The best books on why we should rise up against our robot overlords

Who am I?

I’m a philosopher, writer, and illustrator from Wales, UK. I grew up on ’70s sci-fi—Star Wars (the original trilogy!), Battlestar Galactica (the original series!), The Black Hole (Remember that?! No? Oh well…). Space travel, flying cars, sassy computers you could banter with, cute robots who would be your best friend—it was a time when the future seemed just around the corner. But now, as these things finally start to arrive, I feel I’ve been mis-sold. Data theft? Mass surveillance? Killer drones? Election manipulation? Social media bot farms? This isn’t the future I signed up for! Or maybe I should have read the terms and conditions…


I wrote...

MUNKi

By Gareth Southwell,

Book cover of MUNKi

What is my book about?

Inside every sci-fi writer are two people: a naive, tech-loving kid, and a more cautious adult, who’s come to realise the dark potential of all technology. With my novel MUNKi, I still wanted to explore those things the kid in me thought were cool—robots, AI, hackers, mind uploading, virtual reality gaming, self-driving cars—but also the impact of modern technology on individual people. Of course, everything’s rosy when the future is on your side, when Siri, Uber, and Spotify are oiling the wheels of your daily life. But what if that stops? What if—for instance!—you wake up one day to discover a giant global megacorporation has stolen your dead grandfather’s memories? Would you fight back? Would you fight the future?

The books I picked & why

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Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age

By Kirkpatrick Sale,

Book cover of Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age

Why this book?

But can you fight the future? Isn’t it inevitable? This is often how tech companies try to make us think, and that anyone who opposes “progress” is a Luddite. But, as Patrick Sale makes clear in this excellent and heartbreaking historical study, the original Luddites—a protest movement that swept the industrial heartland of 19th Century England—were not anti-technology; they merely thought technology should serve people, not profit. Faced with the destruction of their livelihoods and their traditional way of life, they destroyed machines and burnt factories because that was the only outlet they had for their rage and desperation. And when the “inevitable march of progress” comes to trample you too, you may see that they had a point.


The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking

By Theodore Roszak,

Book cover of The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking

Why this book?

Technology is always moving on. And so it should be forgiven the author that many of the concrete examples in this book are now somewhat dated. They provide some interesting insight into the history of computing and media technology, but the real value of Roszak’s argument lies in his analysis of how—thanks to computer technology—society has become obsessed with “information”. It’s almost a cult. But information is not knowledge, data does not in itself provide understanding. In fact, in a peculiarly paradoxical way, the more information we have, the less we actually know. Thirty years later, as we swim daily in the disinformation of the murky waters of social media and disappear down Youtube rabbit holes, Roszak’s point seems more pertinent than ever.


Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

By Gabriella Coleman,

Book cover of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

Why this book?

The Luddites supposedly got their name from their shadowy founder, a certain Ned Ludd, who was apparently the first to take a hammer to the instruments of industrial progress. As such, his name became a sort of protective disguise for the purposes of anonymous protest: Who smashed the loom? “Ned Ludd did it!” In a similar way, computer hackers such as Anonymous have adopted the Guy Fawkes mask as an emblem of disruption, pranking, and activism. In this fascinating study, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman investigates Anonymous, tracing its origins from the message boards of 4chan, through the Occupy movement and the Wikileaks controversy, revealing firsthand through her interaction with the community the diversity and complexity of the hacking world, and the varying motives of its actors.


Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America

By Christopher Wylie,

Book cover of Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America

Why this book?

Do you still have a Facebook account? I do—though I feel increasingly torn about it. I still use it for professional purposes, but part of me would gladly delete it (not, you know, that anything would actually get deleted, I suspect…). Christopher Wylie agrees. This wonderful account traces his role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where a mysterious “political consulting firm” used Facebook data to help swing the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s successful presidential run. It’s a very personal story, which I love, and we get an insider’s view not only on the shocking and frankly terrifying practices Wylie became embroiled in, but also his own moral struggle to get out of them. A wonderful book.


God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning

By Meghan O'Gieblyn,

Book cover of God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning

Why this book?

Those who laid the foundations for the scientific revolution—Newton, Bacon, Descartes—were religious men. But, so the story goes, science has now left religion behind—except it hasn’t. In this extraordinary book, Meghan O’Gieblyn argues that, having turned its back on God, science and technology are now sleepwalking us into a new religion: transhumanism. Faced with the increasing and enormous complexity of artificial intelligence, like priests interpreting the oracle, the programmers and analysts of today must simply guess how an algorithm has arrived at a particular solution—and have faith that it is correct. They lust for the Rapture-like Singularity, where machines will take over the future, gifting us all digital immortality. Hmm, is this starting to sound a bit familiar…?


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