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Review of Archaeology from Space

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Reviewer note: I purchased my copy of this book.

Archaeology from Space, written by Sarah Parcak and published by Henry Holt, offers a fascinating look at the use of remote sensing in archaeology. Advances in the quality and affordability of satellite imagery let archaeologists, sometimes with the aid of amateur enthusiasts, identify sites of interest around the world. If further analysis is fruitful, researchers can perform minimally invasive (and relatively inexpensive) investigations at the site to verify their suspicions.

Parcak, a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, starts her book with a description of her first visit to Egypt in 1999 as a 20 year-old undergraduate to take part in a dig. She happened to be on the side of the plane with a view of the Great Pyramids as they approached Cairo; judging from the engaging stories she tells throughout the book, she has never lost the sense of wonder and awe she felt in that first moment.

Uncovering Leads from Up High

Advances in remote sensing technologies, both space-based (Parcak’s forte) and land-based, have facilitated exploration and site identification since the first satellite images became available for civilian use in 1972. Higher image quality lets analysts process, combine, and interpret remote sensing data to locate features that could indicate buried sites. Image analysts can also call upon tools such as pan-sharpening, where analysts merge lower-resolution black-and-white images with higher-resolution panchromatic data to create better quality multispectral data (p. 93). As she says, “I know, it sounds like magic. It kind of is.”

Parcak found an ingenious way to accelerate the process for identifying image features that hint at potential sites: crowdsourcing. She drew on the expertise of friends she made in the TED community after her presentation at the February 2016 TED Conference to create the GlobalXplorer (GX) platform. This site showed volunteers satellite images and asked them to flag any pictures the participant felt might contain a feature worth investigating. If enough volunteers flagged an image, a more experienced researcher would analyze it as well. Locating potential sites through crowdsourcing flips the usual script of top-down academic endeavor and offers enthusiasts a way to get involved in archaeological discovery and preservation efforts. And is very cool.

Operating at Ground Level

Translating the leads generated from satellite data into action on the ground involves a host of logistical nightmares. Getting permission from the cultural ministries of the host countries is just the first step through a maze of grant applications, assembling the academic and local teams, scheduling the digs, and hoping that forces beyond your control don’t interfere. Parcak heaps praise on the Egyptian dig managers and local crews she has worked with over the years. In many cases, the team comprises much of a village’s population and has worked with archaeologists for years. These efforts create long-term friendships and deep respect, which Parcak emphasizes several times.

Even with the best crew, there is the not insignificant risk that the clues you’re following will lead you to a dead end. That’s what happened in Parcak’s search for Viking settlements in Newfoundland. She had no experience investigating potential Viking sites, so she did her best to decline the project. She was an expert in pyramids, after all. Despite her protests, the BBC insisted that she was the person to host a documentary series on the effort. Parcak and her husband, Greg (also an archaeologist) put up fierce resistance until an executive producer said they would pay for all research costs.

The spells in the Egyptian Book of the Dead are mere cantrips compared to the raw power of promising to fully fund an academic research project.

As luck would have it, the effort didn’t turn up evidence of any Viking settlements in Newfoundland. It’s never fun to fail, but Parcak learned a lot from the attempt and admits she and Greg would be willing to take another tilt at the windmill if circumstances permit. Their efforts prompted other investigators to pay attention to the region, so who knows what will turn up.

Fighting Time and Our Fellow Humans

Archaeology is a race against time, both literally and figuratively. Environmental changes and the ravages of time threaten to destroy sites naturally, but looting is a clear and present danger to historical preservation. Image analysis shows thousands of pits dug in attempts to find relics that can be sold illegally. Some of those illegally obtained items have turned up in the hands of foreign collectors, with the owners of the Hobby Lobby store chain being fined $3 million for illegally importing cylinder seals from Iraq after being advised by cultural property attorneys that the objects could not legally be brought to the U.S. The seals, meant for display in the Hobby Lobby owners’ Museum of the Bible, were imported anyway and marked as “roof tiles”. Discovery of their import led to the fine and continued analysis of the Museum of the Bible’s collection.

