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The Big Answer


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The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us

a book by Nicholas Carr

(our site's book review)

Nicholas Carr Explores the Impact of Automation from a Deeply Human Perspective

The Amazon blurb says that: At once a celebration of technology and a warning about its misuse, The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us will change the way you think about the tools you use every day.

In The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us, best-selling author Nicholas Carr digs behind the headlines about factory robots and self-driving cars, wearable computers and digitized medicine, as he explores the hidden costs of granting software dominion over our work and our leisure. Even as they bring ease to our lives, these programs are stealing something essential from us.

Drawing on psychological and neurological studies that underscore how tightly people’s happiness and satisfaction are tied to performing hard work in the real world, Carr reveals something we already suspect: shifting our attention to computer screens can leave us disengaged and discontented.

From nineteenth-century textile mills to the cockpits of modern jets, from the frozen hunting grounds of Inuit tribes to the sterile landscapes of GPS maps, The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us explores the impact of automation from a deeply human perspective, examining the personal as well as the economic consequences of our growing dependence on computers.

With a characteristic blend of history and philosophy, poetry and science, Carr takes us on a journey from the work and early theory of Adam Smith and Alfred North Whitehead to the latest research into human attention, memory, and happiness, culminating in a moving meditation on how we can use technology to expand the human experience. Carr's books suggest moral restraint on future development with a well-timed and well-placed "what-if?"

From nineteenth-century textile mills to the cockpits of modern jets, The Glass Cage explores the impact of automation
From nineteenth-century textile mills to the cockpits of modern jets, The Glass Cage explores the impact of automation

“Artificial intelligence has that name for a reason—it isn’t natural, it isn’t human. As Nicholas Carr argues so gracefully and convincingly in this important, insightful book, it is time for people to regain the art of thinking. It is time to invent a world where machines are subservient to the needs and wishes of humanity.”—Don Norman, author of Things that Make Us Smart and Design of Everyday Things, director of the University of California San Diego Design Lab

“Most of us, myself included, are too busy tweeting to notice our march into technological dehumanization. Nicholas Carr applies the brakes for us (and our self-driving cars).”—Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure

Facebook and Twitter icons
Facebook and Twitter icons

The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us is a worthy antidote to the relentlessly hopeful futurism of Google, TED Talks and Walt Disney… The same way no popular conversation on cloning can be had without bringing to mind Michael Crichton's techno-jeremiad Jurassic Park, Carr's book is positioned to stake out similar ground: To suggest moral restraint on future development with a well-timed and well-placed ‘what-if?'”—James Janega, Chicago Tribune

Carr's previous book, The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us, examines the personal, social, and economic consequences of our growing dependence on computers and robots to do our jobs and live our lives. The New York Times called the book "essential," and the Wall Street Journal termed it "elegant."


Our Brains—Use Them or Lose Them

If we don’t use our brains, we lose our brains, leading to the brain itself atrophying and dying. This sadly, is a lifestyle factor that will lead to dementia, unless we make the choice to stop it and reverse it. We already are more impacted than we realize. But it is not too late for us to put our lives and our brains back on manual and let automation serve us in ways that don’t jeopardize the health of this wonderful brain we’ve been blessed with. (Source: Book Review of “The Glass Cage” by Nicholas Carr, Sandra Ross, Going Gentle Into That Good Night)

The internet is famous for getting us addicted to distractions until we cease thinking our own thoughts, lazily letting blogs and posts do our 'thinking'
The internet is famous for getting us addicted to distractions until we cease thinking our own thoughts, lazily letting blogs and posts do our 'thinking'

Carr reminds us of the CDC report of the recent rise of deaths of White middle-aged Americans that are due to such things as suicide, depression, alcoholism, and opioid addiction, and he attributes some of these things to confronting the glass cage of technology. Future Shock is here.

Depression as well as family and friend problems are leading causes of suicide
Depression as well as family and friend problems are leading causes of suicide

Over-Reliance on Computers Renders Our Intelligence Flattened and Crippled

The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us expands the arguments in Carr's groundbreaking book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, which was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. A New York Times bestseller, The Shallows spotlights the cognitive consequences of Internet and computer use and, more broadly, examines the role that media and other technologies have played in shaping the way people think.

Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains and Is Google Making Us Stupid? which noted that "That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy (in 2001): as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence."

