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Digital da Vinci : computers in the arts and sciences
Lee N., Springer Publishing Company, Incorporated, New York, NY, 2014. 292 pp.  Type: Book (978-1-493909-64-3)
Date Reviewed: Dec 31 2014

The contributors to this collection on computers in the arts and sciences are widely distributed both geographically and by discipline/background. Among the contributors, there are people from cognitive science, management science, design, and education, as well as a number of practitioners.

Readers looking for broadly applicable findings or contributions to computational knowledge will be disappointed by much of this book; technical work is typically reported in an “experiment and describe what happens” style rather than with a more methodological approach. The work that is reported is often exploratory and experimental, but fairly lightweight in terms of what we can learn at a broader level from reading, and often fails to deliver to a computing audience. Evaluation is often ignored and the scope of work reported is often limited, with little consideration of how findings could be applied more widely. The volume is also rather poorly edited, with spelling, punctuation, grammar, and citation discrepancies littering several chapters, for example chapters 5 and 9.

Emphasis is typically on reporting findings relevant to the very specific scenarios under investigation rather than feeding back into computing or other broader contexts. As an example, take the chapter by Spinelli (one of the more technically oriented authors) titled “The Information Train.” This is a descriptive account of the practical task of building a Lego train that illustrates how information theory works. Most of the chapter describes implementation decisions. Only in the final couple of pages does Spinelli start to contemplate more deeply what the results could offer, but Spinelli fails to consider any broader significance in these findings beyond the specific constraints of the current remit. This approach is typical of several other chapters.

Some chapters contain little or no computing content, straying from the intended theme of the book. For example in Özkar’s chapter on “Learning from the Medieval Art of Visual Computation,” the only mention of computation is through the loose and somewhat flawed analogy: “Conventionally we have come to understand computation as the act of counting identity relations, which also passes as copying or repeating a set relation” (Özkar, page 51).

Two chapters that stand out positively are Cowley’s chapter reporting the QUARTIC process model for computer game development (with links to Boehm’s spiral model of software development and Agile Scrum), and Folgieri et al.’s chapter on brain-computer interfaces for creative tasks. Both provide thoughtful and measured accounts of the work reported, including decent evaluations, thus contributing more useful content to the general reader.

Interdisciplinary research involving computers in the arts and sciences can and does provide broader insights feeding back into each discipline that informs such research, as well as making valuable contributions to knowledge in its own right. Examples are many and varied, including Karl Sims” Virtual Creatures [1] and Simon Colton’s mathematical software for automated theory formation [2]. Sadly, this collection does not feature any significant additional examples. It instead creates a misleading impression that computers have only a “service” role to play in work across the arts and sciences, rather than acknowledging the greater contributions that computation can make.

Reviewer:  Anna Jordanous Review #: CR143046 (1504-0279)
1) Sims, K. Evolving virtual creatures. In Proc. of ACM SIGGRAPH. ACM, 1994, 15–22.
2) Colton, S. Automated theory formation in pure mathematics. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY, 2002,
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Arts And Humanities (J.5 )
Physical Sciences And Engineering (J.2 )
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