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A great read I finally finished a couple of days ago after completing uni for the trimester: Carl Miller's The Death of the Gods: The New Global Power Grab, winner of the 2019 Transmission Prize.

This book is a thorough justification for the concerns myself, Carl and others have with technology undermining our privacy, politics, and above all, power. As Carl says, Power is more available, but that doesn’t mean it’s more equal.

The Death of the Gods by Carl Miller

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Carl Miller is Research Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at UK think-tank Demos. This book is... A ground-breaking journey to reveal the new centres of power and control in the twenty-first century.

The old gods are dying. Giant corporations collapse overnight. Newspapers are being swallowed. Stock prices plummet with a tweet. Governments are losing control. The old familiarities are tumbling down and a strange new social order is rising in their place. More crime now happens online than offline. Facebook has grown bigger than any state, bots battle elections, technologists have re-invented democracy and information wars are breaking out around us. New mines produce crypto-currencies, coders write policy, and algorithms shape our lives in more ways than we can imagine. What is going on?

 

The book shows the behind-the-scenes of how technology has changed power in areas such as:

  • People: Tech Model Railway Club (!!) at MIT hackers, and the new hackers at Def Con
  • Crime: Cyber-crime raid in suburbia with local (UK) law enforcement, and how police are unable to cope with online crime
  • Business: Silicon Valley leaders and how workers' rights are shrinking
  • Media: People with the skills and time on their hands can investigate worldwide events, no matter where in the world they are, Kosovo's fake news factory, churnalism and more
  • Politics: People do not trust politicians, so there are new ways to influence voters, and new ways for voters to take back their power
  • Warfare: Online has replaced in-person battles, 77th Brigade of the British Army and the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee
  • Technology: We don't fully understand - or care - about the consequences of the influence of the products we are addicted to, the psychology of our online interactions

 

I was particularly impressed by Audrey Tang in the Politics chapter, the world’s only transgender minister, hacker, protester, and “conservative anarchist” who aims for “collaborative governance” in politics. She is one of many participants on the civic tech community g0v.tw (gov dot zero) and now a Taiwan minister without portfolio. Her and the g0v team were pivotal in the vTaiwan process of colloborative open source engagement, which consists of four successive stages - proposal, opinion, reflection and legislation - encouraging open consultation with people and government (based on Pol.is). Here's a great interview with Audrey and a Wired article. Audrey is one of many people who have understood how technology works, and who it can leave behind, from an early age. With the g0v work, changes in decision-making for Taiwan - based on community interaction online - is one example of how power has changed. I really like this version of how more (technologically-inclined) people can get involved with decisions. A lot of people still need to understand the processes behind the screen...

 

This book does a thorough job of explaining how power—the most important currency of all—is being transformed, fought over, won and lost. As power escapes from its old bonds, the book shows where it has gone, the shape it now takes and how it touches each of our lives. Highly recommend.

Excerpt from the Economist

The Times Literary Supplement excerpt (on algorithms)

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Leigh-Chantelle is an International Speaker & Consultant; Author, Singer/Songwriter and Blogger.
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