BOOK REVIEW: With “No One at the Wheel”, the rich can steal the roads from us—if we let them

Autonomous vehicles, or AVs, will be the most disruptive technology to hit society worldwide since the advent of the motorcar.

This pronouncement by the team of journalist Karen Kelly and former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz is the sort of boilerplate futurism you’ll find written about any new technology.

Likewise, the very next statement could almost be chalked up to typical hyperbole: “Some futurists and policy experts even talk about driving being banned on some or all roads.”

What sets No One At The Wheel: Driverless Cars and the Road of the Future apart from that sort of replacement-level schlock isn’t where it looks forward, then, but for how it looks backward to show how a similar process already happened.

A century ago, the original grand theft auto was letting the car industry steal the roads from pedestrians and non-motorized traffic. Soon, driverless industries will be in a position to take the roads from the public entirely.

But only if we let them.

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BOOK REVIEW: In the future of “Unscaled”, AI will keep the rich different from you and me

“The rich are different from you and me.”

“Yes, they have more money.”

No exchange like that between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway ever took place, but it’s a lot more fun to imagine that it did. The initially curt put-down contains within it the germ of a much more intense concurrence the more you think about it.

Unscaled by Hemant Taneja, or “How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future” manages to embody both readings of that exchange.

The multimillionaire venture capitalist’s book often reads like a literal vanity-press product, talking of its subjects as an excuse to brag about all of the occasions Taneja’s investments thus far have paid off. That includes investments you’ve heard of like the temporary-messages app Snapchat as well as those you probably haven’t, like the “consumer digital health company“, Livongo.

In that way, the experience of reading Unscaled is very much like anyone who’s ever been cornered at a house party by someone you’ve just met, quite sure everything they do will be as interesting for you to hear as it clearly is for them to recount.

But, the rich are different from you and me, and what interests Taneja versus what does not is almost like reading an alien species talk about the implications of technology for the future.

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BOOK REVIEW: “Activism, Inc.” and the sin of ideals procrastinated

There’s never a good time to tell people about how their sausages are made, but Dana R. Fisher’s “Activism, Inc.” came out at just about the worst time possible for its message to be heard.

Part research, part hunchy anecdote, this short work is largely a post-mortem on the failures of paid, third-party canvassing operations, especially as connected to the Democratic Party and progressive Left that used them during the 2004 Presidential Election between John Kerry and George W. Bush.

Democrats relied on paid—but still highly intrinsically motivated—mostly young canvassers working out of temporary offices around the country to mobilize voters quickly. Meanwhile, Republicans tapped more permanent civic institutions for mobilizations, such as white evangelical churches.

For Democrats, Fisher concludes, “very few enduring connections remain at the local level after campaigns are concluded that can be used in the next campaign cycle”. Unlike volunteers, people who rely on wages to do election work can’t be expected to show up when the money isn’t there.

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BOOK REVIEW: Christian Davenport, for one, welcomes our new “Space Barons”

The Space Barons is the longest and best-written press release I’ve ever read.

When, in the ending acknowledgment, author Christian Davenport thanked the billionaires so gracious with their time, including his own ultimate boss at the Washington Post, Jeff Bezos, it became much clearer how such a long work of this genre had come about and my disappointment resolved itself into a numb acceptance.

The title the publisher chose promised a very different sort of book, more critical and honestly probing than an employee can reasonably be expected to write of their employer while maintaining employment. In a world where journalism continues to desiccate because its lifeblood is disappearing into the distended bellies of Facebook and Google, all journalism resembles tech journalism.

“Oh Golly wow! Which public-private space company is going to be the neatest going forward?” is about as much as a person could reasonably ask for, and the competing book Rocket Billionaires by Tim Fernholz stole the more serviceable title and likely the original pitch.

However, the title I had was The Space Barons, and I was not prepared for the sincerely fawning devotion to a cyberpunk dystopia that I discovered myself to be reading.

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