I suspect your enjoyment – or otherwise – of James Bridle’s New Dark Age will depend very much on whether you’re a glass half-empty, or a glass exactly-filled-to-the-halfway-mark-by-microprocessor-controlled-automatic-pumping-systems sort of a person ... to the core of our thinking about new technology there lies, Bridle suggests, a dangerous fallacy: we both model our own minds on our understanding of computers, and believe they can solve all our problems – if, that is, we supply them with enough data, and make them fast enough to deliver real-time analyses ... Bridle also believes it’s implicated in our simple-minded acceptance of technology as a value-neutral tool, one to be freely employed for our own betterment. He argues that in failing to adequately understand these emergent technologies, we are in fact opening ourselves up to a new dark age ... Intelligent computer systems are already menacing us with weird products devised algorithmically and offered for sale on Amazon, as well as bizarre and abusive 'kids' videos, which are mysteriously generated in the bowels of the web, and uploaded by bots to YouTube ... I expect many readers will find Bridle’s perceptive and thought-provoking book terrifying rather than enjoyable – but then as I implied at the outset, I’m very much of the glass half- empty type.
In James Bridle’s New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, technology is a force for confusion and opacity rather than enlightenment ... James Bridle wants you to embrace the darkness ... The new book...is a doomy overture to a new era: a work of digital gothic in which the chills are provided by the unpredictable and unstoppable forces we’ve unleashed on the world ... In Bridle’s book, creeping horror seeps from an environment of overwhelming confusion and opacity. He suggests that rather than fear it, perhaps we should learn from it, and, with cynicism firmly in place, even come to accept it: 'We have been conditioned to think of the darkness as a place of danger, even of death. But the darkness can also be a place of freedom and possibility, a place of equality.' ... Groping through Bridle’s darkness for a way forward, hope seems to lie not in running from the monsters, but in working alongside them. It’s happening already: the 'Optometrist algorithm' developed by Google Research tempers high-powered computation with human judgement to make complex decisions in nuclear fusion tests; in Advanced Chess, first introduced by grandmaster Garry Kasparov, human-machine teams compete at a higher level than either member alone ... That’s what it takes to survive in the new digital gothic: submit to the bite of the AI vampire; learn to love the re-animated corpse of big data; but more than anything, stay cynical.
New Dark Age: James Bridle’s Lovecraft-Inspired Prologue to the End of the World ... Bridle lucidly argues how our enthusiasm for, and reliance on technology is working against us by undermining our ability to reliably anticipate future risks. The ominous horizon of our new dark age is our blind devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities ... There’s a politely insistent temperament through New Dark Age, but in the last two chapters you feel Bridle’s ire. One segment describes a burgeoning but questionable industry on YouTube...There’s always been something weird about children’s television shows, but the age of self-publishing and YouTube allows for vast, unaccountable manipulation of its weirdness. At the sinister end of the spectrum are trolls creating gore-inflected, violent versions of this assumedly child-friendly content, hoping to worm into the same feeds as the benign originals ... These unregulated channels have billions of views – likely watched by kids who have been plonked in front of screens by parents...and to expose young children to violent and disturbing scenes is a form of abuse,’ writes Bridle.
The sense of powerlessness that this reliance on invisible infrastructures engenders is, Bridle proposes, at the heart of recent social unrest and political upheaval in the West. It shouldn’t be surprising that voters suffering from the unequally distributed effects of automation, globalisation and climate change, and told by their elected governments that it is impossible to effect structural change in a global economy, are vulnerable to the simplifying falsehoods put forward by the far right. It is in the interests of those who profit from them to render these vast infrastructures invisible and illegible, in order that discussion over such change can be stonewalled ... Bridle's efforts to reconcile the limited capacity of the individual with the possibility of agency lead the author to an old-fashioned conclusion: that to effect meaningful change, it is necessary to share knowledge and build coalitions. Rather than disentanglement, New Dark Age argues convincingly for a more informed integration with the technologies we have created, made possible by new solidarities between citizens armed with the facts.
'Our vision is increasingly universal,' writes Bridle, 'but our agency is ever more reduced. We know more and more about the world, while being less and less able to do anything about it. The resulting sense of helplessness, rather than giving us pause to reconsider our assumptions, seems to be driving us deeper into paranoia and social disintegration.' ... convinced that there is a connection between climate change and information overload and between the network that nobody understands and the increased disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Though his prose can be dense, Bridle’s analytical leaps are both illuminating and terrifying, suggesting that, on levels beyond surveillance and conspiracy, we have unleashed technology to establish systems of such complexity and control that it can be difficult for anyone to understand who’s in charge and what they want.