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System Error: How Big Tech Disrupted Everything and Why We Must Reboot

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56 review for System Error: How Big Tech Disrupted Everything and Why We Must Reboot

  1. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Name Yer Poison: Corporate Greed or Political Incompetence? According to the three authors from Stanford University, America in particular and the world in general faces a stark choice. Either we allow Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to create a technocratic dystopia of mass delusion and surveillance; or we create an alternative, equally dystopian, bureaucratic regime of corporate regulation to stop these greedy people producing the economic and social externalities that are Name Yer Poison: Corporate Greed or Political Incompetence? According to the three authors from Stanford University, America in particular and the world in general faces a stark choice. Either we allow Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to create a technocratic dystopia of mass delusion and surveillance; or we create an alternative, equally dystopian, bureaucratic regime of corporate regulation to stop these greedy people producing the economic and social externalities that are now becoming overwhelmingly apparent. Not much of a choice really. The three agree that the issue is about values and the sacrifices in some values that have to be made in order to promote others. They clearly don’t like the way those trade-offs are being made today. The technocrats only care about making money. Meanwhile the externalities caused by their success hurt enormous numbers of people, particularly those already on the margins of society. They suggest that the techies and tech-supporters in charge must develop a conscience about these externalities and act to mitigate them. They also would like the rest of us who are not involved in the industry to get back to thinking about what the common good really means. But mostly they insist that the government take action to rein in the capitalist excesses and to improve governmental technological skills. Really they’re writing about a reboot of an entire society not just an industry. At times, the authors sound like they want to blow up capitalism. At other points, they appear to believe in the potential of a divinely omniscient power of democratic government to rationally sift through the intricacies of arcane technology to identify and address potential issues. And they surely want all of us to become au fait with the things that they think are most important about the technologies. But when it comes to explicit actions that might be beneficial, they get really vague, not to say puerile. In their hand and flag-waving about values, trade-offs, and “harnessing technological progress to serve rather than subvert the interests of individuals and societies,” they bring little of significance to light. They want debate, for example. I’m not at all clear what this debate would be about, who would organise and participate in it, or where it would take place. They want some sort of governing body for coders and engineers, something like a high-tech American Medical Association that would grant licenses to practice, or at least create and enforce codes of ethics. They want regulators and prosecuting attorneys who aren’t intimidated by the political power of big tech companies. They want to stop self-regulation, increase data-protection, promote stakeholder capitalism, severely restrict insider share-dealing, pursue anti-monopoly suits relentlessly. But they provide few details about the who, what, and where of any of this. In the final chapter, the authors flip from concerns about grasping capitalism to concerns about inept democratic politicians, agencies, and institutions. They seem to implicitly recognise that the externalities, the unintended consequences, of government intervention in the industry are also real. “Despite our enthusiasm for the role of democracy in governing technology, our democratic institutions do not always inspire much hope,” they say. This is where they get a bit more specific. They would like to see the Office of Technological Assessment recreated at Presidential level. But can they or anyone else really believe that such a governmental body would be able to anticipate much less direct or even positively influence the work of tens of thousands of tech entrepreneurs and their backers much less enormous established corporations? Among other difficulties the revolving door would have to have an enormous capacity! In short, the book has nothing new to say and nothing old that is worth saying again aside from a few self-justifying war stories. Joint efforts like this often seem to sink to a level of prosaic mediocrity. This could become a classic of the genre. Or