HAL9000 Case
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave"—Kubrick’s dark prophecy (in 2001): as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence, so we need to avoid AI that controls in favor of AI that informs

Carr discusses the science and psychology of what we claim to find fulfilling, such as leisure time free of any objectives (most TV watching, Facebook surfing, reading clickbait articles), and what actually fulfills us, such as work, creativity, and projects that challenge us. Our take on the book is that it is a healthy and overdue warning that automation can deprive our brains of a healthy and much needed workout, thereby rendering our brains weaker and less capable and less ready when crisis arises. This weakness, normally unnoticed, can prove to be life threatening under emergency conditions which demand heightened awareness, skills and responsiveness. Carr's conclusons are all based on solid scientific research.

Carr discusses the science and psychology of what we claim to find fulfilling, such as leisure time free of any objectives (i.e., most TV watching) and actually fulfilling pursuits
Carr discusses the science and psychology of what we claim to find fulfilling, such as leisure time free of any objectives (i.e., most TV watching) and actually fulfilling pursuits

We Predict Many Accidents and Deaths from Over-Reliance on Automation in Self-Driving Cars or Airplanes

Think about the trillions of emergency situations that can arise as we drive our cars. Would a machine called a self driving car be able to perceive and evaluate and respond as appropriately as we could? For easier and less complex situations, probably. But what about an unusual emergency not in its programming? Would we end up as dead crash-test dummies because of automation's limitations? We'd prefer to be in control of our cars since computers get glitches, can be hacked, can have programming errors, and can get confused when confronted with novel situations. We'd rather be responsible for our fate than trust it to Google engineers. Our best guess is that it will take a few well publicized disasters until we realize how foolish it is to mix human controlled and automated control on the same highways. Thanks but no thanks, fellas! A more feasible and exponentially more safe idea is self driving cars that have their own roads, since if they merely had their own lanes—like bus or carpool lanes—the human-robot mixture could still be unpredictable and deadly.

Waymo self-driving car front view.gk
Waymo self-driving car: we say thanks but no thanks

The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us exposes the fallacy of the myth of automation which assumes that more automation is always better than less. Carr embraces technology and automation but he calls for intelligent design rather than automating everything thing we can just because it is possible. The current automation strategies actually impair the human's ability to perform that function, rendering him less in control and less ready to take charge and less responsible. If we train humans to be worse at things to please our Google masters, it will end up biting us in the ass.


Computers as Well as Google's Search Algorithm Are Idiot Savants, Good Only at One Thing and Stupid at Everything Else (Like Determining Truth, in Google's Case)

As Tim Lukeman says, "For many people, especially younger ones born into the digital age and never knowing anything else, there's no reason to learn a vast array of knowledge and incorporate it into life, since you can simply Google it. Such people believe that the device is always better and smarter than a mere fallible human being—and they're superficially right, but ultimately wrong. Every digital device is essentially an idiot savant, far more efficient at its specific skill than most human beings, but utterly unable to go beyond its own extremely narrow parameters. A device can't make the leaps of inspiration and connection that a human mind can—particularly a complex, well-educated and experienced human mind."

To support the case that Google is an idiot savant, utterly unable to go beyond its own extremely narrow parameters, let us examine what the big G has been up to since last summer. They threw progressive sites out of their index! Does this violent and braindead insult to democracy, journalism and free speech seem like the act of the entity with the most information and data and knowledge in history or the act of an idiot savant (a person who is considered to be mentally handicapped but displays brilliance in a specific area, especially one involving memory or in Google's case, a humongous database of indexed sites)? Easy—the answer is an idiot savant. Because all this "knowledge" has not been integrated into an intellectual whole representing meaning or wisdom, it represents just a heck of a lot of ones and zeros stored on hard drive servers—a lot of computer storage of bits and bytes, a data-tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing, to paraphrase Macbeth, a tragedy by William Shakespeare.

It's official: Google's only savant talent is the science and practice of running a search engine. Other than that, their database truly is a data-tale told by an idiot. But the worst aspect of all this is that they've become so egotistical (because they're so rich) that they tell themselves they're smart at not just search but everything else, including differentiating truth, wisdom, and worthiness from lies, stupidity and fake news—which most humans, it has been shown, cannot reliably do. As you'll see below, having the big G as arbiters of truth has failed in the worst ways possible—by threatening democracy, freedom, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech! Read on:


Google's Threat to Democracy Has Hit AlterNet and Other Progressive News Sites Hard

"Google's Threat to Democracy Hits AlterNet Hard. In late June, Google introduced a new algorithm aimed to fight fake news. It sounded like a good idea—until it became clear that Google was targeting progressive news sites that are fighting racism and fake news. Many progressive sites were hit, but none more than AlterNet, which lost 2.4 million readers this summer, compared with the past two-and-a-half years. That's a lot of lost impact." Please DONATE to this wonderful site before democracy, freedom, freedom of the press, privacy, and rights all go the way of the dinosaur (an extinct reptile).

