Nightmare of the enthusiasts


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.

7 thoughts on “Nightmare of the enthusiasts

  1. Jack Sedman

    Your first few paragraphs made me laugh! Would love to read the rest but the SFChronicle site seems to require a US Zip Code for any kind of account creation, and I’m based in the UK…

  2. Nick Post author

    Jack, One of Schmidt/Cohen’s major predictions is that the net will become much more balkanized, so there you go. Sorry, Nick

  3. RRH

    Who is going to buy/invest in all those new technologies as everyone will be unemployed (doctors, lawyers, etc) due to all the technology replacing their jobs?

  4. yt75

    Impressive that to read the article on the SF chronicle you need to subscribe, which requires you to provide a “zip code”, uh ? How about non US residents ?
    And then only reccuring stuff are proposed.
    Exactly what is killing paid content on the web.

  5. shagggz

    Can you please warn us ahead of time that a paywall is coming? Not pleasant to just be getting going and then have it yanked away so suddenly. Talk about blue eyeballs…

  6. Nick Post author

    The review was available to all when it first went up on the Chronicle site. Now it’s available only to subscribers. I’ve updated the post to reflect that. Sorry for any confusion.

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