Reading list on Digital Humanism including books and other works from worldwide thought leaders.
Here you can find a reading list on Digital Humanism including books, articles, and other works from worldwide thought leaders. Each entry of the list belongs to a category and contains some information about itself.
On This Page
- Introductions and Overview
- Artificial Intelligence, Control, and Decision Making
- Philosophy of Digital Humanism, Technology
- Digital Platforms and Their Power
- Digital Geopolitics and Sovereignty
- Digital Democracy
- Information Technology and the Arts
- Data and Fair Systems
- Systems and Society
- Making Digital Humanism Real
Introductions and Overview
The Vienna Manifesto on Digital Humanism. 2019.
The manifesto is a position statement signed by over 1000 leaders worldwide that lays out the motivation and goals for the Digital Humanism Initiative.
Hannes Werthner, Erich Prem, Edward A. Lee, and Carlo Ghezzi (eds.). Perspectives on Digital Humanism. Springer. 2022.
This book collects 46 perspectives on current issues in digital humanism, a solid introduction in current issues and directions.
Artificial Intelligence, Control, and Decision Making
Stuart Russell. Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control. Penguin Books. 2019.
Russell gives a thoughtful analysis of various predictions for AI, concluding that it is a mistake to assume that superintelligence will not be achieved. The cost to humanity if such an assumption is wrong would be too high. One key insight that Russell points out is that machine learning algorithms that try to predict the responses of people end up changing the people to make them more predictable, fostering extremist positions. Russell proposes measures by which AIs can be designed to be beneficial by construction.
Stuart Armstrong. Smarter Than Us: The Rise of Machine Intelligence. Springer. 2014.
Like Russell, Armstrong states that there are "no convincing reasons to assume computers will remain unable to accomplish anything that humans can." This short book then outlines the extreme difficulty of the problem of constraining the behaviors of AIs to beneficial ones.
Max Tegmark. Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Alfred A. Knopf. 2017.
Tegmark defines life broadly as a "process that can retain its complexity and replicate" and divides life on earth into three stages: Life 1.0: "evolves its hardware and software (biological stage)"; Life 2.0: "evolves its hardware but designs much of its software (cultural stage); Life 3.0: "designs its hardware and software (technological stage)." He defines "intelligence" as the "ability to accomplish complex goals." AI is non-biological intelligence. He also talks about the emergence of "safe AI" in 2015, a new field of research that strives to ensure that the goals of AIs are aligned with those of humans. Tegmark speculates about scenarios that might play out in the future; these are thought provoking and scary, but they really are just speculations, much like those in Bostrom's book, Superintelligence. He assumes that cognition is digital and that consequently our life will spread through the cosmos at the speed of light. He believes there is no other intelligent life out there or it would have spread to here by now.
Nick Bostrom. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Oxford University Press. 2014.
Bostrom argues that machine brains may surpass humans in general intelligence and learn to improve themselves faster than human computer scientists. The result will be a runaway feedback loop and an existential catastrophe for humans, who will be replaced by the machines as the dominant life form on the planet. The book is full of wild and scary speculations.
Roger Penrose. The Emperor’s New Mind. Oxford Landmark Science. 1989.
A highly respected physicist takes on AI.
Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Penguin Books. 2012.
From back cover: The book offers a whole new look at the way our minds work, and how we make decisions. Why is there more chance we'll believe something if it's in a bold type face? The answer lies in the two ways we make choices: fast, intuitive thinking, and slow, rational thinking. This book reveals how our minds are tripped up by error and prejudice (even when we think we are being logical). A must read, not only to understand limitations of machines, but also of humans.
Melanie Mitchell. Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans. Picador. 2019.
The book stresses that computers lack the general intelligence that we, humans, have. The author argues that achieving superintelligence would require that machines acquire commonsense reasoning abilities that are nowhere in sight. The book also contains a worthy historical overview.
Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie. The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect. Basic Books. 2018.
The book explores the subject of causality and causal inference from statistical and philosophical points of view for a “broader” audience. However, it is challenging and requires concentration.
Helga Nowotny. In AI We Trust. Power, Illusion and Control of Predictive Algorithms. Polity Press. 2021.
One of our concerns about the future is whether it will be dominated by the predictive algorithms of AI. At the heart of our trust in AI lies a paradox: we use AI to increase our control over the future and uncertainty, while at the same time the power of AI could make us behave as it predicts – who is then the master of the world.
Kate Crawford. Atlas of AI. Yale Univesity Press. 2021.
