cover image The Handover: How We Gave Control over Our Lives to Corporations, States and AIs

The Handover: How We Gave Control over Our Lives to Corporations, States and AIs

David Runciman. Liveright, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-631-49694-3

Artificial intelligence promises to extend the mechanical and impersonal character of life that states and corporations already impose on society, according to this searching meditation on creeping dehumanization. Cambridge University political scientist Runciman (How Democracy Ends) focuses on the rise from the 17th century onward of modern states and corporations that aggregate ordinary people into grand, machine-like “artificial persons” with superhuman capacities: these complex systems can pursue projects and purposes that outlive humans, and process vast amounts of data and make decisions that would befuddle or stymie individuals. At their best, such systems make life safe, predictable, and comfortable—and at their worst, they start world wars and wreak havoc on the environment. Later chapters survey the upheavals that might stem from advances in AI, including human obsolescence and killer robots. Runciman’s approach to these issues is less technological than social and psychological, and gets at a profound truth about hypermodernity: that it’s not about the replacement of humans by digital technology, but a submergence of individuality in aggregated, collective systems that’s been going on for centuries. Runciman conveys all this in clear-eyed, mordant prose, writing that “in a world of human-like machines, built by machine-like versions of human beings... to fixate on the human would be a mistake, because the merely human will be relatively powerless.” The result is a shrewd and stimulating look at society’s drive toward an inhuman perfection. (Nov.)