Heather Allen is a book reviewer for Black Press that lives in the Okanagan (Black Press file photo)

Armchair Book Club: Delving into the threat of big tech

Heather Allen is a book reviewer for Black Press that lives in the Okanagan

Has Facebook made the world a better place? What are the effects of shopping on Amazon? How about relying on Google for information?

In World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, author Franklin Foer walks readers through how these corporations started, how they have become mega-monopolies, and what that means to the world.

READ MORE: Armchair Book Club: Kate Atkinson’s Transcription stands well among her work

Foer is hammering the alarm bell. He argues that the rise of these companies has done nothing less than put us on a path to a world without private contemplation, autonomous thought or solitary introspection. In short, we are letting these companies create a world without mind. He explains the rise of Silicon Valley, the creation of the internet, and the domination of new companies in chapters such as Mark Zuckerberg’s War on Free Will and Jeff Bezos Disrupts Knowledge.

Foer is not optimistic, but he does offer solutions. First, we need to wake up. Second, we need to demand regulation. Facebook has recently said that it welcomes regulation, but that’s most likely because they know how difficult that would be to implement across international borders.

Even if you don’t agree with Foer’s solutions, this book will at least educate internet and social media users, and help them realize what is at stake. Some of these companies have big plans for automation and artificial intelligence. But, are they who we want to trust to create this brave new world?

If you’re curious about what a world run by the counterculture/tech minds of Silicon Valley could look like, pick up Ian MacEwan’s latest novel, Machines Like Me. Set in alternate reality 1980s London, in a world where Alan Turing, the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, didn’t commit suicide, the first synthetic humans have come onto the market.

These humans, programmed by computer scientists to have real personalities, emotions and superhuman capabilities, are purchased by a few ‘lucky’ households. MacEwan is a brilliant mind, and there’s no one better to explore the unintended consequences–both positive and negative—of artificial intelligence.

Adam, the synthetic human, is handsome, courteous, an eloquent poet, and able to fall in love. In fact, he falls for his owner’s girlfriend. With this fantastic and subversive premise, MacEwan looks into artificial intelligence’s possibilities and ultimate limitation.

I wished more was made of Alan Turing’s character and wished to see more of the synthetic humans operating in the real world, rather than being stuck, for the most part, in the owner’s kitchen. But I do admire the complex questions and ideas that MacEwan brings to life. If you weren’t uneasy before, you certainly will be after reading both of these books. They emphatically warn us to go into the future with our eyes wide open, to think about what we really need, and to decide who we want to be in control.

Heather Allen is a book reviewer for Black Press who lives in the Okanagan.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

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