perhaps as members of the Stanford faculty they feel hesitant about biting down too hard on the hand that feeds them. Their employer is not only physically at the heart of the problems they want us to know about, it also receives a great deal of funding from the folk creating those problems. And by the way, didn’t these guys along with their colleagues and students help to create these problems in the first place? So perhaps a certain ambiguity and frivolity is prudent. The faculty lounge will remain calm. The Stanford legacy committee will continue to pull in (and earn) big bucks. And no doubt the students will continue to sign up for their classes without fear of being type-cast as intelligent social parasites. So as a result of this little bit of light weight virtue-signalling nothing will change.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    Did you hear the one about the three Stanford processors who taught a popular course on business and technology ethics at the Stanford Business School? So Mehran /Sahami, Jeremy Weinstein, and Rob Reich did that and the resulting book is “System Error: How Big Tech Disrupted Everything and Why We Must Reboot”. This is apparently a popular course in the business school. I was left wondering why. It is doubtful to me that many MBA students will suddenly change their tunes and adopt the more princi Did you hear the one about the three Stanford processors who taught a popular course on business and technology ethics at the Stanford Business School? So Mehran /Sahami, Jeremy Weinstein, and Rob Reich did that and the resulting book is “System Error: How Big Tech Disrupted Everything and Why We Must Reboot”. This is apparently a popular course in the business school. I was left wondering why. It is doubtful to me that many MBA students will suddenly change their tunes and adopt the more principled, regulation tolerant, and less self-enriching tone in the class (at least if the book is indicative) and go apply their VERY EXPENSIVE education to serve the public good or work for government, at reduced pay of course. I am sure there is much more to the class than revealed in the book, which would likely serve as a principal reading for an earlier session of the class. There would have to be more. The book is a series of topical chapters, each concerned with some central topic related to the role of technology and tech businesses in the economy and broader society - oh yes, and with the vast sums to be earned from all of the new technology products. Chapters also concern the reactions of society to both the oversized compensation in the industry and the threats to privacy, freedom, and societal values posed by the growth of “big tech”. But in a short book, only the surface is skimmed on these issues and how to think about them. Meanwhile, students in the class would have other classes to attend, along with the fall interview season, and the need for continuing networking. What’s a student to do? At least they can be aware of ethical and business-society issues as they look for a new job. So why be so grumpy? Isn’t it worthwhile to discuss these issues? Sure, but during the course of the book, I strained to keep track of who was the target in each chapter. Who is at fault for the societal threats that big tech is posing? Is it the business students, who will take the highest paying job, especially if there are good stock options? Is it the venture capitalists, who want to build up their “unicorns” quickly and sell for a big gain? Is it the managers of tech firms, whose compensation is tied to short term countable metrics? Is it the regulators who have not done their job well and left the tech sector free to do what it wants? The answer seems to be a bit of “all of the above”. These are difficult problems and it will take time and effort to build up an effective management and regulatory regime that balances the interests of multiple stakeholders. Sure, this is a reasonable place to end up. But it also seems a bit convenient too. It is OK if we continue to participate in the system, as long as we have thought about the deeper issues - right? It seems that way, unfortunately. There is a larger literature on the ethical issues and business - society concerns of modern business. The story is much the same in many of these works. The one that comes to mind is “From Higher Aims to Hired Hands” (2010) which is a history of efforts to provide a principled ethical education at the Harvard Business School. The author is the Dean of Harvard College and the message of his history is very much consistent with what the authors of “System Error” end up with. It is frustrating but understandable. Overall, I enjoyed “System Error” even if it was a bit frustrating. It reads quickly and there are lots of cites for those who with to read more.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Santi Ruiz

