Book review Seasoned industry watchers will welcome Your Computer Is on Fire as a thorough and unflinching debunking of Big Tech’s outlandish self-mythologising. They might even hope that governments, business, and the media organisations who buy into the barrage of propaganda start to ask a few important questions. But there are limits to this niche text that is at times prone to academic navel-gazing.
In the 1990s, despite the outward differences between the industry big guns, the background hum was the same. The internet offered opportunity for all, ecommerce could lead to frictionless economics, software made people more productive, and companies more competitive. Such delusions survived the dotcom crash and financial crisis then re-emerged in the early days of social media as the Arab Spring became a use case for the positive impact of Twitter and Facebook. Together with that movement’s difficult development, the nefarious exploitation of social media user data that contributed to the election of US presidential regime with ever-so-slightly insurrectionist tendencies should have given pause for thought.
It’s a wonder, then, that tech industry propaganda has barely shifted. Instead, it’s a case of different tech, same tune. Last month, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the BBC that AI would be the “most profound technology” that humanity will ever develop. Similarly, UK Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez adopted industry language when she said that “now, more than ever, digital must be front and centre of government’s priorities to meet user needs.”