Re-engineering humanity

I had the pleasure and honor of writing the foreword to Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger’s new book, Re-engineering Humanity. The book is out today, from Cambridge University Press. You can find more information, and ordering links, here and here. And here is my foreword: Human beings have a genius for designing, making, and using tools.…

When a regulatory burden is a competitive boon

The incipient surveillance economy is dominated by a duopoly: Google and Facebook. (Shall I call it GooF? Yes, I shall.) According to estimates, the two companies control somewhere between half and three-quarters of spending on digital-advertising throughout the world, and that already extraordinary share seems fated to rise even higher. Thanks to Google’s failure to develop…

Chatbots are saints

I feel sorry for the machines. When, at Google’s big I/O conference last week, CEO Sundar Pichai demoed Google Duplex, the company’s latest and most convincing robot interlocutor, people were either ecstatic (stunning!) or appalled (horrifying!). I just felt ashamed. Here we are, the brainiest of species, the acme of biological intelligence, yet our ability…

The problem with Facebook

In the Washington Post, I have a review of two new books that offer critical assessments of Facebook and other social networks: Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy and Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. It begins: The only thing worse than being on Facebook is…

Decoding INABIAF

Used to be, in the realm of software, that bugs would turn out to be features in disguise. Nowadays it more often goes the other way around: functions presented to us as features are revealed to be bugs. As part of Wired‘s 25th anniversary celebration, I have a piece on the history of the catchphrase…

The future’s so bright, I gotta wear blinders

“This is only the beginning,” writes Kevin Kelly in an essay in Wired‘s 25th anniversary issue. “The main event has barely started.” He’s talking about the internet. If his words sound familiar, it’s because “only the beginning” has become Kelly’s stock phrase, the rhetorical device he flourishes, like a magician’s cape, to draw readers’ eyes away…

Chaos and control: the story of the web

As societies grow more complex, so too do their systems of control. At best, these systems protect personal freedom, by shielding individuals from the disruptive and sometimes violent forces of social and economic chaos. But they can also have the opposite effect. They can be used to constrain and manipulate people for the commercial or…

The map and the script

Shoshana Zuboff’s epic critique of Silicon Valley, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, is out today, and so is my review, “Thieves of Experience: How Google and Facebook Corrupted Capitalism,” in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It begins: We sometimes forget that, at the turn of the century, Silicon Valley was in a funk, economic…

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