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

Ted Roszak

One-line summary:

Overview/Main Points

The computer has gained cultlike status largely due to "brainwashing" by the software makers, technocrats, and others who have a vested (commercial or political) interest in seeing it succeed. The brainwashing has taken these primary forms: Computers can be called a "mature technology" because they are now creating problems as significant as those they solve. This includes concentration of power in the hands of the wrong people. For example, the stock market crash of 1987 was triggered by programmed sell-offs; most money in the market today is made not from the "real economy" (manufacturing, services, etc.) but the "information economy", which is nothing more than the ethereal "derivative" financial products that can only exist in a world where minute-by-minute tracking of enormous volumes of data is possible.



The book is riddled with technical shortsightednesses, occasional misunderstandings about some aspect of computers' purported abilities (misunderstandings not unlike those the author laments), and a view of the computer science community that is far too shallow and simplistic -- a community of "freakish minority" hackers (author's quote) who, like the huckster "data merchants", have been blinded to all but the Godlike power they feel from programming, and have used the computer to supplant real-life experiences from personal interaction (email) to creating art to running simulated physics experiments instead of real ones in order to provide clean, synthetic results that match the theory.

The truth is that people have always been suckers for cults and advertising and mass media, and have historically been sheep more often than they have been independent thinkers, so what the author is pointing out is ways in which the computer is just the most recent instance of this unfortunate fact of life. Like many inventions before it, it "solves" some problem only at the expense of creating some new ones (downsizing and a demoralized workforce; an artificial "paper economy" in the stock market; an "underclass" in America's schools where many disenfranchised students, disillusioned by the way in which they have been introduced to computers, become technological refugees). This insight is the author's self-stated basis for the subtitle "Neo-Luddite Treatise...".

For all its flaws, the book makes important messages about the large-scale social effects of the computer revolution. Those of us who would claim to care need to know what we're getting into. Joe Bob says check it out.

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