Non-Fiction Reviews

Future Politics
Living together in a world transformed by tech

(2018) Jamie Susskind, Oxford University Press, £9.99/US $12.95, pbk, xvi + 516pp, ISBN 970-0-198-84892-9


From smartphones in our pockets to virtual assistant AIs in our kitchens, modern technology already dominates our daily lives. However, Jamie Susskind paints a future where technology will have a greater effect on human life than ever before, where the foundations of political power will change, and our current concepts of freedom and justice may become outdated.

Future Politics aims to help people navigate this changing world and understand it. The book is divided into six sections with four of them devoted to the main issues in political philosophy: Power, Liberty, Democracy and Justice. Each section begins with a classic definition of the topic and then explores what this might mean in the future. When it comes to power for instance, Susskind looks at how digital systems may replace our legal system with digital law and even digital enforcement. He explores how our perception of the world may change and be controlled as more news and media is automated through code with less and less human input to what we read. Most frightening perhaps for some is the idea of a supercharged state which “armed with digital technologies will be able to monitor and control our behaviour much more closely than the past”, including the rather scary notion of predictive policing where digital systems can predict and sentence people before any crime has taken place.

Ultimately, this book aims to answer the big questions advancing technology creates. When it comes to social justice Susskind looks at the prospect of wealth continuing to be concentrated into the hands of an ever smaller few in the digital world and where algorithms will have unimaginable power over people’s livelihoods. Recognition software will also become more dangerous: able to rank and order citizens with greater ease, while the spread of fake news and misinformation puts our whole perception of reality at stake. The challenges we face are vast and we all must ask ourselves what kind of future we want.

It is important to recognise however that as technology becomes increasingly powerful and dangerous, it’s capacity to do good and improve society also increases. Susskind describes a potential ‘data democracy’ whereby a truly representative and equal system could be created through simply collecting data on everyone’s interests and values and creating policy based on an accurate picture of our lives and our needs. Ideas like these are scary but also revolutionary, Susskind presents the digital world as ours for the taking, the possibilities are endless and it’s up to us to decide what to do with it.

As a student who studies political theory, I’ve struggled through my fair share of dry and boring texts. Future Politics however is not one of them, Susskind’s technological explanations and philosophical quandaries are full of humour and life, and you’ll find yourself readily engaged by just the sheer fascination of the world we will soon inhabit. This book isn’t just for politics students and academics however, even the most complex of concepts are explained in a way which is accessible for everyone: from technological terms to political concepts Susskind will guide you through it all. The size and depth of the book’s ambition means Future Politics is not a casual read, but it is an engaging one and will not disappoint anyone with an interest in the future ahead of us.

This book is not just an interesting hypothetical question to discuss over a pint, it’s vitally important writing which will give anyone reading it a greater understanding of what’s to come. The “digital lifeworld” will touch every aspect of public and private life, and as power and wealth is further concentrated into the hands of tech firms and states, an informed population is essential in defending our rights and freedoms. Future Politics is intelligently written and utterly compelling in its treatment of a subject too often ignored by today’s politicians and academics.

Luke Geikie

Luke Geikie is an undergraduate student reading Politics, Philosophy and Economics.


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