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New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future

New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future

Written by James Bridle

Narrated by Emily Beresford


New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future

Written by James Bridle

Narrated by Emily Beresford

ratings:
4.5/5 (14 ratings)
Length:
8 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 22, 2019
ISBN:
9781977337689
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Description

As the world around us increases in technological complexity, our understanding of it diminishes. Underlying this trend is a single idea: The belief that our existence is understandable through computation, and more data is enough to help us build a better world.

In reality, we are lost in a sea of information, increasingly divided by fundamentalism, simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories, and post-factual politics. Meanwhile, those in power use our lack of understanding to further their own interests. Despite the apparent accessibility of information, we're living in a new Dark Age.

From rogue financial systems to shopping algorithms, from artificial intelligence to state secrecy, we no longer understand how our world is governed or presented to us. The media is filled with unverifiable speculation, much of it generated by anonymous software, while companies dominate their employees through surveillance and the threat of automation.

In his brilliant work, leading artist and writer James Bridle surveys the history of art, technology, and information systems and reveals the dark clouds that gather over our dreams of the digital sublime.

Publisher:
Released:
Jan 22, 2019
ISBN:
9781977337689
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

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What people think about New Dark Age

4.4
14 ratings / 4 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    I wanted to find out what Bridle had to say because I've been calling the rightwing draconian control backwards trends in the US the "New Dark Ages" for years now. This took a bit to work into...the read is easy, but Bridle was inconsistent, exaggerative and repetitive. Still, what he has to say is scary. Bridle opens with ‘If only technology could invent some way of getting in touch with you in an emergency,’ said my computer, repeatedly.Following the 2016 US election result, along with several other people I know and perhaps prompted by the hive mind of social media, I started re-watching The West Wing: an exercise in hopeless nostalgia. It didn’t help, but I got into the habit, when alone, of watching an episode or two in the evenings, after work, or on planes. After reading the latest apocalyptic research papers on climate change, total surveillance, and the uncertainties of the global political situation, a little neoliberal chamber play from the noughties wasn’t the worst thing to sink into. And we end with a message that technology is bad; no wait! it's good; no...bad; so bad as to be really bad. And it is. But we can't avoid it. Nor can we control it. The genie's bottle is opened, Pandora's box has let loose the demons, and maybe Bridle isn't exaggerating.Bridle's chapter titles alliterate with the letter "C": Chasm, Computation, Climate, Calculation, Complexity, Cognition, Complicity, Conspiracy, Concurrency, Cloud. "Cloud" plays an early part because it is innocuous, clouds are ephemeral, insubstantial, but the cloud is anything but. It's "in the cloud". Safe, right? The cloud is a new kind of industry, and a hungry one. The cloud doesn’t just have a shadow; it has a footprint. Absorbed into the cloud are many of the previously weighty edifices of the civic sphere: the places where we shop, bank, socialise, borrow books, and vote. Thus obscured, they are rendered less visible and less amenable to critique, investigation, preservation and regulation.That is the Chasm. And so we find ourselves today connected to vast repositories of knowledge, and yet we have not learned to think. In fact, the opposite is true: that which was intended to enlighten the world in practice darkens it. The abundance of information and the plurality of worldviews now accessible to us through the internet are not producing a coherent consensus reality, but one riven by fundamentalist insistence on simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories, and post-factual politics.Bridle observes: "Automation bias ensures that we value automated information more highly than our own experiences, even when it conflicts with other observations – particularly when those observations are ambiguous." We are reliant on technology because it has to be better than humans, right? Lewis Fry Richardson wrote, "Einstein has somewhere remarked that he was guided towards his discoveries by the notion that the important laws of physics were really simple. R.H. Fowler has been heard to remark that, of two formulae, the more elegant is the more likely to be true. Dirac sought an explanation alternative to that of spin in the electron because he felt that Nature could not have arranged it in so complicated a way." Richardson's studies on the ‘coastline paradox’ (correlation between the probability of two nations going to war and the length of their shared border was a problem as length of the border depended upon the tools used to measure it) came to be known as the Richardson effect, and formed the basis for Benoît Mandelbrot’s work on fractals. It demonstrates, with radical clarity, the counterintuitive premise of the new dark age: the more obsessively we attempt to compute the world, the more unknowably complex it appears." But that paradox isn't diminished with more data... rather, worsened.But, Bridle says In a 2008 article in Wired magazine entitled ‘End of Theory’, Chris Anderson argued that the vast amounts of data now available to researchers made the traditional scientific process obsolete. No longer would they need to build models of the world and