Kate Crawford reveals how AI is a technology of extraction: from the minerals drawn from the earth, to the labor pulled from low-wage information workers, to the data taken from every action and expression. This book reveals how this planetary network is fueling a shift toward undemocratic governance and increased inequity. Rather than taking a narrow focus on code and algorithms, Crawford offers us a material and political perspective on what it takes to make AI and how it centralizes power.
Philosophy of Digital Humanism, Technology
Kevin Kelly. What Technology Wants. Penguin Books. 2011.
Poses technology as a new life form that Kelly calls the technium.
James Gleick. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. Pantheon Books. 2011.
A wonderful tour of the concept of information in technology, social sciences, cognitive science, and neuroscience. Gliek assumes that all information can be encoded digitally, with bits, a questionable assumption. Gliek quotes Wheeler, “It from bit” and features Shannon, Weiner, Warren McCullough, and many other key contributors. His essential claim is that the concept of information has morphed and transformed many intellectual disciplines.
Edward Ashford Lee. Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology. MIT Press. 2017.
Lee teases apart the relationships between engineering, science, and mathematics, focusing on their complementary uses of models. He dives deeply into the limitations of computation as a model, arguing that it is far less universal than many technologists think.
Edward Ashford Lee. The Coevolution: The Entwined Futures of Humans and Machines. MIT Press. 2020.
Lee argues that technology development is much less top-down intelligent design and much more coevolution. He uses deep analogies with biological and social evolutionary theories, developing the metaphor of digital artifacts as living things coevolving with humans.
Julian Nida-Rümelin, Nathalie Weidenfeld. Digitaler Humanismus. Piper (in German). 2017.
In the form of a bridge between philosophy and science fiction, this book develops the philosophical foundations of a Digital Humanism, for which the distinction between human thinking, feeling and acting on the one hand and software-controlled, algorithmic processes on the other is central. Using examples from films and philosophical thought experiments, each chapter here analyzes and explains a particular set of issues within the broad framework of digital ethics.
Helen Nissenbaum. Privacy in Context. Stanford University Press. 2009.
Michael D. Birnhack: "[Privacy in Context] takes the privacy discourse several steps ahead. Nissenbaum sets an ambitious goal and accomplishes it in grand fashion. She proposes a detailed framework to better understand privacy issues and assist in prescribing privacy policies that meets the needs of the 21st century . . . The book breaks new paths. It signals the beginning of a new privacy paradigm (an assessment that will be easier judged in hindsight) and is an important contribution to the growing law and technology literature."
Stephanie Hare. Technology is not neutral: A short guide to technology ethics. London Publishing Partnership. 2022.
An excellent introduction to the ethics of technology.
Digital Platforms and Their Power
Shoshana Zuboff. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. PublicAffairs. 2018.
A very dark view of the forces driving our society. Before I read this book, I assumed that the power of Google lay in its amassing of the world’s information. After reading this book, I realize that that preexisting body of information is not the source of power. It is the newly created and much bigger body of information about us humans on earth, our activities, likes, wants, fears, and quirks.A very dark view of the forces driving our society. Before I read this book, I assumed that the power of Google lay in its amassing of the world’s information. After reading this book, I realize that that preexisting body of information is not the source of power. It is the newly created and much bigger body of information about us humans on earth, our activities, likes, wants, fears, and quirks.
Digital Geopolitics and Sovereignty
Kai Strittmatter. We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State. HarperLuxe. 2018.
A scary book giving deep insights into why the Chinese state is doing so well.
Julie Cohen. Between Truth and Power. MIT Press. 2020.
Profound analysis and thinking about the two-way interplay between corporate and government in policy making, building on the ideas of governmentalism of Foucault and ‘law is code’ of Lawrence Lessig.
Lucas Kello. The Virtual Weapon. Yale University Press. 2017.
Presents a very useful way of framing the changes in the international system of states and the resulting sovereignty gap caused by cybersecurity threats (weaponised or not).
Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality. Anchor. 1966.
A classic and still as inspiring as ever, not only because of this central idea but also because of the positioning of this thinking relative to that of earlier leading sociology thinkers.
George Zarkadakis. Cyber Republic. MIT Press. 2020.
A deeply insightful book about how society can restructure itself in the face of the AI-driven Fourth Industrial Revolution. It offers a wealth of ideas for cultural and technological adaptations to strengthen democratic principles, reduce inequality, extend citizen rights, and prepare for new regimes of work and wealth creation.
