A provocative but rambling examination of technology’s perils.

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TECHNOLOGY RUN AMOK

CRISIS MANAGEMENT IN THE DIGITAL AGE

A researcher considers the dangers posed by technology and the ways in which users are increasingly unprepared for them. 

The benefits of technology are too obvious to invite dispute, but an entire intellectual field has materialized to debate its pitfalls. Mitroff (Why Some Companies Emerge Stronger and Better from a Crisis, 2005) throws his hat into that already crowded ring with his own contribution, which focuses on the neglected perspective of risk management. The author contends that the world is increasingly plagued by torturously complex difficulties—“wicked problems”—that brook no easy solution and are typically embedded within a tangled skein of other challenges. The only proper approach is a relentlessly creative interdisciplinary methodology, but technology enthusiasts are rarely good at this. They blithely believe technology itself will solve every problem, and in their ardor for progress, fail to even see glitches when they arise. In addition, they tend toward “splitting,” the simplistically binary division of the world into dueling categories like good and bad, or hard and soft. Mitroff calls this the “Technological Mindset,” which dismissively ignores the possibility that technological advances can cause societal disruption. The author lucidly discusses a crisis management mindset as a healthy counterpoint as well as various schools of ethical analysis that could be useful in evaluating problems related to the social impact of technology. He also recommends the creation of a regulatory agency that audits every new invention’s social consequences, with that assessment a prerequisite for its commercial adoption.  Mitroff has a Ph.D. in engineering, and so is hardly a Luddite—embedded within his critique of technology is an earnest acknowledgment of its blessings. In addition, since 2006, he’s been a senior research affiliate at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, and his expertise in this area is beyond reproach. He thoughtfully dissects the way an obsession with technology has not only blinded many to its more troublesome features, but also has diminished what counts as rational analysis. But the book is freighted with needless digressions—Mitroff inexplicably manages to discuss the Islamic State group and gun control. He also includes an analysis of the Technological Mindset from the perspective of the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, which yields no additional clarity, and pauses to explain to readers the elemental principles of argumentation. He has a knack for finding the most ingeniously circuitous route to further expound on a point already well-made. And his recommendation for an FDA-like agency to make “Social Impact Assessments” of new technologies doesn’t seem thoroughly considered. He never addresses the obvious disadvantages of such onerous regulation—especially given the rate at which new technologies arise—or the details of the agency’s composition. He also never discusses with any specificity the rational principles of its judgments, a glaring omission given that this kind of issue forms the thematic spine of the author’s study. At one point, he confusedly suggests some of the agency’s members be children.

A provocative but rambling examination of technology’s perils. 

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-3-319-95740-1

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2018

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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