Every excavation, from the first core sample to the most spectacular ruins, tells a story that fills in more of the history of the distant past. Some of those stories include political leaders who usher in the end of dynasties, while others offer insights into how the non-elite lived. Parcak takes the opportunity to write a fictional account of a family struggling to survive during the reign of Pepi II near the end of the Old Kingdom and start of the fractious Intermediate Period. The fiction serves a valid storytelling purpose and adds real value to the book’s overall narrative.

Conclusions

I learned a lot from Archaeology from Space. I was somewhat familiar with ground-based imaging technologies from their use at Culloden Battlefield in Scotland and other sites, but I was surprised at how well-developed and sophisticated the application of satellite analysis is in archaeology. I was also delighted with Professor Parcak’s writing style…it brings her personality to the fore and, despite her fondness for dad jokes (“The silt hits the alluvial fan” as a comment on the reign of Pepi II is one example) she combines the analytical depth of an established academic with the accessible style of a media-savvy presenter into an eminently readable package.

Archaeology from Space offers a comprehensive look at the sophisticated imaging tools available to researchers, describes the many ways those assets can be deployed, and provides terrific perspective on the wide range of efforts required to learn as much as we can about our shared history. Very highly recommended.

Written by curtisfrye

September 6, 2019 at 10:29 pm

Review: Experiencing the Impossible

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Kuhn, Gustav. Experiencing the Impossible. MIT Press. 2019. 296 pp. ISBN: 978-0-262-03946-8

Author note: I had a presentation proposal accepted for the 2019 Science of Magic Association conference, for which author Gustav Kuhn serves as a committee member. The committee made its decision before I wrote this review.

Experiencing the Impossible: The Science of Magic by Gustav Kuhn, explores the burgeoning field of scientific analysis of magic and its performance. Kuhn is a Reader (rank above Senior Lecturer but below Professor) in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and a member of The Magic Circle.

The science of magic is a relatively new field, but it’s one that lends itself to several different types of research. One way to examine how individuals react to (and, more importantly, interact with) magic is to ask their opinions about what they just saw. In one study, participants were shown a video of a magician making a helicopter disappear and were then asked whether they wanted to see a video showing another trick or to one explaining how the trick was done.

You might be surprised to know that only 40% of the participants said they wanted to know how the trick was done. I personally take that result as a good sign…it means that if a typical person watches a routine on video with no connection to the performer, they will want an explanation less than half the time. If a performer can create an emotional bond with their audience, I believe that percentage will move even more in the performer’s favor.

Kuhn also points to arguments challenging whether audiences believe what they’re seeing is real. In his discussion, he quotes Bucknell University instructor Jason Leddington as arguing that “the audience should actively disbelieve that what they are apparently witnessing is possible.” A magical experience, then, only occurs when it appears that a law of nature is being violated. Similarly, Darwin Ortiz notes in Strong Magic that there is a struggle between our “intellectual belief” and “emotional belief”. We know that what we’re seeing isn’t real, but we want it to be so.

Throughout the rest of Experiencing the Impossible, Kuhn relates other aspects of the scientific examination of stage magic, with chapters discussing the role of processes including memory, visual perception, and the use of heuristics to reason about what you’re seeing. The latter topic draws on Daniel Kahneman’s description of System 1 and System 2 thinking from his book Thinking Fast and Slow. System 1 is the slower, logical, and more careful system where one considers available evidence and comes to a reasoned conclusion. System 2 is much faster, relies on shortcuts, and is easier to fool. The reason many of us lean on System 2 more than we should is that it is less effortful than thinking in depth.

Experiencing the Impossible is an excellent book that captures the state of research in a field of personal interest to me as both a performer and a fan of science. Kuhn’s choice of topics provides and outstanding basis for an initial foray into the science of magic and offers a solid platform for future research. Highly recommended.

Written by curtisfrye

April 11, 2019 at 8:18 pm

Review of Ninth Step Station, a Serial Box Original

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I received a free advance reader copy (ARC) of Ninth Step Station.

