A somber warning about the dire problems caused by unchecked technology.
Contemporary discussions about technology’s sociological impact are often critical but rarely ominous. Relatively few writers have interpreted the breakneck pace of advancement as a challenge to our very humanity. Debut author Publius, however, cautions that such progress brings more power to ruling elites at the expense of others. First, the book highlights the unprecedented expansion of computer-assisted power to scrutinize every aspect of our lives. This is seen usually seen in the field of marketing, in which our activity as consumers is thoroughly inspected, but Publius asserts that it also extends to all other human behavior. Second, the author notes that progress in the fields of automation and artificial intelligence threaten certain types of laborers with outright replacement; soon, Publius says, a whole host of occupations will be staffed by robots. This challenges the very existence of the middle class, which has been historically dependent upon a surfeit of low-skilled employment. Moreover, the author says, it’s not only vanishing jobs that are at issue, but also the implications of living among intelligent beings who aren’t people—a condition that, at the very least, raises urgent questions about what it means to be a human being. Publius is best when addressing the constituent elements of human dignity and the ways in which alternative forms of intelligence may undermine the unique moral value of human existence. Also, the book offers a searching discussion of the nature of human consciousness, which involves purposefulness, emotion, and even faith, rather than simply efficient computation. Unfortunately, these provocative explorations are often undermined by breathless hyperbole, such as, “Really then, it’s just a matter of time and a mere flip of some switch, before this bad-to-the-bone one becomes—tomorrow’s diabolical nightmare.” Many sentences are boldfaced for emphasis, and it’s not unusual for an assertion to be punctuated with a concluding “dammit!” It’s a shame that the book’s prevailing tone of shrill alarmism will turn off many readers, who might then miss the book’s many thoughtful philosophical insights.
A smart but often strident look at the trouble that technological progress might portend.