I have a brief review of Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen’s new and surprisingly gloomy book The New Digital Age in the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s how the review begins:
The New Digital Age opens with a Panglossian overture. The computer revolution, write the authors, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, has “barely left the starting blocks.” Soon we’ll be blessed with “integrated clothing machines” that not only wash, fold and shelve laundry but “algorithmically suggest outfits based on the user’s daily schedule.” Robot barbers will give us haircuts that are “machine-precise.” Nasal implants will alert us to oncoming colds. When we sense that our kids are getting spoiled, we’ll be able to transport them, via holographic projectors, to a Third World slum for a stroll among the destitute.
Those fortunate enough to be among the world’s “super-wealthy” elite will have it even better. Attended by “human-like robots,” they’ll zip overhead in “motion-stabilized automated helicopters” while popping bespoke pharmaceuticals to keep mortality at bay. Should one of their internal organs go bad, a mechanical surgeon will swap it out with a synthetic replacement. Their loafers will be outfitted with “haptic devices” that give their feet a friendly pinch when they’re running late for a meeting.
And here’s how it ends:
As tech industry VIPs, Schmidt and Cohen deserve credit for probing the dark side of progress. In the wake of the Boston bombings, their warnings about the Net’s dangers have gained chilling salience. But it’s hard to know how seriously to take their speculations, which, lacking analytical rigor, come off as a hodgepodge. Writing as enthusiasts rather than critics, they’re quick to present technological trends as destiny but seem indifferent to the subtleties of politics and culture that shape the behavior of people and the course of history. Clumsily written and slackly argued, The New Digital Age feels less like a coherent treatise than like the hurriedly assembled notes from a series of brainstorming sessions.
Chronicle subscribers can read the whole review here.
Photo by James Cridland.