Uncaged, in Seattle and San Francisco


Fulfilling its Manifest Destiny, the Uncaged Tour has arrived at the western edge of the continent. I will be speaking about The Glass Cage at Town Hall Seattle tonight at 7:30 (details). And then, on Wednesday at 6:30 pm, I’ll be at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco for a conversation with Salon’s Andrew Leonard (details). If you’re around, please swing by.

And here are a few choice quotes from recent Glass Cage reviews:

Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe:

[Carr] suggests that automated systems should require humans to participate in vital activities. An aircraft autopilot might require the pilot to manually change the plane’s course, altitude, and speed; a medical diagnostic program might run regular quizzes to teach radiologists to spot unusual cancers. And once self-driving vehicles arrive, we might require their human owners to take the wheel every now and then.

Of course, this kind of automation with a human face would be more costly and timeconsuming, making it less likely that businesses will race to embrace it. More likely, we’ll have to tolerate a world of ever smarter machines, operated by ever less capable humans. Not a cheerful prospect, but we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Michelle Scheraga, Associated Press:

Without resorting to scare tactics or sermonizing on the dangers of overautomation, [Carr’s] book details in careful, measured ways both the promise of mechanization and its drawbacks since the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, drawing connections between the blue-collar worker operating factory equipment and the white-collar worker inputting data in a computer, both using machines meant to shoulder most of the heavy physical or mental labor.

His historical, inclusive approach makes an issue most of those already deeply steeped in technology won’t find at all surprising — that what we’re losing might outweigh what we gain by relying on computers — a stimulating, absorbing read.

Elisabeth Donnelly, Flavorwire:

In his new book, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, Carr provides an elegantly written history of what role robotics have played in our past, and the possible role that they may play in our future. In a world where there’s a lot of technology cheerleaders, Carr is one of our most valuable skeptics. […]

Carr shows how maps and our concept of them, have changed with the GPS. Where once we had to read an area, to see where we were in relation to the world, to figure it out with our heads, GPS satellite technology has made the world shrink to our perceptions of it. These technologically adept maps start with where we are and tell us, simply, how to get to the next place. It reduces our cognitive abilities with its ease. “The more you think about it, the more you realize that to never confront the possibility of getting lost is to live in a state of perpetual dislocation,” he writes. Carr pulls off this incredible synthesis, over and over, starting with something like maps and what technology’s done with them, bringing history, literature, culture, economics, and science, all together to reveal a window into who we are and what we’re becoming.

James Janega, Chicago Tribune:

The Glass Cage is a worthy antidote to the relentlessly hopeful futurism of Google, TED Talks and Walt Disney, and just as statistically probable as a world in which devoted digital assistants will book our anniversary dinners, route us around traffic jams, and send the perfect Mother’s Day floral arrangement on our behalf.

Jacob Axelrad, Christian Science Monitor:

Will smart phones, tablets, and applications imprison us in a “frictionless world”? Do devices and programs dull our senses? Are we – as tech critics sometimes suggest – outsourcing our brains?

These questions are posed by Nicholas Carr in The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, a thoughtful extension of some of the questions raised in his 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. The Glass Cage is smart, insightful, and at times funny, as it takes readers through a series of anecdotes, academic research, and current and historical events to paint a portrait of a world readily handing itself over to intelligent devices.

Mark Bauerlein, The Weekly Standard:

There is a long tradition of automation zeal, and Carr provides revealing examples, including Oscar Wilde’s prediction that “while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure .  .  . or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work.”

Nicholas Carr’s warnings run against that pleasing vision, which puts him in a minority of culture-watchers. […] The future he paints is a dicey one: We may soon reach a point at which automation—in hazardous settings from cockpits to battle zones—allows mistakes to happen less frequently but more catastrophically, because humans are unprepared to resume control. The technophile’s solution is to augment the automation, thereby decreasing the very toil that keeps humans sharp. Better to think more about the human subject, Carr advises.

And, finally, here’s a report on the hair-raising joyride I took through the streets of D.C. with NPR’s Robert Siegel during last week’s East Coast segment of the Uncaged Tour.

2 thoughts on “Uncaged, in Seattle and San Francisco

  1. XSA

    The building itself, with its clerestory windows and small mezzanine balcony, also qualified as a city landmark because of its “distinctive characteristics typical of small commercial buildings constructed following the 1906 earthquake and fire.” The landmark designation mandates the preservation of certain external features of the building and its immediate surroundings. Peters commented (referring to the effect of dotcom and computer firms), “The old San Francisco is under attack to the point where it’s disappearing.”[6]

    The fuzzy cubicles and automation went broke. They could of went broke with books.

  2. Timothy

    I kind of wonder while reading your books if your not also talking about a need not only to examine the meaning and intent of automation, or how humans are affected by technology, but, also whether the current capitalist structure can support a humane society in the face of such automation. But, putting that aside, next week you are in Calgary and I assure you it is more fun than been driving in an automated Mercedes.

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