Please support progressive and alternative websites, blogs, and news sites before freedom, democracy, and rights all go the way of the dinosaur
Please support progressive and alternative websites, blogs, and news sites before freedom, democracy, and rights all go the way of the dinosaur

It would help a lot if Google got letters and calls explaining that Alternet.org has the realest news in the U.S. and that fake news most often comes from the mainstream media or actual fake news sites built in Second or Third World countries (e.g., Macedonia) to exploit Google for money, and not from progressive sites like AlterNet.org. Tell them that opinions unpopular with the mainstream media are MORE likely to be real news than those expressed on the mainstream media, which consistently sells out to untrue establishment propaganda generated by greedy, misguided neocons. Alternet.org news is as real and worthy as it gets, and the people at Google need to readjust their algorithm on an emergency basis! Alternet.org (and The Big Answer) does more to protect our democracy, freedom, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, privacy, and rights than all the mainstream media sites put together.


Google, Shockingly, Doesn't Understand How Journalism or Democracy Work

Google is a monopoly on steroids. They don't understand how journalism works. The true "watchdogs of democracy" will often express unpopular opinions that go against the government's party line. THIS MEANS THEY ARE DOING THEIR JOB, Google! As most of us know, the Kochs are spending huge fortunes to push climate denialism and Trump played right into their hands. So will this mean that Google will begin de-indexing environmentalism sites as fake news because Big Money is pressuring them to do so? Only denialism sites are real news and all else is fake news?! That is what will happen if Google keeps using their algorithm in its current biased, naive, reductionistic form to censor sites not oligarch-approved.

Cheney said stuff like Iraq has WMDs so let's go over and attack them, unprovoked. Let's start a war or they'll build nukes and soon there will be mushroom clouds over Manhattan!
Cheney said stuff like Iraq has WMDs so let's go over and attack them, unprovoked. Let's start a war or they'll build nukes and soon there will be mushroom clouds over Manhattan!

They really need to dump the ridiculous idea that non-mainstream opinions and unpopular opinions are fake news! Google, would you like a perfect example of fake news? "Iraq has WMDs so let's go over and attack them, unprovoked. Let's start a war or they'll build nukes and soon there will be mushroom clouds over Manhattan!" THAT, Google, is the truly fake news your algorithms need to catch. Or "Hillary is running sex rings from pizza parlors." That's another example. Please stop penalizing great sites like Alternet.org for doing what the mainstream media often just won't do—tell the truth in the post-truth era!

Googleplex-Patio-Aug-2014The Googleplex—Google's headquarters

Google is tromping on free speech and democratic dialog by killing off NON-mainstream positions. If Google doesn't believe in democracy—which utterly depends on a free press that expresses both popular AND UNPOPULAR social, cultural, and political positions to remain viable—then what DO they believe in? Google, please tell us all what your alternative is to a vibrant democracy where people are free to discuss whatever they want and blog about NON-mainstream political positions. Honest—we'd all love to hear it—and if the Founders were still alive, they'd like to hear it too. Note that when fascism occurs or 1984 begins or the rest of our rights disappear and we hear stormtroopers approaching our houses like in 1930s Germany, Google will have been one of the causes, since when democratic freedoms disappear, fascism will be quick to fill the void and Google's radical rightwing purge of progressive websites is the first carpet-bombing on their war on freedom and democracy. Nature abhors a vacuum. Political vacuums never persist.

Google, we and the Founders would love to hear what your alternative is to a vibrant democracy where people are free to discuss whatever they want and blog about NON-mainstream political positions
Google, we and the Founders would love to hear what your alternative is to a vibrant democracy where people are free to discuss whatever they want and blog about NON-mainstream political positions

We Keep Hoping Google Has More Love of Country Than to Dump Their Support for Democracy

Let's see: in 2016 Google is a search engine. In 2017 Trump assumes the Presidency, and he hates progressive positions and freedom of the press—he even threatens the press, among others. In mid-2017 Google becomes a propaganda engine since without the progressive sites it dumped from its indexes at that time, Google is no longer neutral as they claim—they're pushing a point of view, using their power to keep people from learning about non-mainstream points of view, censoring our news like in 1930s Germany when fascism dominated information distribution. Google pretended that dumping progressive or alternative opinions was related to dumping "fake news," which is a baldfaced lie and they know it. Google doesn't seem to realize that the only hope the U.S. has to stay a free country is if we have access to not just mainstream CW (conventional "wisdom"), but also progressive and alternative points of view. Every high school civics and American history student knows these things—why doesn't Google? How in the world did a huge entity—Google—end up cowering in fear before a small insignificent entity—Trump—and then dumping the progressive sites incompatible with Trump's radical rightwing views? The whole thing seems like the launch of a fascist takeover of the U.S. but we keep hoping Google has more love of country than that, like we do. What gives, Google?

