to sit down and colour. I don’t know about you, but between the all important glass of red and my commitment to vegetating in front of The Walking Dead with my significant other, my evening schedule is pretty tight…

Still, I took some time out this week to try out a new adult colouring book that has graced Amazon’s ever-growing bookshelves. ‘Visions In Numberland’ by Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss promises the would-be colourer a “colouring journey through the mysteries of maths”, but is it really any different from the bewildering array of adult colouring books already on offer?

Short answer: yes, if not we wouldn’t really be featuring it in and engineering and technology publication, would we?

This book is different from the rest. It is so very, very different. Where traditional adult colouring books offer freedom and relaxation to work through inner stress, this book serves as a tour of some of the most fundamental discoveries in the field of mathematics, in which the reader is invited to explore them through colour and imagery.

Ultimately though, there is no freedom, and there is certainly no relaxation.

On my first visit to Numberland I visited the ‘Curve of Pursuit’ – that is, a path taken by a point that is always moving towards another point. The authors create the image of four dogs standing in each corner of a square room, if each dog races towards the dog that is anticlockwise from it, so that each dog is running at the same speed and at all times running towards its quarry along a straight line, the dogs will follow a logarithmic spiral.

The image seen below is my attempt to colour in a collage of several of the so-called ‘canine chases’. Beautiful isn’t it? I’d have loved to have finished it, I’m sure the result would have been quite spectacular, but this was as much as I could possibly complete in one go without passing out. By the time I put my pencil down to take a, quite well-deserved, break I was seeing spots.

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Perhaps it was the perfectionist in me, but there was no way I could colour in the image in anything other than logical steps and colours, which sort of blew the ‘relaxing’ aspect of colouring right out of the water. It felt more like a mission I needed to complete. Seeing the image emerge was pretty satisfying though, once I got past the stress of falling into a mathematical borehole.

I enlisted some help from one of the other editorial members of E&T, who also found the whole experience a little stressful. They did actually manage to finish theirs though, and so we have below an elegantly coloured pattern of 14 pointed stars placed on a grid made up from two varieties of rhombus and entitled ‘Diamonds in the Sky’.

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Travelling though the book reveals firm mathematical darlings like arithmetic and geometry, as well as more abstract modern examples including graph theory and dynamical systems, and gives the reader the opportunity to colour in existing patterns, as well as create their own using relatively easy-to-follow guidelines. My personal favourite is a task in which a series of concentric pentagons are arranged in a convex spiral serving to create a hall-of-mirrors-esque illustrated algorithm – a strikingly simple step-by-step guide to one of the most complex mathematical systems.

I would include a picture, but as I said, the guidelines are only ‘relatively’ easy to follow.

Stress and wonderment aside, there was one thing I found slightly troubling but ultimately endearing about this book. A mistake. How humbling that a colouring book which shows the universe through the eyes of the world’s greatest mathematicians falls prey to one of the most human characteristics. I do hope this wasn’t put there as a test, but if it was I spotted it. The rogue number 12882 highlighted in the image below has no place in that rectangle on Pascal’s triangle, and should of course be 8326 like its partner in the seventh hexagon across – and yes, ladies and gents, I did discover this by colouring in all the numbers with a ‘6’  using the same colour and noticing a discrepancy.

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My personal feelings towards ‘Visions of Numberland’ are mixed. It’s a fun approach to some really fascinating theories which can be approached without any prior knowledge to mathematical systems and the images are nothing short of spectacular, but some of the tasks take a lot of commitment to complete and could well leave your mind buzzing. I’m inclined to want to read the book, and learn more about the mathematical patterns, but without actually doing any more colouring in.

This could be one for the maths-lover in your life, or someone who has outgrown standard adult colouring books, and wants to take on something a little more challenging. Whatever you do, though, don’t buy this book thinking it will help you to unwind; if you do you could set yourself on track for a full-on nervous breakdown.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘Mathematics: How it Shaped our World’ by David Rooney

 

In December 2016, I attended the opening at London’s Science Museum of ‘Mathematics: the Winton Gallery’, an inspirational exhibition which seeks to highlight how mathematics has played a central role in human development throughout history. Now the same brains behind the gallery have launched a new book, which brings this wonderful story into the home.

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This beautiful new book, written by David Rooney, curator in the technologies and engineering group at the science museum and lead curator of the Winton Gallery, explores how mathematics has influenced the world throughout the last 400 years.

The fascinating yet misunderstood field of mathematics, though considered by many to be a rather forbidding and remote subject, is not just present within university and financial institutions, but has importance within all of our daily lives. The Winton Gallery was created as an accessible and fun avenue into understanding mathematics in a bid to change the public’s relationship with mathematics and its history.