    I would have given this 3 stars but you can’t misuse the “no shouting FIRE in a crowded theater” SCOTUS line in 2021 and get away with it UPDATE: Review for the Free Beacon is here https://freebeacon.com/culture/reboot... I would have given this 3 stars but you can’t misuse the “no shouting FIRE in a crowded theater” SCOTUS line in 2021 and get away with it UPDATE: Review for the Free Beacon is here https://freebeacon.com/culture/reboot...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Leah Hazard

    “System Error” is a remarkable opportunity for the reader to access an incredible teaching team, frankly and entertainingly walking you through some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in the big tech space. Each author (computer scientist, government practitioner, philosopher) brings a unique and complementary perspective to this work – a true testament to the power of writing in teams when done well. From the unique vantage point of Silicon Valley, the authors share firsthand perspecti “System Error” is a remarkable opportunity for the reader to access an incredible teaching team, frankly and entertainingly walking you through some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in the big tech space. Each author (computer scientist, government practitioner, philosopher) brings a unique and complementary perspective to this work – a true testament to the power of writing in teams when done well. From the unique vantage point of Silicon Valley, the authors share firsthand perspective and anecdotes on some of the most pressing subject matters to American democracy today: algorithms, data privacy, free speech, and market regulation of our information ecosystem. Throughout, they offer us probing questions for reflection as both voters and consumers of social media, and a variety of practical, real-world solutions for action. This is a must read for all American citizens interested in the health of democracy (to clarify, that’s everyone!).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I loved this book. The authors explain clearly and without technical jargon how social media and artificial intelligence are impinging on our lives. They also offer potential ways to mitigate these impingements, without coming across as zealots. I had recently read and reviewed an advance reader copy of “Evil Robots” which covered similar material, but I enjoyed “System Error” much more. I recommend “System Error” for anyone who is curious or concerned about where social media and artificial int I loved this book. The authors explain clearly and without technical jargon how social media and artificial intelligence are impinging on our lives. They also offer potential ways to mitigate these impingements, without coming across as zealots. I had recently read and reviewed an advance reader copy of “Evil Robots” which covered similar material, but I enjoyed “System Error” much more. I recommend “System Error” for anyone who is curious or concerned about where social media and artificial intelligence are bringing us. Thank you to Edelweiss and HarperCollins Canada for the advance reader copy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Brown

    Underwhelmed. Lots of pointing at obvious issues and making weak recommendations. I wished it had placed a heavier sense of social responsibility on developers, but it largely seems like the authors see the role of developers as being to simply acquiesce to the regulatory schemes that are always going to be playing catch-up with technological development, rather than proactively avoiding negative externalities. I see measures that they gloss over, like requiring technologists to be licensed to p Underwhelmed. Lots of pointing at obvious issues and making weak recommendations. I wished it had placed a heavier sense of social responsibility on developers, but it largely seems like the authors see the role of developers as being to simply acquiesce to the regulatory schemes that are always going to be playing catch-up with technological development, rather than proactively avoiding negative externalities. I see measures that they gloss over, like requiring technologists to be licensed to practice by the ACM, as being important in shifting the responsibility back towards the proverbial Victor Frankensteins creating AI in the first place, akin to the professional certification requirements for medicine or law. Society is harmed far more by a doctor losing their license than a developer, and the developer almost certainly invests less in education getting to that point, so the rationale for the bar for hackers being lower fades as technology gains prominence in our lives. I think this might be a good pedagogical tool to get computer science students engaged in digital ethics and philosophy. As direction for policymakers, it falls short.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karli

    You know when you're reading a book that you're sad to put down and excited to have time to keep reading? That's what System Error was for me! It's full of accessible and fascinating anecdotes about the tech-driven world we live in, the rise of tech superstars, unsung hackers fighting for public good, and where we fit in as users and consumers and how we can think about the technologies we use everyday. The authors, all Stanford professors, are accessible, empathic, and funny. They break down how You know when you're reading a book that you're sad to put down and excited to have time to keep reading? That's what System Error was for me! It's full of accessible and fascinating anecdotes about the tech-driven world we live in, the rise of tech superstars, unsung hackers fighting for public good, and where we fit in as users and consumers and how we can think about the technologies we use everyday. The authors, all Stanford professors, are accessible, empathic, and funny. They break down how we got here, how start-ups are driven, how computer scientists are taught to think, and how we (regular citizens and consumers, who care about our own privacy, money, democracy, and just general well-being) can think about the power we have in shaping where we go from here. It touches on everything from education, data privacy, free speech, venture capital, equity, access, and much more. Obviously we're living through the rise of the digital economy, where I assumed Big Tech and Venture Capital have all the power, but this book helped me understand that's not the case. While I'm not a computer scientist, academic, or technologist, EVERYONE should read this book about who and how we are building "solutions" to problems and start questioning whether they are actually problems that need to be solved.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I should have known better. It really is no wonder that this book is based on the authors' entry-level US university class. It shows. Every book on this subject coming out of US universities, and I have read so many of them by now, claims to present a unique take on contemporary technology, big tech, and the future of the Internet. However, they are all the same book. This is all you have seen before but even more oversimplified, generalized, and rooted in the certainty that lack of diversity is I should have known better. It really is no wonder that this book is based on the authors' entry-level US university class. It shows. Every book on this subject coming out of US universities, and I have read so many of them by now, claims to present a unique take on contemporary technology, big tech, and the future of the Internet. However, they are all the same book. This is all you have seen before but even more oversimplified, generalized, and rooted in the certainty that lack of diversity is the biggest issue the planet is facing, in spite of the avalanche of complications we find ourselves steeped in. The authors make a thinly veiled attempt at looking as if they are concerned with the global repercussions of the subject they are discussing, but that fades away even faster than in the average work of this genre, and from then on, it’s all about pretending that the US’s situation is the global situation, and promising the reader that their superficial and unsubstantiated answers for these direly complex systemic problems we face are what will set the world free.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Josh Lefkow

