Evolutionary Computation: The Fossil Record

Evolutionary Computation: The Fossil Record

Treating economies in terms of evolutionary systems is central to bionomics. Many current efforts are being to made to model such systems using evolutionary algorithms. To date, however, there has been no complete and accurate accounting of the historical development of the field of evolutionary computation.

Evolutionary Computation: The Fossil Record (IEEE Press), edited by David Fogel, fills this niche. Featuring copious introductory material provided by the editor, this formidable collection of landmark papers spans the entire history of evolutionary computation -- from today''s investigations back to its very origins more than 40 years ago. Chapter by chapter, Fogel highlights how early ideas have developed into current thinking and how others have been lost and await rediscovery. The introductions to each chapter reflect Fogel''s one-on-one conversations with the authors and their colleagues, conducted over a period of four years. The book provides in-depth historical information and technical detail that is simply unmatched in the field. This volume is complete with an extensive bibliograph of related literature.

Evolutionary Computation: The Fossil Record
edited by David B. Fogel
IEEE Press
ISBN 0-7803-3481-7

Information Ecology
by Thomas Davenport

Reviewed by Max Jacobs

$29.95 list price
$20.97 if you buy it here (30% off).

In the present Information Age, technology has enabled the transfer of information on a massive scale. But according to Thomas Davenport in Information Ecology, most companies aren''t using this information effectively, if at all. Corporations have tended to use the tools of engineering and architecture to manage their information environments, which have become overwhelmed by the ever-changing nature of information-use in business environments.

That is where the concept of Information Ecology comes in, providing a practical approach to create an information environment that would allow for evolution and interpretation. And as Thomas Davenport puts it, "Information Ecology places primary emphasis not on generation and distribution of reams of information but rather on the effective use of a relatively small amount." And there''s the rub. The problem, according to Information Ecology, is that new technology has made tons of information available but often people either don''t know how to use the system or have no idea how to find what they want. To rectify this situation, Mr. Davenport believes that a company should come up with an information strategy and then create an information map.

By deciding on an information strategy, business managers not only determine what information is important to them but how current management approaches need to change, and how the better use of information is going to make more money for the company. What he does not suggest is some sore of elaborate or detailed plan, coming from the top, because "we cannot anticipate the future in detail." A good way to view strategy is as a continual process of setting and resetting organizational direction, a process run by business managers not "strategic planners."

The next step is to create an information map. This means deciding what information is important to the business (e.g. customer information, product information, competitor information) and then making a simple, straightforward map of where the information is in the organization, and give people guidelines as to where to find out more. Information Ecology provides an example from IBM. Years ago, there was a perception within IBM that there was just not enough information around, but the market information capture team discovered that the amount of information was not the problem. The problem was that most information was either collected and unneeded or collected but unused because its existence or location was unknown. So in 1991, the team printed 1,600 copies of the first edition of The Guide to Market Information which consists of lists of available marketing information, a nontechnical description of the information, the person or group responsible for the information, and more importantly, the person to contact for the information. So not only can a person find information easier but also they are able to talk to someone who, more often than not, will provide additional value to the information by adding context to it and perhaps point to something even more useful. In 1992, due to the popularity of The Guide, 5,000 copies were printed and in 1993, The Guide was made available in electronic form.

The rest of the book is packed with more useful advice and anecdotes from Thomas Davenport''s own research and consulting with firms such as AT&T, American Express, Ford, General Electric, and many more (the list seems as long as the book). In the chapter on Information Politics, he provides several models for governing information within a company, Monarchy, Federalism, Feudalism and Anarchy. And in the chapter on Information Staff he suggests that IT staff should view their jobs like TV executives do, because in the entertainment industry content and usage is critical. Information Ecology is a helpful guide to creating a true knowledge organization, not only because of the amount of information that is provided but because it is able to avoid the "12-step" program feel of many books about business organization. Each chapter is filled with different ways to do things so that managers would be aware of the many alternatives available to them. In other words, Information Ecology provides a way of thinking, not a plan. I certainly have to applaud him for that.

As with any book, there are a couple problems. First, there are a few too many real world examples. In most books there seems to be a famine in this regard but this one borders on gluttony. I would have preferred less examples by number with the remaining ones being more in-depth so that I would have gotten more of a feel for what people have to go through to implement a successful information environment. Second, the book is a tad repetitive. But since this is a very original book, I can overlook that.

In short, for managers exploring ways to improve the flow of information within their organization, or entrepreneurs hoping to start their company on the right information foot, this book might hold useful insights. Those with just a passing interest in business or who are expecting many cool biological examples, like in Bionomics, should probably come back later to check on what we review next.