Of interest to futurists and civil libertarians alike.
The technological future promises to be a dark one—unless, as the authors insist, technology is pressed into the service of doing no harm, as once promised.
Media technology often taps the worst in our instincts, driving misinformation, exploiting gullibility, and even inciting violence. The authors, Stanford professors and longtime familiars in Silicon Valley, assert that the owners and operators of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others have wrought more ill than good on many fronts: As engineers, they lack knowledge of public policy; as influencers of public policy, such as they understand it, they tend to a hands-off view that resists government intervention; as systems thinkers, they tend to despise democracy and instead, their demand for independence taken fully into account, to favor a technocratic view. Indeed, in one interesting thought experiment, a number of Silicon Valley leaders were asked what sort of society they might form if given the power to do so. They answered that they’d want a big patch of land, preferably an island, and certainly not a democracy as the form of government. Said one, “To optimize for science, we need a beneficent technocrat in charge. Democracy is too slow, and it holds science back.” As such, it’s no wonder that big tech has allowed for the amplification of anti-democratic views that go from the Ayn Rand–ian to the neofascist. In accessible prose, the authors argue that social media–wrought social engineering must be curbed. Along the way, they examine the effects—sometimes beneficial, mostly not—of algorithmic decision-making, which some enthusiasts argue will one day make lawyers and doctors redundant. The authors insist that such decision-making must be transparent, auditable, and accountable to norms of due process. In this illuminating account, they even offer a few rays of hope—e.g., actual hate speech on the web is surprisingly rare. Of course, they add, rare or not, it can lead to horrible behavior.Of interest to futurists and civil libertarians alike.
Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021
Page Count: 352
Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2021
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021
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by Walter Isaacson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 12, 2023
Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.
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New York Times Bestseller
A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.
To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.
Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023
Page Count: 688
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023
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BOOK TO SCREEN
by Jonah Berger ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 7, 2023
Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.
Want to get ahead in business? Consult a dictionary.
By Wharton School professor Berger’s account, much of the art of persuasion lies in the art of choosing the right word. Want to jump ahead of others waiting in line to use a photocopy machine, even if they’re grizzled New Yorkers? Throw a because into the equation (“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”), and you’re likely to get your way. Want someone to do your copying for you? Then change your verbs to nouns: not “Can you help me?” but “Can you be a helper?” As Berger notes, there’s a subtle psychological shift at play when a person becomes not a mere instrument in helping but instead acquires an identity as a helper. It’s the little things, one supposes, and the author offers some interesting strategies that eager readers will want to try out. Instead of alienating a listener with the omniscient should, as in “You should do this,” try could instead: “Well, you could…” induces all concerned “to recognize that there might be other possibilities.” Berger’s counsel that one should use abstractions contradicts his admonition to use concrete language, and it doesn’t help matters to say that each is appropriate to a particular situation, while grammarians will wince at his suggestion that a nerve-calming exercise to “try talking to yourself in the third person (‘You can do it!’)” in fact invokes the second person. Still, there are plenty of useful insights, particularly for students of advertising and public speaking. It’s intriguing to note that appeals to God are less effective in securing a loan than a simple affirmative such as “I pay all bills…on time”), and it’s helpful to keep in mind that “the right words used at the right time can have immense power.”Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.
Pub Date: March 7, 2023
Page Count: 256
Publisher: Harper Business
Review Posted Online: March 23, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023
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