‘The future stalks us,’ begins Jamie Susskind’s rigorous and thoughtful book Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech (Oxford University Press 514pp £20). The future, he argues, is coming – and fast. The reason the danger is so pressing is that, as Susskind correctly states, ‘while time passes linearly, many developments in digital technology are occurring exponentially’. Put simply: we are always behind the tech. As soon as we have just about learned to grapple with, say, social media, the perfect medium for mendacity, we are on to the next challenge. It is these ‘challenges’ that Susskind sets out to explore with commendable intellectual breadth as he considers the impact of technology on power, liberty, democracy and justice.
We already live in a world where Amazon’s algorithms, more than any human or media outlet, decide what books the world reads. With machine learning advancing, will we hand over the administration of justice to machines or codes that can dispense it more effectively?
He laments – as C P Snow did over half a century earlier in The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution – ‘the gulf between the arts and the sciences’. Susskind understands the danger of a world where coders and engineers are unequipped to think about the systemic consequences of their work while social scientists and political theorists are ignorant of the full social and political import of developments in technology across the world.