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Cybernews pick: five books to get smart about tech


Technological advances are nearly impossible to keep up with. Many articles and other resources on tech just don’t age well.

I don’t believe in a must-read book. I just believe that we must read. And if you‘re on the lookout for books about tech that won’t be outdated in a matter of months, we’ve got you covered. When ransom gangs aren’t making us super busy, we do spend a fair share of our time reading books and writing reviews for some of the better ones.

Here’s a list of five books Cybernews journalists enjoyed the most in 2023, and will fit right into your 2024 reading list:

1. Brian Merchan, Blood In The Machine: the origins of the rebellion against big tech.

Uber and Amazon workers with book front cover in bottom left corner

Two centuries after the First Industrial Revolution condemned workers to lives of brutal exploitation in sweatshop factories, history is on the verge of repeating itself, with tech companies like Uber and Amazon degrading the value of our work and living standards.

Merchant’s 600-page book draws stark parallels between our era and English workers in the early 1800s, who struggled against unscrupulous factory owners seeking to replace them and slash production costs.

2. Meredith Broussard, More than a Glitch. Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech.

glitch-book-title

Automation is not at all neutral – on the contrary, algorithms might be just as biased as people are. With actual people building algorithmic systems today seen as the greatest panacea in the history of humankind, very human problems have been bursting onto the surface. Algorithms are unable to make social decisions, Broussard stresses time and again.

The author has divided her arguments into different sections and persistently explains: no, algorithms cannot monitor or detect hate speech; no, they can’t replace social workers in public assistance programs; no, they can’t do predictive policing (which is just stunningly stupid as a policy) or effective facial recognition – at least in countries where human rights matter.

3. Nicholas Humphrey, Sentience: The Invention of Consciousness

Sentience book review

This book serves as an illuminating starting point for those intrigued by the question of whether machines can attain sentience.

What, at least for now, separates us from machines? A part of us wants to be nourished, and for each one of us, that nourishment might be very different in a sensory way – the smell of a meadow, the sound of the sea, a vision of a sunset, or all of those sensations combined. A robot just wouldn’t care for it.

However, does it matter? Robots mimic humanity really well these days, and that’s scary enough. What truly matters is whether we attribute sentience to a machine.

This aspect carries undeniable social implications, as human interaction with AI assistants could potentially escalate to scenarios involving suicide or even a plot for murder.

4. Nita Farahany, The Battle for Your Brain

brain-battle

Companies and governments already surveil us through our laptops and smartphones. But at least we have our thoughts to ourselves, right?

Recent technological leaps in neuroscience and artificial intelligence have converged to give us consumer neurotech devices – headsets, electrode-enabled earbuds, hats, or other gadgets that connect our brains to computers.

More specific neurotechnology can tell us if we’re wired to be conservative or liberal, whether we really suffer from insomnia, and conclude that we’re in lust but not in love, for example.

There are already loads of neurotech devices out there, but the most prominent is Neuralink’s brain chip implant. The start-up’s owner, Elon Musk, insists that the technology will restore full mobility to paralyzed patients, and Neuralink is planning to livestream its first human implant surgery.

5. Zack and Kelly Weinersmith, A City on Mars: Can We Settle Space, Should We Settle Space, and Have We Really Thought This Through.

A City on Mars book cover

Space is a terrible place to visit, let alone inhabit. The Weinersmiths will detail it all – from decreasing bone mass and deteriorating sight to the absence of Earth's not-so-guilty pleasures, such as sex and regular potato chips.

Yet, establishing a camp on Mars entails resolving far more issues than just homesickness or the effects of a low-gravity environment that's only a third of Earth's.

The Weinersmiths skillfully engage readers in the most technical and unconventional challenges we face before venturing into space. Their work is not only thoroughly researched but also presented with clever humor, complemented by cheeky illustrations that simplify complex concepts.


More book reviews from Cybernews:

Schadenfreude galore: in Naomi Alderman’s “The Future,” the wealthy suck

“Data Baby” book review: navigating a life under surveillance

Book review: where do you go when there's nowhere to hide

Book review: Ryan North's tips on How To Take Over The World

Book review – Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon

An ugly truth: a tale of two echo chambers

Andy Greenberg untangles complicated technology of crypto

Cybersec pros, it's now easier to explain what you do to your kids

Gibson’s Neuromancer: a look back at AI characters from a 1984 sci-fi novel

Book review: US economists ponder ways to make tech serve the people

AI Achilles heel: why we shouldn’t bow to our computer “overlords” just yet

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