THE FUTURE OF VIOLENCE

ROBOTS AND GERMS, HACKERS AND DRONES—CONFRONTING A NEW AGE OF THREAT

A thoughtful yet obscure Cassandra warning of great vulnerabilities disguised as gifts.

Ambitious yet dry treatise regarding a particular terror of modern life: the increasing ubiquity of potential harm spawned by technological transformations.  

Brookings Institution senior fellow Wittes and Blum (Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law/Harvard Law School; Islands of Agreement: Managing Enduring Armed Rivalries, 2007, etc.) begin by articulating the many ways in which our fundamental connectedness, along with related advances in computing, biotechnology, 3-D printing, gene synthesis and other awe-inspiring technologies, could easily go awry or be turned to evil ends by lone sociopaths or wannabe jihadi: “Technologies that put destructive power traditionally confined to states in the hands of small groups and individuals have proliferated remarkably far,” write the authors. They initially focus on the destructive possibilities of technologies that have quickly become familiar, hypothesizing, for example, that ordinary people will soon be able to harass their rivals with tiny drones. In our transformative moment, “distance does not protect you…you are at once a figure of great power and great vulnerability.” Yet much of the authors’ discussion focuses on the changing nature of the state itself, weighing Hobbes’ concept of the “Leviathan” in the face of new and diverse threats. They first focus on how technology has “distributed” both vulnerability and the capacity to cause harm widely: “[W]e live in a fishbowl even as we exploit the fact that others live in a fishbowl too,” a principle embodied by recent “sextortion” cases. This inevitably forces a reconsideration of privacy and liberty on many levels, as revealed by events ranging from the Boston Marathon bombing investigation to hacker attacks on Israel and Iran. The authors raise fascinating questions but discuss them utilizing a formal legalistic framework. Ironically, they illuminate the coming age of “many-to-many” threats via a language few laypeople will find comprehensible.

A thoughtful yet obscure Cassandra warning of great vulnerabilities disguised as gifts.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-08974-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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