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Reaction to Carr’s Book, the Glass Cage: Automation and US

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Our skills become rusty and eventually disappear when they go unused. As a result, humans are becoming less capable as we rely increasingly on technology. This is the thesis of a new book, The Glass Cage, by US technology writer Nicholas Carr, whose previous work has included the popular essay “Is Google Making us Stupid?”

He argues that our jobs and lives are being impoverished by our dependence on computers and automation.

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In his previous book, “The Shallows” — essential reading about our Internet Age — Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review and author of several books about technology, discussed the detrimental effects the Web has on our reading, thinking and capacity for reflection. In this new book, “The Glass Cage: Automation and Us,” similarly essential if slightly repetitive, Carr explains how certain aspects of automative technology can separate us from, well, Reality. How, for all its ­miraculous-seeming benefits, automation also can and often does impair our mental and physical skills, cause dreadful mistakes and accidents, particularly in medicine and aviation, and threaten to turn the algorithms we create as servants into our mindless masters — what sci-fi movies have been warning us about for at least two or three decades now. When Instagram was acquired by Facebook it merely had 18 people employed. Once again, it is a pity that Lanier doesn't connect his discussion to others who have worked in this area, such as Brynjolfsson and McAfee (2011; 2014).

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History has taught us that when old jobs disappear new ones will appear

This cyclic process has perhaps been most pointedly captured with the concept 'creative destruction', suggested by Austrian/American economy researcher Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 in his book Capitalism, socialism and democracy (Schumpeter, 2013). This refers to the pattern of solid market traditions, the bearers of old wealth, regularly being destroyed while fresh fortunes are created with new inventions. Today we are probably only in the beginning of the new industrial revolution that is sometimes talked about as a shift from manual to digital labour. As always, we fear that innovative technology will disrupt the labour market. Although, history teaches us that we should expect growth of new forms of jobs, this time the creative destruction seems to be one on steroids.

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In essence, from nineteenth-century textile mills to the cockpits of modern jets, from the frozen hunting grounds of Inuit tribes to the sterile landscapes of GPS maps, The Glass Cage explores the impact of automation from a deeply human perspective, examining the personal as well as the economic consequences of our growing dependence on computers

With a characteristic blend of history and philosophy, poetry and science, Carr takes us on a journey from the work and early theory of Adam Smith and Alfred North Whitehead to the latest research into human attention, memory, and happiness, culminating in a moving meditation on how we can use technology to expand the human experience.

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Licklider J.C.R. (1960). Man-computer symbiosis. IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, HFE-1(1), 4-11.

Keen, Andrew. The Internet is not the answer. London: Atlantic books, 2015. 273 p.

Carr, Nicholas. The glass cage: where automation is taking us. London: The Bodly Head, 2015. 276 p. ISBN 978-1-84792-308-0.

Fingar, Peter. Cognitive computing: a brief guide for game changers.

Schumpeter, J. A. (2013). Capitalism, socialism and democracy. London: Routledge.

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