I enjoy shared-world writing projects. I started with the Thieves’ World series, read a fair number of the Wild Cards books, and have dipped into various other series over the years. Those projects had a shared setting and permission for each author to use, but not use up, other authors’ characters. Other works trade off chapters among authors, usually keeping the same sequence but sometimes not.

Ninth Step Station, a co-written project published by Serial Box and written by Malka Older, Fran Wilde, Jacqueline Koyanagi, and Curtis C. Chen, follows the latter pattern. Released as a serial, with one episode per week in both written and audio format, the story centers on a murder in a divided Tokyo, split between the United States and China (the “Great Powers”) in a manner similar to the division of Berlin after World War II.

I’m happy to see the serial format making a comeback. Binge watching and reading have disrupted traditional publishing as a result of readers’ changing expectations of when the next series installment will be available. Some publishers release two books at once or in close proximity, while others follow the standard one-per-year pattern. All publishers face the dreaded “series death spiral” where readers buy fewer copies of the second book in a series, which affects shelf presence, which affects sales, and so on until the series isn’t commercially viable.

The serial format is one attempt to fight against this downward spiral. In Ninth Step Station, the authors and editorial team do a fantastic job of maintaining the action and continuity throughout. It helps that all of the authors have novel-length credits and are likely familiar with their colleagues’ work. Malka Older wrote the first installment, which introduces main characters Miyako Koreda, a Japanese detective and judo expert, and U.S. Navy peacekeeper Emma Higashi.

Older manages the character and setting exposition well, providing enough details about the world of Tokyo in 2032 after the city had been ravaged by an earthquake and subsequent war. She handled the cultural differences between the American, who speaks good but accented Japanese, and the Japanese detective who spent a year in Maine during her time at university, with grace. Older worked in Japan following the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, so she has an appreciation for how Americans can go astray in Japanese culture. Unlike the myriad action movies that overdramatize these differences, her depiction of partners who are uncertain of each other but learn to get along is realistic and, frankly, refreshing.

The story starts with the murder of a man who is found without a face or an arm. His missing face prevents recognition software from identifying him; removing his arm took away his sleeve, a mobile computing and communication device. Many of Japan’s records, including fingerprints, were destroyed during the war and can’t be used in this case. The action and intrigue spreads from there, involving underground tattoo artists, multilateral intrigue, and questions of how far to go to prevent a new war.

After Older’s opening installment, Wilde, Koyanagi, and Chen continue the action. As mentioned earlier, I was very happy with how everything held together and with the elements of the work as a whole. I’ve focused on the first installment because it’s available for free in both written and audio format as a teaser for potential customers, but every author did their job well. I imagine editing this multi-author narrative was a bit tricky, but the project came together nicely.

I recommend Ninth Step Station enthusiastically. The series costs $1.59 a week for ten weeks through subscription, or $13.99 if you pay in advance for the entire run. You can find purchase information as well as links for the free written and audio previews of Ninth Step Station on the Serial Box site.

Written by curtisfrye

January 14, 2019 at 5:49 pm

Review of Null States, by Malka Older

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Title: Null States

Author: Malka Older

Publisher: MacMillan Tor/Forge

Copyright: 2017

ISBN13: 978-0-765-39338-8

Length: 432

Price: $25.99

Rating: 100%

I purchased a copy of this book for personal use.

Null States continues the storyline Malka Older inaugurated in Infomocracy, where a substantial number of the world’s countries have adopted microdemocracy, a system based on groupings of 100,000 citizens called centenals. Centenal governments include easily recognizable proxies for existing conservative, liberal, green, corporate, and national entities. This book, Older’s second novel, is a well-written near-future thriller with action that ranges throughout the world, encompassing states that adopted microdemocracy and those that did not.

One hallmark of microdemocracy is the adoption of Information, a version of the contemporary Internet that includes easy access to fact-checked information and video feeds from almost every public area within the system. Countries, or segments of countries, that chose not to adopt microdemocracy are called null states. As the book’s title suggests, the action in Older’s sequel includes states that chose to stay outside Information’s coverage.

