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Literature 02 Jan 2018

Eleven books about the future and the digital economy

Every day, new applications and software are making our devices more efficient and our society better connected. But if you want to step back and take a wider view of the digital economy and its impact on all aspects of society, these eleven books, all published in recent months, can prove both entertaining and useful.

Future Crimes. More than science fiction, it’s almost a horror story

Throughout its 800 pages, Future Crimes: Inside the Digital Underground and the Battle for Our Connected World (2015)), analyzes all sorts of security risks, both individual and collective, that are the result of new technological tools. In today’s world, it´s possible to print weapons in 3D, use drones for drug trafficking, or hack a person’s pacemaker.

The author, Marc Goodman, is a consultant in cyberterrorism, cybercrime, and online security for the United Nations, NATO and the U.S. government. He paints a dark picture in which able hackers and cybercriminals take advantage of innocent citizens who download questionable apps, inadvertently sell their privacy to giants such as Google , or place too much trust in social media. The worst, he says, is still to come, with cybercriminals possibly invading our homes or even our bodies.

Wild Ride: is Uber going too fast?

Wild Ride: Inside Uber’s Quest for World Domination’ is the story of one of the iconic companies of the digital era. Founded in 2009, the ride-sharing company has become a model of success, so much so that it´s already that´s already a commonplace to say that a startup in any sector will be the new “Uber” of that industry. But there are several dark spots in Uber’s story. Wild Ride delves into them and particularly, into the figure of the company’s polemical founder, Travis Kalanick, whom shareholders managed to remove from management in 2017, at least temporarily, following a series of controversies regarding his behavior and the corporate culture at Uber.

The book’s author, Adam Lashinsky, of Fortune magazine, (which published a lengthy excerpt from the book), had already written a book about Apple several years ago. Lashinsky worked for three months as a driver for Uber, in order to better understand the company. He also interviewed Kalanick for several hours. His conclusion: “Like most creators of large technological companies, he has a complex personality.”

The One Device: the birth of the Iphone, the device that changed the world

From Uber to Apple, or rather, to the Iphone, the device that changed, not only Apple itself, but practically the entire world, by becoming the benchmark smartphone. The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone , Is the story of the launch of the Iphone in 2007, from two points of view: its genesis at Apple and the conditions on its assembly line.

U.S. journalist Brian Merchant tells how the Iphone was born amid obsessive secrecy – even within Apple itself – and fear of Steve Jobs, whom the book describes as a disdainful character: megalomaniac, ruthless and well, fussy. His word was law inside the company and the fear of his reactions caused the first phases of the Iphone to be hidden from him. He only learned about the Iphone when it had already begun to take shape.

Apart from the corporate history, a large part of the book is devoted to the production lines of the Iphone (in China, Bolivia and Kenya), and paints a very negative picture of them.

Move Fast and Break Things: the dark side of Google, Facebook and Amazon

Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy.

The book’s title refers to one of the slogans of the early years of Facebook. The company´s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, asked his employees to do just that: and if they didn’t break things, they weren’t moving fast enough. But times were different then; in 2014, Zuckerberg asked his programmers to take a more prudent attitude, even if it meant losing speed.

Facebook is one of the three protagonists of the book; the other two are Google and Amazon. They comprise a trio of villains in a book defined as a declaration of war by its author, Jonathan Taplin, who had a professional career in the film and music businesses (he was Bob Dylan’s manager and a producer for Martin Scorsese). Taplin’s provocative theory is that Google, Amazon and Facebook have created an oligopoly whose enormous profitability is due in large part to the violation of the economic rights of creative artists. The original purpose of Internet, Taplin writes, “was hijacked by a small group of right-wing radicals for whom the ideas of democracy and decentralization were an anathema.”

It could be that Taplin goes overboard in his assessment of the big three, and he may be motivated by the resentment of someone who saw the industry to which he dedicated his life losing economic muscle because of the emergence of new competitors. Nonetheless, Move Fast and Break Things is worthwhile, because it goes against the grain

Hit Refresh: Microsoft´s new life

Unlike the aforementioned books about iconic companies in the digital economy, ‘Hit Refresh ’won´t satisfy the curiosity of readers looking for the dark side of Microsoft. In fact, it´s just the opposite – a book that Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft since 2014, has written to explain the company´s change in direction.