‘Mathematics: How it Shaped our World’ by David Rooney supports this quest for anyone unable to visit the Science Museum or for those simply wanting to continue the journey at home. Beautifully illustrated by full-colour photography throughout, this attractive publication would make an excellent addition to any coffee table or bookshelf, whether for casual perusing or an all-out maths fest.

Mathematics is as old as time itself, but with any book there needs to be a beginning. This one emerges on board the merchant ships of the early 18th century with the invention of overseas trade. Mathematics’ relationship with trade is much more complex and far-reaching than the changing hands of currencies. At the heart of trade is measurement: it is in the designing and construction of ships; in the navigation and the building of trade networks; in the buying and selling of goods, and even in the forming of codes for transmitting secret information. As Rooney points out, whole empires have been built and fortunes made and lost off the back of world trade – a fact that resonates just as much now, with the cheap outsourcing of production overseas, as it did 400 years ago.

From trade and travel we move on to war and the many technological advances that mathematical innovation has awarded to the fight for peace throughout history, from the ‘differential analyser’ of the Second World War, to the invention of radar and subsequent rise of ‘operational research’ – a form of mathematical decision making – within military practice. With each chapter in the book Rooney introduces a new concept or sector which has been affected in untold ways by the power of mathematics – exploring economics, weather patterns, surveillance systems, computing, medicine, risk analysis, health and beauty and the very nature of life and death itself.

The book is rounded off nicely by a series of short essays from key figures in the study of mathematics, which look at, among other things, the position of women within mathematical history, with particular attention to key female figures such as Émilie du Châtelet and Mary Sommerville and the ever-changing nature of the mathematics landscape in the present day.

There is no question of the importance of mathematics in the minds of most people. Those who shy away from the simplest of calculations and cringe every time it comes to splitting a bill at a restaurant will know the perils of lacking basic mathematics skills, but – as Rooney demonstrates – this is really just the beginning. Where some introductory or historical texts seek merely to inform, this one strives to engage intellectual thought and questioning, positioning it firmly above the rest. Whether you are a mathematician by trade, a closet maths fanatic or a self-proclaimed sum-dodger, this book is sure to give you food for thought.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction’ by Siva Vaidhyanathan

From over-the-counter medicines to the corrugated cardboard sleeve on a Starbucks coffee cup, intellectual property law hides in plain sight behind a surprising array of everyday objects, and it doesn’t always have the best of intentions.

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Back in December I reviewed ‘The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy’, a book that looks at licensing agreements which come attached to any digital download, and dictate any use, or pleasure, you can take from digital property. If, like me, you love to get into the nitty gritty of what you can and can’t do with information, you no doubt read the review, and bought and consumed the book too.

Where ‘The End of Ownership’ looked at the changing relationship with how we own intellectual property of others, this latest book explores how the very nature of intellectual property has changed over time. ‘Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction’ one of the latest great additions to OUP’s mini introduction series, considers  how copyright and patenting laws have changed over from avenues designed to protect and nurture creativity, to tools used for economic gain. That’s right, guys, the reason Amazon want to retain total control over your digital library is because it is in its economic interests to do so.

Author Siva Vaidhyanathan recounts how he first became interested in rules and regulations of intellectual property while working for a large media company that claimed his creative work as its own. As a content producer, Vaidhyanathan saw his work used, reworked and quoted completely outside of the realms of his control. This set the ball rolling for a complex journey into the confusing, and often contradictory, matrix of ownership and creativity.

The story begins with the American music scene, tracing changing dynamics of hip-hop in the 1980s and early 1990s, a time rife with sampling lawsuits inevitably leading to dumbing down of some of the defining characteristics of the music genre. It becomes all the more complex at the turn of the century, with the rise and fall of the first widespread file sharing service – Napster – and the resulting global ‘free culture’ movement of the early 21st century.

This book, though, looks at more than just the relationship between intellectual property and creativity, and how copyright and patent legislation has evolved over time. Rather, it is an approach to understanding your rights as a copyright holder. As Vaidhyanathan says, if you send or receive emails, texts and use social media, you are a copyright holder and more than likely an infringer too. What’s more, if you own a smartphone, tablet or e-reader, and consume digital media therewith, then a substantial portion of the price you pay will go to cover license patents.