Middle of the Action

The action starts in a city within a centenal within the DarFur region of the former Sudan. The DarFur government, which controls several centenals, only adopted microdemocracy for the most recent ten-year election cycle. The focal characters, who are different than the leads in Infomocracy (though they do show up later in the book), are part of a Specialized Voter Action Tactics team sent to support the new government. The governor gets blown up on his way to meeting in the town and the action starts.

Older brings her experience as a relief worker to the fore, capturing the physical environment and cultural sensibilities of peoples outside the developed world. For example, even though DarFur adopted microdemocracy, neither the government nor the people have fully embraced it or, critically, Information. This distrust, which provides substantial leverage for the story’s antagonists, invokes themes of cultural imperialism, long-burning conflicts that transcend national or centenal borders, and fierce independence. Switzerland, for example, has remained unaligned and outside the reach of Information’s nearly omnipresent video feeds. Older captures the feeling of unease and threat when Mishima, the female protagonist from Infomocracy, travels to Switzerland to investigate a lead. Outside of Information coverage and easy contact with her usual support team, she’s on her own in unfriendly territory.

Null States also addresses the language of the developed and developing world. At one point in the novel, a character gently corrects a colleague who used the term “null states”, saying that it’s demeaning. The original speaker disagrees, arguing in effect that it’s a neutral descriptive term, but Older’s comment on using the word “null” to imply that otherness equals irrelevance or, worse, non-existence, is spot on.

Conclusions

Null States is a terrific novel by any measure, made more so by the author’s deft handling of cultural issues based on her extensive experience as an aid and relief worker. If you’re new to Malka Older’s books you should read Infomocracy first so you understand the milieu, but be sure to pick up Null States at the same time so you don’t have to wait to see what happens next. I recommend both books without reservation.

Curtis Frye is the editor of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is the author of more than 30 books, including Improspectives, his look at applying the principles of improv comedy to business and life. His list includes more than 20 books for Microsoft Press and O’Reilly Media; he has also created more than 50 online training courses for lynda.com. In addition to his writing, Curt is a keynote speaker and entertainer. You can find more information about him at www.curtisfrye.com and follow him as @curtisfrye on Twitter.

Written by curtisfrye

November 18, 2017 at 10:50 pm

Review of Power-Up by Matthew Lane

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Title: Power-Up

Author: Matthew Lane

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Copyright: 2017

ISBN13: 978-0-691-16151-8

Length: 264

Price: $29.95

Rating: 94%

I purchased a copy of this book for personal use.

I enjoy creative takes on technical subjects that reveal the mechanics behind familar objects. Video games provide hours of entertainment and challenge. Beyond the need for attractive graphics and effective user interfaces, each game designer must decide how to award points, measure the effect of player choices within the game, and provide a balanced environment that maintains game play without sacrificing challenge. In Power-Up: Unlocking the Hidden Mathematics in Video Games, Matthew Lane describes how math enters into video game design. His book is an enjoyable read that taught me a lot about the math behind game design.

From Physics to Friendship

It would be difficult to find an example of a video game that doesn’t use math in some way. Some games allow exploration without awarding points, for example, but the player must still move around the game world to discover what’s next and every new discovery is an implied “score”. As Lane notes, math provides the foundation for almost every game out there. In Power-Up, he divides his coverage into nine chapters:

  • Game physics
  • Repetition in quiz games
  • Voting
  • Keeping score
  • Chase games
  • Complexity
  • Friendship
  • Chaotic systems
  • Value of games

The first eight chapters center on a specific math topic, such as the use of equations to model the physics of a game world and the difficulties of assigning points in games such as recent versions of The Sims where friendship can matter as much as health and happiness. The final chapter discusses the value of games as a human activity, specifically mentioning games as educational tools and opportunities to gamble, with a mention of early probability calculations designed to divide the pot fairly in an unfinished game.

