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10 things we read during the break

Web Foundation · January 3, 2017

After a welcome break we’re rested and ready for a strong start to 2017. As well as giving space for reflection and relaxation, the holiday was a chance to catch up with the reading we didn’t get to in the final busy months of last year.

We asked our team for their holiday reads, and here’s what they shared:

 

Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O’Neil

O’Neil’s book looks at how algorithms are shaping our lives. Increasingly, computer models are used to take decisions in areas as varied as granting parole to prisoners, evaluating borrowers for loans, and hiring workers. Rather than making these decisions fairer, O’Neil argues that opaque, unregulated models perpetuate bias and can lead to troubling, often discriminatory, outcomes.

 

Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari

In the follow-up to Sapiens – his brief history of humanity – Harari looks to the future. The book speculates about how society will deal with powerful technological innovation, such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, workplace automation, and omnipresent algorithms. We don’t yet know how it ends (no spoilers).

 

The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring human rights, gender violence and sex trafficking, by Sally Engle Merry

In this book anthropologist Sally Engle Merry asks fundamental questions about the limits of measurement and our desire to understand complex social phenomena using neat indicators and categories. She argues that for such indicators to be effective, they must be contextualised with deep on-the-ground knowledge.

 

What Works: Gender equality by design, by Iris Bohnet

Iris Bohnet calls for a new approach in tackling gender bias. Borrowing from behavioural psychology, she argues that rather than trying to change behaviour directly at an individual level, we should focus on de-biasing organisations, making effective changes in the environments in which individuals operate.

 

10 Years of Take Back the Tech

This series of reflections marks a decade of Take Back the Tech, a campaign to fight gender-based violence online and make the internet a safe and empowering space for women. These stories give a taste of the action and progress the campaign has made in the past 10 years.

 

From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What you really need to know about the Internet, by John Naughton

Naughton tries to help us understand the internet by taking the long view, comparing the relatively new technology with Gutenberg’s world-changing printing press. Though a few years old, the ideas in this book remain highly relevant in 2017.

 

Limits to Growth: At our doorstep, but not recognized, by Gail Tverberg

In this article Tvarberg revisits Donella Meadows’ 1972 classic, The Limits to Growth, arguing the book was correct in predicting that global economic growth would collapse in the first half of the 21st century.

 

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene fortune and random failure in Silicon Valley, by Antonio García Martinez

This book by former Facebook employee and ad tech founder offers an insider view of corporate and social culture at some of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious institutions. García suggests that despite its worthy pretensions, the tech industry is no better (or worse) than the rest of corporate America.

 

Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence, US National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Technology

This US Government report surveys the current state of AI and examines its potential applications. The report considers regulatory and policy implications as well as the social, economic and political risks and opportunities that artificial intelligence presents.

 

Wonderland: How play made the modern world, by Steven Johnson

How does change happen? This is the question Johnson tackles, arguing that technological innovation is not driven only by the usual suspects like war and commercial venture, but also by the pursuit of novelty and amusement, which he simply calls, play.

Happy reading, and all the best for 2017!

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  1. Christine

    January 3, 2017

    I think y'all should've read some lighter books over your break! That's some heavy stuff!

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