You might take for granted that you can buy over-the-counter allergy medicine at a cheap price from your local pharmacy – this wouldn’t have been the case many years ago, when medicine was still covered by patents dictating who could sell it. Patents and copyright licensing are everywhere, from medication on your prescription and CDs in your local HMV, to the unassuming corrugated cardboard sleeve designed to stop you burning your hand on your morning Starbucks flat white. In fact, as Vaidhyanathan points out, Starbucks is just as much an intellectual property company as it is a food and beverage supplier. The coffee company has its own entertainment arm, and produces and sells music it feels will appeal to its clientele. This is just one of the reasons for the eye watering price tag on the aforementioned flat white; all those lawyers don’t come cheap.

Intellectual property is a hugely complicated and confusing theme to try and get your head around, but one thing is clear, it’s all about the money. Intellectual property as it is today is present because there are people who want it to exist. There are companies and individuals with huge economic interests invested in restraining the global movement for standardisation of intellectual property. Copyrights, patents and other laws dictating how property can be used say as much, if not more, about the world in which we live – they do creative content they are designed to protect. Where once intellectual property protection existed to protect and foster creativity, today it has taken on a whole new political, economic and cultural identity.

‘Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction’ serves as a wonderfully accessible avenue into a wholly confusing topic, making it another truly spectacular addition to the QUP ‘Very Short Introduction’ series. This is a book for law buffs, experts on rules and regulations, and anyone looking to widen their economic and political understanding of the world – or make a splash at an incredibly specific pub quiz.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ by Klaus Schwab

 

By definition, revolution means covering new and unknown territory and the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ is no different. What can we expect and how can we best utilise the new technology at our disposal?

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The ‘fourth industrial revolution’: everyone is talking about it, but no one seems to really know what it is. Hindsight is 20:20, of course, and maybe things will only really become clear once we’re hurled full force into the fifth industrial revolution, which I can only hope will in some way involve alien technology. If you’d asked the textile workers of the 19th century to define the industrial revolution they’d probably have struggled, too.

While previous industrial revolutions brought about mechanisation, mass production, computer control and automation, the fourth industrial revolution is thought to be fundamentally different. Rather than focusing on a specific development or technology, the fourth industrial revolution encompasses a range of new and existing technologies that bring together the physical, digital and biological worlds and will be felt across all industries and economies.

It is thought that this dramatic leap forward in industrialisation will be felt across industries and will change the way that we live, work and relate to one another. In The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab introduces us to the key technologies driving this revolution and discusses the effect that these will have on governments, businesses and citizens as a whole.

The book serves as more than just an introduction to a conflated term, though, as Schwab seeks to address the many societal concerns over developments within industry, as well as outlining what can be done to ensure that we make the most of this exciting, but largely unknown, new phenomenon.

Intelligent machines play a big role in any conversation about the fourth industrial revolution. For many, this is one of the most concerning aspects of this new wave of industry, aggravating societal fears surrounding the role of the human workers in the workplace of the future. Schwab discusses this area in great detail, striving to dispel rumours that factory workers will inevitably be displaced by robotics, and instead looks into how industries are developing practical applications to work alongside traditional workers. The rise of intelligent machines does not mean that we face a man-versus-machine dilemma, he says. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, the fourth industrial revolution will serve to enhance human labour and cognition, meaning that leaders need to prepare workforce and develop education models to work with, and alongside, robotics.

The main concern that seems to arise from Schwab’s analysis is that of societal control of the new wave of industry. The fourth industrial revolution has the potential to transform the way we live and work, but success rests in the combined hands of organisations, citizens and governments. If organisations fail to adapt and governments fail to adequately employ and regulate new technologies, we see ourselves headed down a very different path. With this is mind, Schwab calls on leaders and citizens to “shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Schwab’s message is one of collaborative growth and how to best utilise the new technology at our disposal, while simultaneously addressing the challenges that go alongside – a sentiment echoed in the billing of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2016, which was held under the theme “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a fascinating, comprehensive and enlightening dialogue highlighting the many different benefits and challenges that humankind can expect as we move further forward into a new and unfamiliar wave of industrial development. Those with an interest in where we are headed as a society, but who find themselves overwhelmed by the synonymous talk of ‘Industry 4.0’, ‘smart factories’ and ‘factories of the future’ can hope to find their questions answered and concerns addressed by this illustrative and informative new publication.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘Pyjamarama Funfair’ and ‘Pyjamarama Fever’ – Barrier-grid animation from Michaël Leblond and Frédérique Bertrand

Pyjamarama Funfair and Pyjamarama Fever, two fun new books from Thames and Hudson, introduce children to the wonder of animation in non-digital form.

In response to changing times, and rather picky customers, children’s author Michael Leblond and acclaimed illustrator Frédérique Bertrand have released this dynamic book duo, filled with awesome, printed animations and interactive pages, as the ultimate solution for when you cannot prise your child away from their smartphone.

