Exponential by Azeem Azhar – the breakneck acceleration of technology

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Life in 2021 is like riding an aging roller coaster without brakes. Accelerating climate change, deadly pandemics and the elucidation of the global supply chain are the most direct triggers of our collective vertigo. But what if the peculiar instability of our time was not the temporary uplift of the road, but the result of structural changes introduced into the movement generations ago by our own urge to innovate? It will be?

What if, as Azeem Azhar argues, the shock of these tremors lessens and forces humanity to fundamentally rethink and restructure our political and economic institutions? mosquito?

His book Exponential Is radical, fascinating, subtle, and ultimately, that recent innovations in computer science and other new technologies have fundamentally changed human existence, and the consequences are almost incomprehensible. It is a contradictory view. As Azhar writes, this rapid acceleration of social, economic and political changes is only just beginning, thanks to the mutual enhancement of technological advancements such as AI, renewable energy and 3D printing.

The main lesson of this book is the upward growth of “hockey sticks” which not only promises unimaginable benefits, but also threatens the convergence of new technologies, inevitably compounding the increase in socially destructive forces. Thanks to the way it flies orbit, humanity’s journey is only quick and bumpy from here. Dismantle the relatively stable institutions and social norms we rely on for happiness.

These stories of “promise and danger” are a popular non-fiction classic written by tech insiders and leaders such as tech analyst and prominent entrepreneur Ahzar. Newsletter and Podcast. The two focal points of technological risks and benefits generally aim to convince the reader of a neutral, balanced and objectively wise perspective to the author, but unlike the average reader. The author’s personal investment and his privileged position in technological culture represent a very disproportionate part of his promise and a relatively minimal exposure to its dangers.

Exponential Leverage the same strategy by relying entirely on a universal “us” (“we decide what we want with the tools we build”). Azhar isn’t hiding in the story, but instead uses personal anecdotes and conversations with the CEO and founder of Silicon Valley to clearly establish him as a seasoned insider. Yet his book never reveals a reflexive perception of how his position colors his own bullish view of unconstrained technological growth.

Fortunately, this book not only deals with complex issues such as the future of globalization and automation, but also offers much more than just a selfish tech booster. The author has repeatedly described the exponential growth of “techno-social” power already embedded in the current course, but this course has been entirely defined by human choice, not the fate of the universe. Reminds me too. Azhar reveals that an exponentially growing earthquake could ruin an entire house unless he chooses to radically reform his fragile and ill-suited economic and political institutions. , Its very important.

Perhaps Azhal’s most valuable idea is that careful management of individual risks posed by new technologies is not enough. Tweaking AI algorithms to make them a bit fairer or providing social media users with shiny new privacy controls isn’t enough to mend the growing cracks in society. Our current socio-economic and political order is not fit for purpose and cannot weather the coming storm. Azhar is particularly singled out in his criticism of the uncontrolled and socially corrosive forces of big tech platforms that currently lack the incentives to align their business models with human well-being.

Yet in a way that reveals the existence of a truly conservative tech culture, Azhar delivers his proposed reforms in a tone that deeply apologizes to the sensibilities of his imaginary readers. Even the most modest measures to prevent long-term and socially devastating cuts in equal pay for work are offered with the caution that “it all probably sounds utopian.” “This approach may sound drastic,” he said, requiring regular inspections of algorithmic systems similar to those we have for critical infrastructure.

If this is the face of utopian radicalism in the 21st century, these are certainly strange times. Some of Azhar’s recommendations go further. Forcing the interoperability of technology platforms to make it easier for users to move their data presence to a platform that conforms to their business practices actually provides a twisted “win-win” incentive that currently leads to a harmful technology monopoly. He is weakening. He did not discuss the limitations of the approach, but proposals to incorporate the restructuring of global “digital rights bills” and “data pools” are welcome and potentially transformative.

But these structural reforms are in tension with the old techno-solutionist metaphor. Bring together social problems as waiting for technical fixes, hold back helpless individuals who are not responsible for systematic change, and assume that the answer to problems created by technology is always more technology.

For example, Azhar guarantees that the climate crisis will lead to a technological revolution in renewable energy. But it’s only on the last 10 pages that he admits that cheap energy only promotes greater consumption, unless consumption habits are removed. A very informative chapter on global cybersecurity and the proliferation of disinformation threats suggests that “the solution is digital literacy” – that is, teaching people how to strengthen passwords and identify fake news. Make. After explaining how powerful political forces have come together to destroy and curb the labor movement, Azhar advises workers to fight back using online apps and forums. It’s better than nothing, but it’s also like advising a fox to sharpen its teeth without suggesting someone stop fox hunting.

At the center of it Exponential You can clearly see the stress fractures that are developing in the pillars of today’s techno social order, but a possible world that is dominated beyond that order’s most important values: frictionless efficiency, infinite growth, and infinite growth. . The Unchallenge hierarchy reveals internal conflicts that occur when you can’t yet see. None of us know how this conflict will be resolved. But we must fight so that all those who inherit the world have a legitimate and legitimate interest in their decisions.

Exponential: How the acceleration of technology is leaving us behind and what to do about it By Azeem Azhar, Random Home Business, £ 20, 352 pages

Shannon Vallor is Professor of Data Ethics and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh and author of Technology and the Virtues (OUP).

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