test them against sampled data. Instead, the complexities of huge and totalising data sets would be processed by immense computing clusters to produce truth itself: ‘With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.’And then he seems to contradict himself: "This is the magic of big data. You don’t really need to know or understand anything about what you’re studying; you can simply place all of your faith in the emergent truth of digital information." Uh, technology good? He observes Since the 1950s, economists have believed that in advanced economies, economic growth reduces the income disparity between rich and poor. Known as the Kuznets curve, after its Nobel Prize–winning inventor, this doctrine claims that economic inequality first increases as societies industrialise, but then decreases as mass education levels the playing field and results in wider political participation. And so it played out – at least in the West – for much of the twentieth century. But we are no longer in the industrial age, and, according to Piketty, any belief that technological progress will lead to ‘the triumph of human capital over financial capital and real estate, capable managers over fat cat stockholders, and skill over nepotism’ is ‘largely illusory’True sense there...we are no longer "industrial" and the models don't play right anymore. "Technology, despite its Epimethean and Promethean claims, reflects the actual world, not an ideal one. When it crashes, we are capable of thinking clearly; when it is cloudy, we apprehend the cloudiness of the world. Technology, while it often appears as opaque complexity, is in fact attempting to communicate the state of reality. Complexity is not a condition to be tamed, but a lesson to be learned." There's that cloud again. Technology manipulates. Surely you aren't naive to think that savvy technologists are not manipulating the "free" market? Giant drops in a stock exchange erased in seconds? Facial recognition builds in biases; police "Minority Report" crime predictive softwares are inherently biased; algorithms that feed us "news", shopping, "answers" are all manipulative and we let them because we have no choice. Snowden shows us that we're spied upon, too late - the damage is done. Uber manipulates its employees to resist unionization/organization. Amazon's brutal employee relationships are hidden to the public because we want the benefits of technology: on my doorstep tomorrow? Sweet!And then there are the conspiracy theorists who may be on to something, if in a completely lunatic way, that technology is the devil. "Conspiracy theories are the extreme resort of the powerless, imagining what it would be to be powerful. This theme was taken up by Fredric Jameson, when he wrote that conspiracy ‘is the poor person’s cognitive mapping in the postmodern age; it is the degraded figure of the total logic of late capital, a desperate attempt to represent the latter’s system, whose failure is marked by its slippage into sheer theme and content’. [...] the individual, however outraged, resorts to ever more simplistic narratives in order to regain some control over the situation." People buy into crap because they don't want to, or can't, do the heavy thinking.So technology wins by forfeit.Russia didn't start with us - "In trying to support Putin’s party in Russia, and to smear opponents in countries like Ukraine, the troll farms quickly learned that no matter how many posts and comments they produced, it was pretty hard to convince people to change their minds on any given subject." They just got better when it really mattered:And so they started doing the next best thing: clouding the argument. In the US election, Russian trolls posted in support of Clinton, Sanders, Romney, and Trump, just as Russian security agencies seem to have had a hand in leaks against both sides. The result is that first the internet, and then the wider political discourse, becomes tainted and polarised. As one Russian activist described it, ‘The point is to spoil it, to create the atmosphere of hate, to make it so stinky that normal people won’t want to touch it.’Overload the data. Cloud the system.Then the proponents, like Google’s own CEO Eric Schmidt said "‘I think we’re missing something,’ he said, ‘maybe because of the way our politics works, maybe because of the way the media works. We’re not optimistic enough … The nature of innovation, the things that are going on both at Google and globally are pretty positive for humankind and we should be much more optimistic about what’s going to happen going forward.’" So, for them that control, technology is good, right?The dystopias of Ghost in the Machine, Blade Runner/Electric Sheep, Gibson's Neuromancer are closer than we think.
  • (5/5)
    Mapping connections between technology, the network, the weather, and the way we think of ‘computing’ as other, un-human. Not hopeful, but full of a mesh of thoughts and linkages. What does it mean to have your head in the cloud?
  • (5/5)
    An essential look at how the concept of 'information' has overwhelmed us, how we might want to think about the way that problem came to be, and what to do next.
  • (5/5)
    This is a fascinating and frightening read. James Bridle has written a book that is intellectually stimulating and emotionally draining. Bridle highlights the destructive consequences of technological networks. With the proliferation of information we have become less informed. With the spread of communication networks we have become less connected. With the increase in technological choices we have become less free. Bridle vividly portrays the dangers facing humanity. He does not present a plan for rescuing our future. Nor does he advocate that we retreat to some past era. Rather, he urges us to become aware in the present of how technology shapes our perceptions of reality. We are not powerless if we have the courage to think. Reading Bridle’s book is a good place for all of us to start thinking about creating a more equitable and sustainable future for all life on this planet.