If Future Politics focused only on the power of tech giants it would be a useful book covering familiar ground. But Susskind’s ambition is far greater. His subject is the full spectrum of disruption to the way humans have organized themselves since antiquity. It is an attempt to disassemble the fundamental concepts that underpin political life—justice, liberty, democracy, equality, property—and put them back together again in the context of a tech-driven revolution. At the very least, it is an impressive feat of intellectual organization ... Susskind’s meticulous method owes something, perhaps, to his background as a barrister, determined to assemble a watertight case. The rigor pays off because it exposes the conceptual magnitude of the change facing politicians and citizens ... The theory is mercifully leavened with self-deprecating humor. The author has a repertoire of cultural references, quotes and a knack for illustration of what would otherwise be arid philosophical quandaries ... It is mind-boggling enough just to contemplate the vastness of the challenge. To have written it all down so lucidly, engagingly and succinctly is a formidable achievement.
Susskind’s remarkably comprehensive book explores the challenges new digital technologies create, asking what the power and potential of digital systems means for human liberty, democracy, justice, and politics. Most importantly, he argues that the political ideas we have held for centuries are ill-equipped to respond to the challenges posed by current and future technological innovations. As such, we must upgrade the political theory canon for the tech age ... But Susskind’s intervention is to note that recent events should force us to look in the mirror ... many of the problems tech forces us to confront do not concern the innovations themselves, but how those innovations reflect back to us and perpetuate the injustices of our own human world ... Susskind underappreciates how, in many ways, today’s tech behemoths enjoy portraying themselves as playing an indispensable civic role ... But as Susskind reminds us, 'we have more control over [the future] than we realize.'
Susskind’s inquiry into the future of digital technology’s impact on the world is bogglingly wide-ranging...and refreshingly literate ... 'What hope is there for ordinary people to have a share in the powers that govern them?' Future Politics does its nerdy best to answer that question with hope instead of despair (something about blockchains), but nevertheless, its portrait of those ordinary people increasingly crushed between tiny superrich oligarchies, overreaching interventionist governments and, essentially, the Borg Collective, is as dark as something out of The Matrix.
Susskind deftly winds his way through the possibilities (a universal basic wage, tight regulation and checking of code, new forms of democracy and accountability, humans in the algorithms’ decision loops) but he doesn’t quite attain optimism ... The book’s shortcoming is that it is a bit too general and theoretical. I don’t think we should take, as Susskind seems to, the current control of the internet by a few giant monopolies as a given ... But, in fairness, Susskind acknowledges that specific prophecies are almost always wrong. His writing is clear and precise; he is a lawyer, he is making a case. Irritatingly, he puts in too many (one would be too many) cheeky-chappy asides ... We can fix this, is his message, but there is also the nagging sense that we probably won’t.