I have a bit of math background and have studied probability and statistics in some depth, so I was able to follow almost all of the formulas and related discussion fairly easily. Lane takes care to explain the equations’ inputs and, more importantly, meanings so the calculations’ roles within games can be understood without too much trouble. I’ve seen Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, which proves that it’s impossible to design a voting system that can’t be manipulated through strategic voting, discussed in several publications; I believe Lane explains the phenomenon effectively and makes the logic behind the theorem clear.

Repetition and Scoring

While there’s too much material to discuss each chapter in depth, I did want to offer more details about the discussions of repetition and complexity in Power-Up. I played early versions of the quiz game You Don’t Know Jack! when I was young and, as Lane indicates, I started seeing repeat questions after a relatively short time. In Chapter 2, the author shows how having a relatively small question bank suffers in the face of frequent play. The radical solution, not repeating any questions until they have all been used, has its own issues. Various strategies for reducing the repeat rate have been tried, but most center on reducing the probability that a previously used question will be selected again.

For example, if you have a die with the numbers one through six and roll a one, you might want to make the probability of rolling a one again 1/12 instead of 1/6. The problem is that 5/6 + 1/12 = 11/12, which is less than one. As Lane points out, the actual probability of rolling a one again should be 1/11. If you add 1/11 + 10/11 (the probability of rolling any other number is 2/11, multiplied by five), you get 11/11 = 1. This calculation is interesting and a bit counterintuitive, which points out the creativity required to create fair games that are also fun to play.

Lane also goes into some detail on keeping score, describing several different systems for distance traveled games, tile matching games such as 2048, and puzzle games such as Angry Birds. The discussion of Angry Birds was quite interesting for me because it overlapped with a friend’s personal experience. My friend Bill had one of the top scores in the world on the original Angry Birds, but he was frustrated that some of the reported scores above him on the leaderboard were impossible to achieve. Not because the point counts were too high, but because there was literally no way to accumulate a specific total. Lane discusses this phenomenon, where it’s possible to prove that some totals can’t be reached within a game’s scoring system, in some depth. I enjoyed the discussion and plan to share it with my friend.

Conclusions

In Power-Up, Matthew Lane describes many of the ways that math powers video games. Similar books and articles have provided in-depth coverage of a specific subject, such as physics models, but his is the first to go into detail on such a wide variety of subjects in the same book. I love his choice of topics and believe the depth of each chapter strikes an excellent balance between detail and length. Highly recommended.

Written by curtisfrye

October 4, 2017 at 1:45 am

Review of Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy

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Title: Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy

Author: Anindya Ghose

Publisher: MIT Press

Copyright: 2017

ISBN13: 978-0-262-03627-6

Length: 240

Price: $29.95

Rating: 100%

I purchased a copy of this book for personal use.

I’m not a reviewer who gives out perfect scores like candy. In fact, I chose to use a 0-to-100% scale so I could provide nuanced ratings. I happily gave Malka Older’s debut novel Infomocracy a 98% because it was outstanding work but, for whatever reason, didn’t ring the bell for 100%. I believe I’ve given one other book, Intellectual Property Strategy (from the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series) a maximum rating. Tap, by Anindya Ghose and also from MIT Press, is the second.

The Mobile Landscape

Mobile devices are everywhere, with their spread continuing to gather pace as the prices of the devices and supporting services come down. Originally limited to voice and Short Message Service (SMS) communication due to a lack of bandwidth, smartphones now enable subscribers to make voice and video calls, search the web, and, of critical importance to marketers, engage in commerce. In Tap, Anindya Ghose of the Stern School of Business at New York University relates the results and implications of numerous academic studies of mobile commerce. The results provide a robust framework for marketers working in the mobile arena.

In his introduction, Ghose identifies four contradictions in what consumers want from mobile marketing and how we behave:

  1. People seek spontaneity, but they are predictable and they value certainty.
  2. People find advertising annoying, but they fear missing out.
  3. People want choice and freedom, but they get overwhelmed.
  4. People protect their privacy, but they increasingly use their personal data as currency. (p. 9)

Success in the mobile arena requires marketers to strike the proper balance among these four tensions.

