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Technology 21 Dec 2018

Six books on digital disruption for this holiday season

It’s time for holiday shopping and a bit more free time. The perfect time to recommend several books that help explain the digital revolution and its context.


Books are a Christmas present as classic as ties and perfume. For those who prefer non-fiction reading, here is a selection of new titles to better understand the challenges of the digital economy.

“Digital Renaissance: What Data and Economics Tell Us About the Future of Popular Culture”

In “Digital Renaissance: What Data and Economics Tell Us About the Future of Popular Culture”, the economist and business management expert Joel Waldfogel explains his optimistic theory about the impact of digitization on popular culture. His theory is that digitization has led to the rebirth of cultural industries (music, film, book publishing and television), which benefits consumers - despite the biggest companies in these sectors lamenting their losses and calling for regulatory protection.

Waldfogel’s point of view is not common. He feels that debate on the Internet and culture tends to focus on the impact on producers and companies when the focus should be on consumers - on individuals. Starting from this premise, he maintains that we are in a golden age, marked by the large quantity and high quality of cultural products on the market.

‘AI Superpowers’

Born in Taiwan, trained in computer science at Columbia University  and Carnegie Mellon University and former Chairman of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, author of “AI Superpowers”, is considered one of the world’s top experts in artificial intelligence.

In this essay, the author analyzes the current and future potential of China and U.S. regarding the development of artificial intelligence, based on the nearly unquestionable fact that they are the two giants called to dominate it.

In his opinion, China and the U.S. address technological development in general, and artificial intelligence in particular, from different perspectives. The western giant focuses more on innovation, “creating a totally original product that generates what Steve Jobs called a ‘dent in the universe'.” Meanwhile, China’s approach is more pragmatic. The goal is to make money, and companies will do what it takes to achieve that goal.

Which of the two superpowers will win the battle? Lee writes that the future will reward “the quantity of solid AI engineers over the quality of elite researchers.” It’s about creating an army of experts, and not necessarily made up of outstanding geniuses. China is training that army, explains the author.

In any case, Lee affirms that artificial intelligence can exacerbate global disparities, giving the U.S. and China disproportionate power.

“The Age of Perplexity”

In the “Age of Perplexity” (available for free by clicking on the link), in 20 essays, 23 global experts try to shed light on pressing topics such as the rise of populism, the data era, and the relationship between globalization and the new economy. When faced with doubt, confusion and uncertainty, the best response is knowledge and reflection.

This is the tenth book in BBVA’s collection dedicated to disseminating knowledge on current issues. What started out as a strictly editorial initiative, later became part of BBVA’s OpenMind project - an online community for debate and knowledge sharing for all of society.

“21 Lessons for the 21st Century”

Who hasn’t heard of Yuval Noah Harari by now? The best-selling Israeli historian and philosopher is faithful to his style, but after the smash hits “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus” Harari changes his approach in his new book. While in “Sapiens” he explained humanity’s history starting from the primates, and in “Homo Deus” he focused on the future of the human race, in “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” he addresses current concerns, such as disruptive technologies, immigration, the spread of misinformation, and the crisis of liberal democracies.

“Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”

“How will artificial intelligence affect crime, war, justice, jobs, society and our very sense of being human? Welcome to the most important conversation of our time.” This suggestive promotional text from “3.0 Life” makes it clear from the start that this essay aims to make sense of all aspects of artificial intelligence in order to avoid what the author sees as an increasingly bleak, inequitable future.

Born in Sweden 51 years ago, MIT Professor and Director of the Future of Life Institute in Cambridge (USA), Max Tegmark stresses the importance of the artificial intelligence debate encompassing more than technology. In his opinion, if what is taking place, and what could take place, are not analyzed from a philosophical, economic and psychological perspective, the companies and countries that dominate in artificial intelligence could easily rule the world.

‘Privacy’s Blueprint: The Battle to Control the Design of New Technologies’

Political and legal doctrine should be more aware of the role of design in technology. This is the main thesis of “Privacy’s Blueprint: The Battle to Control the Design of New Technologies”, written by the law and computer science expert Woodrow Hartzog.

Hartzog presents an important paradox: if the design of cars, buildings, and even weapons are regulated, why are there no rules on digital tools that affect privacy, the economy and even personal well-being? In his opinion, “to ignore design is to leave power unchecked.”