The whole thing seems like the launch of a fascist takeover of the U.S. but we keep hoping Google has more love of country than that, like we do. What gives, Google?
The whole thing seems like the launch of a fascist takeover of the U.S. but we keep hoping Google has more love of country than that, like we do. What gives, Google?

"The Internet, we’ve often been told, is a force for 'democratization,' and what we’ve seen so far with the coverage of the 2016 race seems to prove the point. It’s worth asking, though, what kind of democracy is being promoted," writes Carr in 2015, in How Social Media Is Ruining Politics. He had no idea Trump would actually win and Google would feel obliged to abandon democracy-enhancing objective searching to a new stance of democracy-shrinking by running a propaganda engine that left out progressive viewpoints. Carr noticed that "What Trump understands is that the best way to dominate the online discussion is not to inform but to provoke." Apparently Google was provoked in a way that played right into Trump's hands. By demonizing the media, he used the demagogue’s oldest tactic, and it worked (like it did in 1930s Germany)—and apparently persuaded Google to come to heel. Maybe they needed his support in various internet legislation so they sold out democracy for Google-favoring legislative support. All of which boils down to the root of all evil: money, greed, wealth, and power. See Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.


The Internet Isn't Expanding Most Minds—It's Hardening and Constricting Them

More insights from Tim Lukeman: [in searching with Google in the digital age,] "You don't have to see or hear anything you don't already agree with; you increasingly self-segregate among like-minded people, existing inside a mirrored bubble that reflects only you. Add to that the usual uses of the digital device—pop culture trivia, cute viral videos, endless porn, etc.—and it turns out that very few people are actually expanding their knowledge and experience."

No wonder politicians solipsistically and increasingly self-segregate among like-minded people, existing inside a mirrored bubble and all sounding the same—they live in the Beltway Bubble
No wonder politicians solipsistically and increasingly self-segregate among like-minded people, existing inside a mirrored bubble and all sounding the same—they live in the Beltway Bubble, and their minds are constricting in their suffocatingly tiny bubble, not expanding, which explains why positions harden and compromise vanishes

More from Lukeman, referring to a sci-fi story by the wonderful mind of John Campbell, who shaped the Golden Age of Science Fiction: " . . . in the far future, technological supremacy has made human life perfect, with every need and desire attended to with a mere thought ... but curiosity, active intelligence, and genuine quality of inner life have long since vanished. It's precisely this sort of future that Carr is warning us against, by reminding us that our bargain with technology may well be a Faustian one in which we gladly surrender what makes us truly human, all for the sake of shiny distractions. We already let devices do much of our remembering and even thinking for us—how long before we let them do our feeling for us as well?" Note: a Faustian Bargain is an agreement in which a person abandons his or her spiritual values or moral principles in order to obtain wealth or other benefits.

Carr is warning us against technological overdependence, by reminding us that our bargain with technology may well be a Faustian one in which we gladly surrender what makes us truly human as we run off to chase shiny objects
Carr is warning us against technological overdependence, by reminding us that our bargain with technology may well be a Faustian one in which we gladly surrender what makes us truly human as we run off to chase shiny objects

Or as Rod Serling of Twilight Zone might have said: "We’re hurtling down a one-way road toward technological supremacy at mind-boggling speeds in a self-driving car, and the terrain is getting more treacherous by the minute, and we’ve passed all the exit ramps. From this point forward, there is no turning back, and the signpost ahead reads 'Danger.'"

Rod Serling
Rod Serling

Carr Looks at Both the Pro-Automation Side and the Anti-Automation Side

We all know what we gain with automation, but few people but Carr are looking at what we're losing. Carr's point is that we can use both technology and automation more intelligently if we are aware of what we are giving up to get all the speed, efficiency, and the convenience of automation. Seeing both the pro-automation side and the anti-automation side can help us decide how we want to use technology and automation in our lives. Carr's book is a must read for those trying to judge technology and automation.