    google scary

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kent Winward

    Serviceable overview of how we need to look at Big Tech. One huge gaping hole was what would happen if laws were passed that created individual ownership of their own data. The implications of being able to own and charge for your personal data would really disrupt big tech and represent a huge power shift and it wasn't discussed. Remember that property ownership from land to intellectual property is a government creation. Nothing is stopping a government somewhere from bestowing property rights Serviceable overview of how we need to look at Big Tech. One huge gaping hole was what would happen if laws were passed that created individual ownership of their own data. The implications of being able to own and charge for your personal data would really disrupt big tech and represent a huge power shift and it wasn't discussed. Remember that property ownership from land to intellectual property is a government creation. Nothing is stopping a government somewhere from bestowing property rights for personal data on its citizenry. Nationalize and privatize to the individual the data . . . now there is a disruption.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    I liked Chapter 4 and a bit of 5. Everything else fell short.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ward Hills

    I was looking forward to analysis of online and technology culture, perhaps some insight into the mechanisms and motivations behind how big tech works and evolved. I was particularly looking forward to a treatment of the subject from the three different perspectives of the authors. What I found in this book amounted to a set of rather good introductory lectures about the subject but very little, if any substantial analysis. The authors provide many lists of examples identified any number of pote I was looking forward to analysis of online and technology culture, perhaps some insight into the mechanisms and motivations behind how big tech works and evolved. I was particularly looking forward to a treatment of the subject from the three different perspectives of the authors. What I found in this book amounted to a set of rather good introductory lectures about the subject but very little, if any substantial analysis. The authors provide many lists of examples identified any number of potentially interesting case studies and scenarios. I keep waiting for one to be picked up and examined perhaps in terms of how the preceding industries or media set the ground for the present system, an examination of the circumstances and causations of the players or perhaps a contrast between the “Silicon Valley approach” and that of any other. For example the first part of the book criticises the goal of optimization over considering the socialital impact of a technology; a reasonable position The blame for this is laid at the feet of the technologist and developer. The motivations of developers, their place in the larger organisations in which they are employed, or the financial, regulatory or legal frameworks in which both we and the developers exits are hardly mentioned. An examination of how and why the System was in error would be most welcome. I am a little over half way trough the book so might update my impressions, but at this point the books is an opportunity lost. I am open to other views so if I have missed something or in the later chapters there is more analysis, please do let me know in the comments.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Saleem

    Excellent book, written by Stanford Professors. A quite informative read with tech, ethical and philosophical content. The authors are experts not just academics but people who have worked in the industry and in government. This book explains why it matters and how getting a handle on technology is critical for maintaining our democracy. I loved the insider stories that the authors share from their experiences in Silicon Valley and teaching at Stanford. This book gave me an opportunity to think Excellent book, written by Stanford Professors. A quite informative read with tech, ethical and philosophical content. The authors are experts not just academics but people who have worked in the industry and in government. This book explains why it matters and how getting a handle on technology is critical for maintaining our democracy. I loved the insider stories that the authors share from their experiences in Silicon Valley and teaching at Stanford. This book gave me an opportunity to think in a new way about how technology should and can work to both encourage innovation and protect and include everyone in technological and social progress. Authors' readable style, laying out competing arguments in good faith makes System Error an accessible read and an important contribution to an urgent issue. Highly recommended!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This is a must read for anyone concerned about the effect of AI, Social Media, and other technologies on the future of fundamental rights such as free speech, etc. Well written by a team of Stanford professors, this book is especially applicable to those who work in various tech industries.

