Must-read books on technology & society in 2020

How to make the most of tech in an AI- and data-driven world? How to ensure that algorithms will benefit us and won’t cause (or amplify) prejudices?

The following books are required reading for everyone. From businesspeople and politicians who seek to understand new tech, to every data scientist, AI developer and tech product manager who is taking part in building the future.

The leitmotiv: we cannot let tech companies and developers alone decide how they collect data, sell it, shape products and design algorithms. Because their decisions affects us all.

Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age
by Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne

Co-written by the president and former chief legal officer of Microsoft, this is a broad overview of the multiple legal and ethical issues surrounding digital technology.

It is also a manifesto for those who build technology to accept greater responsibility for the damage they helped create.

From the digital talent gap in a fast-changing world to inequality in access to broadband and privacy infringements, Tools and Weapons sheds more light on each problem by telling the story from the perspective of a company that – by its own admission – wasn’t always on the right side. Obviously very Microsoft-biased, yet equally very insightful for readers from any background.

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
by Caroline Criado-Perez

How can you optimize conversion rates, maximise profit or make public services more efficient if your survey, app or website data doesn’t acknowledge half of the population? What if all products and services are designed for the average male but ignore the differences of the average female?

In her book, Caroline Criado-Perez reveals how many of today’s existing services and products, especially public ones, have been shaped without taking into account the behaviour and preferences of women.

This has further precipitated bias and helped build a world where men continue to enjoy unfair advantages.

Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech
by Jamie Susskind

We always debate about how much markets and life should be controlled by the state. But what if tomorrow’s political power is in the hands of digital platforms and the big tech corporations that run them?

In essence, Jamie Susskind discusses how power structures have changed because of tech, and how to create new models of accountability for our future society.

The book covers a lot of ground, testing timeless political and moral philosophy concepts against the backdrop of an increasingly digital lifeworld.

No matter what your career or role in society is, you will need to ask: how can I work together with others to ensure that tech benefits everyone and doesn’t worsen our way of life?

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
by Shoshana Zuboff

While Future Politics gives a systemic view of new power structures and dynamics, this massive book goes into detail of how companies and states have been putting those changes into practice.

Worth every page, it is a thorough research and analysis exposing how companies’ have taken (and will take) every opportunity to extract the tiniest bit of data, whether it’s about people’s behaviour, emotions, habits or even biometric information.

Reaching far outside Silicon Valley, Shoshana Zuboff finds “surveillance capitalism” in every segment of the economy and, wearing the hat of a social psychologist, analyses its effects on the mind and mass behaviour.

The analysis also includes a brief overview of how authoritarian regimes implement the same principles in order to maintain power, with the prime example being the People’s Republic of China.

Image credits: the respective book authors and Ben White for the blog image

About Worldacquire
Worldacquire is a political tech firm in London providing digital strategy, advertising and analytics solutions. We managed election campaigns in Hong Kong, contributing to the 2019 landslide pro-democracy victory, and in Thailand, supporting one of the country’s first LGBTQ+ candidates, using technology to cut through electoral red tape. At the United Nations Internet Governance Forum, we called for a fair and balanced regulation of online political advertising and greater transparency of other sources of digital manipulation. We work with governments, think tanks, intergovernmental organizations and social ventures to understand and apply digital technology, A.I. and algorithms effectively and ethically.