MixedThe Wall Street JournalMany books that purport to trace the rise of a dazzlingly successful technology company suffer from founder-worship. Mr. Bergen avoids this trap ... This waffling is sometimes apparent in Mr. Bergen’s book ... Mr. Bergen does take pains throughout his book not to insert his own views into the narrative, and for the most part succeeds; vitriol about former President Donald Trump occasionally flares up like a bad case of sciatica, but as a bug not a feature. Where Mr. Bergen does miss the mark is in examining the effect of the ideological monoculture that he acknowledges exists in Silicon Valley—and at Google in particular—and what it means for the decisions YouTube makes regarding content moderation ... Meticulously reported and fluidly written, Like, Comment, Subscribe nevertheless leaves the reader wishing that Mr. Bergen had been willing to do more to answer a crucial question posed by one of YouTube’s early employees and one that still bedevils its billions of users: \'Is YouTube net negative or net positive for society?\'
Justin E H Smith
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalSkeptics of contemporary technologies will appreciate [Smith\'s] descriptions of the way the internet is \'addictive and is thus incompatible with our freedom,\' and how it \'shapes human lives algorithmically\' in a way that can lead to “warped and impoverished” ways of living ... On the whole, however, Mr. Smith sees technology, past and present, for its possibilities, and in this way his philosophy is a useful corrective for the often-despairing tone of much technology criticism ... The second half of the book is a non-linear, eclectic romp through the early history of technology, and readers will have to surrender to Mr. Smith’s often-discursive writing style. He has a capacious mind and myriad interests but is not always successful in his attempts to draw a clear line from, say, a 19th-century fraudster’s claims about telepathic snails to the meaning of the modern-day internet. His wildly enthusiastic claims on behalf of the early modern German philosopher Leibniz stretch credulity ... Yet Mr. Smith’s indictment of the way we understand the internet is not wrong: In our haste to see the history of technology as an always-improving story of progress, one largely divorced from the natural world, we are missing out on much-needed insights. In particular, his argument that contemporary research on artificial intelligence would benefit from better grounding in the complicated history of technology deserves greater amplification ... Mr. Smith has given readers a fresh interpretation of the history of technology; a creative, if sometimes mystifying, philosophy of the internet; and a keen sense that we don’t always know what the internet is doing to us.
PanThe Wall Street JournalAs an attempt to wrestle with such feelings, Consent is an affecting memoir. Ms. Freitas is a fluid writer, if prone to hyperbole...Excess aside, Ms. Freitas does convey the intensity of her ordeal ... But as a case study for broader claims, Consent is less persuasive. Ms. Freitas spends a lot of time indicting a system that she thinks failed her ... More troublingly, Ms. Freitas conflates her experience with the experience of victims of sexual assault...Given the real physical violence that so many women have suffered, such comparisons feel shockingly tone deaf ... Agency and responsibility are crucial aspects of any discussion of sexual relations. It’s a shame that Ms. Freitas didn’t explore them with the care and nuance they deserve. No one should have to go through what she did as a student, but the conclusions she draws from her experience do little to advance the conversation we should be having about consent.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... couldn’t come at a better time ... A wonderfully evocative writer with a knack for the illuminating detail, Ms. Brox explores the history and cultural meaning of silence through the story of a prison and a monastery. It is an unusual and useful approach ... At times, Ms. Brox meanders from her principal narrative. While some of her tangents are illuminating, others are a distraction ... Ms. Brox’s engaging book offers readers an opportunity to explore a few crucial moments of that history and, in the process, to ponder what silence—or its absence—tells us about the world we are making every day.