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Leonardo's Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies

Author: Ben Shneiderman
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002
Review Published: June 2003

 REVIEW 1: Hugh Miller
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Ben Shneiderman

I appreciate Hugh Millerís thoughtful and complimentary review of "Leonardoís Laptop." He nicely summarizes the key ideas and philosophy of the book, while challenging two of the literary components. Iím pleased that Miller found the Activities and Relationship Tables to be useful and productive, because these are the intellectual heart of the book. They represent a novel approach to thinking about innovative applications, a central goal of 'the new computing.' They remind readers to distinguish between personal and social computing; and to focus on the unique needs of family and friends vs. citizens and markets.

Miller's challenges are modest and constructive ones that can guide me in future efforts. First, he finds some of the Leonardo inspirations to be forced. I grant that some were deeper than others, but selectively focusing on components of da Vinci's life is apparently in a grand tradition. Richard Turner's clever book Inventing Leonardo shows how writers since Vasari in the 16th century have used and shaped the legend of Leonardo. Even today, you need look no further than the best-sellers list to find The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown who uses Leonardo as part of a murder mystery and speculates on Leonardo's participation in a thousand year-old secret society.

Secondly, Miller thinks that some of the chapter-ending Skeptic's Corners could have been more potent. I agree and can only reply that I was trying to fuse chapter summaries with self-criticisms, thereby dulling the sharp comments that a thoughtful critic like Miller might have written. However, I hope my effort inspires other writers to at least reflect on how their scenarios might be challenged. I believe the Skeptic's Corners encourage readers to think critically about my proposals and to develop their own positions.

I'm happy with Miller's comparison of Leonardo's Laptop to Don Norman's books. Don is a respected mentor who responded positively to the Activities and Relationship Tables and provided an enthusiastic quote for my book jacket.

I also like Miller's point about the unexpected uses of technology and his closing suggestion for a follow on book on "Machiavelli's Macintosh." Then of course there could be "Darwin's Desktop" or "Pasteur's PDA," not to mention "Newton's Network" or "Freud's Firewall."

Ben Shneiderman


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