Photo worth seeing: Visionaries, saboteurs, profiteers

Cover The Ghost from the Machine by Adrian Kreye

Techno fantasies have long since left the nerdy computer labs and society has been digitized in a very real way. AI dominates.

The highlight first: The author has accompanied the era of digitalization as a journalistic contemporary witness and interweaves his own notes with the perspectives of influential personalities such as Nicholas Negroponte, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Julian Assange. Seemingly effortlessly, a highly exciting and insightful depiction of the expanding digital universe in the social and political sphere emerges.

Three events are crucial for Kreye: access to the World Wide Web in 1992, the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the availability of generative AI with ChatGPT in 2022. To start with, we go to the Media Lab at MIT in Cambridge, USA. Its founder Nicholas Negroponte wanted to combine all forms of media in a computer that would become part of everyday life. His colleague Marvin Minsky and the programmer John McCarthy had already applied for a research project called “Artificial Intelligence” in 1955. Crazy ideas back then.

The path leads via CERN in Geneva to San Francisco and its relaxed, optimistic coding culture. In 1997, Sergei Brin and Larry Page launch Google in Silicon Valley. In 1994, Jeff Bezos founds Amazon in Seattle. The rise of online capitalism begins.

Then come the dark sides of the digital sphere, such as hate and agitation, Nazis, fake news, data collection mania and surveillance. The web and social media become tools of the culture war with religious overtones. Unfortunately, the hubris of the digital elite still does not create trust. Whistleblowers get involved. Including a sideways glance at Germany with its digital innovations and missed opportunities.

Kreye distinguishes between rule-based and neural AI models and does not shy away from sensitive questions. What if machine decisions are no longer comprehensible? Who decides on intelligent weapon systems?

Much of it is familiar, but the perspective is new. Anyone who is even remotely interested in understanding the digital world should quickly add the award-winning journalist’s excellently written text to their reading list. The perfect introduction to what is to come. Ulrich Schendzielorz

Andrian Kreye
The ghost from the machine
A superfast human history of the digital universe
Heyne, 368 pp., € 24,–
ISBN 978-3-453-21862-8

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