Studies and References

After reading the first few chapters of Tap, I realized how many studies of mobile commerce have been conducted over the past ten years. As the author points out, tracking user movement and behavior, combined with the ability to test various forms of advertisements depending on context, provides a target-rich environment for academics and industry marketers to experiment. Ghose, who is a lead or co-author on many of the studies he cites, provides useful background on mobile commerce before dividing his coverage of the major forces of mobile marketing into nine chapters:

  • Context
  • Location
  • Time
  • Saliency
  • Crowdedness
  • Trajectory
  • Social Dynamics
  • Weather
  • Tech Mix

Each chapter reviews the literature relating to its force and offers insights into how marketers can use those results to the benefit of their clients and consumers. It’s impossible to cover all of the forces in any detail, but I found the discussion of crowdedness and trajectory particularly interesting. Crowdedness, as the word implies, refers to crowded conditions typically found while commuting. On a subway or bus, commuters typically pay attention to their mobile devices, ear buds in, and tune out their surroundings. Advertisers can take advantage of this focused attention by distributing relevant and interesting advertisements (and advertorials) during those periods.

Trajectory refers to a consumer’s path, either as movement between two major objectives (home and office) or within a larger location (movement within a store). When outside, mobile phones can track user movements based on GPS and accelerometer readings. When inside, the same tracking can be done using wi-fi signals. Each individual’s tendency for future movement based on their current vector can be exploited by marketers to make attractive offers.

The other seven chapters provide similar coverage. In addition to crowdedness and trajectory, I found the chapter on location (Chapter 5) to be particularly interesting.

Conclusions

Marketing is not a one-way street. Consumers are bombarded with ads and advertorial content, raising the mental cost of search and time (and data) spent waiting for ads to load on small-screen mobile devices. Many users employ ad blockers to reduced as much of the clutter as they can, greatly speeding up their usage experience but depriving them of potentially useful information. Also, as Ghose points out in the fourth contradiction listed above, consumers increasingly use their personal data as currency and don’t hesitate to refuse a trade if they feel they’re not receiving sufficient value in return.

Ghose is a leading expert on mobile marketing. His new book Tap summarizes the field’s most important research in a compact, readable package that I believe is indispensable for anyone interested in the subject.

Review of The Chessboard and the Web

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Title: The Chessboard and the Web

Author: Anne-Marie Slaughter

Publisher: Yale University Press

Copyright: 2017

ISBN13: 978-0-300-21564-9

Length: 296

Price: $26.00

Rating: 92%

I purchased a copy of this book for personal use.

The first step to winning a debate is to define the terms used to discuss the issue. In The Chessboard and the Web, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former director of policy planning for the U.S. Department of State, characterizes international relations as a series of interconnecting relationships. Rather than pursue a statist realpolitik strategy, she argues in favor of a cooperative, supportive approach.

Games in Theory and Practice

Dr. Slaughter starts her argument by comparing the traditional view of competition described by Thomas Schelling’s classic text on game theory, The Strategy of Conflict, with operations on a chess board. Of the classic two-by-two matrix games that Schelling describes in his book, the game of Chicken comes closest to emulating the risk of nuclear war that lurks in the background of many international conflicts. If you’re not familiar with the game of Chicken, you might have seen it in 1950s teen movies, when two boys drive at each other at high speed. The first one to swerve is the “chicken” and takes a small loss, but if neither swerves there’s a head-on collision and both players suffer a huge loss.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma, perhaps the best known of the classic games, demonstrates how a game’s payouts can be constructed to convince individuals to violate their best interests. The idea is that two criminals have been apprehended, separated, and offered a choice. If a criminal testifies against the other (defects) and the other refuses to testify against them (cooperates), the one who testified will go free and the other will go to prison for ten years. If both testify, they will go to jail for five years. If neither testifies, each will go to jail for one year. Even though the best choice for both criminals is to refuse to testify and serve a little time in jail, the fact they can’t communicate with each other means they can’t trust the other’s intentions. The penalty for unmatched cooperation is a long jail term while the other goes free, so the logical choice is for both to defect and accept a suboptimal outcome.