The author admits that Microsoft lost its way during the past decade, especially with respect to the enormous development of the mobile phone market. Now, the company is trying to make up for lost time by betting on cloud computing and artificial intelligence. However, Hit Refresh: The Quest to Discover Microsoft´s Soul is not just about the company founded by Bill Gates. In it, Nadella also reflects on corporate cultures, peppering his ideas with literary references and parallels with cricket, his favorite sport.

Misbehaving: a Nobel Prize winner explains the origins of behavioral economics

Misbehaving’ is in large part the autobiography of Nobel laureate Richard Thaler, the academic who put behavioral economics on the map. He believes that human beings make mistakes constantly when managing their money, a thesis that invalidates in large part the key tenet of liberalism: that economic agents behave rationally to cover their needs and maximize their benefit, so that outside interference is hardly necessary.

In this book, Thaler one again shows the talent that informed his most famous work, Nudge. He turns an autobiography into a narrative replete with jokes, anecdotes and a good deal of irony. One example is how he describes an academic dispute with the economist Robert Barro: “The difference between our models was that he assumed that the agents in his model were as smart as he was, and I assumed they were as dumb as I am.”

Thank You for Being Late: Welcome to a new world

“When I finished university, I had to find a job, Now, my daughters have to create one for themselves.” Thomas Friedman, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Earth is Flat, thus sums up part of the contemporary anxiety over the impact of digitization. This is one of the major themes of ‘Thank You for Being Late’, an collection of reflections on the new world of disruption, which he defines as “what happens when someone does something intelligent that makes you or your company totally obsolete.”

Friedman reflects, recommends and seeks self-motivation for surviving in new societies that suddenly turn hostile. However, his message is positive, as the subtitle indicates: An optimist´s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations.

Energy and Civilization: a History. The history of civilization is the history of energy

The energy industry is one which hasn´t fully felt the effects of digitization, but there are experts who say that day is drawing near. When it arrives, there will be an enormous change in the way Western societies are organized.

Energy and civilization: a History is excellent reading for those who want put the energy industry, and its imminent disruption, into context. Vaclav Smil, a well-known Czech political analyst and scientist, explains how the improvements in the production and use of energy have been the drivers of human development for the past 10,000 years. As Bill Gates wrote in a passionate recommendation of this book, the history of humanity is one of kings, queens and games of thrones, but it is also the history of energy.

Employees First, Consumers Second: before you look outside, look within

Employees First, Consumers Second is a book about management that will be especially interesting to all those involved in corporate culture and talent.

The book relates the personal experiences of the author, Vineet Nayar, who ran the Indian information technology company HCL Technologies, where he managed to increase revenues six fold, triple the number of employees and double its market capitalization.

When Nayar took over management of the company in 2005, HCL had entered into a modest decline. It was stagnating and required innovation and brilliance. The moral of the story is that many companies have those qualities in their own ranks, but it’s hidden and blocked by internal structures and its very corporate culture. Today Nayer, no longer involved in executive duties, devotes his time to lecturing, publication and philanthropy.

The Great Novel of Mathematics: you like math, you just don´t know it

The list ends with a book and an author that are completely unlike all the others: The Great
Novel of Mathematics: from Prehistory to Our Days
. (Le Grand Roman des Maths: de la
Préhistoire a nous jours). The author, Mickaël Launey, Launey, only 31 years old, is a mathematician
and successful Youtuber. The novel will be published in English in the summer of 2018.

In his YouTube videos, Launey talks about magic, about games, about the enigmas
hidden in mathematics. In his book, he relates his passion for many disciplines: from
the Mesopotamian friezes in the Louvre museum, to the size of a soccer ball. The
Great Novel of Mathematics is an excellent way to renew your interest in a discipline
that is at the root of the technologies that are changing the world.

The Next Step: Exponential Life: what awaits us

Finally, for those who are interested in exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence or robotics, and how they are affecting humanity and society, BBVA’s OpenMind initiative has an interesting offering. Its 2017 book, The Next Step: Exponential Life, examines the potential of these technologies, through a series of chapters written by different renowned scientists, among them Robin Hanson, researcher at the Institute for the Future of Humanity at Oxford; or Ramón López de Mántaras, director of the Institute for the Investigation Artificial Inteligence (IIIA) and professor and researcher at the Spanish National Research Council.

The book can be downloaded for free on the website of BBVA OpenMind, where both authors expound their points of view on these topics. See: https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/books/


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