  15. 5 out of 5

    sharky

    Good read. Accessible and discusses real problems in a more-than-surface-level way. Enjoyed this.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Muskan Shafat

    Technology is challenging our individual, societal and political frameworks in more ways than we can reflect upon. Here’s a book in which three leading scholars from social scientific, ethical and technological background explain the umbrella issues that we face in the age of information. It is brilliantly written, with case studies from around the world, illustrating issues of Privacy, Misinformation and Over-optimisation. The main argument of the authors is that the capitalistic dominance of t Technology is challenging our individual, societal and political frameworks in more ways than we can reflect upon. Here’s a book in which three leading scholars from social scientific, ethical and technological background explain the umbrella issues that we face in the age of information. It is brilliantly written, with case studies from around the world, illustrating issues of Privacy, Misinformation and Over-optimisation. The main argument of the authors is that the capitalistic dominance of the BigTech is a systemic problem that requires collective action. Among other suggestions, most salient is that for reformation of policies, holding government establishments accountable and educating engineers (in social sciences and ethics) and policy makers in (technological contexts). It is a good read for all citizens interested in understanding the challenges of technology and their role in this new world. But, it is an essential read for those interested in a career at the intersection of technology, society and democracy.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Caveat: I know one of the authors personally. As a 25-year veteran of the tech industry, I can say with confidence that the authors of “System Error” have accurately captured the fundamental mindset of Silicon Valley. I agree wholeheartedly with their diagnoses of the vast impact - much but certainly not all negative - that that mindset has had on our society over the past couple of decades. The fact is, engineering, particularly computer engineering, is all about optimization - the removal of fri Caveat: I know one of the authors personally. As a 25-year veteran of the tech industry, I can say with confidence that the authors of “System Error” have accurately captured the fundamental mindset of Silicon Valley. I agree wholeheartedly with their diagnoses of the vast impact - much but certainly not all negative - that that mindset has had on our society over the past couple of decades. The fact is, engineering, particularly computer engineering, is all about optimization - the removal of friction to decrease cost and improve the speed, scale, and precision of any task in the world, from communications between people to delivering goods and services to making critical decisions from hiring to prison sentencing. The exponential improvements in the speed and power of computing technology have enabled us to optimize these tasks to an almost unimaginable degree. The problem is, all too often we fail to stop and think about what we’re optimizing *for* and why. Optimization is not value-neutral - the choice of a metric or metrics can have vast impacts on society as a whole. Even the best-intended technology solutions can have massive negative impact if the wrong metrics are chosen. Reich, Sahami, and Weinstein don’t offer simple answers to these challenges, because those answers don’t exist. They do, however, paint a clear, accessible picture of how we’ve gotten where we are, and provide some ideas as to how we can improve our situation. Strongly recommended reading for anyone in technology, policy, or anyone else who is concerned with how our society is developing.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nizzen

  19. 4 out of 5

    jen8998

  20. 4 out of 5

    Val Sandberg

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael Bodell

  22. 5 out of 5

    B

  23. 5 out of 5

    Shana Yates

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  26. 5 out of 5

    Johannes Meier

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alfred

  28. 4 out of 5

    Craig Newmark

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tadas Talaikis

  30. 4 out of 5

    Max Darling

  31. 5 out of 5

    Jovany Agathe

  32. 4 out of 5

    Leo

  33. 5 out of 5

    Manda

  34. 5 out of 5

    ALLISON

  35. 4 out of 5

    Juliana

  36. 5 out of 5

    Nick Troccoli

  37. 5 out of 5

    Yash

  38. 4 out of 5

    Nick Mclean

  39. 5 out of 5

    Marianne

  40. 5 out of 5

    Xhulia

  41. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  42. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

  43. 4 out of 5

    Katrin K

  44. 4 out of 5

    Nevona Friedman

  45. 4 out of 5

    Jan

  46. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey Huse

  47. 5 out of 5

    Sonam Jindal

  48. 5 out of 5

    Karthik Rajendran

  49. 4 out of 5

    A

  50. 4 out of 5

    Jackie Chen

  51. 5 out of 5

    Lukas Dufka

  52. 4 out of 5

    Miguel Paraz

  53. 4 out of 5

    Leyan

  54. 5 out of 5

    Melody

  55. 5 out of 5

    Roban Kramer

  56. 4 out of 5

    Zac Yap

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