Book review

Team Human

by Douglas Rushkoff


There’s a lot that I liked about Team Human: the underlying thesis is that we have let technology into many corners of our lives without thought for many of the consequences, and that the motives of those driving the technology adoption are often very poorly aligned with those of the users of the technology. The result is often a significant level of social isolation and repression, and Rushkoff proclaims loudly that the default answer of “add more technology to fix it” is unlikely to improve things. For me, it’s undeniably true, and the author does a great job of assembling a manifesto make his points.

The structure of the book was interesting, too – 100 short sections, varying from a few paragraphs to two or three pages. I did find it frustrating at times, though, as very often you would meet assertions that you disagreed with, and although there are footnotes on each section at the end of the book, I often had to do a reasonable amount of googling to find the supporting evidence. I sometimes didn’t find the evidence very convincing, either – e.g. in #58, where he refers to Penrose and Hameroff’s “Orch OR” theory of quantum consciousness, which is widely regarded as at best somewhat hokey science, and likely to be just flat out wrong.

Also worthy of comment is that the physical book itself is beautifully put together, in a non-traditional way. I almost always buy on Kindle, but I didn’t with this one, because (a) I was able to follow the book’s own thesis of more local, distributed, human activity by buying it from my local small bookshop, and (b) I wanted to own the physical hardback. Definitely worth it (plus you get to Stick It To The Man by doing so…)

The ultimate question is I suppose whether there’s actually anything we can do about any of this. Can we stop the tech juggernauts taking all our data and using vast clouds of Big Data machines and machine learning algorithms to work out how to drive us towards their desired economic behaviours (usually, although interestingly not always, they’re economic)? I don’t know if we can stop it, but I know if we don’t try to at least chisel away a little at that rock face, we’ll very likely regret it.

Book review

The Moral Landscape

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
Read date: August 2017

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As you’d expect with Sam Harris, an excellent, well-argued case for (in this case) his vision of a morality based on science. He argues that if you accept that human flourishing comes from our brains (i.e. that there is no separate, dualistic, soul) then science clearly can investigate and improve our flourishing. Furthermore, morality (if it means anything at all) is surely somehow to do with human flourishing: we may not clearly understand at the moment what the ways we can best flourish, but the study of them is surely accessible to science, because science can increasingly directly image the brain. For those who hew to the is-ought distinction, they are ultimately misguided: where else can any “ought” come from, if not from states of our brain (an “is”)? If it comes from elsewhere and doesn’t ever touch the brain, then it is entirely inaccessible to us. As soon as it touches the brain, it’s an “is”.

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