The Microcosm Mystique"" might better characterize the substance of this densely packed text--part history, part doctrinaire...


MICROCOSM: Into the Quantum Era of Economics and Technology

The Microcosm Mystique"" might better characterize the substance of this densely packed text--part history, part doctrinaire conservative ideology, part economic debate. For a start, Gilder (Visible Man; The Spirit of Enterprise, etc.) uses the microcosm to refer to the physics of the very small--that which led through statistical mechanics to quantum theory and relativity. This is fine as the basis of a history of modern computers, because, beginning with the use of transistors and tunnel diodes in computer design, the movement of current depended on the microstructure of pure crystals and peculiar quantum effects. The new components, physically smaller and less heat-generating than vacuum tubes, also began the evolution to smaller, faster machines. However, as Gilder says, and says again and again, as long as designers were wedded to the von Neumann architecture of input-central processing, output, one bit or byte at a time, they were living the ""materialist"" fallacy"" of believing they could outbuild a human brain as a logical machine. Others, in particular Caltech's brilliant Carver Mead, who hovers as gray eminence over the book, urged ""listening to the technology."" Countless Mead alumni and other innovators would, accordingly, go on to develop the chip, and, more than that, would take chip design to new microcosmic dimensions, producing chips with memory, processors, compilers--the ultimate in Very Large Scale Integration, eventually introducing parallel processing and analogic approaches to emulate the brain. Much of the text is given over to the personae and processes that make Silicon Valley and Route 128 what they are today, and there is no denying that Gilder is a grand storyteller, capturing the Chicago South Side slum background, or the escape into Austria from Hungary, of now this, now that millionaire. Pity, then, that all this refined knowledge is, in the end, put to use to argue for laissez-faire economics, government decontrol, and even more tax breaks for the entrepreneurs. No denying that he does make some telling counter-arguments to the fear-Japan school, but beware Gilder the storyteller here, too. That, and his finding God in the microcosm, is, as they say, the far side of too much.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1989


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1989