Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Review #5

Dune Dune by Frank Herbert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Dune is a compelling landscape of ecology, technology, culture, politics, and ideas. In short, it's truly a masterpiece. That said:

Do you remember lateral thinking problems? They re-entered the vogue, or perhaps just my consciousness about 10 years ago. To be fair, I've never read any of Edward De Bono's books, and maybe I will, but I found those problems really annoying.. Some of the answers were borderline obvious ("he knew he was in Australia because the water went down the drain the opposite direction") while others were merely discarded beginnings of movies such as "Dude Where's My Car" or "The Hangover" (A man wakes up in the desert with one burnt match, frost bite on his left hand, a string of multi-colored hankerchiefs, and half a gallon of margarita mix. What the hell happened to him last night?). I remember that one of the notions [maybe apocryphal) of LTPs that I heard over and over was that computers couldn't do them. Only the unique and powerful human mind could, through yes or no questions, construct the stories that explained these scenarios.

And so I wonder, could a Mentat solve a lateral thinking problem?

The Mentat is simultaneously one of the coolest and most dated of Dune creations. Herbert reiterates several times that Mentat reasoning was more effective than the most powerful computers of Earth's golden age.

Think about it. When Herbert was writing Dune the most advanced computer game was "SpaceWars!" They could not "play DOOM." Packet networks (the interwebs) were a mere theory. Transistors were brand new to the computing world.

So on rereading "Dune" I spend most of the time wondering about the limitations of a Mentat. I imagine a Mentat would have the edge on all of my friends who applied for investment banking positions five or so years ago when interviews asked questions like "How many golf balls would fit on a 727?" But would I enjoy going on a date with a mentat? Or, since Herbert refers to the "golden age," is it safe to assume that a masterful mentat (or at least Duncan Idaho) would be able to beat Deep Blue at chess?

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