The National Security Commission on AI, Final Report. 2021.
Explores the relationship between national security and democratic sustainability.
Information Technology and the Arts
James Bridle. The New Dark Age. Der Sieg der Technologie und das Ende der Zukunft. C.H. Beck (in German). 2020.
Peter B. Kaufmann. The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge. Penguin Random House. 2021.
Peter Kaufmann calls for an alliance of the rebels who fight for the freedom of knowledge (against those who think they own knowledge).
Jill Lepore. IF THEN: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future. Liverlight. 2020.
Jill Lepore reminds us that Data science has a past, she does so by telling the story of the small company Simulmatics. The Simulmatics Corporation, founded in 1959, mined data, targeted voters, accelerated news, manipulated consumers, destabilized politics, and disordered knowledge--decades before Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Cambridge Analytica.
Digitale Transformationen. Gesellschaft, Bildung und Arbeit im Umbruch. Die Herausforderungen der digitalen Revolution für unsere Gesellschaft. Brandstätter (in German). 2018.
The book discusses how the technological revolution changes our way to work and live and culture itself. AI, Genetic Engineering and Robotics change culture in a fundamentally different way than any other former technological revolution. The book argues that we need different competences for our digital future and that creativity plays a big part.
Data and Fair Systems
Cathy O'Neil. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Crown. 2016.
This book is about big data, and most particularly about its threats. For example, O'Neil talks about how college rankings come to be what they are and why the formulas do not include the cost. She points out that, as a consequence of the use of data, there is no longer any such thing as a “safety school.”
Veronica Barassi. Child Data Citizen. MIT Press. 2020.
Veronica Barassi examines the construction of children into data subjects, describing how their personal information is collected, archived, sold, and aggregated into unique profiles that can follow them across a lifetime. Children today are the very first generation of citizens to be datafied from before birth, and Barassi points to critical implications for our democratic futures.Barassi draws on a three-year research project with parents in London and Los Angeles, which included the collection of fifty in-depth interviews, a digital ethnography of “sharenting” activities on social media by eight families over the course of eight months, and a two-year exploration of the datafication of her own family. She complements her ethnographic findings with a platform analysis of four social media platforms, ten health tracking apps, four home hubs, and four educational platforms, investigating the privacy policies, business models, and patent applications that enable the mining of children's data. Barassi considers the implications of building a society where data traces are made to speak for and about citizens across a lifetime.
Systems and Society
Dave Eggers. The Every. McSweeney’s. 2021.
What if Amazon and Google became one company? A follow-up novel to his international best-seller The Circle, The Every is a brilliant exploration of the American obsession with efficiency that will also make you laugh until you cry. With a unique eye for the absurd, Eggers ultimately illuminates how human beings cannot be reduced to algorithms unless we allow ourselves to be.
Kai-Fu Lee. AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2018.
This book is a deep dive into the US-China competition over AI. Lee gives many thoughtful reasons why China is likely to win this race.
Kevin Kelly. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. Penguin Books. 2016.
In this book, Kelly talks about how Internet scale never would have been possible top down. He compares TV networks against Internet content creation, positing that by recruiting the users, the latter is swamping the former. He argues that AIs will be distinctly nonhuman intelligences and will turn into multiple intelligence species. While McLuhan noted that tools are extensions of ourselves, Kelly notes that the cloud is an extension of our souls. Citing the "adhocracy" of Wikipedia, he observes that we don't need much top-down design to get fantastic outcomes. We only need a little.
Yuval Noah Harari. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. HarperCollins. 2017.
This is an iconoclastic book that pulls no punches. Harari talks about "humanism," valuing the individual over alternatives like the collective, gods, nations, etc., as the central governing philosophy of today. He confronts how technology changes are affecting this culture, stating that "humans are in danger of losing their economic value because intelligence is decoupling from consciousness." He talks about "dataism" as an emerging "data religion".
George Dyson. Turing's Cathedral. Pantheon Books. 2012.
Dyson tells the story of John von Neumann and the early days of computing. Dyson is a great storyteller, and book is full of wonderful insights and vignettes. Dyson develops the idea of software technology coevolving with humans.
Making Digital Humanism Real
Ben Shneiderman. Human-Centered AI. Oxford University Press. 2022.
The focus is on the opportunities of AI, and how it presents and how to exploit them. The author also puts forward 15 recommendations about how to implement human-centered AI, and how to bridge the gap between ethical considerations and practical realities to make successful, reliable systems.