The third game Slaughter mentions, the Stag Hunt (also called the coordination game) allows for scenarios where two players can achieve better outcomes by cooperating than by competing. In the Stag Hunt, two hunters can choose to go after a hare or a stag. If a player goes after a hare, they will always get it and win one point. If both players go after a stag, they will each get three points. If one player chooses hare and the other chooses stag, the player choosing hare gets one point and the player choosing stag gets zero. Even with repeated play, it’s easy for players to fall into the trap of getting a steady payoff of one point per round without discovering that cooperation yields better results. As with all of the classic two-by-two games, the main limitation is the lack of communication between the players.

Networks and Connections

After introducing game theory, Slaughter describes networks and basics of network analysis in the context of international relations. For example, she mentions different measures of connectedness, such as the number of connections leading to and from a network node (its degree), the node’s place in the network (its centrality), and the number of times it serves as a connection between two other nodes (its betweenness). She then explores the strengths and weaknesses of the standard network topologies: star, hub-and-spoke, and mesh. Networks appear throughout international relations, whether among states (such as the European Union) or in non-governmental organizations and terrorist groups. Some networks are tightly interconnected (have a high density), while others are more sparse.

Slaughter describes several major types of international networks, starting with resilience networks. Resilience networks can serve as defense, recovery, and stabilization tools. Doctors Without Borders is one example of a networked organization that provides health care in recovery and stabilization roles. Task networks are similar to resilience networks in some respects, but one distinction is that they are temporary groupings assembled to complete work through cooperation, collaboration, or innovation. Cooperation comes with significant risks. If a partner defects, such as when an OPEC member nation produces more oil than its quota allows, then the strength of the network depends in large part on the effectiveness of punishments administered by other group members.

The final category of networks, scale networks, describe how solutions that work well in microcosm can grow. In a replication network, a solution can be repeated with little or no modification at a new location. One such network is the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunization (GAVI). GAVI coordinates transport and delivery of vaccines to vulnerable populations to help restrict the spread of disease. Finally, cumulation networks bring knowledge and expertise into a single entity. One example is GitHub, the online source code repository that programmers around the world rely on.

Network Power

As you might expect, Slaughter argues strongly in favor of a networked approach instead of following the realist’s emphasis on states with interests rather than allies. She cites former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s adoption of Joseph Nye and Suzanne Nossel’s concept of “Smart Power”, where states use all means at their disposal, from military power to trade, diplomacy, and foreign aid, to influence allies, institutions, and international norms. At some point the distinction between “smart power” and the traditional realist view becomes moot; realists use all of those tools as well, they just do so with different intentions.

Near the end of The Chessboard and the Web, Slaughter compares her liberal internationalist (she would say humanist) approach to Joshua Ramo’s “Hard Gatekeeping” (statist) approach. As she notes, the discussion has raged between proponents of a power-based foreign policy versus those advocating a values-based foreign policy for centuries. Her ideal scenario is an Open Order where states remain important and powerful but operate within an international network charged with “acknowledging and validating individuals, groups, businesses, and institutions not simply as state subjects but as actors in their own right through global networks.”

Conclusion

Foreign policy, diplomacy, and statecraft require careful planning and execution to advance one’s interests. As with all such debates, it’s a matter of striking a balance between a state’s interests and those of its allies, competitors, and neutrals. Advocates of the Hard Gatekeeping approach would argue that the “Smart Power” approach isn’t so smart because it would leave the U.S. exposed to defectors. Even so, I find Slaughter’s arguments in The Chessboard and the Web to be convincing if not quite compelling. States can benefit from well-applied connections, but deciding on the extent of that connectivity and exposure is a devilishly tricky prospect. Highly recommended.

Curtis Frye is the editor of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is the author of more than 30 books, including Improspectives, his look at applying the principles of improv comedy to business and life. His list includes more than 20 books for Microsoft Press and O’Reilly Media; he has also created more than 50 online training courses for lynda.com. In addition to his writing, Curt is a keynote speaker and entertainer. You can find more information about him at http://www.curtisfrye.com and follow him as @curtisfrye on Twitter.