These exciting new publications utilise an old graphic design technique to create a swirling, fun-filled world of moving pictures, without a hint of technology. In Pyjamarama Fever and Pyjamarama Funfair Leblond and Bertrand use barrier-grid animation, an effect created by moving a striped acetate overlay across an interlaced image, to create an optically illustrated world for children to interact with, and explore.

The Pyjamarama series tells the story of a little boy who puts on his pyjamas and turns out the lights to go to bed only to fall into a magical, dazzling dream world filled with bright colours and flashing lights. In the past Pyjamarama has taken children across the world to the sights of New York and Paris, but the newest additions to the series stay a little closer to home.

In Pyjamarama Funfair, our little friend finds himself in a magical funfair, where bright swirling lights, rampant rapids, twisting roller coasters and rough dodgems dart and dance across the page. In Pyjamarama Fever the same little boy is sent to bed feeling a little under the weather, before succumbing to a strange but dazzling delirium filled with strange shapes, shimmering stripes, swirling spots, and pyjama-clad firefighting mums and carwashing dads.

As our pyjama-clad hero dreams, children reading the book are able to interact with the images. Sliding the acetate sheet, which comes included with each Pyjamarama book, across the page brings the illustrations to life: cogs turn, lights flash, dots dance and waves flow with just a slight turn of hand. The images flickering across the pages, however simply explained, are pretty cool to say the least.

These innovative books are highly interactive and a great way of encouraging children to rediscover the magic of the printed word. The illustrations, which in themselves are pretty mesmerising, are awarded a whole new level of awesomeness when combined with the acetate sheet. It’s a simple, effective animation technique that children, and the majority of parents and carers, are sure to love – they certainly proved popular among the E&T editorial team.

So if you are looking for a new way to keep your children occupied outside of school, with the added benefit of giving them a break from digital technology and a chance to rediscover the magic of books, then look no further than a little Pyjamarama fun.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘Atari Age: The Emergence of Video Games in America’ by Michael Z Newman

A fascinating historical analysis of the emergence and development of video games in America.

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Retro video games have developed a real cult following over the years. In a time when on-screen graphics are frighteningly real, the simple, blocky pictures and monotonic themes speak of an era when consoles, and times, were simpler. Or were they?

Each time a Space Invaders remake is announced, there are more than a few people who insist on focusing on the negative side of our digital friends. In Atari Age, author Michael Z Newman looks at the impact of early video games on the American culture they grew from, as well as their effects, both positive and negative, on society. The history unveiled by Newman is remarkably complex – an evolution in content, design and public opinion.

The story begins in penny arcades, where leather-capped youths lined up for the likes of the fortune teller and peep show, before progressing swiftly along to the days of pinball’s reign. The emergence of video games and their eventual move into the American home, Newman says, was a process of evolution which began within the arcade.

While penny arcades and pinball soon fell by the wayside, video arcades gained popularity, evolving from a media seen as unreliable, due to their liability to break down and difficulty to fix, to one which inspired, excited and enthused American youths. Indeed, arcade games became such an important aspect of popular culture that, during the height of the game’s popularity, a single establishment in Piccadilly Circus is said to have had 10 Space Invaders machines all in a row and no doubt constantly in use.

To explain their popularity, Neman points to the adaptive nature of the video game. Unlike pinball, a video game gets harder as a player gets better, and thereby encourages greater investment. Indeed, the medium itself continued to adapt to the point where it soon outgrew arcades, a feat that pinball and penny slots never achieved, and made its home right in the heart of the American family. With the release of the Magnavox Odyssey and Pong and 1972, the family television became the new arcade.

As video games evolved, so too did public opinion. Whereas games seem to have developed almost naturally, changes in societal understanding have been far more complicated. The Magnavox Odyssey was originally seen as a device for turning the TV in a participatory experience, but this idea was quickly joined by fears that spending too much time playing games could be harmful. This is a swing we have continued to experience today, as games have evolved to be more ‘active’, but still bear the yoke of technological fear.

Using original marketing and advertising materials, Newman weaves an image of a two-way development of video games and public opinion. The book highlights the ever-changing face of media in the eyes of the American public, as it moved from an enjoyable medium, to something to fear, and back again. Newman’s technological timeline says as much about the society that video games emerged in as it does about power of the medium itself.

There is something nostalgic – or is it regretful – about this book, as though you are viewing the past through sepia-tinted glasses. The pages conjure up images of American families huddled round the comforting glow of the TV, or, perhaps the dusty grey screens editorialised in George Orwell’s 1984.

This is a book for those fascinated by sociological viewpoints of American society, but will likely sit well with fans of retro video games, if only for the novelty of 1970s gaming advertorial.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine