Books  |  ,   |  March 3, 2019

The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity

Book by Amy Webb.
Published by Public Affairs.
336 pages.

A call-to-arms about the broken nature of artificial intelligence, and the powerful corporations that are turning the human-machine relationship on its head.

We like to think that we are in control of the future of “artificial” intelligence. The reality, though, is that we–the everyday people whose data powers AI–aren’t actually in control of anything. When, for example, we speak with Alexa, we contribute that data to a system we can’t see and have no input into–one largely free from regulation or oversight. The big nine corporations–Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, Microsoft, IBM and Apple–are the new gods of AI and are short-changing our futures to reap immediate financial gain.

In this book, Amy Webb reveals the pervasive, invisible ways in which the foundations of AI–the people working on the system, their motivations, the technology itself–is broken. Within our lifetimes, AI will, by design, begin to behave unpredictably, thinking and acting in ways which defy human logic. The big nine corporations may be inadvertently building and enabling vast arrays of intelligent systems that don’t share our motivations, desires, or hopes for the future of humanity.

Much more than a passionate, human-centered call-to-arms, this book delivers a strategy for changing course, and provides a path for liberating us from algorithmic decision-makers and powerful corporations.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Before It’s Too Late
  • Ghosts in the Machine
    • Mind and Machine: A Very Brief History of AI
    • The Insular World of AI’s Tribes
    • A Thousand Paper Cuts: AI’s Unintended Consequences
  • Our Futures
    • From Here to Artificial Superintendence: The Warning Signs
    • Thriving in the Third Age of Computing: The Optimistic Scenario
    • Learning to Live with Millions of Paper Cuts: The Pragmatic Scenario
    • The Réngong Zhìnéng Dynasty: The Catastrophic Scenario
  • Solving the Problems
    • Pebbles and Boulders: How to Fix AI’s Future

About the Author

Amy Webb is a quantitative futurist and a bestselling, award-wining author. She is a professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern School of Business and the Founder of the Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and strategy firm that helps leaders and their organizations prepare for complex futures. Webb’s research focus is artificial intelligence, and she has advised three-star generals and admirals, White House leadership and CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies on their futures.

“We need to get Amy Webb to campus. This is one of those cases where organizing discussions of the book would be great – but not enough. We would be wise to engage with Webb directly… We need more books like The Big Nine that are critical of higher education for reasons beyond politics (liberal bias) or costs… The Big Nine is an essential book for anyone interested in a global perspective around the role of companies and governmental policies in determining technological change.”

Inside Higher Ed