Book Bits: 11 Saturday 2021

System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot
Rob Reich, et al.
Excerpt via The Atlantic
After decades of innovation by computer and internet companies unfettered by government regulation, Americans are enjoying the benefits provided by Big Tech—but also contending daily with problems that the industry has ushered in. Even consumers who love their smartphones and Instagram accounts may be concerned about how they siphon up personal data and lure users back with every new alert. While tech platforms help keep people in contact with family and friends, they also rely on opaque algorithms that shape the content we see. Seeing these dynamics, many politicians appear uncertain whether to get cozy with the visionary leaders of Google, Apple, and Facebook—or to campaign against the pollution of the American information ecosystem, the amplification of hate speech and harassment, and the striking concentration of market power among a small number of companies.

The Platform Delusion: Who Wins and Who Loses in the Age of Tech Titans
Jonathan A. Knee
Summary via publisher (Portfolio)
Many think that they understand the secrets to the success of the biggest tech companies: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google. It’s the platform economy, or network effects, or some other magical power that makes their ultimate world domination inevitable. Investment banker and professor Jonathan Knee argues that the truth is much more complicated–but entrepreneurs and investors can understand what makes the giants work, and learn the keys to lasting success in the digital economy.

In Defense of Public Debt
Barry Eichengreen, et al.
Summary via publisher (Oxford U. Press)
Public debts have exploded to levels unprecedented in modern history as governments responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis. Their dramatic rise has prompted apocalyptic warnings about the dangers of heavy debts—about the drag they will place on economic growth and the burden they represent for future generations. In Defense of Public Debt offers a sharp rejoinder to this view, marshaling the entire history of state-issued public debt to demonstrate its usefulness.

The Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology is Transforming Business, Politics and Society
Azeem Azhar
Excerpt via Wired
Moore’s Law amounts to a halving of the underlying cost of computation every couple of years. It means that every ten years, the cost of the processing that can be done by a computer will decline by a factor of 100. But the implications of this process stretch far beyond our personal laptop use. In general, if an organisation needs to do something that uses computation, and that task is too expensive today, it probably won’t be too expensive in a couple of years. For companies, this realisation has deep significance. Organisations that understood this deflation, and planned for it, became well-positioned to take advantage of the Exponential Age.

Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today’s China
Desmond Shum
Review via The Economist
The call from China came in the early morning. Desmond Shum, a former tycoon now living in the West, heard the voice of his ex-wife, Duan Weihong, for the first time in four years. Ms Duan vanished in Beijing in September 2017, shortly after Communist Party anti-corruption investigators came for a patron of hers, a young member of the Politburo once seen as a successor to the supreme leader, President Xi Jinping.

Sludge: What Stops Us from Getting Things Done and What to Do about It
Cass Sunstein
Q&A with author via NPR
Sludge – yuck. Not just the kind that sticks to your shoes – the kind that sticks in your craw, bureaucratic sludge – long forms, long lines, entering the same information over and over, time and again, like the first days of COVID vaccinations when screens would flash back, we’re sorry, try again, try later – or never. In his new book, “Sludge: What Stops Us From Getting Things Done And What To Do About It,” esteemed legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who is also now senior counselor at the Department of Homeland Security, shows how sludge isn’t just a nuisance but can hurt our health, perpetuate poverty, frustrate democracy and cost jobs, scholarships and opportunity. Cass Sunstein, thanks so much for being with us.

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