Look out—computers and robots are taking over! Watch out:

New technologies will replace labor in the manufacturing, service, and professional sectors of an economy that is already struggling:

robot-maid
robot-maid


robot-grocery-checker
robot-grocery-checker


robot-businessman
robot-businessman


robot-cop
robot-cop


robot-driver
robot-driver


robot-soldier
robot-soldier


robot-photographer
robot-photographer


robot-entertainer
robot-entertainer


robot-mover
robot-mover


robot-secretary
robot-secretary


robot-waiter
robot-waiter


robot-doctor
robot-doctor


robot-artist
robot-artist


robot-barber
robot-barber


robot-hairdresser
robot-hairdresser


robot-shoeshiner
robot-shoeshiner


robot-caregiving
robot-caregiving


robot-dogwalker
robot-dogwalker


robot-construction
robot-construction


robot-musician
robot-musician


robot-bartender
robot-bartender


robot-janitorial
robot-janitorial


robot-maintenance
robot-maintenance


robot-industry
robot-industry


robot-office
robot-office


robot-fireman
robot-fireman


And of course: Roxxxy the sex robot is emblematic of a larger danger, in which the prevalence of robots makes us unwilling to put in the work required by real human relationships. Roxxxy is a $7,000 to $9,000 talking sex robot that comes preloaded with six different girlfriend personalities, from Frigid Farrah to Wild Wendy, Young Yoko, or S&M Susan. Whatever floats your boat and blows your hair back.




Noam Chomsky Warns Us That Digital Technology Can Lead to Grim Dystopia in the Hands of Concentrated Economic and Political Power

“Digital technology is a reality that will lead to grim dystopia in the hands of concentrated economic and political power, but can also move us toward 'utopian dreams' in the hands of an informed and engaged public.”—Noam Chomsky

Carr notes that automation opens up the possibility of surveillance and manipulation. See:

Google, Facebook, the government, and tracking companies are all watching you and they know all your secrets, and these Big Brothers are invasive, not brotherly
Google, Facebook, the government, and tracking companies are all watching you and they know all your secrets, and these Big Brothers are invasive, not brotherly

". . . we are disembodying ourselves, removing ourselves from the world, living via screens and interfaces, and losing touch with many of the things that make us human . . . Who is it serving, this new technology, asks Carr. Us? Or the companies that make billions from it? [Google] What will it mean when warfare, as seems ever more likely, is automated? When casualties are no longer a reason not to go to war? Carr doesn’t go there but it’s hard not to read the chapter on lethal autonomous robots – technology that already exists – without thinking of the perpetual warfare of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four." (Source: The Glass Cage: Where Automation Is Taking Us review – on course for disaster, Carole Cadwalladr)

Carr dedicates one chapter to drones, particularly military drones that could in the future make decisions about killing people and its ethical implications. (Right now, military drones like the Predator Drone are not autonomous, but rather remote-controlled.) Once they're autonomous, we are all in deep doodoo! Drone murder may occur if you have a taqiyah on your head and you are acting stealthy, or because you happen to resemble a terrorist, or because you are carrying a smart phone once owned by a terrorist (which has already happened multiple times).

Hellfire Missile fired from a Predator Drone
Hellfire Missile fired from a Predator Drone

Nicholas Carr provides several examples of how technology has removed the human element from several differing occupations. And community has been dehumanized as well, with countless people unsuccessfully trying to substitute cybercommunity in place of real irl f2f community. See Why Do We Need Communities?.

Carr's book is a big "what-if" about automation weakening skills and minds until we are addicted to computers to a dystopian degree. Idiocracy is a cult favorite sci-fi movie by Mike Judge of Beavis and Butt-head fame (heh heh heh heh heh heh) as well as Silicon Valley and King of the Hill. The film tells the story of two people who take part in a top-secret military human hibernation experiment, only to awaken 500 years later in a dystopian society where advertising, commercialism, and cultural anti-intellectualism have run rampant, and which is devoid of intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, and coherent notions of justice and human rights. The idea of a dystopian society based on dysgenics is not new. H. G. Wells' The Time Machine postulates a devolved society of humans, as does the short story "The Marching Morons" by Cyril M. Kornbluth, akin to the "Epsilon-minus Semi-Morons" of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Idiocracy predicts the dumbing of America, while Carr seriously warns of it, stopping short of predicting it
Idiocracy predicts the dumbing of America, while Carr seriously warns of it, stopping short of predicting it

During the 2016 presidential primaries, writer Etan Cohen and others expressed opinions that the Idiocracy's predictions were converging on accuracy, which, during the general election, director Mike Judge also said. At the time, Judge also compared Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump—who later won and became President of the United States—to the movie's dim-witted wrestler-turned-president, Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. When asked about predicting the future, Judge remarked, "I'm no prophet, I was off by 490 years."

The Trump presidency represents the results we've gotten from the dumbing of America
The Trump presidency represents the results we've gotten from the dumbing of America


Evolution has been going in reverse for the last few years—look where we may end up, and then read not just Carr's books but the reviews on this website as well
Evolution has been going in reverse for the last few years—look where we may end up, and then read not just Carr's books but the reviews on this website as well