Future Politics | Jamie Susskind

Summary of: Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech
By: Jamie Susskind


In ‘Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech’, Jamie Susskind explores the profound implications of technological advancements on society and politics. This book unpacks the challenges we face as we adapt to a rapidly evolving digital world, emphasizing the importance of thoughtful preparation by anyone in a position of responsibility. With technology on track to influence nearly every aspect of our lives, Susskind dives into the danger of ceding control to digital systems that few people understand or can regulate, and examines the economic, moral, and social consequences of these innovations.

Tech Revolution: A Call to Action

The digital revolution is transforming human society, yet the widespread implications of tech innovations are often overlooked. The lack of diversity and oversight in Silicon Valley poses a central danger as demographically idiosyncratic innovators determine the digital future of the world. The moral and economic consequences of technological change are vast and complex, and humanity could hand over its autonomy to digital systems that most people neither fully comprehend nor control. It is imperative for everyone in a position of responsibility to prepare for this vast sweep of technology and take steps to ensure a safe and prosperous digital future.

The book highlights the profound impact of technology on the world today. It argues that leaders need to prepare for the digital revolution that promises to be as monumental as other historical revolutions. However, the lack of insight into digital systems’ broader impacts on society and moral implications poses a significant danger. Students studying for degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics rarely encounter courses on political philosophy or social policy. By contrast, liberal arts majors lack deep understanding of how technology works.

The book also suggests that engineers only focus on solving specific problems and are not asked to examine how their work might affect the world. This failure to consider the widespread implications of tech innovations, particularly due to lack of racial and gender diversity in Silicon Valley, poses significant dangers. The book suggests that a small group of demographically idiosyncratic innovators is determining the digital future of the world, with scant input or oversight from the outside.

The book addresses the moral and economic consequences of technological change and poses complex questions, such as whether a company should be allowed to sell virtual sex with an avatar designed to look like a celebrity, a friend’s spouse, or another real person. The central danger identified in this book is the possibility of humanity handing over its autonomy to digital systems they neither fully comprehend nor control, thus making it imperative for everyone in a position of responsibility to prepare for this vast sweep of technology and take steps to ensure a safe and prosperous digital future.

The Three Key Developments Shaping Our Future

The technology revolution is bringing about a digital lifeworld of sophisticated devices, deep connections, and big data. This revolution is set to fundamentally change society and politics, with three key developments leading the way. Firstly, AI is producing smarter systems that can accomplish a range of tasks and continue to improve through machine learning. Secondly, digital devices are becoming ever-more ubiquitous and will soon be present in nearly all aspects of modern human life, deepening connections through blockchain technology. Finally, more and more human activities are being quantified, with big data becoming a vital raw material for many businesses and governments. These three developments will usher in a new era of life that will be shaped by powerful computers, autonomous vehicles, robots, and advanced sensors.

Technology’s Influence on Power

The increasing advancements in technology have brought up questions about the role of personal choice and state powers. Self-driving cars, for example, offer increased safety but also raise ethical dilemmas surrounding the power to choose. There are also three types of power: force, scrutiny, and perception control. Force involves one party removing another’s ability to comply, and the American court system handles fewer civil suits than resolution systems like eBay. Scrutiny involves collecting, keeping, and analyzing information, and machines now handle monitoring and will predict human behavior more minutely in the future. Perception control is a powerful tool, and filters shape discourse by tailoring what people see and feel. While machines dominate search results, they may not always be unbiased, as Amazon deleted every copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four from every Kindle in existence in 2009.

Digital Technology: A Paradox of Freedom

Advances in digital technology have opened doors for innovation and creativity. However, it has also led to the concentration of power in the hands of a few powerful entities. This paradoxical concept of expansion and limitation of freedom can be observed in devices like iPhone and iPad. For example, Apple controls the apps available to users. In the digital lifeworld, where human existence is controlled by technology, three developments will transform politics – increasingly capable systems, integrated technology, and quantified society. For-profit companies will start to govern basic human liberties like freedom of speech, thought, and assembly. The use of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter offer ample opportunities for freedom of speech, yet people have limited control over what they view. Tech companies will have the authority to decide what type of news its users see. Self-driving cars will contribute significantly to safer movement, but it would come with restrictions to break the speed limit or driving across a double yellow line. The most concerning part of this paradox is that the technological domain will become invisible, and people will not question the control of speech and thought by powerful entities.

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